Balanced Pastoral Authority
Edwin Anderson founded Impact Family Church in High Springs, Florida, USA, in 1980, shortly after graduating from Rhema Bible Training College in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Through Anderson’s more than 40 years of leadership, Impact Family Church long ago established itself as a beacon of Spirit-empowered ministry throughout the United States and the world through its many missionary outreaches. Pastor Anderson and his wife Angela were married in 1970 and have two children and five grandchildren.
Paperback (194 pages) and Kindle versions of Pastor Anderson’s book, Building a Strong Local Church, can be purchased from Amazon. Discounted bulk paperback copies are available directly from the author by visiting www.edwinanderson.org, or by emailing him at email@example.com.
Note: The following is an adapted excerpt from Edwin Anderson’s new book, Building a Strong Local Church.
The Holy Spirit appoints pastors to the local church to oversee its operation, and He gives the vision for the church to them. It is then the pastor’s responsibility before God to steer the church in that direction. He has the God-given authority to govern it. The pastor is to maintain control over every ministry of the local church. However, he is not to dictate the decisions of people’s private, everyday lives.
Hebrews 13:7 & 17
Remember those who RULE OVER you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct…OBEY those who RULE OVER you, and be SUBMISSIVE, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.
What does it mean when it says to “obey” those who “rule over” you?
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.
The words in First Thessalonians 5:12, “…recognize those WHO LABOR AMONG YOU, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you,” and the words in Hebrews 13:7, “Remember those who rule over you…WHOSE FAITH FOLLOW, CONSIDERING THE OUTCOME OF THEIR CONDUCT,” make it obvious that Paul was referring to their pastors. So, then, pastors are over those in their charge. But to what extent? Notice it says, “…and are over you IN THE LORD…” This simply means that pastors are to rule, or take the lead, in spiritual matters, in the ministry of the church, and in other matters pertaining to it.
1 Corinthians 9:18
What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not ABUSE my AUTHORITY in the gospel.
Paul understood spiritual and ministerial authority, but he also understood the importance of a minister not abusing this authority. Spiritual authority can be abused, but this does not invalidate the proper exercise of true spiritual authority. In his second epistle to the Corinthians, Paul said that the Lord gave him this authority, “…FOR EDIFICATION and not for your destruction…” (2 Cor 10:8).
Excessive control over people prevents them from growing spiritually and learning to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit for themselves. It also becomes a potent means of manipulation, intimidation, and coercion. People under this kind of abusive leadership live in constant fear of reprisal from church leaders if they dare not follow their instructions in every area of life. It is also typical for such abusive pastors to teach that if anyone leaves the church, they will be under the judgment of God, resulting in all sorts of calamities, even loss of salvation.
1 Peter 5:1-4
The elders who are among you I exhort…shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; NOR AS BEING LORDS OVER THOSE ENTRUSTED TO YOU, but BEING EXAMPLES to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.
The apostle Peter made it clear that the elders, or pastors, were not to “lord it over” the people in their care. It is the pastor’s responsibility to teach people what God’s Word says about every area of life, including life’s most important personal decisions. He is not to make those decisions for them or dictate how people apply the Word in their daily lives, so long as their decisions do not adversely affect the church.
Of course, if a church member is living an openly immoral lifestyle, it does have an adverse effect on the church. The pastor will then have to deal with the member in a loving, but non-compromising, manner in order to uphold proper standards of holiness for the church. Paul rebuked the church at Corinth for allowing open sin in their midst, and he gave strong instructions for dealing with the offending member. However, most lifestyle decisions that believers make do not rise to that level of implication for the church as a whole.
“Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, WHOSE FAITH FOLLOW, considering the outcome of their conduct” (Hebrews 13:7). A true leader leads by inspiring his followers, not by manipulating them. This verse in Hebrews shows the two fundamental ways a pastor is supposed to lead and inspire his congregants to make good decisions in life. First, by speaking the Word to them, and second, by setting the right example for them to follow. “Nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but BEING EXAMPLES to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3).
The pastor’s “rule” is fatherly in nature, not despotic (1 Tim 3:4-5). The Bible teaches submission in the home, but it does not support an abusive, dictatorial reign of terror. The husband and father rules his household in love and compassion, and with dignity. It should be the same with the pastor and his church. Exercising legitimate biblical authority often requires some real finesse on the part of the pastor to ensure that he does not go beyond where his authority ends.
Many years ago, in order to help my congregation stay balanced on the subject of submission and authority, the Holy Spirit gave me this simple key, an aphorism if you will, that has been very helpful to me over the years. It goes like this:
Authority Never Exceeds Responsibility and Responsibility Never Exceeds Authority
I have applied this simple key to many different scenarios where wisdom was needed concerning submission and authority. I have found that it always provides the perfect solution in determining the proper boundaries of both authority and submission to authority. I have come to regard it almost as a sort of “Rosetta stone” in providing the proper balance in this area where abuse can be so prevalent. I have yet to find a situation in this arena where it has failed to provide the proper balance.
People get themselves into great difficulty in life and in ministry by not understanding the important relationship between authority and responsibility. The two concepts are inextricably linked to one another and perfectly balance one another out: No one has authority over anything for which he is not responsible, and no one can be held responsible for that which was not under his authority.
