Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Baptist Faith & Message and the "Senior Pastor"

I have long avoided the use of the title "Senior Pastor." Indeed, I once wrote a post about why I prefer not to employ that title. The problem is not that the title isn't biblical; the problem is that the title is biblical ("Chief Shepherd") and is reserved for someone else (Jesus) in its biblical use. Yes, it is a personal quirk, and I do have good friends who employ the title. Use of it is no test of friendship or fellowship with me. I just abstain from the use of it myself.

So, I'm glad to note for you that the title "Senior Pastor" appears nowhere within the text of The Baptist Faith & Message. Look for yourself. So, when Wade Burleson says, "I was not personally bothered [in 2000] by the BFM 2000 prohibition on women serving as 'Senior Pastors,' nor am I interested in amending the BFM 2000," he reveals that he needs to read the document more carefully. The BF&M states that the entire pastoral office is limited to men—as I stated before, there is no distinction in the document differentiating "senior" pastors from plain old pastors.

I thought about posting this before, but worried that it would just be another volley in some shooting war over feminist agendas in the SBC. I didn't want to pour gasoline on a fire, but neither did I want to leave a misrepresentation of the BF&M's text uncorrected forever. Hopefully I have waited long enough for the fervor to have waned so that I can just post this factual correction and move on.


Matt said...

I think your interpretation of the BF&M is a reasonable one, but I also think it's reasonable to interpret the text as applying only to senior pastors.

In 2000, Paige Patterson (who appointed the BF&M committee) was asked in an interview about the scope of the new language in the BF&M. He said, "It's one thing: the senior pastorate of the church." The Washington Times, June 1, 2000, page A2

Bart Barber said...


Dr. Patterson was wrong. Whatever anyone meant to say, words mean things.

Matt said...


I understand what you're saying, but I think that both interpretations are reasonable ways of understanding the words of the BF&M's text.

In SBC circles, sometimes the word "pastor" is used broadly to refer any of the pastors on a church's staff. Other times the word "pastor" is used narrowly to refer to the so-called senior pastor.

My church has many pastors. When someone asks me, "Who is your pastor?", I know exactly what the person means. I don't respond by saying, "Which pastor are you talking about? Be more specific." I understand that I'm being asked to name the church's senior pastor, even though the person asking the question only used the generic term "pastor."

Bart Barber said...

The vagaries of people's poor employ of biblical terminology granted (we live in a day, after all, in which some people believe that deacons are elders), nevertheless, I think we might dare to hope that our statement of faith speaks with a bit more precision.

Indeed, we find the same article affirming that there are only two biblical offices: deacons and these pastor things (the ones limited in the next breath to men only). The BF&M clearly does not leave room for there to be any other biblical office in the church. So, unless we're saying that our other pastors in a church really aren't biblical pastors (and maybe some people are saying that), then the BF&M must mean what I say it means.

Indeed, it must mean what I say it means anyway, for if these other people serving are not biblical pastors, then I can clarify that I only meant biblical pastors when I stated that the entire pastorate is limited in the BF&M to men.

David Rogers said...


Amen. I agree with you on this, both from a biblical point of view, as well as a BFM point of view.

Dave Miller said...

I am conflicted on this whole women in ministry thing. Lots of good people seem to see things very differently than I do.

However, it seems to me to be one of the clearest teachings of scripture. Men are to be in authority at home and at church. That authority involves anyone who carries ministerial authority, elders (definitions differ as to whether they are the same as pastors) and deacons.

I can't help but believe that the movement to affirm women in ministry comes more from our desire to mold to culture than to scripture.

Wade Burleson said...


I agree with Matt and Dr. Patterson and disagree with David Rogers and you.


And I love you all!

Answer these questions for me Bart. With your view of the BFM, may a woman serve as a 'Children's Minister?' May a woman serve as a "Youth Minister?" May a woman serve as a "Single's Minister?" May a woman serve as a "Women's Minister?" May a woman serve as a "Church Pastoral Counselor?" May a woman serve as a "Chaplain?" May a woman serve as a "Hebrew Professor?"

The BFM Committee did not intend to forbid women from serving in the positions above. As Dr. Patterson said to The Washington Times, the BFM Committee intended only to prohibit women from serving as Senior Pastors.

Since he appointed the committee, he ought to know. :)

Now, let the debate over proper interpretation of the BFM begin! I hope we are better at coming to a consensus in interpretation of the BFM than we are when we interpret Scripture on tertiary matters like tongues, free-will, eschatology, etc . . .

Bart Barber said...

