Questions About Succession #2
Q: Please discuss a phrase I occasionally hear at Bethlehem—“first among equals,” a term used to describe our elder board. Is the “first” among equals earned, or simply granted?
A: “First among equals” in this context means that the senior leader (Pastor for Preaching & Vision) is one elder among a plurality of elders. He gets only one vote. He can be outvoted. He is not a monarch, dictator, or business owner who makes unilateral decisions. The council is no rubber stamp of his proposals.
But he is not equal in every respect. He leads. He leads by persuasion. The more compelling his biblical rationale for any given proposal, the more likely he is to persuade the other elders. The same goes for all the elders; they lead by persuasion, not by force or politics or fiat.
Over time, as God enables the senior leader to pile up wise and successful decisions, the council tends to give him more and more benefit of the doubt. He gains credibility.
A new senior leader will be treated with appropriate deference right from the beginning, but by God’s grace he will have to build on his initial credibility. He could strengthen his position as “first among equals” or weaken it, based upon the wisdom of his recommendations and God’s vindication of his decisions.