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meeting“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” — Hebrews 13:17

I wish that when I was a pastor I had spent more time with all the low-maintenance church folks. In church life, the squeaky wheel, as they say, gets the grease. Meanwhile, the folks who quietly and humbly served, gave, and simply showed up without causing heartaches or headaches just keep on keepin' on. God love 'em. I sure did. They were a joy to me, and I fear I neglected them too much simply because they didn't seem too needy.

It is my goal now, for as long as God would have me simply as a sheep and not a shepherd, be as low-maintenance as I can manage for my church. I want when my pastor sees me coming — his name is Nathan (Hi, Nathan, if you're reading this) — not to inwardly sigh or tense up or have to marshal some extra patience or energy, but to relax a little, smile, and feel safe.

As a twenty-plus year veteran of ministry who knows an awful lot of pastors, I can tell you that this feeling can be rare.

There's even a Bible verse about this, and it's one that many pastors are too scared to ever preach on. I'm gonna do them all a favor right now and share it with you:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)

Some of you reading this might actually need to print that out and tape it to your mirror or the dashboard of your car.

Yes, there are some bad pastors out there. There are some authoritarian, domineering leaders out there. Too many, in fact. Some pastors are indeed bullies. These guys need to be held accountable and in many cases removed from their position of authority, as the biblical qualifications for the pastoral office forbid the quarrelsome, short-tempered, domineering man any part in church leadership (Titus 1:5-9, 1 Tim. 3:1-7, 1 Peter 5:1-4). (I have written about the necessity of pastoral gentleness numerous times, perhaps most notably here.)

But can I be honest? In my entire life in the church, despite some negative experiences with a few pastors, I've encountered way more bullies in the pews than in the pulpits. There are just as many pastors victimized by graceless congregants as vice versa.

I have a pastor friend who said he once dared to preach on Hebrews 13:17, and he had no sooner read the verse at the start of his message — hadn't even started preaching yet! — and a woman stood up and shouted, "We're Baptist. We don't submit to anybody!"

You may not be Baptist, but you do need to submit to your church leaders. The Bible says so. Argue with it, if you want, but know that you are arguing with God.

To be a Christian is to be a churchman or churchwoman. The New Testament knows of no vibrant discipleship apart from life in the local church, no authentic Christianity divorced from the covenant of life together according to the biblical structure of the local church. And if this is true, it behooves us to be the best churchmen and churchwomen we can be. And good churchfolk love, respect, and submit to their pastors.

This does not mean idolizing them, treating them like celebrities or becoming yes-men. It doesn't mean becoming our pastor's rubber stamp committee. But it does mean giving grace not just to your fellow sheep, but also to your shepherds. In fact, they may need more, as the responsibilities they carry are more burdensome and they will have to give a greater account before God. Submitting to your leaders means repenting of the impulse to "yes, but" everything they say, especially if what they say isn't sinful.

In matters of differences of opinion, it means being circumspect in how we voice our own. It means remembering that playing the "devil's advocate" is not a good thing. Christ doesn’t need any advocates for the devil in his church!

Generally speaking, submitting to your elders means maintaining a posture of encouragement and gracious support for them and working to make the church a safe place for them (and their families!).

Some people in our churches see it as their role to "keep the pastor honest." These people are usually the kind that make pastors keeping watch over them groan.

Look, you may be a total mess. You may have a lot of pain and a lot of struggle. You may find it frustrating to get your act together. If you know this about yourself, why not give the same grace to your leaders that you expect for yourself?

And if you think it should be a great honor to your leaders to get to shepherd you, you're probably the most groan-worthy of all. It's the ones who reckon themselves totally put together who usually cause the biggest problems.

How can we work toward our leaders' joy and not their anxiety? It's no advantage to us to be a nagging pain to our pastors. They'll have to give an account for how they pastored us. And we'll have to give an account for how well we presented ourselves to be pastored.


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36 thoughts on “Is Your Pastor Happy to See You?”

  1. Michael Gile says:

    Nice post. I think you mean Heb 13:17, and the NIV is my preference.

