By Wayne Camp

"And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves" (I Thes. 5:12-13).

Pastoral authority--is it humanly assumed? Or divinely assigned? Those are the questions before us in this message. We could answer both of these questions in the affirmative. There is an extreme position on pastoral authority that many practice and it is wrong. The pastor is a virtual dictator. I know of one instance where a member of a Baptist church asked to know the salaries of the various staff members, including the pastor, and the pastor told him to sit down. That was none of his business. This occurred during their annual business meeting in which they set their budget. They had lumped all the salaries together. That is one extreme and such extreme authority is humanly assumed, it is not Divinely assigned.

There is another extreme that is equally erroneous. That position says that the pastor has no authority. I was told on one occasion, "This church does not follow the pastor. We follow the older men in the church. If you want to get something passed in business meeting you will have to talk to a couple of older men and get one of them to make the motion and another second it." Any man that is qualified to pastor one of the Lord's churches is qualified to lead that church. Shepherds lead sheep, the sheep do not lead the shepherd!

It is regretful when either of these two extremes exist. The ideal is the Divine order. It provides for a balance in this matter. The church, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, calls a pastor. If necessary, they have the authority to remove him from that position. They also can over-rule decisions he makes and most churches vote on most things that are done. There are, however, certain responsibilities that lie in the territory of pastoral authority. As the God- called, church-called, and Spirit- installed overseer, the pastor does have some authority. That is the theme of this message.


In his second letter to the church at Corinth Paul speaks of pastoral authority that was conferred upon him and his co-laborers. He said, "For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed" (II Cor. 10:8). I recognize that Paul, being an apostle, had authority that a pastor does not now have. That was a necessary thing in the early churches. An examination of this verse suggests that Paul was not referring to that apostolic authority that he had but his co-laborers did not have. Rather, he speaks of "OUR AUTHORITY which the Lord has given US." This was an authority that the Lord had conferred on Paul and the ministers of the gospel who were working with Paul at the time.

The authority that is conferred upon pastors is not a destructive type of authority. We are not lords and masters with the despotic, dictatorial authority of Nebuchadnezzar. We are not to be lords over God's heritage.

I have said it on these pages (The GP&P) several times. The Catholics go to an extreme in setting up their system of rank among their "clergymen" and some Baptists swing to the other extreme and reduce the pastoral office to door-mat status. Both extremes are harmful and unscriptural. Many problems arise in churches where men of the congregation assume authority that belongs in the pastor's arena.

More than once Paul affirmed that pastors have been assigned a certain authority for the task to which God has called them. He said to Titus, "These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee" (Titus 2:15). In the first verse of this chapter Paul told Titus to speak the things which become sound doctrine. He then spoke of the conduct of various types of church members and how they should conduct themselves toward one another. He spoke of how slaves were to conduct themselves toward their masters. Then he turns to some moral issues, and finally, to the grace of God and the second coming of Christ. He exhorts Titus to speak these things, to exhort the people to obey, and to rebuke offenders with all authority. He is to let no man despise him, or count his authority as nothing.

Bro. Billy Holladay, our Bible teacher here at Pilgrims Hope Baptist Church stated the matter this way,

It is an acknowledged principle of management that responsibility and authority be delegated. Many of you work for large businesses and corporations and know this. With God, responsibility for the care of his assemblies, his sheep, is delegated to the pastors whom he sets among them. Sound management principles dictate that you cannot delegate responsibility without delegating authority to go with it. In this, God also follows sound management principles in that he also delegates authority to his pastors commensurate with the responsibility. That means in the same measure; if one is given a great deal of responsibility, he is also given considerable authority in order to carry out the responsibility.

