Not long ago, I posted a series on Hebrews 13:17 (Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.) and how this verse is often misused and misunderstood by those in church leadership. I read a blog post recently by Wade Burleson along the topic of pastors/church leaders having authority over their congregants. Wade is the pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Oklahoma since 1992. He has a heart for those who are abused and speaks out against it. I really enjoyed Wade's post on the subject of authority in the church. He contrasts the world systems of governance to church systems of governance - the authority of kings and leaders to pastors and church leaders.
Here's a little snippet from Our Problem Is Authoritarianism and Not Legalism, but please go and read it for yourself. It really opened my eyes. Those of us who have been in churches with pastors who use their authority improperly are going to have to really think this one through and try to erase what we've been told in our minds. I feel like screaming this out: PASTORS ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO LORD OVER THEIR CONGREGANTS! That is not God's design.
The church of Jesus Christ was never designed to operate in this manner. Jesus explicitly taught in Matthew 23:8-11 (read it for yourself to see) that the only person who rules Christian communities is the Lord Himself. Under Him, we are all equals. He emphatically rejected the world's system of top-down governance by declaring, "It shall not be so among you" (Mark 10:43). "The greatest among you shall be your servant" (Matthew 23:11). There is no emphasis in the New Testament on authority that is derived from any "office" or position. Let me repeat that again: Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that a Christian, because of title or position, has moral authority over another Christian. The idea of an 'office' of authority in the church, like that of the office of 'President of the United States,' simply does not exist. Christ alone has the position of authority in the church and He has no vicar on earth but His Spirit, who resides in the life of every believer.