Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Authority in a local church is a much debated and, as I've discovered of late, a much misunderstood concept. I want to make several personal observations about the biblical understanding of authority in a local fellowship as I see it.

A. There is only one head of the Church/churches and all authority has been given to Him. If anyone ever assumes authority because of their person or position they are usurping the authority of the Head. [Eph. 4:5,15]

B. The Head of the Body has given an authoritative Word to the members of the Body. [Universal or local] The Old and New Testaments are that inspired Word with New Covenant people inparticularly bound to the New Testament writings. [Heb. 1:2, Acts 18:28]

C. All believers are responsible to the Head individually and have a responsibility to each other. [Rom. 14:4, Eph. 5:21]

D. All believers are priests and are gifted. Therefore all must take their place among the body members to minister for the good of all. [1 Corinth. 12-14]

E. There are certain ones [both men and women] who are gifted as all members are, but, then become a gift to the body in a unique way. The purpose of these people/gifts is to equip all for ministry. [Eph. 4:11-12]

F. There is no emphasis in the New Testament on "authority" that is derived from an "office." The King James version translates the word "office" in Rom. 11:13, 12:4, and 1Tim 3:1. But in Rom. 11:13 it is the word "diakonia" or "service." In 12:4 it is "praxis" or "action/function." While in 1 Tim. 3:1 "office" is not in the text at all. The verse simply says in the original "if anyone aspires to oversight."[Episkope]

Authority is to be experienced in the assembly because of the gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit obvious through people. In one sense, the entire body shares authority. [Eph. 5:21, 1Peter 5:5] This means we recognize one another's gifts, knowledge, or experience in the Lord and we choose to serve/submit because the Holy Spirit has placed some as gifts and has annointed the ministries of those gifts. That is the key to understanding Pastors/Elders and their function. No one has authority BECAUSE they have a stronger personality, knows more Bible, or they hold an office. That is foreign to the New Testament. Paul the Apostle had to defend his Apostleship by virtue of it being the work of the Spirit setting him aside for it. 1Tim. 5:17 speaks of those Elders that "give oversight well"...."are worthy of double honor." It is that "give oversight well" that is the soure of authority. They defined it as Holy Spirit annointing. In other words, the annointing of the Spirit makes clear the authority that rests on a ministry done well, not the office holder.


I think we can conclude in all of this that a "one man show" is foreign to the New Testament.

Further, submission to authority is to be given to those who "serve" the body well, whatever area of "service" that might be and regardless of "gender." [Some people believe that the Spirit will never place a woman in the ministry of Pastor/Elder and the BF@M concurs with that. But whether that is true or not, and I have my own views about it, "authority" and "submission" are not "gender based" in the New covenant but "Holy Spirit ministry" based. No one is to be a leader by saying "I'm the Pastor/Elder" or "I have a Seminary degree" or I'm a man."]

Finally, servanthood is the "badge" of christian living and is to be the overriding characterstic of body-life. If God's people are to ever reflect the biblical relationship of Body/local body to Head and members to members servanthood is essential.

So the rule of church life is really to be the Headship of Christ, the priesthood of all believers, and each member contributing with giftedness and edifying each other in the process. Set up any system, any format, any procedure to carry out business, but function under the annointing of the Spirit. and serve one another. This must not be theory but practice if we are to reflect the reality of Christ to a lost world in need of the gospel. Check any leadership by this standard if you want to be biblical in church life.


John Jax said...

Paul - this is not entirely on post, but I would like to hear your opinion on "mega-church" pastors. I think it does relate to your post in regards to who is the authority in the church. Not the prior generation which included men like Criswell, Rogers, Lindsay, Vines, etc. who worked over many decades to build congregations, earn trust, and ultimately ended up with unilateral authority and held themselves accountable. My concern is those who follow behind them, demand and negotiate salaries above what those men took years to work up to, then also act unilaterally and without accountability once they come in. Often, these younger men have no such proven track record but are more like CEO's and pulpiteers. To make things worse, they have access to $30 million dollar budgets and 100's of million in assets. Not mentioning any names, but in a general sense, IF these men abuse their position, how can they be held accountable? Please don't say try emailing the pastor. In these environments, once you do that, you are labeled quarrelsome, divisive and a tool of satan that is sowing discord.

Paul Burleson said...


I don't know that there is an answer to the particular question you asked, but, some principles do give guidance to personal responsibility of one who is concerned.

