Updated and enlarged October 11, 2011 (first published November 22, 2003) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, email@example.com; for instructions about subscribing and unsubscribing or changing addresses, see the information paragraph at the end of the article) -
There are two things that we desire to cover in this article. First, we want to reinforce the scriptural authority of the pastorate while warning about the abuse of pastoral authority. Secondly, we want to remind church members of their God-given responsibility toward pastors.
THE PASTOR’S AUTHORITY
SOME GENERAL LESSONS ABOUT PASTORAL AUTHORITY
Following are some important Bible truths about pastoral authority:
1. THERE ARE CERTAIN MEN IN CHURCHES CALLED RULERS AND OVERSEERS (Acts 20:28; 1 Thes. 5:12; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1; Tit. 1:7). These verses teach that God-called pastors (the same office is called elder and bishop have authority over the assemblies. Other Christians are to submit to this authority. As a church member, pastor-elders are over me in the Lord. When I honor and submit to them, I am not submitting merely to a man; I am submitting to the Lord and Chief Shepherd of the church. Many women could share with us horror stories of how their husbands abused their authority, but this doesn’t destroy the fact that God has given husbands authority in the home. When the wife submits to a husband, she is not submitting merely to a man, with his many sins and frailties; she is submitting to her Lord God (Eph. 5:22). Abuses of pastoral authority do not negate the fact that God has given authority to pastors and that the Bible demands that we submit to God-called pastors who are leading according to God’s Word. Even in cases in which a Christian has been under the influence of an abusive or unscriptural pastoral situation, he or she must maintain a proper attitude in regard to pastoral authority. He should leave such a church, if necessary, and find a spiritually healthy church that is led by God-called men and join it and submit to their God-given authority. A Christian must carefully guard his spirit so that he does not become bitter. He must examine himself before the Lord to be sure that he is not rebellious toward genuine God-given authority. Sometimes we think the problem is with those who have the rule over us when in reality it is with our own stubborn hearts.
2. CHURCH LEADERS ARE CALLED BY THREE DIFFERENT TERMS (pastor, elder, bishop), the terms referring to different aspects of the same office. In Titus 1:5-7 the terms “elder” and “bishop” are applied to the same office. In 1 Peter 5, the same church leaders are called “elders” (verse 1), pastors (“poimaino” or shepherds, verse 2), and bishops (“episkopeo” or overseers, verse 2). Thus the hierarchical form of church government which places bishops over elders is not biblical. A pastor-elder is a bishop, and a bishop is an elder.
3. EACH CHURCH IS TO HAVE ITS OWN LEADERS AND GOVERNMENT (Tit. 1:5; Acts 14:23). Since this is clearly the New Testament pattern, any outside form of control over the New Testament church is unbiblical.
4. EVERY PASTOR IS TO BE GOD-CALLED, SCRIPTURALLY QUALIFIED, and ORDAINED (Acts 14:23; 1 Tim. 3; Tit. 1). New Testament churches are not to be led by unordained men or by men who cannot do the whole work of a pastor-elder-bishop. Every pastor is to be both a teacher, a spiritual protector, and a ruler or overseer (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:9-11; 1 Pet. 5:1-2).
5. DEACONS ARE NEVER REFERRED TO IN THE CAPACITY OF RULING OR OVERSEEING CHURCHES. The deacon is a servant of the pastors and the church, not a ruler of the church. Church rule by a deacon board is unscriptural and has caused great harm in many assemblies.
6. THERE IS NO SCRIPTURAL SUPPORT FOR ANY OTHER SORT OF BOARD THAT HAS AUTHORITY OVER THE PASTOR OR PASTORS.
THE EXTENT OF THE PASTOR'S AUTHORITY
If responsibility implies a corresponding authority, which it does, we can get a clear idea of the extent of a pastor's authority by considering his God-given responsibilities. There are three major areas of pastoral responsibility, with corresponding authority:
1. A PASTOR HAS THE RESPONSIBILITY TO TEACH AND SHEPHERD THE CHURCH (Acts 20:28; Eph. 4:11-12; 1 Thes. 5:12; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). Pastors, therefore, have the authority to oversee all aspects of such ministry. They must have the final decision concerning what is taught and by whom, and must judge all things that are taught to make certain it is correct (1 Cor. 14:29).
