Question: "How much authority should a pastor have over a church?"
Answer: The church is called “the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2), “God’s heritage” (1 Peter 5:3), and “the church of God” (Acts 20:28). Jesus is “the head of the church” (Ephesians 5:23) and “the chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4). The church rightly belongs to Christ, and He is the authority over it (Matthew 16:18). This is just as true of the local church as of the universal Body of Christ.
God’s blueprint for building His church includes using men in the office of pastor. The pastor is first an elder, and, along with the other elders, the pastor is responsible to do the following:
1) Oversee the church (1 Timothy 3:1). The primary meaning of the word bishop is “overseer.” The general oversight of the ministry and operation of the church is the responsibility of the pastor and the other elders. This would include the handling of finances within the church (Acts 11:30).
2) Rule over the church (1 Timothy 5:17). The word translated “rule” literally means “to stand before.” The idea is to lead or to attend to, with an emphasis on being a diligent caretaker. This would include the responsibility to exercise church discipline and reprove those who err from the faith (Matthew 18:15–17; 1 Corinthians 5:11–13).
3) Feed the church (1 Peter 5:2). Literally, the word pastor means “shepherd.” The pastor has a duty to “feed the flock” with God’s Word and to lead them in the proper way.
4) Guard the doctrine of the church (Titus 1:9). The teaching of the apostles was to be committed to “faithful men” who would teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2). Preserving the integrity of the gospel is one of the pastor’s highest callings.
Some pastors consider the title “overseer” as a command to have their hand in everything. Whether it’s running the sound system or selecting songs for Sunday or picking out drapes for the nursery, some pastors feel it their duty to be involved in every decision. Not only is this exhausting for the pastor, who finds himself in every committee meeting, it’s also hampering others from using their gifts in the church. A pastor can oversee and delegate at the same time. In addition, the biblical model of a plurality of elders, along with deacons appointed to assist the pastor and elders, precludes the pastorate from becoming a “one-man show.”
The command to “rule” the church is sometimes taken to extremes as well. A pastor’s official responsibility is to govern the church along with the elders, and his focus should be primarily spiritual, attending to matters such as edifying believers and equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12). We have heard of pastors who seem more dictatorial than shepherd-like, requiring those under their authority to seek their permission before making an investment, going on vacation, etc. Such men, it seems to us, simply desire control and are unfit to rule the church of God (see 3 John 1:9–10).
First Peter 5:3 contains a wonderful description of a balanced pastoral ministry: “Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock.” The pastor’s authority is not something to be “lorded over” the church; rather, a pastor is to be an example of truth, love, and godliness for God’s flock to follow. (See also 1 Timothy 4:12.) A pastor is “the steward of God” (Titus 1:7), and he is answerable to God for his leadership in the church.