Reality’s Core Values #1 ~ Jesus is our Senior Pastor
One of our rallying cries, and most basic values as a church is that “Jesus Christ is our Senior Pastor.”
What does this mean? Simply put, it means we believe that Jesus is the head of the church. Of course, this bears some fleshing out if we want more than a mere truism (we do). So let’s start with the primary passage of scripture where this core value comes from…
And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:4)
Right here, the apostle Peter tells is that that Jesus is a particular kind of shepherd.
He’s the chief, or in other words, he is the senior-ranking shepherd. This is an unequivocal title of leadership. So before we even get to what Jesus does, we need to understand a bit about what the Bible says about church leadership in general.
Scripture tells us that God gives authority to certain people in the church.
And there are two official kinds of offices within the local church to which Scripture explicitly refers: elder (1 Tim. 3:1-7) and deacon (1 Tim. 3:8-13). It’s the first one (elder) that I want to focus on in this blog post, because there are a few different labels that the New Testament uses interchangeably with elder. And we need to look at all of these labels to get a clear picture of biblical leadership in the church. One of the most clear examples of Biblical leadership is in the broader context of the passage we just quoted—all the labels I’m talking about happen in this one single passage! Here it is in full:
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:1-4; ESV)
Ok, I want to point out a few things.
(Disclaimer: this may get a bit complex and technical. But it is important to wade through this, because the implications are so important for how a church operates! Afterwards, I’ll do my best to summarize it all as succinctly as possible).
First, notice that “shepherd” is not an office ascribed to anyone but Jesus.
What is a shepherd? Well, it seems more of a function than an office (except for when it is used specifically of Jesus). For example, the function of a worship leader is to shepherd the congregation, mainly through music. Home group leaders are also shepherding their group discussions, and so on. But why does this small semantic joust matter? Because we get our popular modern-day church title pastor from what is often, and in this case, simply translated as shepherd (greek word poimainō). The words are the same in the Bible. A pastor is someone who shepherds others.
Second, notice that the words elder and shepherd are used here interchangeably.
See, while pastoring/shepherding is a function, the Scriptures show us that “elder” is an actual office in the church. So while not everyone who is shepherding someone else is a pastor, certainly everyone who is an elder is also called to pastor. All elders are supposed to pastor. They are the ones who are “keeping watch over your souls” (Heb. 13:17)!
Third, notice that these terms for pastor and elder are also used interchangeably with the word “oversight.”
“Oversight” in this context refers to the practice of leadership. Paul and Barnabas “appointed elders…in every church” (Acts 14:23) and “in every town” (Titus 1:5) whenever they planted churches, referring to them as those “who rule” in the church (1 Tim 5:17). So then, elders aren’t just pastors.
Elders are called by Christ to exercise leadership over the local church.
That’s the complicated part. Let me give you a simple summary!
The Apostle Peter is telling us that God reserves the very specific roles of pastoring and leading in the church for the elders to whom He calls and anoints.
This is important to mention, because it is common practice for churches to have the pastors shepherd the flock, while selecting business people, entrepreneurs, a board of directors, or others with fiscal savvy, to lead the church. This may be a good way to run a business, but it’s not a good way to run a church. The Bible clearly mandates that it is the elders, not business leaders, who are to pastor and lead in the church. Now, Reality does have a board of trustees, in keeping with California law. But we certainly believe and maintain that it is the elders who lead in our church according to the Word of God. And we have never regretted that decision! [Who are our elders?]
Hopefully now the significance of that Scripture about Jesus being the chief Shepherd is starting to make sense. You see, while God does call elders to lead in the church, they also must do this in submission to Christ’s ultimate leadership. That’s why when the Apostle Peter calls elders to lead and pastor the flock, he only refers to Jesus as the “chief Shepherd.” This is synonymous with calling Jesus the senior leader, or in common church vernacular, the senior pastor.
This is exactly what Paul said when declared that God the Father “put all things under [Christ’s] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church” (Eph 1:22). Jesus, therefore, is the Senior Pastor of the church, both locally and universally!
Hence, this is our first and primary value as a church.
What does “Jesus is our Senior Pastor” actually mean in daily practice?
- It means our leaders constantly strive to be under the authority of Jesus Christ.
- It means that in order for fallible human leaders to be under the authority of Jesus Christ, they must be diligent in prayer and repentance.
- It means church leaders must be desperate for the voice of the Lord to lead his church.
- It means that as a church, we primarily look to, and hope in, and cling to Jesus, way more than to any person called “pastor.” The pastor(s) is there to help us look to Jesus!
- It means that the church exists for Christ’s mission, not our preferences and comforts.
- It means that we intentionally and consciously choose to submit to the mission of Jesus Christ.
- It means that we do not call any pastor in our church the “Senior pastor” except for Jesus Christ to whom that title belongs!