Responding to a Common Eldership Question

The question posed by Michael Bird below is a frequently asked question in the current discussion on eldership and female pastors:

One of two things is happening in the church described by Bird’s question.

First Scenario
The church above has a female “worship pastor” but is functioning simply as a coordinator or leader of the music program. The female is not “exercising oversight” and is not intending to fulfill the roles and qualifications of an elder/pastor. If that is the case, then the female is not a pastor. The name should be changed to director or coordinator or minister because she isn’t functioning as a pastor. It is surprising how many folks seem to be content with giving someone the title of “pastor” without much concern for the role they are playing in the church.

If the above church has a female worship pastor who isn’t actually functioning as a pastor, then they need to change the name. That is what I hope this entire SBC discussion will educate our churches to do.

Second Scenario
The church above has a female “worship pastor” and she is, in fact, functioning as a pastor. By that I mean she is exercising oversight and fulfilling the roles and qualifications of an elder. If that is the case, then the church is not in friendly cooperation with the SBC and would need to either adjust their approach to the pastorate, or step away from the SBC. (or, of course, the Credentials Committee would get involved if the church was reported).

Associate Pastoral Roles
I believe one ongoing area of confusion surrounding eldership is the associate roles. A “worship pastor” or “education pastor” or “youth pastor” are still functioning with the full authority of an elder. That is so crucial to understand for this discussion. If those positions are not exercising oversight and shepherding the flock, then they should not be called a pastor. It is very possible and very beautiful for a plurality of elders to share equal authority while also maintaining areas of focus and emphasis.

For example, the “lead” or “senior” pastor is typically the primary preaching pastor and casts the ongoing vision for the church. Understandably and rightfully, the other elders and the congregation care deeply about the lead pastor’s position and opinion on a variety of issues. But he is not greater or better or higher than any other pastor with whom he serves. He might be a supervisor and provide leadership to various pastoral staff roles, but he must always understand the elders to be co-equals in pastoral ministry.

In his book “The Pluraity Principle,” Dave Harvey provides a helpful quote on this issue. He says, “Now, I want to be clear. A team leader—or, to use the common title, senior pastor—is not a call to headship over the team… [however] biblical leadership, though shared, is frequently organized around and facilitated by a central figure.”

That is exactly right and so helpful to the discussion. So, the SBC can do one of two things. We can wave a white flag and lose hope on what the word “pastor” actually means, or we can do the necessary work to take that biblical word seriously and adjust the titles of our churches to match what is actually taking place in their ministry.