When I was 15, I got kicked out of church.
I was hanging out at a local church with some friends watching the praise team practice. My boyfriend and I were getting a little too cozy on the youth room couches. The pastor walked by once and asked us to stop the PDA (personal displays of affection). We ignored him. When he asked us again, I think I probably said something rude. Finally, he asked us to leave.
That’s not a story I am proud of. So why am I telling it? Because today I’m writing about a subject that can make us all bristle—authority. Specifically, church authority. As we explore what the Bible says about how we should respond to church authority, I don’t want you to feel like I’m pointing the finger at you. I’ve had trouble with church authority myself, and I know that this is an area where our backs naturally want to arch. But I’ve also learned that the way I respond to human authority correlates to my willingness to submit to God’s authority. With those stakes in mind, it’s worth searching God’s Word and our own hearts to seek to consider how each of us should respond to the leaders in our church.
Hebrews 13:17 offers theses words about how we should respond to those in positions of church leadership:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Romans 13:1–2 puts it this way, “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”
Clearly the way we respond to authority, including those who are in charge in our churches, matters to God. Our choice to submit to church leadership is for their good because it allows them to continue to do their work with joy. And it is for our own good because it protects us from God’s judgment for rebellion.
Here are some ways your true feelings toward the leaders in your church might leak out:
- If your youth pastor’s wife suggests that you put on a jacket in order to be more modest, do you submit willingly or roll your eyes and pout?
- If your youth pastor has a rule that no cell phones are allowed on youth trips, do you obey the rule or sneak your cell phone in your bag and secretly text?
- When your pastor is preaching a sermon, do you listen respectfully or use that time to doodle, whisper in the back row, or pass notes?
- If your Sunday school teacher gives a lesson on obeying your parents, do you listen and try to apply her wisdom or tune her out and do your own thing?
- When asked to refrain from PDA, do you honor your pastor or youth pastor’s wishes, or like me, refuse and keep cuddling?
- In general, when a church leader asks you to change your behavior, do you respond willingly and with kindness or does your pride cause you to disobey, pout, or talk back?
Can you continue to resist the authority of the leadership in your church? Yes. But let Lies Young Women Believe authors Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Dannah Gresh’s words about this very subject help you grasp what exactly is on the line if you do:
We believe that the failure of many Christian young women to place themselves under their parents’, teachers’ and pastors’ authority accounts for the extent to which so many of you are suffering the Enemy’s attack on your mind, will, and emotions. It also establishes a pattern for you to disrespect and rebel against your husband’s authority if you are ever married one day (Lies Young Women Believe, 114).
How’s that for a wake-up call? Your rebellion against church authority, even in small things, gives Satan a foothold to wreak havoc in your life and establishes a pattern for the future. Certainly, if your church leaders are asking you to do something immoral or against God’s Word, you shouldn’t submit. In that case, you should tell another adult immediately (preferably your parents). But, in general, God’ commands you to do what the leaders of your church ask you ultimately out of respect for God.
How are you doing in this area? When you think of your pastor or youth pastor or Sunday school teacher, do you think of them as an authority? Do you generally respond with obedience or submission or consider the things that they are teaching more like suggestions that you can take or leave as you wish?