PCA- Relationship of senior pastor and associate pastor in the BCO

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Timmay

Puritan Board Freshman
Does the BCO define or establish the relationship or potential hierarchy between the two positions?
It baffles me that the two (plus assistant pastor) are in the BCO, when all members of the session are equal, though you can have a “first among equals.”
Does the associate pastor support the senior pastor, or do they each do their own thing if session is ok with that?


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SolaScriptura

Puritanboard Brimstone
Per the BCO there is no technical difference between senior and associate beyond whatever internal “chain of command” protocols are established by the Session. It is very easy for an associate pastor to functionally disregard the leadership of the supposed senior pastor, especially if they have the support of even some of the Session members.

One could argue that associate pastors have even more power on the Session than does the senior. How so?

Many senior pastors have an internal struggle with or opposition to voting in the Session meetings (even on this site it has been argued as somehow virtuous for senior pastors, as moderators of the session, to abstain from voting). Many other senior pastors think they should limit their voting to being a mere tie breaker.

But mind you all this is false - senior pastors are full-fledged members of the Session with full constitutional authority to vote. And per the BCO, if a local church has by-laws they must conform to the BCO, and are subordinate to the BCO, so a local church cannot prevent a senior pastor from voting. Regardless, many senior pastors nonetheless act like it is virtuous not to exercise the power of the vote.

Associate pastors, having none of the burden associated with being the moderator, have no such qualms.

Legion are the stories of an associate splitting a session or even worse splitting a church. Be very wise and cautious before considering an associate.
 
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Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
or do they each do their own thing if session is ok with that?
This is where you go wrong. While the Assistant pastor is answerable to the Session, the Senior Pastor and Associate pastor are not. They are answerable to the Presbytery, and to the Congregation. If a session member wants to do away with the Senior Pastor (or Associate) they would get one vote in a Congregational meeting, same as any non-office holding member in good standing - if things get to that point. The only difference is that the RE might have a say at the Presbytery level, but unless formal charges can be levied, there isn't even much formal leverage there.

Now, if the senior pastor and associate get at loggerheads, the Presbytery should step in and seek to reconcile the situation, but at that point the best solution is probably going to be for both to seek other calls.
 

fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
A couple of thoughts:
  1. In terms of strict polity, senior and associate pastors are the same - elected by the congregation and members of the Session with full voting rights.
  2. The BCO does not use the term "associate pastor" very often, almost exclusively to describe #1 above.
  3. The BCO over and over again uses the term "pastor." In a multi-TE church, I would argue that applies to the senior pastor, not any (or all) associates. Note specifically BCO 12-1: "The church Session consists of the pastor, associate pastor(s)," (emphasis added)>
  4. The senior pastor, therefore, is the moderator of the Session (BCO 12-2) unless he and the Session determine otherwise (BCO 12-4).
  5. As moderator under Robert's Rules, that is why the senior pastor normally does not vote. It is not (and should not be) a result of reluctance. "If the presiding officer is a member of the assembly, he can vote as any other member when the vote is by ballot (see also 45:28). In all other cases the presiding officer, if a member of the assembly, can (but is not obliged to) vote whenever his vote will affect the result—that is, he can vote either to break or to cause a tie; or, in a case where a two-thirds vote is required, he can vote either to cause or to block the attainment of the necessary two thirds." (RONR 12th ed 44:12). This itself is subject to some flexibility, as many sessions can be considered a small assembly: "Except in a small board or a committee, however—unless the vote is secret (that is, unless it is by ballot; 45)—the chair protects his impartial position by exercising his voting right only when his vote would affect the outcome, in which case he can either vote and thereby change the result, or he can abstain." (RONR 12th ed. 4:56).
  6. The BCO does contain a provision to protect against an associate "forcing out" the senior. It requires a supermajority of both the congregation AND the Presbytery to allow an associate to succeed a senior without an intervening call. (BCO 23-1).
Pastoral relations are fraught with difficulties because we really don't have explicit guidelines in Scripture for them. Like most matters of polity, we have to use wisdom.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
I'm curious because I've not understood the office of assistant pastor. If the assistant pastor is an ordained minister, then if in presbyterianism as prescribed in scripture presbytery is the place by jus divinum for calling, discipline etc., of the senior and associate pastor, should the assistant not be also answerable to the presbytery and not the congregation as an ordained pastor? What does that say to the concept of ordination? And if it the idea all of this is jus humanum, what is the equity in the apparent inequity? Is he basically an employee of the church to treat as they wish? Does he have no recourse with presbytery? I expect this varies in denominations; so pardon my ignorance even of how this works in the PCA. It has not been anything I've thought about.
 

fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
I'm curious because I've not understood the office of assistant pastor. If the assistant pastor is an ordained minister, then if in presbyterianism as prescribed in scripture presbytery is the place by jus divinum for calling, discipline etc., of the senior and associate pastor, should the assistant not be also answerable to the presbytery and not the congregation as an ordained pastor? What does that say to the concept of ordination? And if it the idea all of this is jus humanum, what is the equity in the apparent inequity? Is he basically an employee of the church to treat as they wish? Does he have no recourse with presbytery? I expect this varies in denominations; so pardon my ignorance even of how this works in the PCA. It has not been anything I've thought about.
Chris,

All of the pastoral designations are accountable to the Presbytery. Seniors, associates, and assistants have their membership in Presbytery and that's the court of original jurisdiction. The difference is that a congregation issues a call to the Presbytery for seniors and associates, but the Session issues the call to the Presbytery for assistants.
 

Timmay

Puritan Board Freshman
So I still haven’t seen my answer totally addressed. Should the associate take the lead from the senior? Is the associate sort of a helper to the senior?


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NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Chris,

All of the pastoral designations are accountable to the Presbytery. Seniors, associates, and assistants have their membership in Presbytery and that's the court of original jurisdiction. The difference is that a congregation issues a call to the Presbytery for seniors and associates, but the Session issues the call to the Presbytery for assistants.
Thanks Fred; what is the basis for the difference in the call and why is that? Does the congregation not have a right in each case? Apologies for the rabbit trail.
 

fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
So I still haven’t seen my answer totally addressed. Should the associate take the lead from the senior? Is the associate sort of a helper to the senior?


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In my opinion, the answer is an unqualified "yes." There is a reason that the senior is the senior.
 

fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
Thanks Fred; what is the basis for the difference in the call and why is that? Does the congregation not have a right in each case? Apologies for the rabbit trail.
The congregation does not have a right in the call of an assistant. That is also why an assistant is not a member of the Session - he was not called by the congregation, and therefore cannot act in discipline cases over them.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
The congregation does not have a right in the call of an assistant. That is also why an assistant is not a member of the Session - he was not called by the congregation, and therefore cannot act in discipline cases over them.
What is the basis for such an office called by the session but not the congregation?
 

fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
By the mere fact the BCO has the two different titles and it is very difficult for an associate to supercede a senior?


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Yes, and the fact that the senior pastor is designated specifically as the moderator of the session
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
By the mere fact the BCO has the two different titles and it is very difficult for an associate to supercede a senior?
Just to be clear, the supermajority rule applies to Assistants as well as Associates who seek to move up to senior pastor without intervening service elsewhere. The rule discourages coup attempts.

And if the senior pastor's vote is needed to create or break or make a tie on an issue before the session, the church probably has bigger problems than the particular issue in dispute.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
What is the basis for such an office called by the session but not the congregation?
It is still "the church" that issues the call. Other examples include missionaries and military chaplains (and I suppose other chaplains) and seminary professors. These men, if they will be ordained, must be acknowledged as having been called by the church to the jobs they are set to perform. Some men do some of those jobs without ordination.

But, what church body processes the call? In my experience, it is always or almost always the Presbytery, that is to say: the governing body of the regional church. Presbyterys typically end up issuing calls to seminary professors and chaplains. In like manner to the session, acting as the church (as does a presbytery or general assembly--which in the OPC through its committee on foreign missions calls a missionary) issues a call to a man to be an assistant pastor. That call must still be processed by some Presbytery, which will be the body that ordains (if the man is not yet ordained) and then to which the minister is accountable.

I speak out of the experience of being called for the first time by a PCA session, having been until then only in the OPC which does not employ "assistant pastors" in its polity. I don't recall how much reflection I did on the matter immediately upon receiving the call. Being trained by PCA professors (mostly) at GPTS, I had some indirect prior familiarity with the position of "assistant pastor," and the justification for it.

I knew of some "assistant pastors" in some large PCA churches who were not ordained; that is, they held the position through title, not through actual ordination. These men truly were "staff," possibly in positions like "youth pastor." The men who were ordained would, like myself later on, be ordained by Presbytery in taking an actual call from a church-body, viz. the session of a church.