    1. Jared C. Wilson says:

      Ack. What a bonehead mistake to keep repeating. Thanks, Michael

  2. Andrew says:

    “I want when my pastor sees me coming not to inwardly sigh or tense up or have to marshal some extra patience or energy..”

    I don’t know. The pastor at my church seems to do this to me. Don’t get me wrong: He’s great. He preaches great sermons and I typically give him at least a ‘thanks for the sermon great word.’ I may occasionally extend a hand and thank him. It’s just subtle body language things. Like he’s thinking ‘Oh God don’t touch me’ which is fine or glancing away when I walk by. Neither of these things are the end of the world. I figure it’s just the way he is or maybe it’s just me which is more likely. I do notice it though but I think I’m probably that and more so towards people so no biggie. I can’t expect more from him than I would myself.

    1. Bob Smith says:

      Dude, really? I your view of your pastor is the whole point of this article. On a typical Sunday morning for your Pastor (Preach, Pray, Shepherd, look for folks who have needs, manage the staff, greet newcomers, answer questions on last week’s sermon…etc..) and in the midst of all that you want him to be on his toes around you in regard to his “subtle body language.” Yeah, not too hard for me to guess why he might be sending those signals. Give they guy some room, man.

      1. Andrew says:

        Sorry Bob,

        What part of:

        “I typically give him at least a ‘thanks for the sermon great word.’ I may occasionally extend a hand and thank him.”

        Did you not understand?

        1. Bob Smith says:

          Andrew,

          I understood you to mean that you offered genuine gratitude to your pastor. I am certain that he is encouraged to know the ministry of the Word was effective in your heart.

          What I didn’t understand is how you could decide that one of his subtle gestures would mean he is thinking (in your words), “Oh God, don’t touch me.” Let me offer some other things his body language could have meant:

          1. “I can’t forget to recognize the children’s outreach this week, I forgot last week and felt bad about it”
          2. “I need to find Bill, his wife passed this week, and someone said he is in church today. I want to make sure I can greet him and pray with him”
          3. “Wow, I knew my decision made Deacon Steve upset, but I didn’t know he was that mad – I wish he and I could have talked that over sometime other than right after church.”
          4. “Low attendance again this week – sometimes I wonder if I am really called to this”
          5. “Wow, what a busy week, I am sure my lack of time prepping this sermon showed, I pray God used my efforts despite myself.”
          6. “I really was snippy with my wife this morning. I hope that we can make amends after church – especially since my sermon addressed the exact sin issue in my own heart, and she knows it.”
          7. “Man, after church greeting is hard. I am much more comfortable on the platform than I am one on one – I wonder if anyone notices how awkward I feel in personal conversation.”

          I really could go on. I am just saying, maybe his body language doesn’t mean what you think, given all of the things that are on his mind. Maybe giving him the benefit of the doubt would be nice; maybe even gracious.

          Kindest Regards

          1. Jim says:

            All of those things and more! Thanks Bob!

          2. Peter says:

            I get you both, Andrew and Bob. I’ve felt for my pastor under criticism, and also suffered slights such as him driving away as I was trying to talk to him in the parking lot, and being sidelined in service in the church.
            But Heb 13:17 cuts both ways (as does Eph 5 regarding submission in marriage). The shepherd answers to the Master for the state of the sheep. I would rather be like Stephen saying “God, forgive them” about my enemies than condemning my own pastor for tiny offences! After all, I’m worse in oh so many ways and want (desperately!) to be shown grace as I show it. So I swallow my pride, repent, pray for him, and serve if I can. God will take care of the rest.

            Watching sanctification over the years might be frustrating, but it builds patience and humility, which is surely part of God’s plan for my own!

    2. Laura says:

      Maybe he has PTSD from past obstreperous church members. Your continuedkindness might be exactly the thing he needs.

  3. Larry says:

    Good stuff! I do think the best translation of the Hebrews passage is not “obey” , but to be persuaded. It is usually the single, “lead”, “senior” pastor system that causes the problem. Because everybody needs to be held in check by someone, just not the hypercritical person that questions every $5 expenditure in the budget.