If, and I don't know obviously whether you are or not, you are a member of such a church situation and are offended by it all, the personal contact is essential. You don't do it because it works or you don't NOT do it because of a negative result. You do it because it is biblical. [Matt.18] When that is done you take another with you to the individual who is the one offending. That done you follow the adopted procedures of confrontation of leaders in whatever guidelines there are that have been adopted by that body of believers. If those guidelines do not accomplish a result that can satisfy you, you make a choice to stay or leave but without rancor.

If you are not a member of that kind of situation, I can think of nothing to give guidance in it's correction. Just be certain you don't get in that kind of abusive situation yourself or become one who is an abuser to others in any church situation.

My final word of responsibility is to study the scriptures personally, convey this truth from your perspective when possible, and be certain you have no personal agenda when doing so. The latter will be evidenced by a love for and prayer for the perpetrators of that kind of abuse.

Thanks for dropping by.

Paul B.

Paul Burleson said...

A further word,

As to my view of mega-churches in general...I would say that they face a very difficult task in relationship building and individual gift excercising in a local context. Perhaps impossible some would say, but I've seen a mega-church accomplish it when much time is spent in the body being broken down into small cells/groups and much ministry done there. Caution is always needed for true ministry of the Word to be accomplished and for there not to be an elitism mentality. It is this last that is needed in any size local church. This was why in my pastorates I took my turn in the Nursery at least for one evening in every multi-day conference we had, while others handled the platform for the serices being conducted.

Mega-churches face much that hinders true biblical intimacy but I've found that to be true of every size church. We really do need the Word, the Spirit, and the Grace to be ourselves with each other.

Add to all this that I don't see biblical evidence for a one-pastor/teacher situation and you can see I'm afraid we're pretty far from the biblical norm in many areas. But Jesus IS Lord.

Paul B.

John Jax said...

Paul - thanks for sharing your wisdom on this with me. (Especially the "stay or leave without rancor" part.) You confirmed much of what I had anticipated would be the best route to take. You also confirmed my personal view that these mega churches are "far from the biblical norm" in many areas.

I enjoy stopping by often, even though this is my first posts in the comments.

Anonymous said...

As usual, I'm copying and filing your post for future use and reference. Part of my staff responsibility is lay mobilization and as an equipping minister, this is good stuff to help with that.


J. Guy Muse said...

How do we make your blog mandatory reading for all pastors and churches? :)

The whole authority-control issue is probably the most difficult struggle we deal with on the mission field. Sometimes teasing I say that our pastors and leaders have taken as their motto Jesus' words, "I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me..." I know those are strong words but the actions of a great number of leaders we relate to have this very attitude. It is hard working with folks who think they are God's chosen, annointed, called-out servants, and thus been given special priviledges to cousel, teach, advise, lead, etc.

One of my pet peaves is the common phrase we hear so much in our context that "to go against the pastor is to go against God." If you aren't submitting to the pastor, you are not submitting to God's will.

Sorry for rambling on and such a long comment, but thanks for giving me an outlet to express a lot of built up frustration about a subject that continues to hinder the advancement of God's Kingdom in today's world. Your post is right on.

Alycelee said...

Paul, first let me say I've been looking for an opportunity to tell you how much I enjoyed and benefited from your teaching at Immanuel. "what I believed in 1967" and "what I know now" where great. I identified!
This post on authority and servanthood is likewise.
Oh that we could hear and see clearly our call to servanthood as seen in Phil 2, like Christ submitted willingly. I can hardly read this passage of scripture without weeping, seeing how far from the mark I am, but yet Jesus set it for me and bids me to come there. So, I read it, highlight it over and over, praying God will guide me there.
Thank you Paul, you are indeed an inspiration.

Paul Burleson said...

Thanks all,

I appreciate the words. Alycelee, I wish I could post more on the New Covenant but my traveling time is kicking into high gear. Maybe later.

Lee and Guy, I hope this post can be a resource if needed and adequate for the moment.

I don't know why there is such a view of authority that it becomes abusive except for the continuing misunderstanding/interpretation of certain texts of scripture that I once held to myself. My only consolation is for me to be true to the text and try to be consistent in presenting what I now see. That's what I've tried to do. Thanks all of you foe your comments.

John Jax said...