2. A PASTOR HAS THE RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT THE CHURCH FROM FALSE TEACHING (Acts 20:28-31; 1 Co. 14:29; 1 Tim. 4:1-6; Tit. 1:9-13). Pastors have the God-given responsibility and authority to determine what is taught and preached and by whom, as well as to forbid the brethren from getting involved with false things, such as Bible studies conducted by the wrong kind of teachers, meetings in which unbiblical doctrines or practices are promoted, etc. This includes oversight of the music ministry of the church, because music is part of the church’s teaching ministry (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). A pastor doesn’t need permission from the deacons or the lead families of the church in regard to who he invites to preach or what Sunday School lessons to use, etc. Pastors will stand before God and give account for the church doctrinally, and they therefore have the authority to exercise control in this area.
3. A PASTOR HAS THE RESPONSIBILITY TO OVERSEE THE ENTIRE MINISTRY OF THE CHURCH (Acts 20:28; 1 Thes. 5:12; 1 Pet. 5:1-2). The pastor's position of overseeing the church is similar to that of a supervisor or manager. The pastors are not to do all of the work of the ministry--every Christian must be busy in the work of Christ--but the pastors are to train the people for their individual ministries and to supervise the work of the ministry. There is widespread rebellion against and resistance to even the godliest pastoral authority today. Such is the product of the fallen human nature and the result of the spirit of end-time apostasy. I also believe it is the result of Quick Prayerism whereby many church members have “prayed a sinner’s prayer” but haven’t been converted. The "old man" hates authority; he will not have anyone rule over him. But pastoral authority is God-given, and the one who resists a God-called pastor in his work of leading the church according to the Word of God will answer to Jesus Christ for his stubbornness. Hear the Bible: “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” (Heb. 13:17). The pastors will give account to the Lord for their ministries in the church, and the church members will also give account, and to cause a God-called pastor grief by my carnal stubbornness, unfaithfulness, and disobedience will be unprofitable for me at the judgment seat of Christ.
SPIRITUAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THE PASTOR'S AUTHORITY
The authority exercised by a pastor, missionary, or other church leader is to be distinctly different from that exercised by leaders in the secular world (1 Pet. 5:3; Mk. 10:42-43).
1. IT IS A MINISTERING AUTHORITY--THE AUTHORITY OF A SHEPHERD (Acts 20:28; 2 Cor. 13:10; 1 Pet. 5:2). The authority of a pastor is for the purpose of building up and protecting God's people and work. It is not given to him so that he can please himself. The church does not exist to please and glorify pastors; it exists to please and glorify the Lord.
2. IT IS A HUMBLE AUTHORITY--THE AUTHORITY OF A STEWARD (Mk. 10:42-45; 1 Cor. 3:9; 4:1; 12:7; Tit. 1:7; 1 Pet. 4:10; 5:3-5). The pastor is to rule under the direction of the Lord Jesus Christ, by Christ’s mind and will rather than by his own mind or will. To be “self-willed” means to rule pompously according to human thinking and desire rather than humbly according to God’s Word. The church is God's property; the people are God's people; the work is God's work (1 Cor. 3:5-9). Pastors are merely stewards or caretakers. Contrast this type of leadership with the ministry of proud, willful Diotrephes (3 Jn. 9-10).
3. IT IS A LOVING AUTHORITY--THE AUTHORITY OF A FATHER (1 Thes. 2:7-11). The pastor is to have a godly, loving, tender, sacrificial consideration for the welfare of the people. His rule is not to be an overbearing, self-serving type of rule. He rejoices when his children mature and stand on their own feet before Christ. His goal is not to make the people dependent on him; his goal is to mature the members so that they can interpret the Bible properly for themselves and find direction for their lives directly from Christ through the indwelling Spirit.
4. IT IS A LIBERATING AUTHORITY--THE AUTHORITY TO BUILD UP NOT HOLD DOWN. “For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed” (2 Cor. 10:8). See also Ephesians 4:11-12. The church is not only a head; it is a body. A godly pastor is not in the church to hinder the Spirit’s working through the body of believers by exercising an oppressive type of “pastoring” that cripples individual vision and initiative. His role in the church is rather to build up the body so that it propers spiritually and all of the various gifts are functioning and Christ can be Lord throughout the entire body to freely accomplish His work. Godly pastors have the goal of maturing the flock so that they can participate in the work of the Lord to the fullest extent possible. They do not want to tie the saints down but to liberate them to their greatest potential in Christ. Too many pastors are so jealous of their authority that they hinder and cripple the work of God by turning the ministry of the Lord into a “one man show,” and the people rise only to the level of his servants and never mature to the true liberty in Christ that we see in Scripture. Brethren, these things ought not to be.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PASTORING AND LORDING
“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:1-3)
Pastors have real authority in the church, but it is a different kind of authority than that exercised by worldly lords. Note some of the differences:
Scriptural pastors love the flock and lead by compassion, but lords typically despise compassion; they don’t encourage; they merely demand (1 Thess. 2:7-8). While a pastor certainly has the authority to demand (Titus 2:15), it is a different kind of demanding than that of a worldly lord.
