A few weeks ago I noted this question was being googled and it led someone to the Churchboardchair.ca site as a possible resource. As I reflected on this question from the standpoint of a church board chair, it raised some interesting complexities. For example, what does the preaching function have to do with serving as the chief executive officer of a ministry agency like the church? In a seminary, for example, the president does not have to be a faculty person, teaching the curriculum, in order to be president, nor does the leader of a missions organization have to be serving literally as a church planter or evangelist in order to be that mission’s CEO. Often it is helpful for their success if such leaders have significant experience in these roles before becoming the chief executive officer.
Another question might be: where in the New Testament does it require all elders to be preachers? They are to be capable teachers of the word of God, but Paul does not seem to require preaching competence (as we define it today) for a person to serve as an elder, i.e. pastor (I presume here that the terms elder and pastor apply to the same function). I wondered as well how a congregation might respond to a situation where the lead pastor was not the primary preaching pastor. How would this arrangement affect the ability of the “lead pastor” to “lead” the congregation when they did not see him consistently and personally providing spiritual guidance through the preaching office? Would it eventually erode his leadership? And then I thought about the effect of this arrangement upon the internal working relationship within the ministry team.
What complexities would such an arrangement create for a chairperson? From the viewpoint of organizational leadership it should work. There is still a lead pastor that the board can hold accountable as the primary leader within the organization. That lead pastor or the combined ministry leadership team has decided to delegate the majority of the preaching task to someone else within the pastoral team, presumably so that the lead pastor can concentrate on other aspects of ministry leadership that conform to his strengths, giftedness and experience. Lines of accountability are clear and responsibilities defined carefully. Theoretically it should function just as well as more usual arrangements.
The board, however, may conclude that such an arrangement, while possible, will not enable the board to achieve the congregation’s mission and implement their vision effectively. Their conclusion may be based upon congregational dynamics, denominational tradition, and organizational realities. Primary preaching responsibilities are very important for communicating the vision and providing spiritual direction to the congregation. If the lead pastor is not involved in this activity regularly it might inhibit his ability to advance the vision and nurture the spiritual health of the congregation.
Perhaps as well the dual realities of the congregation both as community and organization require that the perceived leadership of the spiritual community be the same as the actual leadership of the organizational structure. If the leadership is divided and distinct, this may cause disruption and conflict at some point, particularly when changes in leadership occur.
I think it might be more effective to reverse the question and ask “Does the Lead Pastor have to be the Executive Pastor?” You will probably find many more examples of this kind of leadership arrangement functioning well within various congregations. Examples of the reverse are not common. Some congregational leaders are seeking to establish ministry leadership teams following the concepts of “prophet, priest and king” or “apostles, evangelists, prophets, teachers/pastors,” dividing ministry responsibilities in accord with perceived linkages between these ancient roles and contemporary leadership needs in a contemporary congregation. Such team concepts can work for a time. However, their success over a long period of time probably depends upon highly developed interpersonal relationships and perhaps the fact that preaching pastor and/or lead pastor was/were part of the founding leadership team. They would also require a consensual model of decision-making. If the primary leaders of the ministry team are part of a larger church board (however such a group may be defined), then other members of the board may feel at a disadvantage since they are not part of prior discussions about major issues. Or, if the ministry team is not part of the formal church board, managing the relationship between this strong ministry team and the church board will require considerable wisdom. It may be that the ministry leadership team is also officially the church board and in such instances the decision-making issues will acquire a different character.
A chairperson’s responsibility is to enable the church board to provide effective strategic leadership for the congregation. In helping the board to sort through such a question it needs to consider whether such an arrangement is biblically consistent and would truely advance the congregation’s mission or is merely an arrangement designed to serve the needs of one individual. In other words, this arrangement might be wonderful for the person seeking such a role, but ultimately detrimental to the health and long term development of the congregation. Given the nature of church community, sorting out such a question can be quite difficult, particularly if it means that the person may not be able to continue in the employment of the church. This is doubly difficult when the person is also part of the board because of his office. The conflict of interest issues potentially are quite significant. These factors might be particularly relevant if congregational leaders are considering a major change from a current, more traditional model.
Another factor would be whether or not the preaching pastor in such an arrangement would be able to survive. What does the non-preaching, lead pastor do if certain voices are critical of the preaching, for whatever reason? How much liberty in the Spirit does the preaching pastor have to present God’s word? These internal dynamics could become quite complex.
So, while such an arrangement is doable theoretically, the chairperson of a church board should support it only after very careful examination of the possible consequences. It will probably work all right when things are going well, but may prove unsustainable when significant problems and conflicts emerge.