Pastoral Authority

Pastoral Authority
J.T. Pugh


Leadership always has certain responsibilities, either directly assigned or understood. Those responsibilities are almost impossible to execute unless commensurate authority is also conveyed to execute them. Authority is ineffective unless both the person who receives it and those who are to respect it understand that it has been conveyed.


Authority under Christ

Jesus Christ is the head of the church (Colossians 1:18). He announced to His disciples just prior to His ascension,’ All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18). Even after His ascension, He remains the absolute authority of the church:”Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church” (Ephesians 1:21-22).

The Lord Jesus has instituted authority under Him in the church. He chose the twelve apostles to found and lead the church in the beginning. He sent them to do their work with the same authority that He as a man had received from God: “As my Father bath sent me, even so send I you” (John 20:21). He commissioned them to preach the gospel, to baptize the believers, and to set the direction of the New Testament church. The church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20).

Since the establishing of the New Testament church, God has chosen people to preach the gospel and carry forward the work of God. The apostle Paul recognized such a calling upon his life: “He counted me faithful,
putting me into the ministry” (I Timothy 1:12); “whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle” (I Timothy 2:7). Paul called the ministry of the gospel an “office”: “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work” (I Timothy 3:1).

The anointing and authority that go with this office should be respected: “Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father” (I Timothy 5:1). “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward. Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses” (I Timothy 5:17-19).

The early church ordained people who received a call from God to preach the gospel and lead the church. “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee” (Titus 1:5).

The universal church has the authority to recognize God’s calling upon a person, to ascertain his qualifications, to send him forth into the ministry, to evaluate his subsequent teachings and actions, to ask for a report of his activities, to recommend a course of action, and to establish standards for continual fellowship.(See Acts 13:2-3; 21:17-26; I Timothy 1:19-20; 3:1-7; III John 9-12.)

Divine authority comes to us only as we submit ourselves to authority. One reason for the outstanding characteristics of Christ’s ministry was that the people listened to Him and recognized that He spoke with authority (Matthew 7:29). How was Jesus able to do this? The centurion gives us the key: he understood that a person who is “under authority” can exercise authority (Matthew 8:8-9).

The pastor has been given authority by Christ to lead the local church, but he must exercise his leadership role under the authority of Christ and Christ’s church.


Extent of Authority

I have been asked more than once, “How much authority does a pastor have? “As a starter I usually simply reply, “You have as much authority as the people will give you. “God conveys an authority to the pastor and supplies an anointing. However, for a person to have an effective ministry, the people must recognize the authority and anointing of God. They in turn will extend their goodwill, trust, and consent for him to be the undershepherd over them.

One of the things that made David great was that he sought to have more than a kingship. With great sensitivity he sought a real relationship with people.

The people of Judah came by their own choice and free will to anoint David as their king (II Samuel 2:4). Samuel had anointed David many years earlier, but David waited for the second anointing, the consent of the people. The respect that David showed by his patience in waiting for the consent of the people made a tremendous difference in the high degree of loyalty that they gave to him.

The pastors who do the most for God are pastors who are able to lead in such a way that a warm relationship exists between them and the people they lead.

Invariably when a person senses security, peace, acceptance, and love in a local assembly, he will find that the pastor values the consent or anointing of the people greatly. It is possible to have this consent without compromise.

In fact, the goodwill of the people enhances the possibility that the preacher can implant the true Word of God in every respect in their hearts.

Even Jesus Christ Himself waits for the invitation and consent of the people.

“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). Though God of heaven, our Lord respectfully asks permission to enter. The object of His effort is to pursue a relationship.

God is love (I John 4:8), and as such He reaches out continually to communicate, give, and relate. He seeks to create loving relationships. From this divine motivation and activity, the church evolves. Thus the church itself is a spiritual community of people in relationship with God and each other. Significantly, a loving relationship is always initiated and maintained by the choice of the people involved.

It follows that the most important necessity of pastoring is the willing consent of the congregation. No relationship can be a loving relationship unless the participants are free to choose.

The pastor, as the undershepherd, is to lead the church and not attempt to drive it. “Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (I Peter 5:3).

Admittedly, it is possible for a person to rule a group of people for some length of time by strength of human will and human spirit. The force that perpetuates such control, however, is usually fear. Psychologists tell that there is only a thin line between fear and hate. Sooner or later, the entire relationship degenerates into a situation that is absolutely non-Christian. It may still be called a church, but in spirit and in actuality it ceases to be what God intended. This catastrophic situation occurs simply because it was founded upon the wrong principle. A lack of mutual love and respect affects the relationships in the aseembly.

In such circumstances a desire for power is usually the motivating factor that activates the pastor. He tries to force people to do something that they do not want to do. The tragic fact is, however, that no one can exercise force and love at the same time. Not even God Himself makes an appeal from the standpoint of power and love at the same time. The New Testament reveals to us a “powerless” God in flesh in the sense that Jesus Christ refused to force people to do anything that they did not choose to do.

Love is always vulnerable. It is impossible to love without pain. Love prompts the true undershepherd to be willing to wait for consent of the people. How wonderful it is when the pastor senses love and trust flowing to him from the congregation! How precious and assuring it is when he feels the second anointing, the anointing of the people!




The above material was published by FORWARD, January-March, 1993. This material may be copyrighted and should be used for study and research purposes only.