    1. Jared C. Wilson says:

      Larry, I agree that the “single pastor” arrangement is not biblical, but I don’t think that’s the cause of the problem of people who don’t submit to their leaders. Lack of biblical submission is not “somebody else’s fault” any more than any sin is someone else’s fault. I think the cause of the problem, in fact, is the view that it’s always somebody else’s fault. ;-)

      1. Larry says:

        Don’t you think at least a good chunk of people that tend to be a headache would not be as much so, if their pastors were accountable. I agree. It doesn’t justify not being submissive. They just need to find a more biblical church where the dictator fear isn’t a valid concern. It hinges on what is meant by biblical submission. There are many people who feel like that if the pastor says to vote for one guy, we have to obey him, for example.

        1. Jared C. Wilson says:

          Maybe you’re right. But I’d say “dictator fear” is more prevalent than “dictator reality.” In other words, I think more people just don’t like authority than have actually experienced disqualifying, domineering authority.

      2. Scott Shaver says:

        Simple fact of the matter, like it or not, the pastor is gonna answer to both God and his people. You can establish an authoritarian church structure and eventually, he’s still gonna answer to both God and his people. Somebody should write a book on the trustworthiness of that axiom :)

        1. Justin says:

          Only the pastor with a fear of man will answer to his flock, because they have ZERO Biblical authority over him. If you disagree, I am happy to read chapter-verse and assisting commentary.
          The pastor only answers *for* his flock, not *to* his flock.

    2. Karl Heitman says:

      Aside from the fact that no mainline English translation translates Πείθεσθε (present, middle, imperative) as “be persuaded,” what is the difference between the command to “obey” and the command to “be persuaded?” Either way, the follower is still divinely obligated to follow the leader clearly implying that it’s sinful to rebel against the church leaders (i.e., the overseers/elders/pastors not in sin; cf. 1 Tim 5:20).

  4. So thankful for all the faces that I am so glad to see every Sunday worship. And many other times besides.

    I need to remember that the next time I start to fret over ministry success, small church size, and other stuff that can get me down…

  5. Adam says:

    Wow! Can’t say how much I appreciate this article! Thanks Jared! I now serve as a lead pastor & see more of the unfounded “dictator fear,” but have served as a student & children’s pastor in the past under true dictator reality. For certain there is a very distinct & unfortunate difference. Thanks again bro!

  6. Todd Wilhelm says:

    “You may not be Baptist, but you do need to submit to your church leaders. The Bible says so. Argue with it, if you want, but know that you are arguing with God.” -Jared C. Wilson

    At the risk of arguing with God let me say that I do not believe Mr. Wilson’s interpretation of Hebrews 13:17 is as obvious as he would like it to appear. In his book “Fraudulent Authority: Pastors Who Seek to Rule Over Others,” SBC pastor Wade Burleson skillfully engages the text and his interpretation differs quite radically from Mr. Wilson’s. Below are a few quotes, but I would encourage all to read his book for a fuller explanation.

    “The church of Jesus Christ in the 21st century is losing its power to transform lives because of an infatuation with the spiritual and moral authority that pastors take over people.

    Authoritarianism in the church has become the biggest challenge Christians face in the 21st century. So-called “spiritual authority” in leaders who demand people submit to their will and ways in the name of God, is tearing at the fabric of legitimate New Covenant Christianity.”

    “The biggest proof-text for the idea of someone ruling, (being over others in authority) in the church and particularly with the elders doing so, is found in Hebrews 13: 7, 17, 24.

    These verses say: “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” (Hebrews 13: 7).
    “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” (Hebrews 13: 17).
    “Salute (to draw to one’s self) all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.” (Hebrews 13: 24).

