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I have some questions on submission to the pastor's and deacons' authority and leaving the church.

A friend of mine has some thoughts that I need clarification on:

    1. You are submit to your pastor's authority (obey those who have rule over you ).

    2. Ditto for your deacons.

    3. If you want to leave church you need to talk to your pastor and see if he thinks it is okay. If he gives you his blessing than God's blessing is on it.

    4. Your local church is your 'spiritual family' and you ought to see it as a marriage. In your marriage if your wife got tied of you she would not have the freedom to put her self under the authority of another husband (pastor inferred).

    5. You can never leave a church unless there are doctrinal errors; in that case EVERYONE should leave.

    6. At church if you are concerned about something but your pastor is not, then since pastor is God's man for today than you can assume God is not concerned with it right now in your church and do not worry about it.

As an elder in a local church, I have great reluctance about second-guessing the leadership of your church, especially with as little knowledge about your church as I have. Christians today seem to be all too quick to leave their church for "greener pastures," and there are not too many of those, as they all too often learn the hard way.

Nevertheless, I will make a few general comments. I have been a part of the leadership of two churches in the past 30 years, and the second church, where I have served for 24 years, was a daughter church of the first. I've seen a lot of folks move from one church to another. Some have left for shallow reasons. Others left because they had been equipped to serve elsewhere, where they were more needed. "The church" is not, in my opinion, any one local church, but the body of Jesus Christ in a particular area. Thus, moving from one local church to another is not really "leaving the church." One's reasons for leaving should always be carefully and prayerfully considered and evaluated. I think that it is important to communicate your concerns openly with the leadership of the church that you attend. The leadership may very well have good reasons for their actions, or their lack of action. They may not. But at least you will have dealt with one another openly, and your reasons for leaving (if this is your decision) will be known.

I am reminded of the "separation" of Paul and Barnabas in the latter part of Acts chapter 15. I believe that neither Paul nor Barnabas were wrong in this case. These men had different gifts and different ministries, and when they parted (even after a strong disagreement) they did so as brothers in Christ. The result was two ministry teams, rather than one. It may be the same in the case of one who leaves a church.

I think I have some concerns with what I read about authority in your statements (of the counsel that had been given). First, there is no one man who has authority over the church, as I understand the New Testament. The church is ruled by a plurality of elders, assisted by the deacons (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1; Philippians 1:1). I do not believe that any one man (be he called the pastor or not) should rule over the church. Neither do I believe that one or a plurality of leaders should rule rough shod over the flock (Matthew 20:25-28; 1 Peter 5:1-5; 3 John 9-12). We should submit to our leaders (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:17). As one elder among others, I must submit to the common consent of the elders. Thus, I get a bit nervous about those who insist too loudly that we must submit to their authority, especially when their decisions or actions don't square with the Word of God. I also get nervous about those who seem disposed not to submit to the church leadership, and to question and second-guess every decision.

You wrote: "(1) You are [to] submit to your pastor's authority (obey those who have rule over you)." The term "pastor" is singular, but the command of Hebrews 13:17 is to obey "those" (plural) "who have rule over you." I would want to be sure that the pastor's decisions are those of the leadership of the church, collectively. Some tend to "rubber stamp" the pastor's leadership, and that's not healthy, either. I agree with point # 3. One should talk to the leadership about those matters that are so important they might cause them to leave the church.

There is some truth to #4, but marriage is not a picture of the local church and a member; it is a picture of Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:22ff.). To leave one's wife is to suggest (by example) that Christ abandons His own. To leave a local church does not convey the same thing, in my opinion. The church is "our family" in many ways, and we should not be quick to leave it. There is much to say for perseverance.

By the way, we live in a day when churches do a lot of "marketing." They try to lure new members by offering better services. I think this is risky, and I think people should not leave just to get "more of their need or wants met." We are too often asking what we are getting out of church, rather than what we are putting into it.

I think that doctrinal errors may provide justification for leaving a church, but (once again) when Paul and Barnabas separated, it wasn't over doctrine, it was over ministry. About number 6. I don't buy the, "the pastor is God's man" line of thinking. The pastor is one man, not God's man in some way that sets him and his authority above all others. If he speaks for God, the church should recognize this and concur with him. If not, the pastor should seriously consider changing his mind, and his course of action. The pastor cannot and should not make our decisions for us.

Related Topics: Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry

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