Scriptural pastors lead by example, but lords merely make demands with little or no concern that they must exemplify what they demand (1 Pet. 5:3).
Scriptural pastors know that the flock is not their own, but lords feel that they own the people and thus can control them according to their own desires (1 Pet. 5:2, 3 “flock of God” “God’s heritage”).
Scriptural pastors care more about the welfare of the saints than their own profit, but lords rule for personal gain and typically are not afraid to abuse the people (1 Pet. 5:2).
Scriptural pastors are humble and do not consider themselves greater than the flock, but lords exalt themselves high above the people (1 Pet. 5:2 “among you”; 1 Pet. 5:5).
Scriptural pastors aim to build up the people and free them to do God’s will, but lords want to control the people and hold them down (Eph. 4:11-12; 2 Cor. 10:8). The Greek word translated “destruction” in 2 Corinthians 10:8 is also translated “pulling down” (2 Cor. 10:4).
“But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).
MISCELLANEOUS SUGGESTIONS TO PASTORS
1. Never forget that the people are not yours and that you will give account for the way you treat them (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4; James 3:1). A pastor can have his way in the church in this present world even if he is wrong and sinning, because there is no higher earthly ecclesiastical authority than the assembly; but he will stand before the Great Chief Shepherd and be judged for how he acted. He must not forget this. “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Corinthians 3:17).
2. Treat the people as you would want to be treated (Mat. 7:12). Think back to the time before you were a pastor. Are you treating the people now as you wanted your pastor to treat you then? Were there things the pastor did that discouraged you rather than built you up then, and are you repeating those same mistakes in your own ministry? Were their questions that you wanted to ask and should have been at liberty to ask but were afraid to ask?
3. Treat the people with equality (1 Tim. 5:21). Be very careful about exercising favoritism. Treat the people with equality in regard to enforcing standards for workers. Don’t let some of the standards slide with some because they are your pets. Treat the people with equality in regard to exercising church discipline. Don’t let it be said that you were harsh toward some in the church and lenient with others over similar matters. I know of pastors who have disciplined their own sinning children, and that is an example to emulate.
4. Aim to build up the people and then to give them liberty to do God’s will (2 Cor. 10:8). A pastor should have the goal of treating church members as he does his own children, maturing them in Christ so that they can stand on their own feet and make good decisions and follow God’s will, not wanting them to be perpetually dependent on his microscopic involvement and control. A wise parent even allows his children to make mistakes along the way, knowing that they must learn how to do things on their own and that they will not always get it right the first time. Should that not be the pastor’s heart, as well?
5. Encourage the people to have a personal vision of God’s will and to bring forth new ideas for the Lord’s work (Eph. 4:11-12). The only thing the pastor should discourage is sin and false teaching. Don’t let it be said that the pastor discouraged people to have a vision and to exercise their gifts freely within the boundaries of Scripture.
6. Aim to produce many leaders who will work alongside of you to multiply the ministry (Acts 13:1; 20:4). Everywhere in the New Testament we see a plurality of workers and leaders, both in individual churches and in missionary work. Wise pastors will not fear sharing their authority and ministry with other godly men so that the Lord’s work can make good progress.
7. Resist the temptation to be proud and to exalt yourself (Mark 10:42-45). The position of a shepherd is a lowly one. The pastor has authority but it is the authority of a servant under a Master and not a lord in his own right. The pastor is a spiritual ruler and leader, a bishop, but he has a unique relationship with those whom he rules. He is a shepherd but at the same time he is one of the sheep! While the church members are likened at times to sheep and have some of the characteristics of sheep, they are not exactly like the animals by that name because they are not dumb beasts and they do not exist for the shepherd’s profit and pleasure. Each church member is not only “a sheep” but is a child of Almighty God, a member of the “royal priesthood,” and a free citizen of that “holy nation” (1 Pet. 2:9). Church members are not only likened to sheep but to members of a body, and the pastor must ever be mindful that their one true Head is not an earthly pastor but the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:18).
