The New Testament frequently speaks about the role of pastor/elders, but never specifically mentions a role called senior pastor. However, since a senior pastor is considered the top church leader, the same principles apply to his role as to any other pastor/elder. What we call a pastor, elder, or bishop all come from the same Greek word usually translated as "elder" in the New Testament to indicate a male church leader.
Does the Bible say anything about the role of senior pastor?
Later in church history, distinctions were created between elders and bishops. Today, many churches have both elders and pastors, causing some confusion. The qualifications given for elders in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 are both written to pastors who lead the church. Though there is nothing wrong with one pastor in a smaller church or a senior pastor in a larger church who serves as the leader among pastors, the emphasis in the New Testament is on the team leadership of elders, along with deacons, in humbly shepherding the local church.
In Titus 1:5, Paul states, "This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you." Each town appeared to have multiple elders, with at least one elder per house church. These leaders were to be known for certain character traits (Titus 1:5-9), have a strong family life (v. 6), and be able to both preach God's Word and refute false teaching (v. 9).
In 1 Timothy 3:1-7, we find the same list of qualifications. Additions included that the church pastor/elder must not be a recent convert (v. 6) and that he must be "well thought of by outsiders" (v. 7).
First Peter 5:2-3 also teaches elders are to "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." Pastors are to provide spiritual care and live as examples to those they serve.
A senior pastor is often given his role because he has the ability to best preach the Word of God to a congregation. Though every elder should be qualified to teach God's Word, a senior pastor usually serves as the main teacher each week for the church congregation. This is one way in which a pastor's gift of teaching and/or preaching can be used to fulfill Ephesians 4:11-12: "And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ."
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