I believe that the church has erred in that leadership often grasps for power. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard leaders say that people ought to submit to them because they have authority over the congregation. There’s too much emphasis on getting authority rather than being the servant. This has been a problem through the centuries ever since Constantine gave favored status to the church. We have forgotten what Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 20:25-28.
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
In Matthew 23:8-10, Jesus said,
“But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ.
I suspect Jesus said these things because He knew how people thirst for power and control others. The Bible does talk about pastors, elders, and deacons, but I am not sure that they were in the hierarchy as we know them today. It seems to me that the hierarchy invites power struggles and abuses of power. It could be that pastors, elders, and deacons were more unofficial and relational than we know them, rather than organizational and positional. I think that when a leader says, “You must submit to my authority” it is indicative of a power problem.
I do not believe that pastors are to be the CEOs of the church “in charge” of everything that happens, expecting total authority and unquestioned submission. Instead, they must model a life of holiness, faith, and servanthood, teaching and equipping believers so that believers can be witnesses/ministers of the truth among their family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. They lead by example, not drive others before them.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Eph. 4:11-13)
I think one error in the church is that pastors/leaders are considered the ministers, which lets the rest of the people off the hook. In reality, I believe that maybe the people are the ministers, and the pastors/teachers are the teachers. In fact, perhaps pastors/leaders ought to consider themselves to be like college professors, who train students in their particular field, and then send them out into the world to use their gifts, teaching, healing, building in the communities in which they life. College professors do not teach students and then require them to remain in the universities and colleges and use their skills there. If they did that, the universities would get filled with doctors, teachers, engineers, etc., and the rest of the world would have nothing. You know, sort of like churches do. The churches are like little fortresses under the authority of a ruler who tells them what to think and do. The people “minister” in the church, “fellowship” in the church, but they never go OUT into all the world, and reach the people who most need their message. The pastors ought to be training people to be ministers and to go OUT. Is it any wonder that the world is as lost as it is when we stay within our fortresses?
Another problem I see is that people expect a pastor to be more holy. It is true that if a person is a teacher of the Message, he ought to be holy. And in an organization, the ones at the top must be more skilled and educated than the ones at the bottom. However, I am not sure that such a hierarchy is Biblical, and I’m not sure that people who have the official title and position of pastor/deacon are the only ones who teach. Maybe anyone who disciples another is a teacher. But, regardless, I think we have to be careful that we don’t consider others as having to be more holy, and us being able to be less holy. I think we are all called to be holy, and we all must live holy lives. Period.
Another danger I see with pastors is the congregations. Or, rather, the cycle that churches have been trained to follow. Congregations have been taught for centuries that they are under the authority of their leaders, and they are to submit to them. They have been taught that leaders are to be more holy, and they can be less. So they expect their leaders to be perfect, and when a leader shows any weaknesses, their reputations get shredded and they lose their jobs. So what leader is ever going to willingly step off the pedestal and honestly share his doubts, weaknesses, and failures with the people in his church? Yeah, right. Instead, most will hide their doubts, weaknesses, and failures, and present themselves as having greater faith and spirituality than the people. They keep themselves on the pedestal. Pretending to be different than you is called hypocrisy. Pastors teach others to follow truth, be vulnerable, and trust in God, but they model just the opposite. But who wants to reveal who they really are and risk losing reputation and job? Yet, is keeping reputation and job really more important than following God wherever He leads?
Ahhh….THAT is the question. Perhaps it requires starting over. And maybe that’s why so many people who love God are leaving the institutional church. Maybe.