    There are several observations that need to be made about the above three verses: 1). The word elder or pastor does not appear in these verses. Not once. It simply is not there. To justify where a pastor or elder can rule over anybody, one better point out where pastor or elder is mentioned in this text, and it can’t be done. 2). The word “over” is not actually in any one of these three verses, so we must lay it aside as an unfortunate and an unwarranted addition to the text by translators, because the Greek word for “over” is simply not there in the original text. 3). It’s also worthy of note that Hebrews 13: 7 verse is written in the past tense though incorrectly translated by the KJV in the present tense. The verse is to be correctly translated this way: “Remember those who were your guides (past tense), whose faith you are to imitate, taking note of how they were faithful to the very end of life” (Hebrews 13: 7). Hebrews 13: 7 is a verse that is reminding the Hebrew Christians of all those mentioned in chapters 11 and 12 and it follows verse 6 which refers to not fearing man, which these people did not do, and gave their lives because of being fearless. It may even include the Apostles themselves. But to make guides to mean “elders” or “pastors” is an addition to the text, and in the rules of proper biblical interpretation, pastors or elders is not an option since they are not mentioned either in the text or in the context.”
    Burleson, Wade (2016-04-16). Fraudulent Authority: Pastors Who Seek to Rule Over Others (Kindle Locations 449-471). Istoria Ministries. Kindle Edition.

    1. Jared C. Wilson says:

      Todd, thanks for the excerpted rejoinder. I nevertheless disagree with Burleson’s interpretation, interestingly enough, owing to the context of the passage. To say elder or pastor isn’t in the text is true enough, but “leader” certainly encompasses leaders in the church, as well as leaders “in the past” — which, I’d argue, it is an interesting nuance to say this is who the author is insisting we obey and submit to, as if present leaders would somehow be excluded. The trajectory of the passage, beginning with marriage, is a building of present faithfulness of the Christian based on the heritage of faithfulness (both of God and his worshipers). To exclude pastors/elders from the leaders in view is a strange reading and I think is born more of an interest in excluding them than in a natural reading of the implications of the passage.

      It doesn’t make sense that someone in the past who has no personal relationship of spiritual direction in my life is somehow “watching my soul.”

      If the concern is simply that one should not submit to abusive or unqualified pastors/elders, I agree (with the principle, not with carrying that concern into the exegesis of Hebrews 13).

      1. Laura says:

        “It doesn’t make sense that someone in the past who has no personal relationship of spiritual direction in my life is somehow ‘watching my soul.'” Doesn’t this tie into Hebrews 11 and Hebrews 12:1, though?

        1. Jared C. Wilson says:

          Laura, perhaps there is a valid application there, but the immediate, plain sense of the text at hand at least appears to speak to a leader currently watching in the sense of having to give an account for his watching and of course my living as one who wouldn’t cause this person to groan. I think you have to do a lot of exegetical gymnastics to make this mean almost anybody else other than Christian leaders in my life right now who are in some sense responsible for my discipleship. This would include laypersons who mentor and disciple me or otherwise keep me accountable, yes, but it would necessarily include my pastors and other authority figures in the local church.

      2. Neil says:

        I believe that Todd has a great point in making it clear that the New Covenant of the church is a priesthood of all believers. However, I too disagree with Burleson’s interpretation as it points to the first premise in the context that one can argue the assumed position of clergy as those who rule over the laity in a clergy/laity caste system. The spiritual leaders refereed to in this passage is of the elders who fit the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:1-12 and Titus 1:5-9. These men were appointed by the apostles, with the idea these appointed men were to bring up succeeding elders through the body of Christ. Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. (1 Tim 3:1)

        So my argument is not that there are spiritual leaders who lovingly care for those new in the faith, my argument is placing that label on the clergy/laity caste system. You will not find one verse in scripture that approves of the clergy/laity caste system, nor will you find one verse in scripture where men and women are to have scholastic training (seminaries and bible colleges) to be an elder in the body of Christ. The truth is that clergy are hirelings who pay for training and expect to be hired into ministry. Seminaries make hirelings becasue seminaries are run by hirelings.

