The True Extent of Pastoral “Authority,” Part 1

What authority, if any, does God grant a pastor over people? The short answer is “NONE in the position or the man himself.”

Hebrews 13:17 King James Version (KJV) does read:

17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

BUT, this is a stodgy translation manufactured inside of an Anglican Monarchy. The Anglicans are simply an English duplicate of Rome. In this verse, “to submit” is not to place one’s self in subjugation, as in militaristic rank, but rather “to willingly follow by consent.” The definition of “rule over” is NOT “to domineer” nor even “to direct.” Rather, to oversee is properly understood as “watch like a shepherd tending a flock of sheep.” As Bill Mounce so accurately points out, overseer (episkopos) refers to the assignment or leadership role (by service & example, Mark 9:35, 10:34) placed upon the man by God via calling and subsequent gifting, not to an administrative position. [Reference Acts 1:20 wherein Peter says of Judas, “May another take his place of leadership” (”-1-tim-3-1 )].

What Hebrews 13 states by using the word “obey” is not what many pastors assume it to mean. The term really means “to willingly follow, due to being convinced.” Convinced of what? Well, that brings up Acts, chapter 6. The duties of those who oversee the flock of God are:

  1. Prayer
  2. Ministry of the Word

Believers should be convinced that a pastor’s ministry of the Word is accurate to the Word. The pastor’s only authority—if we call it that— comes from showing what the Word says. The Word is the real authority. He must be able and ready to teach it. He is to be a workman that is unashamed, because by thorough and diligent and prayerful study, he rightly parses (interprets, teaches) the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:15) in all of its contexts. If people are not convinced his teachings are clearly from the Word (without mixture), then he is not to be followed; and he cannot demand to be followed. In fact, he ought to be ashamed, if people find his teachings to be erroneous or his concept of “his” authority abusive. Indeed there are many “clergy,” who lord over the flock, against God’s command never to do so (1 Peter 5). They are hireling shepherds (John 10) of a cultish following.

So many pastors—the great majority, I fear—cling to Romish and Anglican “organizational authority,” and that is never the biblical concept. Let’s be absolutely clear and call organizational authority by its real name: hierarchy. If a pastor assumes hierarchical authority, then he is a “professional minister” and the whole cultish cycle is perpetuated. No where in the Bible does God grant pastors/elders power over the congregants or staff, let alone to have staff. These are man-made positions. God designed His Church to work via the gifts and empowering of the Spirit. So few recognize the gifts and the Spirit, Who empowers and directs them all.

“But what about the coordination components of ‘ministry?'” My opponents will ask. “Someone has to decide when to start the service”…. Really?  This type of work is administration, and there is a gift for that, as found in Romans 12. Pastors don’t have to have that gift. In fact, there is room to say the Bible never puts administrators and pastors in the same lump. It rather always places the gift of teaching with the gift of pastor.

The ONLY thing a pastor is gifted to do is lead (i.e. Influence) people to maturity in their own relationship with God, to learn from him how to follow the leadership of the Spirit and not be co-dependent on a man… which is the recipe for lording^! The pastor’s role and responsibility are done by example and by prayer and by teaching/applying the Word (declaring what God has plainly written as the objective braces for living a subjective relationship with Him), until the words of Jesus and the works of Jesus are heard & seen in each individual believer…and, in turn, the Body, EACH PART supplying what the others need (Ephesians 4). Leading people to Christian maturity (direct, consistent interaction with God Himself) includes restoring the failing in their faith, hope & love… as there are many threats to believers from the world, flesh and forces of evil.

The calling is also a protective role in addition to a nurturing and restorative one. Pastors guard against false doctrine and are ready to give an answer to those attacking the essential tenets of biblical Christianity (Ephesians 4; Titus 1:9). They mark out and rebuke those that cause division through exerting the spirit of Diotrephes (3 John vv. 9-11), through false teaching, through contentiousness and/or by forming fleshly cliques (Titus 3:10; 1 Corinthians 3; Romans 16:17-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:14). They are supposed to be the “spiritual” ones who meekly care enough to patiently restore (with compassion, encouragement & sound teaching) the one who is stuck and overburdened spiritually (Galatians 6; James 5), even if that person is distracted to the point of self-contradiction and self-destructive behaviors (2 Timothy 2:25). They also warn the flock of spiritual pitfalls that will sidetrack, hinder or stunt the believer’s direct relationship with God. But mostly, they show from the Book and from their lives “How to” grow up into a likeness of Jesus and utilize their gifts under the Spirit’s direction for edifying the Body and for obeying the prompting of the Spirit out in the world, in the “work of the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:11-21; Ephesians 4).

