Skip to main content

Should Christians Obey Pastors?


The Shepherding Movement of the 1970s screwed a lot people up. It was a movement that introduced an intense form of accountability and submission to leadership and it primarily affected newer British and American charismatic churches. The leaders of that movement have since all repented of this teaching - that should have been a clear sign to avoid practices associated with the movement. But no – sadly we are more foolish than we like to think. These bad practices floated like pollen through the evangelical air and have settled in all sorts of places. So from time to time I find people in the church who have been wounded by the spiritual leadership that should have been causing them to flourish.

I want to comment here on just one Bible verse in this post because it is more misused than any other by leaders who want to exercise control over others in the local church. It’s this…
‘Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.’ -Hebrews 13.17

Does this mean what heavy shepherding leaders want it to mean? Are you to obey whatever your pastor tells you – as if you were submitting to God himself? Can your pastor tell you to quit your job, marry someone or even attend every service the church runs?

I understand the appeal of this verse to leaders. I am a church leader myself. At times there are conflicts or issues in the church and it would be nice to command everyone’s obedience in order to fix any and every problem. Heavy Shepherding leaders teach that this verse does give them such dictatorial powers.

How do we respond? Get your ouzo bottles and sun cream out boys and girls – we’re going Greek!

'We might not do economics, but we sure got some great words!'
Here are the Greek words in the New Testament that are translated as ‘obey’:

The first word is ‘peitharche┼Ź’ and it is used 4 times in the NT. It means obey in the clearest and strongest sense. It’s what most of us mean when we use the word ‘obey’. It is twice in reference to obeying God and once to obeying a bit of sailing advice that would have kept a boat from crashing. One more time it is used of an actual person in a leading role - to a civil leader and the law:

‘Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed.’  - Titus 3:1

In other words – obey the law. Pay your taxes, stop at those red lights. Christians shouldn’t be in jail. Unless they are asking you to sin, do what they say.

The second Greek word that is translated as ‘obey’ is both more frequent and more nuanced. It is the word hypotasso. It is frequently translated as the word ‘submit’ and it is used 40 times in the NT. Here are two examples:

‘Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.’ – Col. 3.18
and..
‘Jesus went down with them [his parents] and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart.’ –Luke 2.51

This is a type of obedience that is – to a degree – voluntary. It can’t be purely commanded. It is a calling, not a simple military act. I am called to sacrificially love my wife in the same way that my wife is called to submit to and support my leadership. But those aren’t things we can’t really demand of each other and expect they be given in their full measure. We do these things out of respect for each other and love for Christ and his ways.
Which word do you think is used for ‘obey your leaders’ in Hebrews 13? The stronger word or the slightly softer word?

Neither.

Naughty of me. It was a trick question. There is a third word here and it is ‘peith┼Ź’. It means to persuade or be persuaded by. It appears 63 times and the vast majority of the time is used simply to mean persuade, to listen to or to win over. Here are some examples:

‘But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to put Jesus to death.’ –Matthew 27

‘But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’ –Luke 16

If it is most often translated as persuade, why is it translated as 'obey' in Hebrew 13?

First of all not all translations do translate it as 'obey'. The CEB translation tries to reflect the softness of this verb by translating it as ‘Rely on your leaders and defer to them’.

Secondly, we use obey because we really don’t have good English way of translating it. ‘Give your leaders a chance to persuade you’ is a mouth full of chalk to read – even if it is a more accurate rendering.

Lastly, in this qualified sense, we really should obey our leaders. We should listen to them, consider what they have to say and stop opposing them and making their jobs difficult. But this is a far cry from the complete obedience that the Shepherding pastors try to make it out to be. We do not submit to them like we do Jesus. We are his sheep and we follow his voice. Pastors are guides and we should – if they live godly lives and faithfully preach the gospel – respect them.

Be assured, the word used for ‘obey’ here is the least dictatorial of the three and it cannot be commanded by the leader. Rather, scripture calls elders to never ‘lord it over the flock’ (1 Peter 5). 

Hope this helps to clear things up. If you found this helpful, please consider sharing this article with anyone you know who has been subject to heavy shepherding and spiritual abuse.

[Follow up article on NewFrontiers Here]
______


bkFor more, check out our book Forbidden Friendships available on Amazon in Paperback and Kindle in the USA and the UK






Comments

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Where I Turn Down a Gay 'Wedding' Invitation

Dear Katie,
I hope this letter finds you well. You’ve been in my mind lately as it’s been a few weeks since we’ve met up. We’re overdue to grab a coffee – I hope we can soon.
I also want to thank you for thinking of me as you sent out invitations for what I know will be a big day for you and Joanna. I’ve known you since before you met her (two years ago now is it?) and I appreciate all you’ve shared with me about how meaningful that relationship is to you. 

I received the invitation for your ceremony. Thank you. It was kind of you and Joanna to think of me, especially since you know that I have a Christian faith. You've never directly asked me my views on gender or sexuality. But I think our conversations must have touched on it enough times to at least make you a bit unsure of my reaction when you sent the invitation.

I have to say 'no' to your kind invitation. You know that I care for you and that I value our friendship. You know I don't reject you because you are gay. T…

Is Jesus Really Silent about Homosexuality?

For non-Christians, this seems an odd debate. After all, mainstream society sees gender, marriage and sexuality as a form of individual self-actualisation and believes that one should be free to express these things however they wish – so long as they don’t hurt others. To people who aren’t Christian the whole discussion seems soooooo last millennia. But we Christians are foreigners to this world. 

Many of us don't have personalities that naturally enjoy debate. But as there are those who – in the name of Christ – are saying we need to adjust our teaching to the new LGBTQ ideology, then debate is upon us whether we like it or not.
In any debate involving people’s lives, points of view need to be expressed both sensitively and accurately - especially this one. Misinformation – however well intended – helps no one in the long run. That’s why it’s important to access popular sound bites that are often used in social media discussions to determine their truthfulness. One such is the lin…

Holy Halloween?

The big ugly debate is upon us.
No, not the Presidential one. This debate involves dwarves and banshees of quite another variety.
As heated as the political scene may now be, it will pale to fervor with which Christians will begin debating if and how they will celebrate what is now commonly called "Halloween". This battle of ideas will be waged from the beaches of church pews to the hills of Facebook. There will be shots fired and people unfriended.
But what cyber surfing culture warrior would be complete without some historical trivia and theological sanity? Here you go...

The Background Story
The devil would love to steal All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween) away from Christians. He is making good progress at it too.
All Hallow’s Eve is neither American nor pagan in heritage. The name should be obvious enough. Hallow means ‘holy’ (‘Hallowed be thy name’) and it marks a three-day celebration of the victory of Jesus over the powers of darkness as experienced by departed saints and Christi…