I’ve Experienced Two Significant Differences Between the Role of Senior Pastor and Student Pastor

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*Today we offer a guest post by Dr. Kenneth Bruce, the Senior Pastor of Westwood Baptist Church in Alabaster, AL.

When my wife and I found out that she was pregnant we began preparing to be parents. We read books, took classes, spent time with children, sought advice from seasoned parents and even discussed how we would discipline certain issues “if that was our kid.” I thought I understood what it would be like to be a parent, but everything changed when my newborn son was placed in my arms.

I served as a student pastor for thirteen years before I transitioned into the role of senior pastor eighteen months ago. While there are similarities between serving in the roles of student pastor and senior pastor, there are distinctions that I did not fully grasp until moving into a senior pastor role. Two of the most significant differences I’ve experienced between the role of student pastor and senior pastor have to do with responsibility and perspective.

A Greater Responsibility

The United States Presidency has often been called “The Glorious Burden.” While the opportunity to lead a nation is glorious, the duty of POTUS is a burden nonetheless. In my experience, leading as a senior pastor feels much like that of a president: a glorious burden. There is great joy in leading and doing what God has called me to do, but I often wake up in the mornings with a leadership weight upon my shoulders that I never knew existed until I assumed the role of senior pastor.

As the senior pastor, I carry the greatest responsibility for the leadership, direction, and execution of the church’s mission and vision. I am responsible for the general oversight of each ministry as well as leading the team around me. Currently, I have a staff of 19 people; 19 mortgages and families potentially affected by my leadership. I thought of this responsibility while I was a student pastor, but it was impossible to fully understand the implications and feel the weight until I became a senior pastor.

More than the earthly responsibility, pastors have an eternal responsibility before the Lord (Heb 13:17, 2 Cor 5:10). The Lord will hold all pastors accountable for their faithfulness in preaching, leading, and shepherding the congregation entrusted to them. When a pastor stands in the pulpit, there are eternal implications. The souls of men, women, and children hang in the balance.

A Greater Perspective

My son enjoys exploring different landmarks and locations around the world with Google Earth. He has the ability to zoom in on our house and then zoom out to see where it is located in relation to our state, our nation, and the entire earth. Our house seems big to a 10-year-old, but it is not even recognizable when looking at our city from a bird’s eye view, much less when seeing the world as a whole. Perspective changes everything.

When I was a student pastor, my focus was directed toward a particular segment of teenagers and their families within the church.  Though I worked in coordination with other staff leaders and ministries throughout the church, most often my attention was given to the area that God had entrusted to me. My knowledge was often limited to the people and families that I had direct contact with. I considered how my given ministry fit into the overall mission and vision of the church, but my perspective was limited to how the function of the church affected the student ministry rather than how each piece of the puzzle was affected.

A senior pastor is responsible for seeing the church as a whole, rather than how one particular ministry functions within the whole. He is ultimately responsible for leading and overseeing all ministries and all people all of the time.  One decision might positively affect a particular ministry but that decision may have negative ramifications for the church as a whole.

As a student pastor, there were times when I would wonder why a senior leader made a decision that I did not particularly agree with. In reality, he had a better understanding of certain nuances of the church and was often privy to more information than I had, which gave him a greater perspective. The weight of responsibility for an entire congregation undoubtedly factored into the decisions he made. By nature of their God-given position, senior pastors see, hear, know and experience things in ways that other members of the pastoral staff cannot.

The moment your child is placed in your arms for the first time there is an overflow of emotion. I felt love more than I thought possible, but I was also struck with panic when I realized that the responsibility to raise this child fell on my shoulders. Greater responsibility and greater perspective changed everything.





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