I confess I am guilty of blurring the line between vocational ministers and laity (between those who are compensated for their ministry in a particular church and those who are not). I also admit that I probably have a higher view of the roles and responsibilities of us average, non-professional Christians than most people have. Finally, when you accuse me of believing and teaching that God’s call on the life of a layman is just as high and defining as His call on any professional minister, I am guilty as charged.
But none of that translates into a dim view of pastoral authority…recognizing, of course, that “dim” is a relative term.
I am always a little afraid of a pastor whose entire model of church leadership comes from the Old Testament. When his (and I won’t add the normal “/her” because it’s pretty clear that no female leader in the church could derive her entire model for church leadership from the Old Testament) only illustrations for pastoral leadership are from characters such as Moses or David or Elijah, it tells me some scary things about that pastor. You see, neither Moses nor David nor Elijah had any experience at all leading people who were indwelled by the Spirit of God Himself. So, while those are important leadership (even pastoral) models, they are by no means complete illustrations for leadership in the Age of the Church.
What, then, is pastoral authority in this age? Where does it come from and how does it inform the relationship between pastor and layman?
First, what it is and where it comes from…pastoral authority comes from speaking the Word of God exactly as God gives it to that pastor to speak. When a pastor speaks exactly what God speaks, the authority is present. When a pastor speaks from any other source (like self), then the authority is not present. In that sense, then, the authority is first and foremost in the message…not in the person.
But pastoral authority also has direct implication in our illustration of God’s will as a puzzle. If God lives in every believer, and we each bring a piece of the puzzle to the table in order to put them together and rightly discern what God desires, where is pastoral authority in that process? If you will recall this post, we said that each of us sometimes has a puzzle piece which is simply not critical to the picture, i.e., that I sometimes have a piece that may seem important by itself, but when placed into the rest of the puzzle, ends up telling us nothing at all about the picture. And we agreed that this just needs to be o.k. with me when it happens.
In putting together the puzzle which is God’s will for a church, the pastor’s puzzle piece, when prayerfully and accurately (i.e., with Spiritual authority) placed, is always critical. Because the pastor has presumably been gifted with pastoral vision to see the picture forming in the puzzle, when the pastor’s piece of the puzzle is placed becomes just as important as the piece itself. Place it too soon, and it skews people’s perception one way. Place it too late, and it frustrates the people.
But in any event, no matter when it gets placed, the pastor’s piece itself is critical. Always. That is a part of pastoral authority.
In the final analysis, there is a great deal of pressure on every pastor not only to get the pastoral piece right, but to handle it correctly. It is yet another reason why I’m grateful I’m not the pastor! I may blur the line between pastor and layman, but compensated or not, there is in fact a line there.
© Blake Coffee
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