The True Extent of Pastoral “Authority,” Part 2

In a previous post, under the same title, Lambs’s Harbinger examined the New Testament in order to determine whether pastors (elders / overseers) have “authority” over other believers in the organizational sense of the term, let alone in the spiritual sense. The answer is no for both. The Word is the true authority. The pastor is the one who must impart it accurately and faithfully.

Rather than pastors being hierarchical CEOs of churches, they have a charge to keep. It is a calling (responsibility; leadership by influencing example & service) and a gifting (always including teaching) by God to “look out for” the growth, health and maturity of each believer. This “looking out for” role serves the goal that individual members of the Body learn for themselves how to consistently hear and obey God Himself. A pastor should lead people by prayer, by teaching the Word and by example to develop their own, direct and vibrant interactive relationship with God. That is quite a difference from the man inserting himself between the believer and God through insistence on authority structure or fostering co-dependence. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Timothy 2:5).


While pastors are charged by God to give reasonable answers to attackers of Christianity; and while they also must bring attention to and rebuke those who spread false teaching or cause divisions, …in Matthew 18, Jesus never authorizes an elder (pastor, “bishop”) to remove someone from church membership, as in unbiblical excommunication or shunning. Rather, the unrepentant person must be brought before the church.

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.


But, what about the authority of older pastors over younger pastors? There should be mutual respect and honor reflected in these roles. The Apostle Peter puts it this way: (1 Peter 5:1-5 ESV)

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

In this passage we can notice 3 terms of designation. There are general statements to all pastors but mainly the older ones—elders. Then, we can also see Peter differentiates between “the flock of God” and the “younger.”

Here are the statements to the older pastors (elders) in verses 1-5:

  • Shepherd the flock by exercising the role of “looking out for” [overseeing] them. (Again, not a CEO hierarchical or managerial, director position)
  • Don’t do this because you are compelled: ex. because a title or “position” socially demands it… or because someone (or your own shame) pressures you. Rather, do it AS GOD LEADS / WILL HAVE YOU and you are eager. (i.e. May not be permanent; may need breaks in seasons of life, etc.)
  • DON’T DO IT FOR PAY!! (The greatest compulsion)
  • Don’t domineer God’s people but instead lead them by example!! (Quite impossible to do in a sterile, organizational setting). [IMPLIED: Be subject to the Chief Shepherd, Who will give a Crown of Life]

These mandates quite disqualify most pastors / elders these days. Do they not?

Then, in the last part of verse 5, the Apostle Peter shifts to addressing the “younger,” which could be anyone in the flock; but since Peter referred to the “flock” earlier, the term “younger” most likely defines younger ministers by comparison to the aged ministers (ex. as Timothy & Titus to Paul, cf. 1 Timothy 4:12).

The young ministers are commanded to show respect and submission to the older ministers (the elders), recognizing that God’s Hand is at work… especially in situations where (implied) there is ongoing lording and domineering and ministering under compulsion (esp. for money). In fact, verses 6-11 are clearly aimed at all ministers (the brotherhood, v.9) but bear special overtones toward the younger minister.


These matters being noted, the last half of verse 5 (of 1 Peter 5) commands all “under-shepherds” (older and younger) to be humble toward each other.

If the older ministers have not disqualified themselves by being domineering and lording, or by doing ministry under compulsion (especially for pay), then they—like the younger—must give great attention to humility. This is nothing other than mutual honor and respect, due to recognizing that Jesus is the Great Shepherd above all and in all. The elder and younger are equals, not “lord to subservient.” As Paul charged Timothy, “Let no one despise your being young, but be an example…” (1 Timothy 4:12).

The whole relationship, whether ministers to “laity” or between fellow ministers is not stated better than by Paul elsewhere, Philippians 2:3

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

3 thoughts on “The True Extent of Pastoral “Authority,” Part 2

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

  2. Leigh de Paor

    Well put together arguments here Sam.
    Although many people find the biblical picture of how to “do church” unsettling, it is clearly what is required of us by God.
    So we must settle for being unsettled and always test everything, holding fast to what is good.
    Will you do a Part III , dealing with the “offices” and how that looks, biblically?


    1. Thanks Leigh!
      I had not considered that subject matter for part 3. I covered it—in a way—in part 1, when I say there is no “office” in the organizational sense, but there is only a calling or place of influence (leadership) given by God (and recognized by the Body).


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