8. Receive criticism in a godly manner. The flesh hates and despises criticism. The flesh is always right and becomes puffed up if anyone challenges it’s fleshly wisdom. But godly wisdom is not that way. James 3:17 says it is “easy to be intreated.” When people approached Christ and asked Him things, He didn’t lash out at them or become angry and resentful. The pastor must have a humble attitude and not forget that he is not an authority unto himself and that he certainly does not know everything and is not always right. Also, it is the nature of the flesh to grow cold toward those who try to reprove us and who do not agree with us, but the pastor must not be that way. God has taught us to love even our enemies, not to speak of our own dear brethren in Christ, yea, our own church members, who do not agree with us on every point (Rom. 12:16-20).
9. Don’t be afraid to lead but be sure that you are leading by the clear teaching of the Bible and not by your own thinking and human tradition. If you don’t have a “thus saith the Lord” for the things you are doing, you are on dangerous ground. Your authority is not your mind or what you learned at Bible College or what you learned from your first pastor; your sole authority is God’s Word. The pastor is not to be “self-willed” (Titus 1:7).
10. Don’t give your authority to those who are not pastors, such as deacons, and don’t allow strong men or women to control things from “behind the scenes.”
11. Don’t be afraid to allow the congregation to share in some decisions. In the book of Acts, the congregations participated with the pastors in two major decisions. The first was in the selection of deacons (Acts 6:5-6). The pastors set the standards, and the congregation chose the deacons based on those standards. The second was in the sending of missionaries (Acts 13:1-3). The Holy Spirit called the missionaries and the church leaders and the congregation recognized the call, laid hands on them, and sent them forth.
THE CHURCH MEMBER’S RELATIONSHIP TO THE PASTORS
1. RESPECT AND LOVE THEM (1 Thes. 5:12-13). “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour 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. And be at peace among yourselves”
2. OBEY THEIR TEACHING AS THEY FOLLOW THE BIBLE AND AS THEY SEEK TO BUILD UP THE CHURCH FOR THE SERVICE OF THE LORD (Eph. 4:11-12). “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”
3. FOLLOW THEIR EXAMPLES. “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation” (Heb. 13:7). “Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:3). This shows the importance of God’s standards for pastors. If the church leaders do not lead godly lives and have godly homes, they cannot be an example to the flock and God’s work becomes corrupted.
4. SUBMIT TO THEIR OVERSIGHT (Heb. 13:17). “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.”
5. PRAY FOR THEM. “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you” (2 Thess. 3:1). See also Heb. 13:18; Eph. 6:18-19; Col. 4:2-3.
6. PROVIDE FOR THEIR PHYSICAL NEEDS (1 Tim. 5:17-18). “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.” “A church that is penurious with a pastor violates the Scripture. Rarely does such a church manifest spiritual power or progress. The principles revealed in 2 Corinthians 9:6-10 are worthy of consideration” (Paul Jackson, The Doctrine and Administration of the Church).
MISCELLANEOUS SUGGESTIONS TO CHURCH MEMBERS
1. GIVE THE PASTORS THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT AND DO EVERYTHING YOU CAN TO BE A SUBMISSIVE, OBEDIENT CHURCH MEMBER. The Bible uses very strong language about the church’s submission to pastoral authority. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves...” (Heb. 13:17). Those are strong words. Unless the pastors are leading contrary to the Bible in a very clear and obvious manner, the church member must submit to them as unto God. It is like a wife unto a husband. “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). Every wife knows that if she submits to her husband she is submitting to a very imperfect man, but she is not merely submitting to her husband, she is submitting to the Lord who gave her that husband. Her eyes are ultimately on Christ. Likewise, the church member does not submit merely to a man; he submits to the Lord who has established the office of the pastorate and who has put that man into the office. Too many church members think it is their duty to advise and correct the pastor in all matters if they think he is not doing his job properly, even in matters that do not pertain to scriptural error. But is wise and scriptural to let pastors be pastors. If I am not a pastor, why would God lead me in regard to how the church is operated instead of leading the pastor?
