Sunday, June 24, 2007

A Pastor's Authority

Many people want to be under the authority of a pastor. I used to think that this was very important and that if you weren’t, then you would miss out on following God’s plan for your life. There have been books written to enforce this point with one of the latest being John Bevere’s, “Under Cover”. The point of having a covering is that you will know more freedom in Christ when you have it.

The problem of course with this thinking is that you must choose your “covering” in the first place. How do you know when it’s the right one? I addressed this in a different blog, Designer Pastor.

Some would say it’s ok to change your covering but for heaven’s sake make sure you have one. It’s in the Bible you know. It really is a nice thought that I can choose someone to follow and if he/she is limited in what they bring to me, it’s all their fault. Sounds like the perfect formula for abuse or to hide out from our own personal growth. Inevitably everyone is faced with choosing a different “authority figure” to cover them. Moves, deaths, transfers, or moral failure inevitably cause us to look elsewhere for this mystical experience of having a covering.

Let’s look at a mini case study to see if this quasi universal principle of a pastor’s authority really holds water. Picture a church of 400 people who have committed themselves to a designated authority figure whom they call their pastor. He implements a program called Alpha on Monday nights. Alpha is a twelve week teaching series by Nicky Gumbel that has broken through denominational lines because of it effectiveness. The genius behind Alpha is that there is a meal, a sermon, followed by dessert and discussion time. It has proven to be one of the most durable, innovative and successful church programs in recent history and can be found operating in almost every nation in the world.

The pastor of this church gets a brain wave because of the success of the Alpha program and besides, everyone taking the course is always asking what’s next? He realizes that one of the great things is that people get to know each other over a nice meal and enjoy being able to discuss amongst themselves their thoughts about what was taught. So this pastor with the aid of a few Alphaites decides to take it to the next level.

On Saturday, he clandestinely goes into the church sanctuary and rips out all of the pews and replaces them with round tables and comfortable chairs. Of course he can’t fit everyone into the sanctuary anymore, so he has to go to 4 services on Sunday to accommodate the new seating arrangement. He reasons that 1,700 years of the same methodology of using pews is more than enough. He knows that Jesus never did it that way. He hires a wonderful caterer to supply the food for the Sunday service “love feasts”. (Jude 1:12) He found this term in the Bible and is sure that his people will love the fact that he is being obedient to the scriptures. His people love him, therefore he is confident that they will enjoy this much more relational approach to church services.

A few comments overheard after the first Sunday.

“Multiple services, I won’t be able to know everyone.”
“The money for the food could have been given to the poor.”
“Wow, I’d love to invite my friends to this kind of service.”
“Who’s going to clean up afterwards?”
"We need to call an emergency board meeting."
"Food in the sanctuary. Isn't there a rule against that?"
"He wants us to think. What does he think we pay him for?"
“How dare he throw out my pew!!!”
"Another fad. He must think church is about knowing others."
“Pastors come and pastors go, we’ll get through this just like we always have.”

Here’s the question.
Of the 400 people, what percentage of the people will enjoy this new innovative style of sharing their lives together at this new Sunday “serve us”?

I have a feeling that some will love it and some will hate it. I even think that some will leave. But over what? Of the ones that leave, what percentage will be bigger: long time members or new members?

How important is a pastor’s authority and how much do people really believe in it?

Simple answer. It’s very important as long as it doesn’t cost anyone anything and it's especially important to the pastor.


Nick said...

A pastor's authority ought to be that of a mentor and a trusted friend who applies Biblical truth to life situations in order to aid spiritual growth. As such, it is very important. Anything beyond that is exactly what Jesus came to abolish.

Any authority that a pastor has needs to be naturally developed through relationships with the member of the congregation. I used to attend a formerly large Pentecostal church here in London where the pastor had a great deal of authority simply by having the title of "pastor". And everyone knew he was the pastor because no one was allowed to call him by his first name. (I used wonder if his wife also called him pastor as they chatted before bed at night). I found it difficult to take advice from this man who I hardly knew and who hardly knew me.

I now attend a different congregation. There is a pastor, but it hardly feels like he is a pastor in the sense that I had become accustomed to. He is very approachable and always willing to talk to people and help them out. Everyone in the congregation just calls him by his first name, and I really do respect and submit to his authority but not because he is a 'pastor'. I respect and take his advice because he is a friend to me and I know that he actually cares about helping me grow closer to God. Whenever I ask him a question, he is always willing to pray with me about it and help me find out what the God's Word has to say about it. So I guess he really has no authority of his own, but rather he directs people to God and what His Word says. What a novel concept. Now don't get me wrong, he is not perfect, as no one is, but at least he does not pretend to be either perfect or the final authority in all matters spiritual.

David Grant said...

Great comment. It really is about functional maturity versus positional authority.

Anonymous said...

Ps 118:8 It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man.