In my last blog, I addressed the vitally important relationship between the Senior Pastor and the Elder Board. In this blog, we will dive more deeply into the day to day relationship between the Senior (i.e., lead) Pastor and the Elder Board (i.e., primary leadership team), of which the Senior Pastor is most often a member. Think of it as a “dance.” When the relationship is mutually trusting and respectful, and roles are clear, the two flow as one, with coordinated symmetry even when the movement is complex and challenging. For the two partners there is joy and deep satisfaction. It is a beautiful thing to see! I am an awkward embarrassment on the dance floor, but even I can appreciate healthy relationships among the leadership of the church!

Sadly, in some of our churches (even one is too many!), the relationship is not that way. When roles are confused and character is weak, both partners may struggle to lead or both defer, resulting in awkwardness, stepped-on toes, mutual frustration, the loss of joy, and what is witnessed by the body is far from beautiful and inspiring.


  • He serves the Chief Shepherd first— The Apostles were steady, sacrificial leaders because they were transformed by their relationship with Jesus. They literally put their lives on the line for the church because they knew it was the Bride of Christ. Their daily strength to serve, their direction in challenging times, their motivation all came from their Lord and Savior. He was their true North Star. As a result, with very few meaningful “credentials,” they led incredibly well. The better we know and follow Him, the better leaders we will be!
  • Trustworthy Character— A pastor who does not warrant and evoke trust will have a quickly diminishing number of followers. Counterintuitively, trust is developed best not through perfection but through humility, integrity, transparency, and basic reliability. Do what you say you will, and own up to your mistakes.
  • Primary Shepherd (teaching, caring, loving, protecting, sacrificing)— Our people know when we care and when we don’t. We need to be with them in their pain, immaturity, weakness, as well as their joys, their growing, and their spiritual victories. “Love covers a multitude of sins.”
  • Primary Leader among Equals (discerning direction and calling, envisioning God’s future)— The healthy pastor understands his calling to follow hard after God, and to lead his people to the place God wants them to go. He takes the initiative to seek God for that direction, be it the spiritual growth of the body, or its mission and calling in the community. But he does not do this arbitrarily or alone. The Elder Board receives his sense of direction, and then confirms or refines that direction before the fruit of that collaborative effort is shared with the body.
  • Equipper/ Leader Developer— The healthy pastor not only disciples his people (i.e., equipping them for ministry) but he also trains up spiritually mature leaders who will lead and disciple others.


  • The One Who Leads Alone— Men separate from one another for a variety of reasons, but the end result is almost always bad. A pastor may not understand the danger of isolation and his vulnerability to the strategies of Satan. But God’s image in us drives us to live in relationships and community, whether we are introverts or extroverts. I am most concerned about those who intentionally seek isolation as leaders. Are they craving unrestrained power; resisting submission to authority or appropriate accountability? Pride is deceptive in the person who has it and it’s not always easy to discern in others. Tragically, it inevitably leads to a fall, which is sometimes great enough to pull others down as well.
  • The Mercenary Shepherd (“hireling”) — This is the pastor who serves himself and not the Lord. There are as many counterfeit motivations as temptations in the world, and all of them yield bad fruit. Again, this lack of health is not always easy to discern. When God exposes it, other godly leaders must be courageous and ready to address it for the sake of the pastor and the protection of the body.


  • Exemplary Partners— Healthy Board members share leadership and responsibility with the Senior Pastor for the benefit of the body. All Elders, including the Pastor, serve as equals and possess spiritual oversight authority only as a group.
  • Entrusting/ Empowering Attitude— The Board should not seek to “manage” the pastor, rather they should seek to entrust and empower, while practicing mutual submission, much like in a marriage. When all practice humility, teachability, and mutual accountability, the result is fruitful flourishing.
  • Complementary Shepherds (teaching, caring, loving, protecting, sacrificing)— Sharing the shepherding role with the pastor provides not only the sharing of responsibility and burdens, but actively displays the diversity of gifts and strengths with which God blesses the local body of Christ.
  • Complementary Leaders (who affirm and refine in their diversity and plurality) — Working collaboratively to lead the church, with the pastor as the initiator and the Board as discerning responders, protects the church from both the “lone wolf leader” and the problem of “too many chiefs.”
  • Supporting and Protecting (body and primary leader)— The pastor and the body need to be supported and protected, not from each other, but from going their own way down the wrong path. A healthy Board can effectively provide this role of guardian.


  • A Dysfunctional Partner— A dysfunctional partner is no partner at all. Dysfunction manifests in a myriad of ways, but its fruit is consistently distracting, disruptive, unnecessarily dominating, self-centered, dis-unifying, and can be self-righteous, deceptive, and legalistic. It is the opposite of godly, spiritually mature leadership.
  • Every Man for Himself— Board members fail to understand their proper role when they function like individual church bosses, or consider themselves as representatives who serve church constituencies. Every Board member serves the whole church at all times, informed by their unique perspective. Their Board authority is only expressed in the decisions the Board makes as a group.
  • The Usurping Elder— This person seeks to exercise personal power over the pastor or manipulate other leaders through intimidation for their own ends or desires. This is antithetical to God’s design for leadership.
  • The Controlling Board— This is the misguided Board who feel it’s their responsibility to inhibit or even prevent the pastor from exercising initiative as a leader. It fails to grasp God’s pattern and purpose for leadership in a mutually empowering and mutually accountable team framework.
  • The Unqualified Elder— This is simply a person whose life does not consistently display the godly characteristics presented in I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9;  and I Peter 5:1-4.

If it is not already clear… we are to pursue God’s design for healthy relationships between the Senior Pastor and the Board. As we assess our particular situations, let us pray for clear discernment and let any needed adjustment and improvement begin with me. And let us continue to improve until we are spiritually, organizationally, and relationally healthy.

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John Nesbitt

Operations Director at EDA Move
John yielded his life to Christ in 1969 while a freshman at the University of North Carolina. After graduation, he met and married the love of his life, Terry. Together they began a lifetime of ministry through training at Dallas Theological Seminary. John and Terry have been blessed with two great sons who married wonderful wives and produced amazing grandkids! John's passions in ministry include peacemaking, developing systems that help the body of Christ thrive, and being helpful. For recreation, John enjoys fitness, reading classic fantasy, and fine desserts!


  1. Ben Honeyford on April 29, 2021 at 10:33 am

    Thanks for sharing! Very helpful!

    • John Nesbitt on May 27, 2021 at 6:39 pm

      Thanks so much, Ben!

  2. Kyle on April 28, 2021 at 12:02 pm

    Lots of wisdom here. Thanks for this John!

    • John Nesbitt on May 27, 2021 at 6:40 pm

      Thank you Kyle, that’s very kind!

  3. Josh on April 28, 2021 at 6:50 am

    Thanks for this John. This paints such a clear picture. Looking forward to your next one. Really enjoying this set of posts from you.

    • John Nesbitt on April 28, 2021 at 12:36 pm

      Thanks Josh!

  4. Tony Balsamo on April 28, 2021 at 6:42 am

    Very insightful, practical and encouraging! Thanks for sharing with us!

    • John Nesbitt on April 28, 2021 at 12:37 pm

      Thanks Tony!

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