2. BE SURE THAT YOU ARE FIGHTING FOR SCRIPTURAL TRUTHS AND NOT FOR YOUR OWN PREFERENCES. If I think that something is wrong in the church, I must ask myself, “Does the Bible plainly say that this is wrong or is this merely something that I personally do not like or agree with?” Many church problems arise because of personality conflicts and self-will and the attempt to exalt personal preference and tradition to the place of Scripture. Romans 14 speaks to this issue. Here Paul is addressing those things about which the Bible does not speak in this dispensation. The two examples that he gives are dietary rules and holy days. These are things about which the New Testament faith is silent. Unlike during the Mosaic dispensation, there are no laws in the New Testament about what we are to eat (1 Tim. 4:4-5). Likewise, there are no laws in the New Testament about keeping the sabbath and about maintaining certain holy festivals and special days after the Old Testament fashion. Since the New Testament does not contain laws on these things, they are areas of Christian liberty. In such things, each believer is free to do as he pleases before the Lord, but he cannot push his preferences on others and judge others according to these things. The church member who has a problem with something in the church and disagrees with something the leaders are doing needs to ask himself if his thinking on the issue is based on clear Scripture or if it is based merely on his personal preference and human thinking.
3. GUARD YOUR HEART AND YOUR ATTITUDE. We are to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). We need to have a cool head and a warm heart, not a cool heart and a warm head! When we attempt to correct others we must guard our own hearts and do so in the spirit of meekness (Gal. 6:1). 2 Timothy 2:24-25 describes the spirit in which we are to seek to correct others: “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves.” The late evangelist Mel Rutter would say, “Be as firm as the rock in your position but as sweet as the honey from the rock in your disposition.” The difference between leaving a church over legitimate doctrinal concerns and leaving in rebellion toward pastoral authority will be evidenced in two ways, according to James 3:14-18. First, the difference will be evident in one’s attitude. Contrast the “bitter envying and strife” of verse 14 with the godly attitude described in verse 17: “peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” Second, the difference will be evident in the fruit that issues from the situation. Contrast the fruit of verse 16 -- “envying and strife ... confusion and every evil work” -- with the fruit described in verse 18, which is “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” The long term consequences will demonstrate the secrets of the heart. On the one hand, those who are seeking to strengthen the church and are opposed to things that are truly ungodly and unscriptural and who leave a church on that basis alone and not because of their own self-will or carnality, will go on to serve Christ fruitfully in stronger churches. On the other hand, those who are merely striving for their own self-will and who are causing trouble in a carnal manner usually hop from church to church, causing trouble everywhere they go, losing their testimony and usually their children, often going from a strong church to a weaker church. The fact that they move to a church that is weaker doctrinally and spiritually demonstrates that the issue was not actually about truth and righteousness, but was a personality conflict or something of that sort.
4. GUARD AGAINST ALLOWING A CHURCH PROBLEM TO POISON YOUR ATTITUDE TOWARD THE CHURCH AS A DIVINE INSTITUTION. This is similar to the previous point, but it deserves a separate paragraph. It is not uncommon that for someone who discovers a serious and legitimate church problem, especially a sin or error on the part of the pastors, to become embittered against the church as a divine institution. Eventually he or she sees nothing but problems and errors in churches. Everything is wrong. We must be careful not to allow the devil to do this in our lives, and we resist this by counting the good things as well as the bad and by not forgetting that Christ is the one who established the church and made it the pillar and ground of the truth for this age (Matthew 1618; 1 Timothy 3:15). Consider Paul’s attitude toward the church at Corinth. In spite of its serious errors, he thanked the Lord for them on many points (1 Cor. 1:4-9; 2 Cor. 1:11, 14).
5. KEEP YOUR EYES FOCUSED ON CHRIST RATHER THAN ON MEN IN THIS WORLD. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Some believers are said to carry permanent “spiritual scars” because of being in churches that are led by pastors that abuse their authority. Others leave church altogether and use this as their excuse. The problem in such cases is that such folk have their eyes and their trust more on men than on Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus will never disappoint us, but men will always disappoint us in one way or the other. Pastors are only imperfect men at their best. They make mistakes. They sin. They can be selfish and partial and shortsighted.
6. PRAY FOR YOUR PASTORS AND OTHER CHURCH LEADERS. Prayer does two things. It brings change, because God answers and works through it; and it also helps keep my heart tender toward those for whom I am interceding.
