Should the Preacher be an Elder?

November 12, 2008 — 4 Comments

Good question . . . and one that I’ve been reflecting on for a few years. 

I’m currently not an Elder at Journey Christian Church, but it’s an issue that we’re discussing.  We want–more than anything–to be biblical in our approach to church leadership.

This week’s Christian Standard has a good article on the subject.  Here’s an excerpt in which Eddie Lowen and Bob Russell discuss the cooperative spirit that must exist between a Preacher and the Elders:

At Lowen’s church the senior minister is one of eight elders (down from 16 when he arrived eight years ago).

“He’s not the chairman, but the chairman has a cooperative spirit toward the senior minister,” Lowen said. “No competition. No powering up. No tendency to nitpick. All elders are instructed not to entertain complaints or comments about the senior minister from other staff, unless a major moral or ethical failure has been committed.”

The director of ministries and the director of operations, both senior staff members, attend elders meetings to give their reports but can’t vote. The other elders meet without Lowen when discussing his compensation or semiannual review.

Since senior ministers have the most at stake, they should “serve as leaders of leaders,” Lowen said.

“That doesn’t mean the elders are pushed out, but that the minister is allowed to heavily influence until he proves he shouldn’t be trusted to do so. Too many elder teams invite ministers to ‘come lead’ and then spend a lot of energy reneging on the invitation. Elders should hire the right ministers, then give them as much room as their giftedness and spiritual maturity allow.”

Russell was the only staff member among the 11 elders at Southeast (a number intentionally downsized from as many as 26 for efficiency). He says he likes a setup where the senior minister is considered a “paid elder.” He is accountable to the other elders, “but he is not their hired hand.”

Russell said he deliberately tried not to dominate elders meetings. He said relations were so good that the other elders could joke about his latest idea being his most stupid yet, and he could retort that they were wrong, he’d presented ones much more stupid in the past.

Southeast’s elders oversee the staff; then much of the “hands on” shepherding and discipleship are carried out by the staff or small groups, Russell said.

Well, what do you think?  Should the Preacher be an Elder?  I’ll post your comments.

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4 responses to Should the Preacher be an Elder?

  1. 

    Since I don’t think there are specifics in scripture on this particular subject, I will speak from my heart.

    To me it depends on the role of the eldership. Many churches have a group of elders that are more about business than shepherding. A few fortunate churches have the “business” role of the church assigned to capable men in an executive-like comittee, and the elders are allowed to be shepherds only. Obviouly, I beleive the latter is more scriptual, and the former is a trap set by Satan to distract elders from what they are called to do. (Wow! That was blunt.)

    I would hate to see the preacher caught in the same trap.

  2. 

    Absolutely not! I believe the job of the preacher is just that, preach and teach. I believe the worship pastor is should just lead our body in worship, and I believe the same for the youth pastor, leading our children, and we the church have hired them to these specific roles. I believe it is too much for one man to do both jobs and do them both effectively. There needs to be a checks and balance between the pastors and elders and if have pastor playing both sides of the fence, problems are more likely to happen. Just my $0.02!

  3. 

    Ultimately it’s up to the local congregation, since this would be in the realm of opinion. There are three leadership positions found in scripture that are relevant to the post-apostle church: elders, deacons, and evangelists. Patrick, I found your post to be interesting since you used two words (“pastor” and “elder”) that are used synonymously in Scripture, but certainly not in how you formulate church leadership. Elders (shepherds, pastors, overseers, bishops) and deacons (ministers, servants) have very specific qualifications and represent men who organically fit into those positions. We tend to call our church staff “minister” or “pastor” (“reverend” is just right out), but many times these titles do not actually represent the work that they do (perhaps this is where “evangelist” needs to enter our vocabulary more). Paul tells us that elders who preach and teach and rule well are worthy of double honor (1 Timothy 5:17), so there is precedent for an elder who shepherds (“pastors”) and preaches. Checks and balances are part of the parcel with a plurality of leadership and a faithful congregation. There is no biblical teaching that prohibits a man who is qualified as an elder to be a preacher as well. The leadership of the local congregation simply needs to decide whether or not it would be healthy for them.

  4. 

    As far as I can tell, this would be an area of opinion that each congregation would have to wrestle with.

    Would there be some risk of conflict of interest? (One brother I know put it this way: “How do you fire yourself?”) A pretty harsh question, but it is a potential issue many members would likely think of, and the leadership would have to anticipate and have an answer for.

    Someone serving in both capacities, as elder and preacher, would have to be a special person, with that unique brand of self-control that would guard them against the temptation to take advantage of the situation.

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