On Being a SENIOR Pastor

From Dave Black Online:

My reading in Acts has brought me to the end of Paul’s first missionary journey in Asia Minor. In this passage (Acts 13-14) I was struck dumbfounded by something I had never observed before.

Paul has preached in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, leaving behind a group of converts in each place — a few Jews, perhaps a few more proselytes, and a number of Gentiles. Now, at the end of his ministry there, the way lay open for him to return to Syrian Antioch via the Cilician Gates.

This famous mountain pass lay just to the north of his own home town of Tarsus, and he could expect a pleasant visit there on his way back to his headquarters in Syria. Everywhere he had gone on his first missionary journey he had encountered nothing but terrible dangers, and in Lystra he had even been stoned and left for dead.

Despite all these dangers, however, and without any thought for his personal safety or comport, Paul decided he would take the way he had come and revisit all the churches he had established in order to encourage the believers in the face of persecution. Note also something of greatest importance: Luke records that in every city Paul appointed “elders” to watch over and care for the small congregations in his absence (Acts 14:23).

This mention of elders moves me deeply. Paul went to a great deal of trouble to see that “elders” — not “pastors” — were appointed in every church. That the term is in the plural is also of importance. Finally, note the absence of any mention of a “head” elder or a “senior” leader in any of these congregations. I grieve today when I see such self-conscious titles as “senior pastor” on letterheads or email signatures. In my book The Jesus Paradigm I address this matter in great detail and even dare to suggest that the title “senior pastor” would be an affront to our Lord Jesus in light of what Peter wrote about Him in 1 Pet. 5:1-4. I also suggest that anyone with the title “senior pastor” ought to consider — if he feels he needs a title at all — to use the term “servant pastor” instead. Better yet, why not simply return to the pattern of Acts 14? Why not call our spiritual leaders what Luke called them in Acts? The answer can be nothing less than a slavish adherence to church tradition and ritual. Can you imagine Paul, after arriving back in Syrian Antioch, worn with toil and suffering after his first missionary journey, receiving a letter from the “senior pastor” of the church at Lystra and not being heartbroken?

If we’re going to say that we follow the example and teachings of the apostle Paul, then let’s be fair to him. I know many godly, good, exemplary pastors today who have yet to take this small step of radical obedience to their Master. Titles have no place in the kingdom of God. This is the clear teaching of Jesus and the example of the earliest churches in the New Testament.