Paul - Guy makes a good point: "One of my pet peaves is the common phrase we hear so much in our context that "to go against the pastor is to go against God." If you aren't submitting to the pastor, you are not submitting to God's will." This is a very wise insight/perception, and upon further reflection of my concerns, I don't think the problem is so much with the text as it is with the sheep allowing themselves to be fleeced by the "personality/celebrity" of their pastor. People want to idolize movie stars, singers, and politicians, and as a result are easily manipulated. They forget these people are just men and woman like you or I. Then, once these people have been put on a pedestal, if anyone questions them, they are told to leave the church. This just leaves a larger percentage that remain who are blindly loyal followers. (Think David Koresh - those followers even gave up their wives and daughters to his sexual appetite.) Mega-church pastors are becoming "rock-stars" and it sickens me to see young pastors lining up for hours to get an autograph or to have them sign their bibles. Something is very wrong with that. If I was hungry and a man fed me, I would not desire him to sign my bible.

Paul Burleson said...


I would certainly agree with your assessement of the situation you've described. That kind of idol-worship is ungodly.

Having said that, two other things I might add.

One is...don't equate "leave without rancor" with "leave silently." The two are not synonomous. "Leaving" should never be without honesty and reality spoken in love. It is the "without rancor" that must NOT characterize it however. If one were to stay, it also must not be without honesty and reality. You would of necessity speak your understanding of truth in love. But, again, the "without rancor" must apply. Otherwise you become part of the problem rather than the solution.

Two...be sure you never minimize in your own mind the Matt 18 process. To obey that principle is both difficult to genuinely do, as so few doing it might indicate, and obedience to it releases the power of the Holy Spirit in ways we may not know otherwise. That is not to say it will end the way we desire, but it is to say He will work, if nothing else, in us, which may be the work He was desiring to do anyway.

Good thoughts and I like the way you keep thinking.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post on authority in the church. From experience on both ends of the spectrum, when a church stays within the biblical focus on authority then the issue does not become as problematic or confusing. By this I mean when the body of Christ is focused on Christ and realizing it is not about me but all about Him then getting the glory is not my focus but rather giving Him the glory in all I do.

All of us in the body are held accountable for servant leadership. Our roles may be different but accountability to the Father is very real. Authority in the church is necessary but only when service is the motivator, scripture the guide, and the Holy Spirit the source of strength. To go against this is selfish and prideful. There are enough one man shows in the world and they tumble because they are the foundation and a foundation not on Christ will crumble in time. I so appreciated the pastor focus you gave to some many in leadership at Southcliff. We're all pastors in some form if we are serving and will allow to be served.

I have had authority over men and women from 300 to 2000 and the accountability of that to God is overwhelming. We won't have one man show problems if accountability to the Father is before you daily and the desire to pray for those in authority is a reality and not just rhetoric.

Thanks for sharing brother Paul. You are always spot on.

Steve in San Antonio

Paul Burleson said...


As a first time commenter and a long time friend...Welcome.

Anonymous said...

Paul, how incredible is this post. Everyone who is reading Wade's post today should, as Guy said, be required to read this. Thanks for sharing.

I'm struggling with my humanity and really am amazed at men and women who have served for years and years.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Brother Paul, for your fine comments. I, too, listened to the five sermons at Wade's church and was blessed by all of them. This is my first time to read and comment on your blog, but look forward to reading more. I admire Wade for his courage and kind attitude and pray for him and his concerns. May God bless you always. I am in a wonderful church where women are allowed and encouraged to use their God given gifts. It is great to be free to do so!

Blessings from Florence in KY

Psalmist said...

I truly appreciate your thoughts on authority, Paul. I quoted you and provided links to this entry at my blog. I have been thinking and writing very similar thoughts for quite some time now and taken some heat for it. How refreshing to see someone else say it, especially someone much more mature in the faith--and in life--than I am, and who comes to this conclusion from a different "branch" of the Christian family tree than I do. I can't tell you how eye-opening it was to study this relationship between Christian servanthood and spiritual authority. It's so much more authentic both for the leader and for one who accepts that leadership, to see the authority vested in the servant's TASK, rather than in the leader's POSITION. That frees us to obey the biblical admonition to "submit to one another" (i.e., to actual people, rather than to positions/offices) "out of reverence for Christ."

Thanks once again for sharing these vitally important thoughts!

Anonymous said...

Well stated, brother. These are the kinds of things that were ingrained in me at a very early age in a little Baptist church in Michigan. Unfortunately, you don't hear them articulated very often—or very well—by many Baptists these days.

Anonymous said...

What a breath of fresh air! And not only a Baptist train of thought, rather Christian train of thought.

Well done.
Friends in Chicago

Paul Burleson said...


I'm involved in a week of ministry with several meetings daily and have not been able to respond to each one individually, but thanks to all of you and especially the first timers. You're always welcome. I'll get back to more substantive reponses after next week in Huntsville Ala.