The reason I cannot walk into my neighbor’s house and start disciplining his children is because I am not responsible for them. Their parents are responsible for them, and therefore, they have the authority to dispense discipline. On the flip side, no matter how much my neighbor might try to blame me for how his children turn out, in the end, I am simply not responsible for how they turn out—I never had the authority to train or discipline them.
The same rule applies in the local church. In matters pertaining to their personal lives, I do not have authority over my church members because I am not responsible for their decisions. They are responsible for their own decisions and their own lives. My responsibility is to faithfully teach them what the Word says about everyday life, but what they do with what they hear is not my responsibility, so long as it does not interfere with the church. If they end up taking the wrong job, marrying the wrong person, or making other bad decisions in life, they will have to suffer the consequences of those bad decisions. I do not make such decisions for my flock. Occasionally, folks have tried to blame me when things did not work out right or when their children turned out wrong. But I am not responsible because I was not authorized to direct their lives, and I did not direct their lives.
My authority over my flock extends only to my realm of responsibility—matters related to the governing of the church. The Holy Spirit made me overseer of the flock collectively (Acts 20:28), and I will have to answer for the stewardship entrusted to me (1 Cor 9:16-18; Titus 1:7; Luke 12:42-48). Since the responsibility is mine, the authority to carry it out is mine. God will not hold my church members responsible for the direction and spiritual health of the church—He will, and does, hold me responsible. So, since they are not answerable to God for the church, they do not have the authority to govern it.
The authority God gave me does not, however, give me the right to be detached and dictatorial. As I said earlier, I am the spiritual head of my home, but my rule is love-based and considerate. It is the same with the church. The same Bible that instructs my church members to submit to me (in matters pertaining to the church), also says that we are all to submit to one another (Eph 5:21)—and that includes me!
1 Peter 5:5
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
1 Corinthians 13:5 (AMPC)
…Love [God’s love in us] does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking…
Even though I am the pastor, the love of God compels me to consider the feelings and spiritual aptitude of my parishioners. They are not always ready spiritually to see certain things. Furthermore, I have learned that the way things are accomplished is not always so important, and that there are often many other ways to arrive at the same end-result. Everything does not have to be done my way!
Another thing a mature pastor will understand is that he will not always be right about everything—i.e., not all his decisions will prove to be the best ones. None of us have reached perfection. If God had to wait until a man was perfect before putting him into the office of the pastor, or in any other office, there would be nobody in the five-fold ministries! Strong leadership must be tempered with humility. David wisely heeded the advice of Abigail, saving him from making a huge mistake in his treatment of her insolent husband Nabal (1 Sam 25:32-34). There have been times when church members have come to me with a sweet and humble attitude and expressed their dissatisfaction about how some particular aspect of the church was being administered. After hearing them out, I had to honestly agree they were right, and I changed how we were doing things. Also, I have had to apologize to people for insensitive things I have done or said, and I will likely have to do that a few more times. I do not care how long someone has been in ministry, when he becomes unapproachable or unteachable, or too big to admit he is wrong, he is headed for trouble.
As a general rule, God is not going to tell the pastor what His will is for a church member’s personal life. Why should He? It is not the pastor’s responsibility, and so it is really none of his business. So, I don’t expect to discern God’s will for others. It does happen, but not frequently. A minister friend of mine, who was a member of the charter class of Rhema Bible Training College, told me this story. The class that first year was very small—there were only 58 students who graduated—so, the president of the school, Reverend Kenneth E. Hagin, was able to spend more time personally instructing them than he was in subsequent years when class sizes were in the thousands. During the school year, this friend was offered the pastorate of a church not too far from Tulsa. If he had taken it, he would have simply traveled back and forth, ministering at the church on the weekends while attending school during the week. After he had prayed about it for a while, he asked Brother Hagin if he thought he should take the church. He told me Brother Hagin looked at him with an expression of half bewilderment and half aggravation, and answered sternly, “How in the world should I know?” and briskly walked away leaving my friend feeling pretty silly.
There are risks associated with responsibility and freedom of will. I teach my congregation that they are responsible to hear from God for themselves—that they are not to be led by their pastor. The danger is that when someone really wants to do something badly enough, it is very easy for them to convince themselves that God is leading them to do it. A lot of people then ask for my counsel, but what they really want is my endorsement—their minds are already made up. If I am honest with them and tell them I feel they are making a mistake, they get mad at me. Now they have two problems!
The really big decisions people make in life usually reflect their general predisposition in decision making. If these people changed their plans just because of my advice, unless they understood what led to their wrong decision in the first place, their later choices would still get them into trouble. And guess who they would blame!
Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.
Now before anyone gets worked up, I am not calling such church members dogs or pigs any more than Jesus was calling the Syro-Phoenician woman in Matthew 15:26 a dog. My point is that some people place no value on the wisdom of God that comes through their pastor in the same way that dogs and pigs place no value on precious things. Because I know people will often look for someone else to blame for the heartaches that result from their own poor choices, unless pressed, I usually keep my opinions to myself. I have been “torn in pieces” enough times. Thanks, but no thanks.