Paul included both of these factors when he wrote to the church at Corinth, as recorded in the 11th chapter of the first epistle, verse 1, "Be ye followers of me . . ." there is the authority, his command. That is what it amounts to—Paul was an apostle and to the church he said: "You be followers of me." Some may think, "What an egotistical man, who was he to so admonish people?" But that isn't all the verse says, for the other part states the responsibility that was upon Paul. In telling them to follow himself, he qualified it, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ." In other words, he was telling them, "You follow me as I follow the Lord, and where I don't follow the Lord, then the responsibility is back upon you to recognize that and don't follow. But in so far as, and as long as, I am following the instructions of the Lord, which he has given us in the word, the responsibility is then to follow me."

There is the example for pastors of the Lord's churches. I believe the same principle applies because the pastor is referred to in the scriptures as bishop (Greek: episkopos) which means "overseer." We Baptists don't use the term bishop very much, but it is certainly a scriptural term. It is one of the titles given to pastors and it identifies their role and responsibility as the overseer of the assembly. It is not a strawboss-type role either. Heb. 13:17 refers to pastors and there the admonition is to the people (the rest of us), and it says, "Obey them that have the rule over you and submit yourselves . . ." Sometimes we Baptists don't like that word rule, but it is quite a strong word and pretty well means what it says (within the context of this discussion). The admonition is, "Obey them that have the rule over you and submit yourselves . . ." and that word has the meaning of a willing submission unto the authority that has been delegated to pastors" (TGP&P, Nov. 1, 1987).


Does the idea of pastors ruling their churches bother you? It shouldn't, as long as they rule in accordance with the word of God. The pastor, ruling in accordance with biblical principles, will not bother those who love God and his word. This term is used several times in Scripture to refer to the responsibility of the pastor. One of the qualifications of a pastor is that he rule well his own house. The reason being, if he cannot take care of ruling his own house, he cannot take care of his position in the church. "If a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?" (I Tim. 3:5). It is amazing that some people will demand this qualification in the pastor (that he rule well his own house), but will rebel against his ruling the church in a Scriptural manner.

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul had a good deal to say about the office and responsibility of the pastor. Among those things he said, "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine" (I Tim. 5:17). When a congregation has the attitude, "We will run things around here, Pastor. You just preach to us," they are saying, in essence, "We don't submit to your rule as pastor." I have seen men in churches who swell up and bow their necks at the idea of a pastor fulfilling this aspect of his ministry. Such rebellion is not just rebellion against the pastor, it is rebellion against God and his word. When such rebellion occurs it is tantamount to sheep saying to the shepherd, "We will run this show, you are a mere figure head." Any time that I see such a situation I am reminded of God's words of comfort to Samuel when Israel wanted a king. God said, "They have not rejected you, they have rejected me that I should not rule over them." Any church, or church member, who rebels against the biblical rule of a pastor is rebelling against God, not that pastor.

Look at other declarations of the Scriptures where reference is made to pastoral rule. "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. 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. Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you" (Heb. 13:7, 17, 24).

Paul admonishes these people to remember those who had the rule over them, speaking of their pastors, the ones who speak the word of God to them. He exhorts them to obey their pastors and submit themselves to them for "they watch for your souls." He then tells them to salute them. There are three significant and strong words that should be considered in these verses—rule, obey, and submit. Within the context of Scripture, they say what they mean. The congregation is to obey the pastor as long as he is obedient to the Lord and commanding them from the word of God. He rules over them, leads them, and instructs them. They are to submit willingly to his rule and leadership. Paul warns them that it will be unprofitable for those who rebel and refuse in this matter.


"This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work" (I Tim. 3:1). The pastor is the bishop of the assembly. As such he has the oversight, the superintendency of the congregation. Thayer says that EPISCOPE, the Greek word used here, means "the overseer or presiding officer of a Christian church. Oversight, overseership, office, charge."

One of the most awesome responsibilities that God has laid upon his pastors is the oversight of the congregation. And God has given them the oversight of his churches. "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all THE FLOCK, OVER THE WHICH THE HOLY GHOST HATH MADE YOU OVERSEERS, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood" (Acts 20:28). It occurs to me that it must be a terrible sin in the eyes of God for one of his children to rise up in rebellion against the Scriptural leadership of a pastor whom God the Spirit has installed over a congregation. I do not speak of a member, or members, who take a stand against some heresy that a pastor may proclaim. Nor do I speak of someone rising up against dictatorial, autocratic authority assumed by some man who is pastor of a congregation. Certainly, there are times when action may be necessary and scriptural.

