The Theology of Building a Pastoral Staff

Evangelicals aspire to live by the creed, "in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity." While this kind of liberty-in-unity might be evident in some churches' congregations, however, it is often missing from the pastoral staffs that shepherd them.

What is the ideal composition of a pastoral staff? I am not suggesting that there is one ideal way in which to build a pastoral staff, since the ideal will depend greatly on the unique mission and values of the church. If I were to found an Evangelical church from scratch, however, how should I staff the church with regard to theological unity and diversity? What beliefs should I require, and where is diversity of belief acceptable?

Granted, it's one thing to talk about the ideal pastoral staff in theory, and quite another thing when the résumés are on your desk. What I would seek, however, is not only to allow for freedom in many theological areas, but intentionally to build a theologically diversified staff, a staff including pastors who disagree with me even on issues about which I have strong opinions.

First one must distinguish between those issues on which one has strong opinions, and those issues on which agreement is necessary for the proper functioning of the local church. The following, I am convicted (in addition to the requirements listed in 1 Timothy), are non-negotiables:

  • Belief in the central elements of the Gospel: The person and work of Christ (who he is and what he has done).
  • Belief in sola Scriptura: Scripture alone is the final and only infallible authority for the Christian.
  • Belief in sola fide: Faith is the only instrumental cause (from a human standpoint) that brings about justification (i.e., no works-based salvation).
  • Belief in the future coming of Christ: i.e., cannot be a Preterist.
  • Must be formally trained in theology and biblical interpretation (sorry, no online stuff).

Thus far the list is pretty standard-issue Evangelical Protestant. Here are areas in which I might seek diversity of belief:

  • I might intentionally seek to have an Arminian on my pastoral staff.
  • I might seek someone who has a different eschatology.
  • I may look for someone who disagrees with me about infant versus adult baptism.
  • I should seek someone who is more liturgical (high church) than I am.
  • I might seek a diversified staff with regard to their views of creation (young earth, old earth, and so on) so long as they were not militant about their position.

These, at least, are good representative doctrines that give you an idea of what I am talking about. But why seek theological diversity in a pastoral staff in the first place? Why is it important?

For several reasons:

1)   A staff with a range of opinions on important but non-essential matters would better represent the broader tradition of Evangelicalism. I don't believe that there is a good or compelling reason to separate into theological enclaves locally (i.e., with extensive traditional doctrinal statements) when we do not separate conceptually as Evangelicals.

2)   A theologically diverse staff can be didactically (educationally) beneficial for the congregation. I want to illustrate to all congregants, young and old, how Christianity is built around key central beliefs. Yet I also want to demonstrate how Christians can disagree meaningfully and strongly on certain issues, but still serve the same God together with a united mission. I would even do special sessions and sermons in which I and another pastor defend our positions. Then we would embrace and demonstrate are unity in Christ.

3)   It is a better presentation to the world of our unity. The outside world needs to see such focus on the essential matters that unify us. This would charge the Gospel with the power of its message, as the message could no longer be obscured in secondary issues.

What do you think? Should we seek both unity and diversity on the pastoral staff? Are there any pitfalls? Do the benefits outweigh the dangers?

12/15/2010 5:00:00 AM
  • Evangelical
  • Preachers
  • Pulpit Creeds
  • Leadership
  • Preaching Resources
  • Christianity
  • Evangelicalism
  • C. Michael Patton
    About C. Michael Patton
    C. Michael Patton, ThM, is President of Reclaiming the Mind/Credo House Ministries. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter, or read his blog at Parchment and Pen.