There is a dynamic tension built in to New Testament models of church leadership. This impacts how God’s people should treat church leaders. The pastor is clearly given authority over the church. However, the church must also keep the pastor accountable. God’s people need to embrace this tension and beware of those who lean too far to one side or the other. Vuyani Sindo and Don Carson share their opinions in this video.
We are Called to Worship Christ, not Church Leaders
Vuyani Sindo: “It’s interesting how Paul says it in 1 Corinthians. He says “this is how you ought to view us – as servants of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 4: 1) But of course there is a line as well within the New Testament where those who have served the Lord deserve greater honour. (1 Timothy 5: 17) But I don’t think that we should… that it should ever get to the place where we worship them and take our eyes away from the Lord Jesus Christ. So, I think there is always that tension. That we need to respect church leaders – those that have been put above us. We are called as God’s people to submit to those in authority over us. But, at the same time, how we view them… they should never replace Christ in our lives. I think we should actually view them as servants of God. People who are actually working at proclaiming the Lord Jesus Christ and helping us to understand Him better.
Pastors are at Risk of Abusing Congregants
We are starting now to worship the so called ‘Man of God’. Where you see people lying on the floor and pastors walk over them! I think that is an abuse of office.
“I think a couple of the new incidents, recently in South Africa, have made me think “maybe the Church has swung to the other extreme” where we are starting now to worship the so called ‘Man of God’. Where you see people lying on the floor and pastors walk over them! I think that is an abuse of office. It’s an abuse of the congregants. And that is why, as well, it has to go back to the person of the pastor. In terms of as people start to show respect and trust to you, that you should not abuse that trust. But rather you have to constantly remind them about their identity in Christ. And who we are collectively as God’s people under the lordship of Christ.
Two strands of emphasis
Don Carson: “I am sure that’s right. The thing is that there are several competing strands of emphasis in the New Testament. And one that you refer to, “obey those who have the rule over you,” and that’s in a context of Hebrews where it’s the Christian leaders, it’s not talking about the secular authorities. So, if you take that verse and others like it and talk only about those verses, only follow that strand, then you can end up with big man theology and abuse of power and all the rest. But on the other hand, the churches are clearly responsible to bring discipline. For example when Paul writes to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 10-13 he says “make sure that you get rid of those false apostles and false pastors before I get there. Because if you don’t get rid of them before then I’ll get rid of them!” And so he holds the church responsible for holding the ministers themselves accountable. In other words, the Christian leadership models in the New Testament are not all top down. And they are not all democratic bottom up. There is a dynamic tension built into it.
the Christian leadership models in the New Testament are not all top down. And they are not all democratic bottom up. There is a dynamic tension built into it.
Achieving the Balance
Good elders, good pastors, good bishops, are to have a certain kind of leadership roll that directs the affairs of the church primarily through the authority of the word. But on the other hand if they go off base, the church has not only the privilege but the responsibility of holding them to account. Because either side can go bad. The church can go off and the leaders need to correct the church. But the leaders can go off and the church needs to correct the leaders. So it’s purposely a dynamic tension situation in the pages of the New Testament. Precisely because either side can go bad. And if you find church leaders citing only kind of passage you can be sure that they’ve got it wrong. You want to look for leaders and churches that understand the dynamic in terms of achieving the balance that you find in the pages of the New Testament.”