I’d like to take just a few minutes of your time as you read this to try and explain the basic “types” of pastors in the PCA: senior (or solo) pastors, associate pastors, and assistant pastors. All of these are also different from various “directors” that are in churches. I hope by the end you will be a bit less confused, and that you will see the reasons for the different titles.
What is the difference between different types of pastors? Why are there different titles for pastors in the Presbyterian Church in American (PCA)? It can be quite confusing, especially for those of us that do not hold our daily devotions in the Book of Church Order (BCO)! (That’s a joke – don’t send me emails!) I’d like to take just a few minutes of your time as you read this to try and explain the basic “types” of pastors in the PCA: senior (or solo) pastors, associate pastors, and assistant pastors. All of these are also different from various “directors” that are in churches. I hope by the end you will be a bit less confused, and that you will see the reasons for the different titles.
The Senior (or Solo, or Lead) Pastor
The most fundamental and common type of pastor is what the BCO calls “the pastor.” (I know, really inventive, right?) In the context where a church has only one pastor, this is easily understood. There is only one pastor, and therefore he is the pastor. If we were to get a bit more technical about it, he would be the solo pastor, because he is the only one. In a context where there is more than one pastor, the senior pastor (or as is often used today, the lead pastor) is the main leader of the staff of a church. He is usually the main preacher and teacher, although other pastors on the staff can and should preach and teach. He sets the vision for church staff (including non-ordained full- and part-time workers at the church). In Presbyterianism, he is not the only leader, nor is he like the president of an organization. That is because Presbyterian churches are led collectively by a group of elders, both pastors (Teaching Elders) and ordained non-pastors (Ruling Elders), called a Session. But even in the Session, the Senior Pastor is called to lead. He is the moderator of the Session, which means he drafts the agenda for meetings and keeps the meeting flowing and in order – kind of like a traffic cop. And among the leadership before the congregation, the Senior Pastor is front and center. People look to him as the visible representation of the leadership. To use an old turn of phrase, he is primus inter pares – “first among equals.” The Senior Pastor is called by the congregation. That means that the congregation forms a pulpit committee (per BCO 20-2, but this is perhaps better styled a “pastoral search committee”) to “recommend to the congregation a pastoral candidate who, in its judgment…is most suited to be profitable to the spiritual interests of the congregation.” This is followed by calling a congregational meeting, in which the members of the congregation will vote as to whether to extend a call to the man as the Senior (or Solo) Pastor.