7. DON’T FORGET THAT THERE IS NO PERFECT CHURCH. Even the first churches established by the apostles were very imperfect. The church at Corinth was carnal and was characterized by division, fornication, lawsuits, drunkenness during the Lord’s supper, misuse of spiritual gifts, and false teachers. Most of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2-3 had serious problems. In the church at Philippi, two women were at odds with each other and had to be corrected (Phil. 4:2). Peter’s hypocrisy had to be rebuked publicly by Paul (Gal. 2:11-14). This is not an excuse to ignore problems and errors. Each of these matters was reproved. I mention these things only to remind us that churches are not perfect, because they are made up of very imperfect sinners saved by grace; and we must keep this in mind as we deal with church problems. If you leave a church over doctrinal or moral issues, you should have a better church to move to, or you will only be moving “from the frying pan into the fire.”
8. LEARN TO EXERCISE KEEN SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT, DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN THE IMPORTANT AND THE LESS IMPORTANT. In Matthew 23:23, the Lord Jesus Christ taught that not all things in the Bible are of equal importance. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” Some biblical teachings are “weightier” than others. Everything in the Bible has some importance, but everything is not of equal importance. Not every issue is an issue of separation and not every issue is important enough to leave a church over. Knowing the difference between the two requires a thorough knowledge of God’s Word and keen spiritual discernment. This is the lesson of the following verses: “And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another” (Romans 15:14). “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:12-14). Such discernment requires spiritual maturity, which comes only through diligent study and through exercise of the senses to discern good and evil. Paul told the church at Rome that the reason they were able to admonish one another was because they were filled with goodness and knowledge (Rom. 15:14). As we mature in Christ and in our knowledge of the Scriptures and in godliness, we are able to correct others and to be a blessing to the church. It is a sad fact that many who attempt to “straighten out” perceived problems are weak in Bible knowledge and carnal in their Christian living, and as a result they cause more harm than good.
9. IF YOU HAVE A PROBLEM OR QUESTION, GO DIRECTLY TO THE PASTORS OR TO THE PEOPLE INVOLVED. Oftentimes we discover that our perception of a matter is wrong or that the information we received was wrong or that we did not have all of the information. By discussing it directly with those concerned right at the beginning, we can avoid “making a mountain out of a molehill” and causing strife over nothing.
10. REMEMBER THAT PASTORS HAVE GREATER AUTHORITY AND GREATER RESPONSIBILITY IN THE CHURCH. This means that they must make decisions that the average church member does not make and that they will answer to God for those decisions. There is a time to leave a church over things that are seriously wrong, but we must also learn to put many things into the hands of the Lord and do what He has told us to do, which is to submit to the church leadership and be a blessing and be fruitful. Don’t confuse your job with that of the pastor. As a non-pastor, you don’t have the authority of the pastor nor do you have the work of the pastor (visiting the sick, burying dead, being on call for any need, watching for souls, the care of the church, bearing the brunt of the devil’s attack against the church). You also do not have the responsibility of the pastor. He will give account for more (James 3:1). This has helped me many times when I have not agreed with some decision that the pastors have made. I have laid the matter before the Lord and told the Lord that though I do not agree with this decision, it is not my decision to make and I will leave the matter in His hands and do my part to be a blessing to His church.
11. DON’T LET ANYTHING DRIVE YOU AWAY FROM CHURCH. There are occasions when we are forced to leave a certain church over serious doctrinal and moral issues, but we must not allow anything to keep us out of church altogether. Jesus Christ established the church (Matt. 16:18), and there are more than 100 references to the church in the New Testament. Most of the New Testament was written directly to churches, such as the church at Ephesus and the church at Philippi. The book of Revelation is written to seven churches in Asia Minor (Rev. 2-3). The book of Acts is the account of the planting and multiplication of the first churches. The Pastoral Epistles are about church work. Even those epistles which are not written directly to churches always have the assembly in mind. The book of Hebrews, for example, contains strong statements about the church (Heb. 10:25; 13:7, 17). The book of James mentions the church elders (Jam. 5:14). The epistle of 1 Peter addresses the elders (1 Pet. 5:1-4). This demonstrates the importance of the church in the eyes of God, and each believer must be diligent to have the same zeal for the New Testament assembly in his own Christian life.
It is easy to criticize a church, but I need to ask, “What am I doing to make the church successful and fruitful for the Lord’s glory?” I should also ask, “If the whole church were like me, what would the church be?” Some people criticize everything but they do not add anything of significance on the positive side. That is wrong and destructive to the work of the Lord.
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