Cecdaddy said...

I have visited and revisited this post many times, copied it to my computer, and will probably continue to consider it for many more months, if not years.

I have only been a pastor for a year and a half, and I have already met different attitudes about leadership. Some people actually think that I am the boss, and they should support me in whatever I decide we should do. Their thinking is that I am answerable to God if I am wrong, and they are answerable to Him if they do not follow. I don't like this view, although these are loving and supportive people.

Another view among people sees it as their responsibility to sit around trying to catch me in error, or to only accept something that they already believe or are committed to. It is hard to equip such people for God's work when they are use to dictating what God does, but there is hope.

The third attitude I have met is the "lay autocrat." Within a week or two of coming to my current church, the man who basically hired me told me that he would tell me how to do my job, and that he would tell me what to do and what to say so that we could get moving in this church. He left within 4 months, absolutely disgusted with me and slandering me all over town.

As a pastor of a small church that expects the pastor to do just about all of the work, it is easy to slip into the dictatorship role, especially when people encourage it by vocal assent, inaction, or passive aggressiveness. But in the end, Jesus drives this bus, and we are supposed to be on board with Him. As much as I can, I try to keep myself from being dictatorial, and also use the opportunities to teach the church about the priesthood of ALL believers.

Thank you for this post, I will continue to work it over in my mind and my heart, and probably share it in spirit and in truth with those around me.

Andy said...

Dear Paul,

Thank you for the comment you posted on my blog. You referred to the emphasis on one Pastor, one leader, one personality in so many of our churches, and I agree wholeheartedly that this is unhealthy. I have twice been a member in churches where one pastor left before another was found. The months in between were the most vibrant and fulfilling segments I experienced in the lives of those churches as the whole body was allowed to be intimately involved in ministry of the church.

Unlike yourself, I have never been a pastor. At this point, it would be a surprise if the Lord were to call me to that (which, of course, is completely in line with His personality), but the main reason I have never given that calling serious thought is that the pastor is so often expected to be a teacher, counselor, leader, administrator, and pretty much fulfill every other function within the church. This seems very distant from what I understand from the New Testament. If teachers should teach and leaders should lead, why do the two need to be found in the same person?

In memorizing Ephesians (by the way, I just linked a short video clip into my blog of me performing the book), there were a great many things that stood out. One of those things was the emphasis Paul places on the purpose of the gifts the Lord gives us: "..to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph 3:12-13). It seems to me we overlook the reason God gives gifts when we speak about the gifts. We use spiritual gift tests to try and align peoples abilities and experiences with lists pulled somewhat arbitrarily from various Scripture passages. I find this particularly frustrating because the Lord has gifted me in acting and writing, which do not make it on to those tests. My evangelism, teaching, and missionary gifts show up, but that is only half the story. And, anyway, what difference do the gifts make if I am not seeking to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up?

Well, it was very interesting reading some of your thoughts on pastoring, leading, and serving. I hope you have a place to be able to voice your thoughts other than just in the blogosphere.

God bless

Andy Sturt

Paul Burleson said...


My word, you sound like a reverberation coming off the wall of what I have believed and experienced for several years now. Even to the extent that I've told friends that some of the best church meetings I've been in have been in pastorless churches where the people have stepped up to the ministry plate. It should be the norm. Good stuff and I'll check in often. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Please, oh PLEASE where can we find a church that believes this?

Paul Burleson said...


There are some, but, sad to say, they are few and far between and getting more THAT way it would seem.

I'm going to say, however, that many in the blogging world are moving this direction and have a real servants heart. They've given this old man a reason to be encouraged. May their tribe increase.

Anonymous said...

Anon, here again...thanks for the reply. Since my spouse IS in ministry and the place of ministry is roling back to Truman times, we find ourselves hunting for "this kind of place."

You must have started ministry when you were 12 years old????

Again, thanks for the Voice Of Reason...
Chicago Friends

Paul Burleson said...


It's always good to hear from you. I did start preaching when I was fifteen and was called to my first pastorate at the age of seventeen. I married when I was eighteen [she was 17] and we had three kids when I was twenty-two years old. [Wade was the second of those three]

All of this to say "if not for the Grace of God"...We had nothing, knew nothing, but did have a love for each other and the Lord and have been at it for 48 married years and 51 years in the ministry.

Now that'll teach you to compliment me... :) It starts me on a memory road and that's dangerous for me to do...I'll memory your arm off.