out of the mouths of co-pastors, part 1 of 2

out of the mouths of copastors part 1one thing i am notorious for is starting projects and taking forever to finish them!  if i have a deadline, i do. but if i don’t (and when it’s your own blog you can do whatever you want to do), i’m toast.  finally, i’d like to finish the co-pastoring series i started last year.  you can review the other posts here:

i believe that pastors come in all different forms  and we need to keep re-thinking the word pastor.

i also passionately believe that a ministry form that is far underutilized and encouraged is co-pastoring, sharing the load of pastoring a community among equal peers.

over the course of the past 6 years in the life of the refuge, i have met some wonderful people dedicated to shared leadership.  they have taught me so much and when we are together, we share in the common feeling–shared leadership is hard but oh-so-beautiful work and we wish more people leading churches & communities would consider it.

instead of always hearing from me here about why co-pastoring matters, i wanted you to hear from them.

meet angie fadel, donna van horn & geoff neill from the bridge in portland.  john martinez & martin turnidge from the distillery in new york.  and deborah loyd who is one of the pioneers of co-pastoring and has years of experience & wisdom we can learn from.  i asked them some questions about co-pastoring & here is part one of two, of their responses.

* * * * *

what prompted you to co-pastor in the first place?

I never set out to pastor. I always set out to love people, and that’s what I do. In the Bridge we choose pastors from within. What that means is that I was already doing the work of a pastor (caring for the people and helping carry the weight of community). This natural work I was doing was acknowledged by the pastors at the time; I was asked if I was interested in being ordained.  – Angie

It seemed to me that pastoring put too much of a burden on the character and personality of one person.  There were very few leaders in the Old Testament that were capable of “handling it all” and of the many who tried there were deep moral failures. A team is much more unwielding, and in the long run there is more flexibility and ability to stay fresh with God. – Deborah

God wouldn’t leave me alone. – Donna

I was asked on staff – Geoff

I saw other people doing it and wanted that for our community.  I used to be the Senior Pastor and decided to share the lead with those that wanted to help out. – John

I had a desire for less hierarchical ‘modern’ structure and to diminish the risk of burn-out for the lead pastor. – Martin

why do you think it’s such an important model of leadership to consider?

I am a huge fan of the flat leadership style (yes it does work!). We all carry the weight together, get paid the same, and are able to use our individual gifts to the full. Plus, our families are not a causality of church…it helps us put family first – Angie

As leaders come and go individually, they learn the DNA of the group as the group is at that time. This makes community re-incarnations possible. The group never gets stale because it is always re-inventing itself.  In co-equal pastoring, the use of power is healthier.  Co-equal co-pastoring attracts people who are less ego-invested in leading. This is safer for the congregation/community. These kinds of leaders are more willing to give power away when it is appropriate. They seem to have a better understanding that power is about giving voice to the voiceless, serving the under-served, speaking up, etc. – Deborah

We like to say around here at The Bridge that when the “sh*it hits the fan,” we aren’t dealing with it alone. This model intrinsically changes the dynamics of a community by creating an idea of shared power that isn’t just talked about in theory, but is actively practiced. It creates a ripple effect as people can see us work thru our differences, knowing that their best interest is what drives us… not our own.  – Donna

I think given the job, it is very helpful to have peers on staff rather than someone who holds the power and those that are subservient. It also is a real testimony to where our power has to come from as ministers of Jesus’ new world. It means cooperation, respect, and a committee sort of format. – Geoff

I think that if you claim to be a community that is about including others and listening to other’s voices, then it makes sense that the leadership team models this. – John

if you believe that God’s will is best understood and interpreted in community, it makes sense to ensure that community is present in all areas of the church including the pastorate.  not that it is the right way or the only way – but it is definitely worth considering. – Martin

what is (or was) the hardest part about it?

Sharing the responsibility. I tend to take on more than I need to or is healthy. – Angie

Leaders must learn how to protect their fellow leaders and it is hard to know when it gets to the point of co-dependancy. You learn very quickly about each others weaknesses. Decision making can be cumbersome. Sometimes consensus is difficult. Communication is primary.  There’s a tension between group consensus and individual perspectives. Also, when the congregation has two or even three co-pastors they assume that if they tell one pastor their story, all will know it. This may or may not be true. This can be confusing for congregants as well as pastors. – Deborah

It was hard at first to have confidence in my opinion, as I didn’t have the same level of experience that the existing co-pastors had. Now I have found my voice. I’ve also discovered that giving up control and not having to be “right” all of the time is the hardest part. – Donna

To get the pay scale to reflect co-pastor reality – Geoff

The hardest part about it for me was giving up my dreams for the dreams of the community.  This was a little like a death in the family for me.  My dreams for the community had to be pushed aside for the dreams of the whole, and I was not used to having to give those things up.  The results of course are investing in shared dreams with my fellow pastors and celebrating deeply when our dreams come true together. – John

Deciding what to do when there is a difference of opinion.  Is the final decision made by anyone-can-veto or majority rule, or the former-lead-pastor-says-so or deferred to the board. – Martin

what is (or was) the best part about it?

People that have my back and I have theirs. We share this responsibility which helps with the sometimes unbearable weight. No one needs to be the head honcho. I have never been in a place where I am equal as a woman and it is a non-issue. Once I leave the safety of my community it’s a different story, but within we are equal. – Angie

Each person can give their best and leave their weak areas alone. Chances are there is someone else on the team that can jump in. The burden is spread out so a leaders time and energy is more personally manageable.   There’s far greater creativity in problem solving. The bonds of friendship among co-pastors can be strong and supportive, and the mutual accountability and encouragement helps.  There is also freedom to opt out, meaning that if one leader feels like they want or need to move on or take on a different role, the community doesn’t suffer an identity crisis or a leadership crisis based on abandonment. These transitions can be seamless. – Deborah

Getting to spend time every week with my co-pastors, seriously, they are amazing people with incredible insights! It’s nice knowing they have my back, I don’t have to be “strong” or have all the answers… or any answers for that matter! – Donna

The best thing about it is to have peers and partners that are better than you on some things and how naturally the different jobs flow out from there. – Geoff

What a load off.  Sharing responsibility with my co-pastors is awesome.  I am not “The Guy” anymore and everyone is full aware of their impact on the community.  It is wonderful. – John

A genuine sharing of responsibility – not just delegation which traces power and responsibility back to a single person.  This is OUR church, OUR family, OUR budget to balance, OUR bills to pay, OUR gathering to organize, OUR coffee to buy, OUR space to clean. – Martin

* * * * *

reading these responses was so encouraging to me, and a reminder of why i so highly value co-pastoring!  it’s also a reminder to keep working hard to make sure we’re not defaulting back to co-pastoring in theory but not in practice.  it takes work to ensure the entire load is shared together, and the values we hold dear to are being infused into the life of our community in every way we can.

i’d love to hear any of your thoughts on this.

we’ll wrap this up with part two on friday, with four more questions. plus, feel free to ask any that come to mind as you are reading & exploring this idea.


Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


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