What the Bible says about a pastor’s authority

October 26, 2021

I’ve heard it said, “The pastor’s job is to preach, marry and bury. Running the church is up to others.”

Make no mistake — the primary task of a shepherd is to feed the flock. Paul commanded young Timothy to preach the Word. Preaching sermons on the Lord’s Day and officiating weddings and funerals certainly involve proclaiming God’s Word.

But are these the only responsibilities of a pastor? Does his authority extend beyond these limited functions? The short answer is, “Yes.”

Consider Peter’s charge to elders, a term that is interchangeable with pastors. The apostle commands elders to shepherd the flock of God and to exercise oversight. Clearly Peter had more in mind for pastoral leadership than preaching good sermons. Oversight here implies supervision and management.

Even stronger are the words of the writer to the Hebrews when he instructs his readers to obey their leaders and submit to them. Really? Obey your pastor(s)? Yes, that’s what God commands. The reason? Hebrews 13:17 says, “For they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”

To be sure, leadership must never be harsh and shepherds must never expect sheep to sin. In fact, undershepherds answer directly to the Chief Shepherd. But some churches have never considered that disregarding their pastor(s)’ godly authority is a grave sin.

Churches will not be healthy when their leaders are disregarded.

Another responsibility of a pastor is correction. Paul instructed the church in Thessalonica to respect those who labored among them, those who were over them in the Lord and admonished them. Pastors are over the congregation and must address error in the church. They are to graciously, but firmly, warn and provide course correction to erring sheep.

The expectation to admonish implies a delegated authority from Christ who clearly required discipline in His church. Paul further exhorts the church to esteem the pastors very highly in love because of their work.

The consequences of dismissing the authority of the shepherds are discouragement for the leadership and stagnation in the congregation. The writer to the Hebrews encouraged the church to allow their leaders to lead with joy and not with groaning, because that would not be profitable for them.

Discouragement is a chief adversary to effective pastoral ministry. Churches should want to bless their pastors with the gift of their support. Furthermore, churches will not be healthy when their leaders are disregarded.

In his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, Paul told church leaders to pay careful attention to themselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit had made them overseers, and to care for the church of God that was bought with the precious blood of Jesus. Leading Christ’s blood-bought bride is a weighty task. It necessitates keeping watch over one’s own soul but also that of all the flock.

If local churches desire to see the blessing of God in their labors, an appropriate place to begin would be to honor the leadership God has graciously given their church.

An unwillingness to submit to godly authority plunged Adam and Eve into sin in the beginning. In a similar manner, a refusal of churches to submit to the godly authority of their shepherds will plunge our churches into irrelevance.


by Branton Burleson 
/  Pastor  /  Grace Baptist Church, Asheville, N.C.

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