So, there we have it: oversight of the flock is a nurturing, protective and restorative calling that God gifts and empowers a man to do, so that the members of the Body of Christ are served on the individual level, until the flock is reaching maturity in their own relationship with Jesus. Nothing more, nothing less. None of the aspects of the Pastoral gift require organizational or managerial or director “authority.” And yes, pastors and elders must give an account to God for following this calling (Hebrews 14). So, if they are faithful and accurate in ministering the Word, then they should be given much weight (lit. “double regard / honor,” not a paycheck) in our hearts and minds for their teachings (1 Timothy 5:17).* But, their teachings should always be held against the backdrop of “searching the scriptures daily to see if these things are so” (Acts 17:11). [Christians must exercise their Bible literacy and believer’s priesthood, instead of relying on someone to spoon feed them.]

The work admittedly can be done only very rarely (if ever) on the corporate level. By biblical pattern there are to be many pastors/elders in one local body (Acts 6, 20; 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1). This fact determines a high pastor/elder to congregant ratio—a plurality or presbytery, not a monarchy or dictatorship. This disturbs most pastors, who have long mistaken the role of pastor as an administrative hierarchy, managerial or organizational director position. Yet, the meager, control-oriented power hoarding of lording is laughable to those who trust the all-powerful, all-seeing Spirit in correcting the 10/90 problem. Very few pastors will like to relinquish their unbiblical power for the genuine calling to be truly pastoral on the personal level.

Whatever others decide, it is time to cut off the false heads and shed the Romish & Anglican trappings on our Faith!

See Part 2


*in the passage 1 Timothy 5:17, “directing the affairs of the church faithfully” Darby presents the best translation:

17 Let the elders who take the lead [among the saints] well be esteemed worthy of double honour, specially those labouring in word and teaching;

Here, “taking the lead” is the same as “be an example to the church.” They lead by example. They do not “direct the affairs of the church” and get paid for it as some horrible translations reflect. Also, herein, the muzzling of the Ox treading the corn is illustrative analogy. It shows the principle that you honor the beast of burden that feeds you… even so, those who labor to study the Word, in order to impart it as food for the hearers, should be given high regard (analogous to corn) for the one that labors (i.e. The pastor/elder). So, just as one does not starve his corn-grinding ox, which would end badly for both man and beast; even so, learners should not disrespect or lightly regard the teachings of a pastor’s labor intensive study. They should be given weighty regard in our minds and hearts. Otherwise, it will end badly for all.

^Here is a quote that will further show what I mean:

“The problem comes when this “pastoral authority” is taken into the spiritual realm. This is a great problem. I’m not sure the terminology of “pastoral authority” is a wise terminology, …. This overreach is often cultic. It sets up the pastor to manipulate because he supposedly speaks in the name of spiritual authority. But a man claiming spiritual authority over others is biblically wrong, because “there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). Spiritual authority belongs to the Spirit of Jesus—alone. There is no priesthood of the believer if a pastor possesses spiritual authority.” –John Van Gelderen

3 thoughts on “The True Extent of Pastoral “Authority,” Part 1

  1. Leigh de Paor

    Spot on, my old friend.
    Sadly so much of “Christianity” is merely “Churchianity” but thankfully this worldly, corporate structure with pastor as CEO is being abandoned by true lovers of God as there is a move towards selfless desire for being biblical. A sort of new reformation if you like.
    But there are inherent dangers as with the Protestant reformation when many evil men took license to commit wicked acts, so we also need a reformation of “righteous judgment” of proclaimed believers and guarding of the meetings of the believers, taking care not to fall back into the trap of corporate control models just because that’s easier.
    God bless you and keep you.


  2. Pingback: The True Extent of Pastoral “Authority,” Part 2 – Lamb's Harbinger

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