I believe strongly that God gives leadership responsibilities to pastors in the local church much as Paul, Timothy, and Titus had in their church ministry experience. There is a special role for pastors who work at church leadership full-time that is different than those who serve in lay leadership capacities. And those who serve as lay elders have a special role as well. One of the primary roles of the full-time pastor is that of teaching. Indeed, Ephesians 4:11 appears to combine the ministry of pastor-teacher. This is an important and essential role in the life of the church. But it can be taken too far.
When it comes to the leadership of the church, I think there is a lot to be said for leadership through the plurality of elders. Every Elders Board needs leadership and coaching, but that is something quite different than is commonly practiced among church boards as far as I can see. Often, because the pastor is the leader of the congregation, he perceives himself (I use the masculine pronoun generically) as the main decision-maker of the church’s development as well. I think this is a mistake both biblically and practically.
So often, it appears, that elders are chosen to serve as extensions of the pastor’s ministry supporting him in leadership and in the decisions that he brings before them. He comes with the agenda that he has prepared, guides the discussion concerning that agenda, and waits upon the elders for their support of that agenda. He believes he is exercising leadership by thinking ahead and being prepared for the elders to relate to the matters in which he believes he is hearing the voice of the Lord for the direction of the church. By their agreeement with his proposals he believes that they are expressing ownership of the church’s ministry. But is this really what Paul had in mind when he instructed Titus, for example, to appoint “elders” in every city on the Island of Crete?
I’ve always maintained that choosing elders for the ministry of the church is one of the most important aspects of a pastor’s leadership role. (And of course, it is important that he learn to listen to the voice of the Spirit through others in the church in this matter as well.) But once they are chosen, he should understand that they are called to lead in the ministry of the church together. This means that one of the most important ministries a pastor can undertake is to work in a mentoring and coaching relationship with these people. He should seek the Lord in guiding the development of their spiritual lives and leadership, but he should also learn to listen to the voice of the Spirit for the church through their ministries. In that way, they will learn to hear God’s will for the church and they will experience ownership (at a human level) of the church’s ministry too.
Practically speaking this means that it might not be a bad idea for the pastor to develop the Agenda for Elders’ meetings in concert with one or more of the Elders, and to also have an experienced elder lead the meetings. At the Elders’ meetings, the pastor should see himself as one of the governing elders of the church whose contribution is equal to the others except that he may bring some special biblical insight to any particular decision due to his knowledge and gifts. The church would be served better if Elders along with the Teaching Pastor served as a team in leading the church. This would place a greater emphasis on the development of their relationship with one another and offer a good example of love for the entire church.
And team ministry between the pastor and elders of the church would go a long ways to eliminating the adversarial relationship that is often evident between pastor and elders. I don’t think God intended pastors and elders to function as adversaries or watch-dogs of one another. That displeases the Lord and takes way too much emotional energy. God wants pastors and elders to function as a team that leads in the life of the church. It seems that team leadership is an important means of progress in every part of the church’s ministry.