However, my call, like calls to seminary professors and others, did not result in sessional authority. Men like myself worked for the session, not on the session. Similarly, missionaries called by GA are not automatic commissioners to GA, though they work for the church in denominational roles bearing ordained office. The only congregational authority I possessed was indirect. It was the result of whatever demonstration of biblical instruction and benefit I might exhibit. Just as the body would receive a visiting pastor's preaching as authoritative based on his ordination and their session allowing him in the pulpit, just so much was the authority I had.

Inasmuch as my gifts were well-received, I felt able to serve the people of that congregation, even though I did not have any direct power over any. I sat in no judgment seat. I attended session meetings, but did no voting on any matter. When the time came for a transition of senior pastor, in his absence I presided (moderated) session meetings, though I did no voting then either. As the congregation sought replacement for their senior pastor with someone of greater experience than I had, I prepared for departure from that assistant pastor position. My next call was to a position of "pastor" (solo) in another congregation.

I have seen recently doubts raised from some quarter about whether the church should call men to positions like seminary professor; thereby calling into question the position of assistant pastor. Possibly, the original objection was to "assistant pastor;" but seeing that such a call and ordination rests on the prior acceptance of such extra-congregational calls as "seminary professor," it follows that one must object to the whole range of calls issued by bodies other than congregations. If seminary professors would then be ordained, then first they must be called by a congregation.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
To footnote Rev. Buchanan's comments as to the Assistant Pastor,

Ordination of a man to the call to be an Assistant Pastor:
BCO 21-5, FN 1 - omits question 8 from the ordination questions: "Are you now willing to take the charge of this church, agreeable to your declaration when accepting their call? And do you, relying upon God for strength, promise to discharge to it the duties of a pastor?"

BCO 21-6 FN 2 - Omits phrases "whom you have called to be your pastor" and "and to submit to him in the due exercise of discipline" from the questions to the congregation during the ordination.

BCO 21-7 FN 3 - the ordination charge is to the Session, not the congregation.

Installation of a man previously ordained to a call to be an Assistant Pastor :
BCO 21-9 FN 4 - To the man being installed - "Are you willing to take charge of this congregation" changed to "Are you willing to serve this congregation" and "assistant" added before "pastor"

BCO 21-10 FN 5 - Omits the phrases "whom you have called to be your pastor" and "and to submit to him in the due exercise of discipline" from the questions to the congregation during the installation.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
I'll end my rabbit trail but it sure seems to be a problematic hybrid church office to me if the man is ordained and ministering to the church he's serving (the congregants consent being of divine right). If the assistant is laboring in the congregation, they should have a say, particularly if they are footing the bill. Below is what J. A Hodge says of the PCUSA practice (which dates to at least latter half of the 1800s; haven't researched the Scottish side):
He may be a probationer or an ordained minister chosen by the church or pastor, with the approbation of presbytery, to assist the pastor, for a time or permanently, in the discharge of his duties. As he is to labor in the church, the congregation should be consulted in the choice of an assistant, even if the pastor alone becomes responsible for his maintenance. As the pastor is to be assisted, he should be consulted in the selection, even if the congregation pays the whole salary of the assistant. He has no seat in Session nor jurisdiction in the congregation. In his duties he acts in the name and under the direction of the pastor. In Scotland he is called the pastor's helper.​
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
Here's another wrinkle. We had a situation in a PCA presbytery where a multi-site church wanted to ordain all of the churchplanters as assistant pastors and have the executive pastor be the only senior pastor over all the congregations. Their rationale was to try to keep a balance on the Session (with one session for all the sites), rather than have a predominance of TE's. Our response was that the right of the congregation to affirm their own pastor was an important historic Presbyterian principle (patronage anyone?) and their proposal meant that none of the individual churches would have that right. They eventually caved and called them all as associate pastors, meaning that each local congregation had some say. I think the PCA practice creates more potential problems than it solves, which may be why the OPC and ARP have not gone down that route.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
If the assistant is laboring in the congregation, they should have a say, particularly if they are footing the bill.
If a significant minority of the congregation start pushing back, I'm confident that the session would end up acting. And if the ones complaining are the ones footing the bill, I expect they would be heard even more quickly.

As a practical matter, it's easier for the congregation to deal with a problem with an assistant pastor than it is to deal with a problem with an associate pastor.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
We had a situation in a PCA presbytery where a multi-site church
I would find bigger issues with a muti-site church than whether the local point of contact was an assistant or an associate. How can the members even pretend to make an informed decision when electing elders to the single session?

I know Perimeter in Atlanta originally went with the multi-campus approach, but it ultimately devolved. Intown and the pig Perimeter are the only ones I kept track of.
 
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