One of the big pitfalls in pastoral ministry is the lure of pastoral power. We want people to respect our position of authority, listen to our ideas, and follow our instructions. While there is a certain amount of authority inherent within the pastoral position, it is, like any other form of power, easy to abuse, and while pastors are spiritual leaders, this does not make us immune to the lust for power, but to the contrary, often seems to amplify it. After all, we’re doing “the Lord’s work.”
Furthermore, just as history is written by the victors, it is also true that the rules are created by those in power. Pastors are no exception. We are experts in using Scripture and theology to reinforce their power. We use our knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, our sense of spiritual calling, our ordination, the seminary degrees, leadership skills, and charismatic personalities to convince people that they must follow and obey.
If you have been around church for any length of time, you know how damaging and destructive this can be, not only on the congregations, but also in the pastor’s life and family.
One way to begin to free ourselves from the bondage of power that we put on others and put upon ourselves is to unravel the theology and Scripture texts which have been used to support our claim to power and authority. There are dozens of these, but in the next couple of posts, I will look at some of the more prominent.
Power and Authority
The first is the concept of power and authority in Scripture. There are numerous avenues by which this idea is presented in church settings, but most often it revolves around the idea that we serve a powerful God, and God has dispensed some of that power upon all believers, but especially the leaders of the church by giving them wisdom, vision, and special spiritual gifts.
Passages where Jesus gives authority to His disciples are popular texts for this idea (e.g., Matt 28:18, Luke 10:19). Sometimes, it is pointed out that pastors are one of the foundational spiritual gifts given to the church (Eph 4:11-15). Occasionally, the promise of power through the Holy Spirit is also used (Acts 1:8). Frequently, pastors will talk about their divine calling (Acts 16:9), their special knowledge (1 Cor 12:8), their visionary leadership (Prov 29:18), and numerous other verses to back up such ideas.
The truth is that the power and authority which Jesus gave His followers is given to all followers. The power and authority is given to the church, not just to a person or specific group of people within the church. And while it is true that the gift of pastor (or pastor-teacher) is a foundational gift, this does not make it a better gift than any of the others. The Holy Spirit is within all believers, giving everyone gifts, all of which are necessary and important. The whole idea of divine calling of pastors is ridiculous, since every believer is called to minister with their gifts.
The bottom line regarding power and authority is that the power and authority in the church is just that – IN the church. It is not in the pastor. The pastor is not the focal point of God’s power and authority in the church. Any time your pastor (or you as the pastor) start to bring up some of the ideas and verses I have mentioned above as proof of authority and power, red flags should go up and alarm bells sound.
In the next post on this subject, we will look at the concept of spiritual headship, which is also widely abused.