        So when you write a a post entitled, “Is Your Pastor Happy To See You?”, you must first believe that Pastors are the leaders this passage is referring to. If scripture proves that these men are hirelings, then maybe those who comment should be considered as leaders who are leading the body of Christ away from traditions of men. Please understand that I believe there are God fearing men in the pastoral ministry, but to make a claim that the pastoral ministry is a part of the church is not entirely truthful. It would take greater humility to admit that the clergy/laity system is the root of the problem, rather than write thousands and thousands of posts trying to make it work.

        In Christ’s love,
        Neil

        1. Jared C. Wilson says:

          Neil, if this post was written “in Christ’s love,” you would not have made the baseless allegations against me that you have. The accusation of believing in a “clergy/laity caste system” is just silly. And stupid. You attribute it to me, and I deny it.

          nor will you find one verse in scripture where men and women are to have scholastic training (seminaries and bible colleges) to be an elder in the body of Christ.

          Of course not. And I’ve nowhere said there does exist such a verse. I have no seminary training myself, so why would I even promote that idea? You can find no place where I have. Your accusations are baseless. You are imagining things I believe so you can argue against them. This accusatory model is the opposite of Christian love.

      3. Neil says:

        “The trajectory of the passage, beginning with marriage, is a building of present faithfulness of the Christian based on the heritage of faithfulness (both of God and his worshipers). ”

        I re-read your reply to Todd and also considered what you wrote in conjunction with an understanding of marriage. In particular you are referring to verse 13:4…Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.

        It worthy to note that the covenant of marriage is a representation of the Gospel. Thus, the body of Christ is must be a representation of the bride of Christ. Interesting is the position of marriage as it pertains to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCOF); in particular on what this paper teaches on divorce and remarriage. I believe it is not a mystery that TGC is a firm believer in the WCOF, and that making a comparison of what it takes to submit to in faithfulness of God to leaders is exactly what it takes to remain in a covenant vow of marriage.

        You would have your readers submit to the authority of the clergy/laity caste system based on having the laity believe that the clergy have the authority to administer and perform wedding ceremonies. Considering that marriage is from the beginning and precedes the fall of man, one would could easily understand that marriage by definition is one man and one woman for life.

        Yet, the WCOF tells us that if there are certain situations where a marriage can be terminated based on the actions of an unbeliever. Yet, this runs contrary to what you expect laity to submit to the authority of your appointed and “ordained” leaders. The truth is that these clergy have performed countless weddings of sanctified adultery.

        Faithfulness in God is trusting that He is in Co-covenant of a wedding vow of one-flesh covenant marriage. Jared, the WCOF strips the words right from your sentence and replaces them with traditions of men. If you want to compare marriage to the faithfulness of Christ to submit to the clergy/laity caste system, then you and all your Pastor buddies at TGC better first repent of believing a marriage can end in any way other than death.

        You look like hypocrites and blind guides when you expect one thing and ignore another… This country is coming under judgment and it is a direct result of denominations who bowed to the flesh, embracing no-fault divorce and sanctified adultery. You will have to answer to the Lord for the souls you deceived into entering into adultery of remarriage. I have prayed and continue to pray for the leaders of Churchianity to repent of ever believing that men can unbind what God has bond in Heaven. There is still time Jared.

        1. Jared C. Wilson says:

          You would have your readers submit to the authority of the clergy/laity caste system based on having the laity believe that the clergy have the authority to administer and perform wedding ceremonies.

          No I don’t. I’ve never said that. You are lying.
          In fact your entire comment is full of ignorant statements — that all of TGC firmly believes in the WCOF is just one — that to list them all would take more time than I’m willing to afford your gracelessness.

          There is still time for you to repent of your arrogance and false accusations.

          1. Neil says:

            Jared: “And good churchfolk (LAITY) love, respect, and submit to their pastors (CLERGY).”

            Define “pastors” without admitting these men are hirelings in a clergy/laity system, Jared. The point I have made is that TGC is great at making us “laity” (aka”churchfolk”) believe that we have submit to the pastoral ministry when the pastoral ministry is not a representation of the church. Most people reading these posts assume that the clergy/laity system is the body of Christ. Anytime you use the word “pastor” it is under the pretense that a man is “ordained” into the pastoral ministry. The only mistake you make is not capitalizing the letter “p”. I would point out that men with titles and “ordination” are in opposition to the body of Christ…thus your post is hollow.

