The Responsibility of Authority


God endows leaders with authority, uses them to carry out his divine plan, and all Christians are commanded to obey the leaders over them (Heb 13:17; 1 Peter 5:5).

Does this sound unfair?  It shouldn’t, because to whom much is given, much is demanded (Luke 12:48).  Let’s take a moment to recognize how insanely demanding the task of Christian leadership (e.g. elders, deacons, community group leaders, ministry heads) really is.

Leaders Have a Responsibility for Others 

Elders are “entrusted with the good deposit” of the faith (2 Tim. 1:14) and leaders in general are held accountable to God for how they cared for the souls under their watch (Heb. 13:17).  This isn't like a standard performance review - their leadership will be scrutinized by the one who sees and knows everything.

The Christian leader's goals are also vaguely defined.  How do you accurately assess the state of another’s soul?  How do you measure spiritual growth?  How do you gauge faithfulness?  There is no definite "bottom line" to measure an effective leader.

The work itself is also taxing.  Christian leaders help others through difficult situations - and often feel the burden of other people's problems (people don’t seek counseling sessions when everything is perfect).  Plus, the overwhelming majority of leaders at Living Stones are volunteers.  Leading others cuts into leisure time, time with family, and even sleep.

Christian leaders also have targets on their backs.  In war, taking out an officer is a strategic jackpot. Similarly, in spiritual warfare, the Christian leader is a prime target.

Authority is given by God to build others up, not destroy them (2 Cor. 10:8, 13:10).  Christian service based on ulterior motives, like self glorification, will be revealed to be meaningless when Christ returns (1 Cor. 3:10-15).  Leaders constantly have to check their motives and repent for being self-centered.  This is humbling and strenuous.

Responsibility for faithfully teaching the Word

Have you read the Bible?  It’s quite complex.  Yet leaders must submit to it and not go beyond what is written (1 Cor. 4:6).

Preaching and teaching the Bible is a daunting task.  James discourages people from aspiring to teach because teachers (including himself) will be judged with greater severity (James 3:1).  What is the nature of this judgment?  James doesn’t say, but teachers who lead people astray (e.g. cause doubt over the legitimacy of the gospel) will be in a world of hurt.  Jesus told the false teachers of his day that they will face greater condemnation (Mark 12:40), and a central theme in the book of Jude is that false teachers can look forward to "the gloom of utter darkness" forever.

Oh, and James talks about how hard it is to control the tongue (James 3:8).  Being careless with the Bible is a real and present danger for all teachers, so many hours of study, correction, and prayer are needed to avoid the pitfall of speaking incorrectly.  Sometimes one misspoken word can have disastrous effects on the faith of the hearer, whether intentional or not.  Preachers and teachers have to walk this tightrope constantly.  I even spent hours going through commentaries for the Bible citations in this puny post.  Presumption is a powerful enemy.

Responsibility against hypocrisy

The Christian leader also has to practice what they preach.  The world leads by charisma, capability, and even coercion, but Christian leaders are to lead out of character.  In fact, the job description for elders and deacons mostly consists of character requirements (Titus 1, 1 Tim. 3).

In Matt 23:1-39, Jesus drops a divine A-bomb on hypocritical leaders (contextually, the teachers of the law and the Pharisees) whose actions do not back up their words.  This comes in the form of

1) demanding of others what they don’t demand of themselves (such as giving money, sexual purity) 2) demanding honor and privilege while ignoring justice and mercy 3) pretending to be spiritually vibrant in public when they are spiritually empty in private.

However, no one is exempt from sin and struggle, so it is hard for leaders to

1) teach and practice God’s love when they don’t feel it 2) encourage forgiveness when they are struggling to give it 3) and call others to serve when they’re tired from it.

Leaders in the church constantly live in this tension - and are quickly criticized when they falter.  God is gracious and merciful, but people rarely are, and leaders have a spotlight on their lives for criticism on multiple fronts.

Responsibility to lead joyfully

Peter instructs elders in particular to lead

1) willingly, not compulsively 2) eagerly, not for shameful gain 3) as an example, not domineering (1 Peter 5:1-4)

The actions of those under the leader’s care has a huge effect on this (Heb. 13:17).  It can be a great joy to lead, just as it can be a great joy to be a parent, but the response of those being led factor in greatly to a leader's passion and sanity.

The Weight of Responsibility

With the weight of all this responsibility in mind, those who desire to lead well in the church are either

A) missing the part of the brain that thinks or B) actually called by God to a difficult area of service.

Pastor Harvey and the rest of the elders at Living Stones are accountable for 2500+ people, and the other leaders of our church are responsible for varying numbers depending on their degree of influence.  Do you appreciate the difficulty of their responsibility?  If so, thank them.  It makes the weight easier to carry.

Additional reading:

Authority can corrupt, and none of us is exempt from this temptation, so here is a helpful blog on the idol of power.

Also, here is a blog from a pastor on how hard being a pastor actually is.