Is It Self-Serving to Teach on Your Own Authority?
Editor’s note: We asked two pastors the question: Is it self-serving to teach on a pastor’s authority? If not, then how should you do it?
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By Bob Johnson
Is it self-serving to teach about your pastoral authority? If not how do you do it?
According to Hebrews 13:17, the answer is no. It certainly could be self-serving to teach about your pastoral authority, but it is not inherently wrong. In fact, if you did not address it when the text does, it would be fair to say that it’s actually self-serving not to teach about your pastoral authority. But Hebrews 13:17 speaks of obeying leaders (plural), not a leader (singular), which demonstrates the wisdom for a plurality of elders in a local church. So, how do you do it? 1 Corinthians 4 is helpful.
1. Speak the truth in love (4:14).
Faithful expositional preaching will give you plenty of opportunities to address this, because this issue is found throughout the Scriptures. If you are faithful to preach the text week in and week out and not skip the tough parts, your congregation will grow in their trust of you. So, when this issue comes up in the text, and you preach it like you do the rest, it minimizes the potential to be seen as self-serving. If you’re a young pastor, however, it would be unwise to make a big deal about it.
2. Practice what you preach (4:6).
Faithful shepherding involves the regular exposure of your life to the life of your people. Keeping watch over the soul of another is deeply personal. In order to watch someone’s soul, you have to be connected at the heart level. The word you preach is powerful, but don’t forget that a life that is marked by truth and love is also authoritative. In order for you to ask your people to follow you and the elders, they need time to see your example—and your example will matter profoundly.
3. Call your people to imitate you (4:16).
Think of it like this. Marathon races generally offer pacesetters who will set a particular pace so that, if a runner stays with the pacesetter, he or she will finish at his or her desired time. Pastoral authority is like that of a pacesetter. You’re not a cheerleader standing on the curb telling the runners to go faster, and neither are you the one doing all the running while your members cheer you on. Instead, you call the members of your church to run alongside of you. You ask them to join you in the race where you have already demonstrated experience. Calling others to join is exercising authority but it’s doing so in a manner that asks them to serve alongside of you, not serve you.
Here’s an example:
You and the elders want to institute church discipline in your congregation and a number of the members are leery. You’re speaking to the congregation before the vote. Can you say, “As your elders, we are telling you to follow us and trust us. In fact, the Bible tells you to just that”? Sure, but would it not be better to say, “Your elders are committed to following everything that Christ commands us in his Word. We promised you and God we would do this. This vote is an opportunity for you to join us. Will you?”
Bob Johnson is the senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Roseville, Michigan.
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By Jeremy Yong
It certainly can be, depending on why and how one does it. But it doesn’t have to be. In fact, teaching on pastoral authority can be honoring to the Lord of the church.
I don’t teach on pastoral authority from the pulpit very much. I teach on it when the text I’m preaching calls for it. Consistently preaching expositional sermons through books of the Bible brings me to passages that speak directly to pastoral authority (e.g. 1 Tim 3:1–7 and the qualifications of the elder), as well as passages that apply to the topic (e.g. Exod 18:13 where Jethro exhorts Moses to find additional judges for Israel).
Here’s a brief explanation of what you’ll find me teaching the congregation, as well as why I teach it.
1. A pastor’s authority is God-given.
I have been handed a job description. Thus my authority as pastor has been delegated, making me accountable to the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet 5:4).
My aim in emphasizing this is to lift high Christ Jesus, the Lord of the church and his authority. I want the congregation to know that I too am a man in submission.
That said, in my context, members have come from churches where pastors have twisted these truths, giving an impression the pastor is untouchable and above the law. It’s as if these pastors said, “I am called of God himself. Therefore you ought to listen to me!” These abuses bring me to point two.
2. A pastor’s authority is to correlate to a man’s ability to rightly handle the Word of God.
If I do not rightly handle the Word of God, I ought not be a pastor and the congregation ought not recognize my assumed authority (cf. Titus 1:9; Gal 1:8–9).
My aim is to lift high the Lord of the church and the Lord’s law that is to govern it. I want people listening to what I say because they’re convinced it’s what the Lord has said according to his Word.
Practically, I encourage the congregation to be like the Berean Christians, who examined the Scriptures to see if the teaching is according to sound doctrine (Acts 17:11). I typically follow that up with an encouragement to fire me if I ever preach a false gospel (Gal 1:8–9).
3. I also teach that pastoral authority is to be congregationally recognized.
I believe the congregation possesses responsibility to call and even discipline its pastors as the case requires. Final authority rests with the congregation.
Here, I aim to place the weight of responsibility on the congregation’s shoulders—a weight that calls them to humbly examine my life and doctrine, alone with the life and doctrine of anyone they consider following as pastor.
In short, I try and teach the pastor’s authority is God given, Word-governed, and congregationally recognized. I hope this encourages the church to submit ultimately to the Chief Shepherd, abide in His Word, and embrace their own God-given responsibility.
Jeremy Yong is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church Hacienda Heights in Hacienda Heights, California.