            “This accusatory model is the opposite of Christian love.”

            As for my “ignorant” statements and “stupidity”, enlighten me which of these statements are not in Christ-like love? I believe everything I wrote is truthful and respectful to the word of God and that your post is a by-product of a caste system that is a detriment to the body of Christ. Anytime I have responded to these TGC posts it seems that my stupidity and knowledge of the pastoral ministry is “baseless” or not Christ-like. Seems to me that you would have me believe the Lord was Christ-like when He cleared the temple…

            I suggest you re-read my comments and the question why you would title a post without considering that not all stupid people like me are NOT willing to fall into believing that a “Pastor” is happy to believe that his vocation is a hireling position. Perhaps you will understand that the real body of Christ sees way past the deception and discerns that the root of the problem is the clergy/laity caste system. Instead of viewing this as an attack on your character, view this as an open rebuke in love.

          2. Jared C. Wilson says:

            Define “pastors” without admitting these men are hirelings in a clergy/laity system, Jared.

            Ok. “Pastor” – one who holds the biblical office of elder or ‘under-shepherd.’ I’m simply referring to the leadership office in the local church that the biblical authors refer to. If I’m promoting a “hireling system” in doing that, then so are they.

            Anytime you use the word “pastor” it is under the pretense that a man is “ordained” into the pastoral ministry.

            No, it’s not. If by “ordained,” you’re talking about a formal ordination service of some kind, that’s not what I mean.

            I would point out that men with titles and “ordination” are in opposition to the body of Christ…thus your post is hollow.

            No, your comment is hollow, because I don’t care about titles and I’ve said NOTHING about ordination. You’re the one who brought that up and assigned it to my meaning.

            I believe everything I wrote is truthful and respectful

            I’m sure you do, but believing something to be true doesn’t make it true, as your repeated insinuations and assertions about “what I mean” are repeatedly showing.

            Seems to me that you would have me believe the Lord was Christ-like when He cleared the temple

            Ah yes, the “clearing the temple” canard. Well, when you’ve become the sinless messiah and the House of God belongs to you, you will have free reign to clear it as you see fit.

            Perhaps you will understand that the real body of Christ sees way past the deception and discerns that the root of the problem is the clergy/laity caste system. Instead of viewing this as an attack on your character, view this as an open rebuke in love.

            It cannot be an open rebuke in love because it does not correspond to anything I actually believe (or have even said). You cannot imagine things I believe and argue against those and then claim to be rebuking me in love. That would involve actually responding to things I believe and assert. But you’ve instead camped out on my use of the word “pastor”(!) – a biblical word – and my interaction with congregants agreeing to be led by their leaders – a biblical command – and devised your own army of straw men to burn down.

            You also seem to have missed the important detail that I am not a pastor myself and thus am writing from that lowly, despised lower caste you imagine me to be promoting.

  7. Jim says:

    Pastors can become gun-shy. There is always one or two, when we see them walking toward us on Sunday morning, we know there is going to be an issue: out of toilet paper, a critical commentary about Wednesday nights message, I missed adding a member’s granddaughter’s birthday in the bulletin (I don’t advertise non-members birthdays in the bulletin) and the list goes on – this normally occurs 2 minutes before the service begins. Those are the constant complainers. I have come to accept it. I love them.
    And then there are those who diligently serve the Lord without the need for accolades. They never complain. And yes they are easily passed over for those greasy wheels.
    In the beginning of my pastorate, I spent far too much time, I’m afraid, on those who complained, always trying to fix the complainer’s petty problems while passing over those who lovingly supported me. I have changed that the past five years. I intentionally give more time to the dedicated Elect. They are serious about their discipleship. They are serious about serving God. I spend more time encouraging them because it lets them know their pastor sees the work and that I appreciate them. I haven’t stopped loving the grumblers, but I had to decide where time was better spent.

