Director, Pastor, Whatever....

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Tullian Tchividjian's recent hiring as "Director of Ministry Development" by Willow Creek Church PCA exposes a common strategy for avoiding presbytery review of ministry hires among PCA churches

The key is that Tullian was hired as a "Director...." In the Presbyterian Church in America, any title other than "pastor," "associate pastor" or "assistant pastor" indicates a hire not vetted and approved by the church's presbytery. Over the years, an increasing percentage of ministry hires by PCA churches have been of directors, coordinators, managers, administrators, etc.

Sometimes an ordained man is hired as director of a ministry. Sometimes an unordained man or woman is hired.

In the case of an ordained man hired for an unordained position, because the position is not that of a pastor, presbytery has little say in his hiring or duties. The position is not that of a pastor, therefore, presbytery examination and approval are unnecessary. At its most rigorous, a presbytery might treat such a position as an out-of-bounds call.

More common is the hiring of an unordained man or woman for a non-pastoral position: director, manager, coordinator, etc.... In the past these titles often indicated a woman serving in children's or women's ministries. Today they cover a far greater range of positions in the life of a church.

Why has this become common? For a number of reasons, including some that are legitimate and some that are less so....

  1. Hiring a director keeps presbytery noses out of local church affairs. Presbyteries are informed of the terms (salary and benefits) of every call, and presbyteries may reject ministry hires because they disapprove the terms of call. 
  2. It makes lines of authority clear. An increasing number of PCA churches are hiring directors and assistant pastors rather than associate pastors because: a) assistant pastors don't require a congregational vote to be fired, only session approval, and; b) directors don't require even session approval to be fired--if the church structure permits it, directors can simply be removed by any individual delegated such authority. This reason for hiring directors rather than pastors may sound mercenary, but I believe a significant percentage of multi-staff PCA churches degenerate over time into disjointed fiefdoms ruled by tenured staff because of ambiguous authority structures within the church staff.
  3. It removes presbytery obstacles to hiring and firing. Presbytery must approve hiring and firing of pastors. Presbytery has no say in the hiring and firing of directors, etc.
  4. It allows those who don't subscribe to Reformed theology (or who hold unordainable views) to hold ministry positions within the PCA.
  5. It permits women to hold positions that would otherwise be held by ordained men: director of diaconate, director of community groups, director of spiritual formation...
  6. Within a few presbyteries, ordination requirements have become unreasonable and this is a way of avoiding tendentious candidates and credentials committees. In addition, PCA ordination requirements are often unsustainable for older or unusual ministry candidates, leading them to seek director positions rather than pursue ordination.

One large PCA church has dozens of staff members listed on its web directory, yet only one pastor. Ordained men on staff are identified by the title "Rev.", but their job titles are not those of pastoral positions. Whether they are members of session and presbytery is unclear. There's a blurring of positions, titles and sexes that renders the formal (if any) pastoral callings of staff members opaque.

Check out PCA staff directories and you'll see this trend reflected in most multi-staff churches. 

Thus, you have Tullian as a director. Apologists of this hire will say, "But he's not a pastor. He's just a director." Don't fall for it. It's a fig leaf.