What percentage of pulpit time should be occupied by one primary preaching elder? What if several elders are gifted preachers? Is the concept of "senior pastor" biblical? If so, where do we find it? I agree that there are leaders singled out among the elders, but is this one leader? What do you think of Alexander Strauch's (Biblical Eldership) position on this?Let's take the questions in turn over the next two posts.
1. What percentage of pulpit time should be occupied by one primary preaching elder?
The short answer is "it depends" on another of other questions. For example, how agreed are the elders on basic ministry and preaching philosophy? Does the sharing of the pulpit further splinter the eldership and/or the church? Is any one or more of the elders laid aside by the congregation primarily for the teaching ministry as full-time elders? Does the church have a vision for training up other preachers and pastors? How much respite does the main preaching elder need through the course of a year? Does the church support and encourage the main preaching elder in ministry commitments outside the local congregation (i.e., writing, speaking)?
All of these and more would be factors in determining how much the primary preaching elder might be in the pulpit. And, of course, the percentage could fluctuate from season to season. In principle, I would think it prudent that the main preaching elder be in the pulpit enough to: (a) establish the tone and direction of the teaching ministy; (b) shape the congregation theologically; (c) give clear direction to the church practically; and (d) meet his own sense of calling and responsibility for shepherding in the word.
Conversely, it seems prudent that the main preaching elder be out of the pulpit enough to: (a) rest and be refreshed spiritually and physically; (b) train and encourage other men for pulpit ministry; and, (c) allow other gifted elders opportunity to use their gifts and edify the saints.
The deeper and wider the teaching ministry in a church can be, while maintaining clear and consistent character and direction, the stronger the church will be. How that affects the percentage of time the primary preaching elder is in the pulpit will vary.
2. What if several elders are gifted preachers?
This is addressed in the comments above. Such elders should have opportunity to use their gifts and will strengthen the ministry when they do so.
But the question begs another question: Whose responsibility is it to manage the pulpit? An eldership needs to be clear about that responsibility. Some churches simply leave that to the primary preaching elder as part of his responsibility. Some churches "team teach" and so there is a level of group decision-making there. But even there, the 'senior pastor' generally leads or manages that process in some clear way. Whether managed by an individual or a team, the thing to watch out for is the development of an "entitlement" to preach or control the preaching ministry that undermines clear direction and sense of responsibility in the pulpit ministry.
Personally, it seems prudent that the management of the pulpit ministry be the responsibility of the primary preaching elder. There should always be input from other elders about the spiritual and teaching needs in the congregation, but practically someone needs to manage the direction of the teaching ministry. Also, if there is any significant level of planning for the pulpit ministry, you quickly find that you're managing 1,000 day-to-day details in order to complete the preaching schedule (who is available, what other observances are happening on a given Lord's Day, what is the main preacher's schedule, special days that "warrant" a certain speaker, outside speakers, and so on). If an entire eldership gets engrossed in those kinds of details it will grind to a halt for a period and probably significantly neglect other spiritual responsibilities. That's why there needs to be a practical distinction between the work of staff and the spiritual work of the eldership as a whole.