  8. Jim says:

    Thanks for the encouraging post.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you so much for this. I pray many will read it and seek to bless their pastors because of it.

  10. Charlie says:

    Jared

    I appreciate your willingness to engage with those who comment — even those who disagree with you.

    I’m reminded of a passage from Matthew:

    Mat 20:25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.
    Mat 20:26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,
    Mat 20:27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,
    Mat 20:28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

    There are a couple unfortunate consequences of views like yours on Hebrews 13:17 when it comes to how pastors view their authority in the church.

    Some pastors view this passage to mean that they are to be the authority on anything that happens in their church — regardless of their lack of experience and wisdom in a particular area. Oftentimes, such pastors have very little life experience outside of the church, and are not particularly effective leading people. Regardless, they are the decision maker, and anyone questioning their decisions is considered rebellious.

    There are also those who become enamored with their power and abuse their position. I realize you acknowledge this in your post, but I wonder if you are truly aware of the scope of the problem. I would submit to you that you probably don’t have the full picture of many of the pastors with which you interact.

    What is interesting to me is that this approach to church governance seems more Roman Catholic than protestant. The obsession some in the reformed camp have with authority is really unfortunate — especially in light of Matthew 20.

    1. Jared C. Wilson says:

      Charlie, I almost left ministry when I was starting out b/c I served under two spiritually abusive pastors. It was like daily living in psychological warfare. Later I spent almost ten years at a church whose elders had to remove the pastor for verbal/emotional abuse of staff and persistent anger issues. I am not ignorant of the problem of abusive authority. Not only do I acknowledge in this post, I have lived with it.

      Perhaps I am not fully aware of the scope of the problem, but it’s equally possible that it is not the Reformed camp that is obsessed with authority. I suspect the constant critics of anything that smells “Reformed” who are actually obsessed with the concept of authority.

  11. Jim Duggan says:

    Great article as always, Jared. Thanks for sharing what we pastors often are not in a position to say ourselves.

  12. Rusty Chatfield says:

    Good article. Thanks. I appreciate all the writers. I am glad that I am not called of God to criticize everything I read on some good Christian blog.

  13. Alastair Donaldson says:

    I have recently taken up my first pastorate in Ireland and got married just a couple of weeks before that. I only say that because it’s been a very busy few months. This discussion has grabbed my attention in a few different ways. Firstly I guess in learning every day how to be a faithful pastor (and faithful Christian for that matter) I sometimes find myself wondering if I myself can be unintentionally a bit of a bully. I know that the ‘Anglican’ system of the pastor being the only ‘elder’ could exasperate this problem in many ways. If only for that reason of accountability alone, I do wish sometimes there was an eldership within Anglican churches as there is within other denominations. But I dread the thought that I could exhibit bullying behaviour and continually pray that I’m not domineering. It has been my experience so far, however, that in directing people towards the gospel (some of whom are very stubborn) it can sometimes require a lot of energy and refusal to compromise doctrinally. I have no doubt this might appear domineering to some people. Like many churches over the last number of weeks we’ve been engaged in quite a bit of teaching about the Holy Spirit and the need of being open to him and I pray that, as a pastor-teacher, I myself am indeed open in the way in which I would seek to encourage others to be.

    Secondly, I am no stranger to the idea of a congregation (and certain members of it in particular) being bullies themselves although in many ways I suppose I count this as part of the challenge / suffering of being a pastor. For many such folks in the group of churches where I’m based, biblical illiteracy is a big problem and I don’t think they’d be too aware of Hebrews 13:8. As could equally be a problem with the pastor, however, there are a number of individuals in churches who like to be in control and refuse to be ministered to.

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Jared C. Wilson


Jared C. Wilson is the Director of Content Strategy for Midwestern Seminary, managing editor of For The Church, director of The Pastoral Training Center at Liberty Baptist Church, and author of more than ten books, including Gospel Wakefulness, The Pastor’s Justification, and The Prodigal Church. You can follow him on Twitter.

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