When a pastor is leading, ruling, and overseeing scripturally, one who rebels against that is placing himself on hazardous ground. I might say, "Some of the worst offenders in this area of resisting the authority of the pastor are preachers. Having pastored many preachers, I know whereof I speak. One particular instance comes to mind. In a business meeting in one church that I pastored we were discussing something that pertained to our morning Bible classes. We had a man that had been chosen as superintendent. In the discussion of some matter, I said that I would look into the matter. A young preacher, who had never pastored, spoke up and said, "That is not your business, that is the business of the superintendent." I reminded him that as pastor I was the overseer of the superintendent, the teachers and every other aspect of the church's work. There is no area of a church's work that is not under the oversight of the pastor. A preacher, regardless of who he is, who has not been called by the church and installed by the Holy Spirit as pastor, has no special authority in the church. He is just another member when it comes to pastor-church relationships. He is one of the sheep and the Spirit-made overseer is the shepherd. He is as obligated to obey the pastor and submit to his rule and oversight as any other member is. "And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves" (I Thes. 5:12- 13).

Peter also had something to say of the oversight of the pastor. He admonished certain pastors, "Feed the flock of God which is among you, TAKING THE OVERSIGHT THEREOF, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock" (I Pet. 5:2-3). Peter instructed pastors to take the oversight of the churches where God has placed them. They are to do it willingly, and the people are to receive their oversight willingly. Pastors will give an account of their oversight and rule and church members will give an account for their response to this oversight. They will give an account of their obedience and submission to the leadership of their pastors.

I have said little about church authority in this message. That is not a great problem in most true New Testament churches. An over emphasis on church authority is more likely a problem among us than a lack of authority. The area of problems in so many churches has to do with pastoral authority.


Who has the oversight of the pulpit? Who is responsible for the preaching that is done in the pulpit? I recall an incident that occurred while I pastored in Illinois. Two men showed up at our services one Sunday. They sent someone into the auditorium to have me come to the vestibule. One of the men asked me if he could speak to the congregation during the "preaching hour." He went on to tell me of some miracles he had allegedly performed. I immediately told him that he could not preach.

"You can't just tell me that," he responded.

"I just did," I said.

"What if the people want to hear me?" he retorted.

"I am not going to ask them if they want to hear you. I am in charge of the preaching that goes on at this church," I replied.

"What if we put it to the congregation and they voted to have me preach?" he asked.

"WE aren't going to put anything to this congregation," I declared. "You are not a member here. I don't know you, and there is no way that WE are going to present anything to them."

"What if you put it to them and they voted to hear me?" he asked.

My answer was, "I am not going to put it to them. They would not vote to have you preach against my wishes. Furthermore, if they were to vote on the matter, they would have to fire me as pastor before the vote. I can assure you, Sir, as long as I am pastor here you will not preach in this pulpit, give your testimony, or tell your lies about your healings."

Amazingly, the men stayed and listened to me preach. I never mentioned their being there until a later service.

When a church, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, calls a pastor, that pastor is in charge of the pulpit. He has the oversight. Inherent in that is the responsibility for who preaches and what they preach. There is no man in the congregation who is more qualified to say who and what is needed when it is time to select visiting speakers for any special services. He is the man who has been given the oversight. God called him to preach and pastor. The church has called him to the office of bishop (overseer), elder (presiding officer), and pastor (feeder), of the flock. The Holy Spirit has made him the overseer, elder, and pastor of the church. Other men of the congregation should not intrude into this area of responsibility and authority.


