The idea of pastoral authority can seem abstract—until it's challenged. Suddenly its presence or absence is unmistakable. That's why we sought out a diverse group of pastors to tell us about how they responded to being undermined. We wanted to see how authority is exercised in the most crucial circumstance: when it's under fire.
Firm and Balanced
In 35 years of ministry, I've witnessed the extremes of pastoral authority.
On one end of the spectrum is the pastor who has no authority. This pastor functions as a "hired gun" installed by a board that micromanages his message and methodology, leaving him feeling weak and unable to pursue his calling with passion.
The other extreme is the pastor whose authority borders on "monarchial." This kind of pastor controls every detail of his congregants' lives, even what they wear. His control goes far beyond that which is biblical.
What we need is pastoral authority that is biblical and balanced. This type of authority accomplishes what God has called us to do and nothing more. We don't need a vision for all of our parishioners' careers and relationships; they do. We need a vision for the work of God and enough authority to protect that work from derailment.
I have had my authority challenged on occasion. When necessary I have been quite forceful with those seeking to damage what God has entrusted to me.
One time I asked one of our young ministers to decline a preaching invitation elsewhere when I needed him to serve at our home church. The young man responded belligerently, "I don't have time to serve this vision. In two years, I will be where you are."
I confiscated his keys, and we parted ways.
In the ten years since, that impetuous young pastor has not reached the lofty heights he envisioned. Rebellion is not God's way of preparation for effectiveness. He later returned to apologize, having reaped what he had sown.
Pastors are beloved so long as we do what people want us to do. The moment we don't, our authority may be challenged. But remember, we aren't politicians elected to do the will of the people. We are called to do the will and work of God.
We certainly don't need dictator-types leading God's people, but I believe that sheep are comforted and protected by a brave shepherd's staff and rod. We protect the sheep from wolves that would destroy. I wielded the rod when I had to chasten a guest speaker who took more liberty with my congregation than I believed was appropriate, and when I removed a woman who attempted to disrupt our service with her practice of black magic.
Our model is Christ, who knew when to be a lion and when to be the lamb. Some things he accomplished as a lamb that he couldn't achieve as a lion. Yet Jesus could be the roaring lion from the tribe of Judah when he needed to be.
I advise pastors to follow the example of the One who could be both lamb and lion. Don't use unnecessary force, but don't be afraid to respond with full authority and power when the ministry's at stake.
—Bishop T. D. Jakes is pastor of The Potter's House in Dallas, Texas.
In my late twenties I made a shift from pastoring a mid-sized congregation in Minnesota to planting a church in the heart of San Francisco. Beyond the obvious cultural adjustments, the most challenging aspect of this transition was how my identity as a pastor was called into question.
In Minnesota, when people at the gym or grocery store found out I was a pastor, they were kind and deferential. They might ask a theological question, tell me about a personal problem, or sheepishly apologize for cussing in front of me.