David Rogers,

The very electrons of the Internet may very well explode at the thought of it!

Just kidding. :-)

Bart Barber said...


Although the women in ministry question is certainly very relevant to this question (and I have tagged the post thusly), more pertinent is the question of the "senior pastor."

Here's what I think: The Bible establishes deacons and pastors in the church. The pastors / elders / overseers lead the church in its study and proclamation of God's Word, worship, and decision-making. The deacons serve the pastors by leading the church in the preservation of its unity, in its ministry to congregational needs, and in its more mundane affairs, in order to free time for pastors to pursue the priorities given above.

The deacons of a church organize, often selecting a "chairman" or other "officers." Fine. But in the sense of the biblical nature of his office, the "chairman of deacons" is simply a "deacon." There is no essential qualitative difference—just an organizational acknowledgement of a particular deacon's presently increased role and (hopefully) effectiveness in leadership among deacons.

Likewise, the church has organization among her pastors. Some may have narrower task assignments. One often has the broadest responsibility and the most influential position of leadership. I agree with Dr. Patterson's characterization of this as "primary elder congregationalism." But the "senior pastor" is simply a "pastor" when it comes to how he is described biblically (actually, the Bible far more frequently describes him as an "elder"). There is no essential qualitative difference, and there certainly is not the slightest hint in the Bible that there is one set of qualifications for "senior pastors" while there are other qualifications for "pastors."

Bart Barber said...


By all that is holy, I beseech you to love me more along the lines of the way that you love David Rogers than the way that you have loved Dr. Patterson. :-)

In my typical folly, I'm going to engage all of the questions that you pose in order to distract from the simple and salient point of the post: Neither the Bible nor the BF&M mentions any such critter as a "senior pastor."

As far as I'm concerned, I see no biblical prohibition against a church hiring all manner of people for all manner of positions other than biblical offices. We have two custodians. We have twenty or so employees at a weekday preschool. We have some paid nursery workers. We have secretaries (what are we supposed to call them this week? "Ministry assistants"?).

But we try not to blur the line too much between biblical offices and the jobs we have created. The former were established by God; the latter we have come up with on our own. The existence and proper functioning of the former are a factor in the "well-being" of a church, unlike the latter.

Sometimes they overlap a bit. The Bible knows no such thing as a Music Minister or a Youth Minister. Yet we have "Pastors" on our "staff" who are also those things. At FBC Farmersville, acknowledging someone as a pastor / elder / overseer means something over and above a "ministry assignment" to a task or a demographic. It means that you must meet up to a set of biblical qualifications. It means that you must preach from time to time in ministry to the entire congregation (that you must be "apt to teach" and ought to "work hard at preaching and teaching"). It means that you join in ministries of evangelism and pastoral care that transcend any "assignment" and pertain to the pastoral leadership that you are duty-bound to give to the entire congregation. It means that you meet with other pastors to seek God's wisdom and to provide leadership to the congregation. Being the "Youth Minister" will not gain you any influence over how the church pursues, for example, its ministry to Senior Adults, but being one of the church's pastors will.

Likewise, we have all manner of "volunteer" positions that are not deacons. We have committees (not created by the Bible) or teams. We have Sunday School teachers and outreach directors. We have AWANA encouragers and Wednesday Night Cook Team Captains. We have food pantry volunteers and Audio-Visual workers. We have created all sorts of structure and positions of service. But we try not to blur the line between the biblical office of deacon and these other things.

And again, they overlap. All of our deacons are also volunteers serving in at least one other capacity within the church. They overlap. But that doesn't mean that we lose sight of the difference between something God established in the Bible and something we've made up on our own to meet a need (often legitimate). Again, the existence and proper functioning of the former pertains to the "well-being" of the church.

OK. I'll stop there. Can't put an ecclesiology on a postage stamp.

In conclusion, so long as a church acknowledges and maintains these biblical offices (doing so in obedience to the biblical parameters set for them, of course), I believe that the church has done a healthy thing in so obeying the Bible. Beyond that, I suppose that God's people ought to seek God's wisdom and act accordingly with regard to the job descriptions and qualifications for everything from weekday preschool coordinators to custodians.

cameron coyle said...

I'm with you Bart, hearing people claim the title "senior pastor" drives me nuts. There is no way to justify such a distinction among pastors by any Scriptural teaching, so for folks to then turn around and read that distinction into the BFM is, IMHO, ridiculous.

kws said...