A preacher-friend of yours shows up in town. He is a sound, well-qualified speaker and preacher. There is no doctrinal or other reason for him to be disqualified from preaching. You would like to hear him speak. Do you invite him to speak, or do you leave that up to the pastor? If the pastor desires the visitor to speak, let him ask him. You do not have the oversight of the pulpit and it would be pure presumption on your part to interject and impose yourself into the arena that is the responsibility and prerogative of the pastor. No church member should ever invite someone to preach when the church has a pastor. That right and decision is the pastor's alone.

Not very long ago, I ran into a member of a church where I have spoken several times in the past. I maintain good relations with the pastor and count him among my best friends. The member said, "Bro. Camp, when are you going to come and preach for us again. We like to hear you preach." My reply was, "That is up to your pastor. He will invite me again when he feels that I am the man you need to hear." This brother was not inviting me to preach, but I wanted him to know that I would come when his pastor asked me to come, not before. And, I would never preach to a church without an invitation from the pastor. Once a church voted to have me for a revival. I had preached there while others were pastoring, but they had a new pastor. I happened to know that the pastor and I had some areas of doctrinal disagreement. When he called and told me that the church had called for me to preach the meeting, my first question was, "Bro. ___________, do you want me to come. If you would be more comfortable if I declined and someone else were chosen, I will decline the invitation and only you will know why I declined." He assured me that he would be happy for me to come. I went. The Lord blessed mightily and there were several additions to the church.

I especially appreciate what Bro. Roy M. Reed said along this line. In an article in "The Vine Line" (April, 1991) titled "Twenty Years Behind The Same Pulpit" Bro. Reed wrote, "Admittedly a pastor has some vacation time and occasional visiting speakers in the pulpit. But make no mistake about it; whether he is on a well earned vacation, or half a world away on the mission field, or at home sick, or some other circumstance, he is still expected to fill that pulpit. Woe be to the pastor who abdicates that responsibility and leaves the filling of his pulpit to committees, or the popular votes of the people or to chance."


Who has the oversight of the singing? Before I answer the question at hand, I am going to air a pet peeve of mine. I believe that preachers ought to preach and song leaders should lead singing. If there is anything that irritates this preacher, it is a song director who thinks he has to deliver a little sermon about every song he leads. Even worse is the song director who thinks that he must entertain the congregation with his own brand of comedy between hymns. I am not objecting to brief remarks about a hymn, but I have seen services iced over by song directors who considered themselves comedians or who needed to surrender to preach.

Now that I have aired my gripe, I will attempt to answer our question. Who has the oversight of the singing? We may answer that by asking, what person in the church has the title of "overseer"? When God the Spirit makes a man the overseer of a congregation, he is over the singing as well as the preaching, teaching, and SINGING. If a song leader starts taking too long, it is the prerogative of the pastor to tell him to cut down on the number of hymns that he is leading. I sometimes hear (and I do not think that most mean any harm in what they say) song directors say, "After this next song, I will turn the service over to the pastor." Dear Reader, if he is the pastor, he has been in charge all along and does not need the service "turned over" to him. If a song leader starts leading unscriptural songs it is the pastor's responsibility and authority to stop such activity. It is as wrong to sing heresy as it is to preach heresy. Some people have the idea that as long as a song "sounds pretty" it is good.


Having oversight of the church, the pastor has oversight of all activities in which the church engages, as well as its teaching and preaching ministry. The pastor may delegate much of the work but he cannot delegate the authority and responsibility. In the church at Jerusalem, the twelve were neglecting the ministry of the word and prayer in order to feed the widows. They saw a need to delegate this work load. They told the church to choose seven men. They, however, kept the work of these men under their oversight. "Look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom WE MAY APPOINT over this business." The twelve delegated the choosing of the seven to the church; they delegated the waiting on the tables of the widows to the seven. They maintained oversight and responsibility while having others actually do the work. That is as it should be, biblically. No church should engage in anything that the pastor cannot oversee. If it would be wrong for him to oversee it, it would be wrong for the church to do it!

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Last updated Friday, March 04, 2011.

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