The Senior Pastor is Dead, Long Live The Church!
In the year 1422 the King of France, Charles VI, died. As his successor, Charles VII, took the throne the following declaration was made “Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi!” Or, “The King is dead, long live The King!” The proclamation simultaneously announced the death of the former monarch, the continuation of leadership and the hope of a better tomorrow.
Leaders come, and leaders go. Whether it’s Kings, Presidents, Prime Ministers, or CEOs, the cycle of leadership continues. The same happens in the church, where leadership models are in many ways akin to monarchies, civic institutions and corporations. Pope succeeds Pope. Priest replaces priest. Senior Pastor replaces Senior Pastor.
Whether we care to admit it or not, we like the idea of institutions and Kings. We form tribes around benevolent leaders. We want someone to tell us what to do, and how to live our lives. We want someone to take the grey, messy nature of our lives and make things nice and simple, black and white. We pin our hopes on someone who might save us from ourselves. Someone who will keep the peace or lead us into war. And then we absolve ourselves of responsibility because it’s the leader’s role to ‘sort it out’.
Jesus countered that narrative. He too walked the earth in a time of Emperor’s, Caesar’s, King’s and Governors. However, Jesus was hardly a fan of ’empire’. The kingdom values that he espoused were counter to the kingdoms of the day. We also get the impression that Jesus wasn’t so big on systems and formula. Jesus almost never healed people the same way. He was far more poetic than directive and far less concerned with answers than he was with the heart of the question. He said things such as, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27 NLT) In other words, we are not meant to serve or become slaves to the system. Rather, the system should exist to grow, form and liberate us.
Jesus washed his follower’s feet. He wept at the pain of death and loss. He desired the best for the least and embraced the outcasts. He challenged the attitude of leaders (both religious and secular) and asked the people who followed him and sought after him, to think differently. He didn’t rally the loudest, angriest voices; they crucified him.
Neither Jesus or the first church sought to model themselves on the leadership structures of the time. Why then, in a nation where record numbers of young people are leaving the church and people are frustrated by traditional models, does the church continue to replicate these structures? To riff on Jesus’ Sabbath commentary, rather than growing, forming and liberating us the church is serving itself.
We need to re-consider the professionalisation of ministry and the institutionalisation of faith. We need to question traditional leadership mindsets and structures. We need to question the validity and efficacy of the Senior Pastor or Leader being the gatekeeper and holder of all godly wisdom. The traditional model of church leadership is no longer serving its people or communities well.
In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul outlines ‘the five-fold ministries of the church’. He describes the roles of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers for the purpose of equipping people to live out Jesus’ command, to love each other and build each other up. How did this translate into corporate and institutional models of leadership that professionalise ministry, create hierarchies and centre on and privilege a senior leader? I fear that the role of Senior Pastor more closely resembles the role of Emperor, Caesar, King and Governor than the Jesus who knelt and washed his disciple’s feet. It’s time for an insurrection.
The Senior Pastor is dead, long live The Church!
Which all sounds very radical and should probably be accompanied by cries of “Viva la revolución!” But how do we frame an alternative model of church leadership? What’s the alternative to a hierarchical and often patriarchal structure that isn’t anarchy or communism? How might we go about challenging traditional leadership models and develop a more collective approach, appropriate to our communities and to our time?
The challenge is that I only really know traditional models of church and leadership. I still hold the title of Lead Pastor. In reality, I’m preaching to myself. We also exist in a culture in which consumerism is so deeply embedded that it’s almost impossible to extricate ourselves from it. Church leaders bemoan a culture in which people ‘shop around’ for a church. Yet, we not only operate in this culture our church models pander to it.
In a collective approach the paradigm of supply and demand, entertainment and consumerism are no longer evident. A collective approach challenges the consumer church mentality, and this change will not come easily. Because let’s be honest, consumerism is nice and comfortable, especially when you’re the consumer. In a consumer culture, the greatest critique of contemporary churches has become the quality of preaching, the style of worship and how engaging the ‘kids church’ is. A collective approach flips that mindset on its head.
In a collective approach, no-one gets paid, or everyone does. While I have the title, Lead Pastor, I hold a full-time paid job that is not about being the paid minister. My unsalaried church position is not a condition of lean start-up, it’s a deliberate decision never to draw a wage from my faith community. A collective approach requires something more of us than consumption; it requires everyone to take an active role in the community and care for each other. A collective approach removes outsourcing and prevents people from absolving themselves of responsibility.
In a collective approach, everyone can communicate on, and contribute to, the core elements of the faith community. Our faith community has a clear vision and set of values, but we utilise communication methodologies and tools that allow every member of our community to have a voice and contribute to the conversation as their interest, experience and gifts enable them. Collective communication and conversations are important and powerful, but scary, because it requires trust and authenticity and a willingness to fail. The alternative though is secrecy and tightly controlled gatekeeping which are antithetical to the language we espouse in churches of “community” and “family”. If churches feel compelled to follow corporate models for the purpose of good governance, risk management and accountability then the models we should be looking at are B Corporations and technology start-ups such as Buffer. These companies hold themselves to standards of transparency and social responsibility that put many churches to shame.
My heart is to see our faith community and the broader church realise their potential (individually and collectively) and not be capped or constrained by potentially out-dated and old ways of thinking. My heart is to see us live out the distinctive that Jesus describes in the Gospel of John, being known by our love. But until we are willing to question the hierarchies and leadership paradigms that we have created, and continue to perpetuate, we risk losing or excluding more people and fading into oblivion.
The Senior Pastor is dead, long live the church!