February 19, 2007
Sayonara, Senior Pastor
Pastor/Professor David Fitch is back to describe the leadership structure of his church, Life on the Vine, in Long Grove, Illinois. Like an increasing number of churches seeking to be "missional," Life on the Vine has rejected the notion of a senior pastor. In this post, Fitch explains why the "CEO-pastor-leader" model is losing its appeal.
At Life on the Vine, we recently added a fourth pastor. Some people told me a model with multiple visible leaders would never work - there would be no single face to attach to the vision of the church and the church would never grow. Balderdash (is that a word?). The church continues to grow. There are signs of healing, new mission, and new souls finding God.
Much has been written about missional church leadership. Frost & Hirsch (and Dwight Smith) have advocated the APEPT (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher) model of leadership from Eph 4:11. Roxburgh has another brilliant description of these principles. I have argued that we must dump the CEO- pastor-leader that the church has too often modeled from secular business. I have argued that "the CEO-pastor-leader" is a construction that only makes sense in the Cartesian worlds where man is in control, where leadership is technique driven, and where people are units in a sociological structure devoid of the organic nature that we see characterizes the gifted nature of the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12: 4-31). Because of this I have argued that missional leadership must be multiple, organic, recognized and affirmed within and among a body (not determined from above in a smoke filled room by a CEO and board of the mega corporation it oversees).
Again, many have said this could not be done. But from the beginning our church has always had more people pastoring and leading than just me. I admit I was at the outset the most visible leader. But I've been bi-ministerial with other jobs and finding income from sources other than the church. This has enabled us to quickly add many more leaders on the staff in a church that now has about 150 people (we started with 10). And so the idea of a senior pastor at the Vine has never quite fit.
From of our experience, here some reasons why the "senior pastor" role won't work at Life on the Vine church, and why it may not fit other churches seeking a more missional posture:
1. Because it doesn't make sense to build a church around a personality. People start coming to hear that one guy (most often it's a guy), and as the crowds get bigger this pastor becomes distanced from the congregation at which point he loses the ability to speak into the people's lives that he knows. Instead, as the crowds get bigger, he must get less specific and more generic to optimize his speaking into the lives of a larger audience. Soon he becomes a talking head on a screen, a personality people come to hear as if the proclamation of the gospel is some form of entertainment or consumption. And when he burns out or leaves, half the congregation splits as well, and the people who remain are left holding the bag for the big mortgage the personality left behind. If I left Life on the Vine I believe it wouldn't miss a beat. In fact, last summer when I didn't preach at all the church grew by 20%.
2. Because there are no supermen(or women). No single pastor has all the gifts. Indeed, most pastors have gaping deficits in their abilities to carry out the ministry. With multiple pastors the whole ministry of the church is fed from their many gifts, and all are invited to participate in the empowerment of the gifts as modeled by the many faceted leadership. The fact that the ministry of the body of Christ is not one man/woman resists those who make church all about receiving passively from the ministry of one person. In our church, I am strong on preaching for growth and sanctification, in training leaders for ministry, in leading the vision for a missional emerging church. I have deferred to and learned from those who have gifts of prayer, faith, preaching, teaching, organization, artistry, and mission. I see how Frost & Hirsch's APEPT model characterizes our ministry.
3. Because isolated pastors can get tunnel vision. But multiple pastors in submission to one to another can work against this. I can think of three times in the last two years where I was leading the church with tunnel vision and one of the other pastors called me on it and the result was a reinvigorated the church body. I never would have seen these things if I had not been in mutual submission to these other co-laborers in reverence to Christ as Lord.
Part two of "Sayonara, Senior Pastor" will be posted soon. Until then, tell us what you think about the benefits and dangers of abandoning a senior pastor leadership structure.