I agree with your criticism of the use of the title of "senior pastor". I refer to myself publically as the pastor of the church I serve, but "senior" is a title that members use and that appears in our publications and website. Although, this is also confusing becaue we have a senior adult pastor. Technically, I should refer to myself with the indefinate rather than the definate article because we have many other pastors. Not once did anyone refer to me as senior pastor at the only other church I pastored. There was no need because I was the only pastor (or employee for that mattter). I would imagine Dr. Patterson's reference to the term is a function of his view of church governance ,which I believe is a strong single elder congregational model. As you know, there is much disagreement on what is normative or even prescribed in the Bible on this issue. Many larger churches holding to this model have a "pastoral team" which in many ways functions as a plurality of elders, but have titles that seem to indicate rank (Associate Pastor of, Assistant Pastor, etc.)
On a somewhat related note, Mark Dever has just completed a four part sermon series on gender roles at Capitol Hill BC. The last message was on gender roles in the church. They are about an hour long each, but well worth your time.

Bart Barber said...


I'll check out Dever's sermons. Thanks for your input. As to titles that you might use at your church, might I recommend that you consider paterfamilias. You are bona fide, aren't you?

volfan007 said...


I agree with you. Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!

Now, if we can just straighten out everyone else's thinking! :)

But, to answer Wade...along with your answer...there is a huge difference in a woman being hired by the Church to run the children's ministries, and someone being set apart by the Church as an Elder. While I see no problem whatsoever with a woman being the Children's Ministries Director, or being on the Committee on Committees, or being the Church Treasurer...under the authority of the Pastor; Scripturally, there's a huge problem with a woman being set apart by the Church as an Elder, Bishop, Pastor.


Matt said...


I didn't express an opinion on which interpretation of the BF&M I think is better. I only said that I think both interpretations are reasonable ways of looking at the text. I see no need to choose among competing interpretations of a non-inspired text. So, if I gave the impression that I agreed with Dr. Patterson, I did so unintentionally.


At the end of your last response to me, you said that your interpretation must be correct because of the clarification that you can offer. The fact that you have to offer clarification necessarily means that your interpretation is a less than self-evident inference from the text of the BF&M. Otherwise no clarification would be necessary.

Anonymous said...


Like you, I haven't embraced the term "senior pastor" but the title I'm really having trouble getting my arms around is the title "worship pastor." The title makes no sense whatsoever and empties the term "pastor" of all biblical meaning. We also have "Pastors of administration" and "Education pastors." Since when did we start pastoring anything other than people?

Tim B

kws said...

Am I ever!
ps- Do not seek the treasure.

Big Daddy Weave said...

Rev. Volfan,

Are there any Bishops in the SBC?

R. L. Vaughn said...

Mr. Barber, now you've done gone and done it. I'm offended by this sly strategy. Post a factual correction and move on? I'll say! Sure, you lure us in by calling the objection to the term senior pastor "a personal quirk". But we know what you're up to. By this device you slip in a subtle sneak attack on the Apostolic Identity crowd who believe in calling Bible things by Bible names. What is a peculiarity of action, behavior, or personality in you will suddenly be redefined as a subterfuge or quibble in us. And you didn't even call me to let me address the issue before you posted it. This beats all I've ever seen!

R. L. Vaughn said...

Actually I'm not offended; just attempting a little levity.

I agree with most of your post. I really don't think it is necessary to define an objection to the term senior pastor as a quirk. There are some legitimate concerns in the objection. Though one has legitimate concerns about a minor issue, it shouldn't create Friendship or fellowship problems between those who don't agree or find it all that important. If you want to talk quirks, call me...I haven't gone far from my East Texas raising. :-D

On the content of your post:

I believe that senior pastor is a poor choice of words -- but not quite as bad as those who sometimes call the "senior pastor" the "head" of the church!

I believe that, Biblically, pastors are and should be limited to qualified men.

I believe your reading of the BFM is simple and correct. It would seem that the other interpretation of "the office of pastor is limited to men" would mean that pastors other than the "senior pastor" either are not holding an office, are not pastors, or both.

volfan007 said...

Big Daddy,

I'm a Bishop. A Bishop is just another word for Pastor, or Elder. They all are the same office, with each word emphasizing something different about the office.

Bishop David

GUNNY said...

I honestly think much of this confusion would be alleviated with a return to the original verbiage (and practice) of previous BF&Ms with the use of "elders" instead of pastor.

Outside of Ephesians 4, you don't have "pastor" as a noun referring to a human shepherd of souls.

Rather, you have elders who shepherd the flock. I concur with the practical aspect of the "primary elder" among them, however.

For passages like 1 Tim 2:12, it's helpful to have 1 Tim 3 on its heels for illumination.