12 Minute Read


Numbers 2:1–3:51
Mark 11:27–12:17
Psalm 47:1-9
Proverbs 10:24-25


Mark 11:27-28 (CSB): “They came again to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came and asked him, ‘By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do these things?'”


The word, “authority,” is an incredibly significant word in the New Testament. In fact, we realize the gravity of this word when we find out that it appears 92 times in 85 verses in the Christian Standard Bible! In the English Standard Version, it appears 115 times in 107 verses!

So, what does “authority” mean when it appears in the Bible?

The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines “authority” this way:

“Greek term for authority, in both the NT and the Septuagint, is exousia. Although sometimes translated ‘power,’ exousia referred primarily not to physical strength or power (as in dunamis), but to the rightful and legitimate exercise of power. A person has authority primarily by virtue of the position one holds, not by physical coercion or might.”

Authority, therefore, is rooted in the position one holds and the right to lead and to expect compliance.

This is what Jesus had. He spoke and led with authority. This is the reason for the question we see in our Verse for Today:

Mark 11:27-28 (CSB): “They came again to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came and asked him, ‘By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do these things?'”

Unfortunately, it seems to me that while liberalism and apathy are ravaging the contemporary American church, we are inflicting harm upon ourselves in the area of “authority.” We simply misunderstand the biblical principle of authority.

I am a Baptist by conviction and believe that the Scripture makes it clear that spiritual authority rests within the church. The church body, under the headship of Christ, has been given authority by Jesus to carry out the duties of furthering Jesus’ Kingdom on the earth. This understanding of congregational authority is a distinctive of Baptist polity and is rooted in our understanding of Scripture.

But, when we say that authority rests in the congregation, we do not mean that the church body is the leader. We mean that the authority rests in the church body but that the body entrusts that authority to its spiritual leaders.

The pastor(s) of the church lead at the pleasure of the church. They are entrusted with authority by the congregation they lead.

Here are a few New Testament verses that make it clear that churches entrust authority to their pastors and then follow their spiritual leaders:

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 (CSB): “Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to give recognition to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you, and to regard them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.”

1 Timothy 5:17 (CSB): “The elders who are good leaders are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.”

Hebrews 13:7 (CSB): “Remember your leaders who have spoken God’s word to you. As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith.”

Hebrews 13:17 (CSB): “Obey your leaders and submit to them, since they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”

1 Peter 5:1-3 (CSB): “I exhort the elders among you as a fellow elder and witness to the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory about to be revealed: Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but willingly, as God would have you; not out of greed for money but eagerly; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”

Clearly, a call to pastor is a call to lead. And pastoral leadership derives its authority from Christ and the church who entrusts its pastor(s) with the authority to lead.

Unfortunately, it has been my observation that many churches bestow an unrealistic amount of responsibility upon the pastor … but give him very little authority to fulfill those responsibilities. Essentially, his hands are tied behind his back. Another analogy might be like putting speed-bumps on the Daytona Speedway and expecting the drivers to continue to perform at a high rate of speed.

Many churches are only a few choices away from doing incredible things for the Lord. But, instead, they have put systems in place that undermine their ability to move into that bright future.

This creates high levels of anxiety in many pastors because every pastor I’ve known wants to lead his church to experience God’s best for them. But, some of them feel like they are placed in a no-win situation. And, truth be told, their churches suffer from this lack of strong, compassionate, biblical leadership that has very little authority to carry out the responsibilities placed upon their leader(s).

So, what can be done about it? How can churches get back to a much more healthy, biblical understanding of pastoral and congregational authority? Let me give a few points to ponder.

1. Make it clear that the Bible speaks of congregational and pastoral authority.

Simply put, the congregation needs to hear what the Bible has to say about the authority that God has given to the church and its pastor(s). Use the verses that I provided above as God’s Word on the matter.

But, the Pastor might not be the best one to do this. Of course, he could/should preach on this issue … but some might misunderstand his motives. Since Watergate, our American culture has become very skeptical of leaders and authority.

So, while the Pastor should address this matter, those in positions of leadership in the church, or are seen as influential by the congregation, would help their congregation greatly by upholding the biblical truth of pastoral authority in their spheres of influence.

2. The Pastor will need to earn the authority he has been given.

John Maxwell, in his wonderful book, “The 5 Levels of Leadership,” points out that positional authority is the lowest level of leadership. If a leader relies solely upon his position to cause people to follow him, he is in for a huge disappointment. People don’t follow positions anymore – they follow people.

So, John Maxwell notes that a good leader will progress up the levels of leadership. In doing so, people will follow him because they like him, they like what he is leading them to do, and they like who they are becoming by following their leader.

While it is clear that Pastors are to have authority entrusted to them, they had better take steps to grow their leadership so that their congregation will find it much easier to follow them.

3. There must be vocal support groups within the church.

By this, I mean that groups, like the Deacons, should be vocal in their support of the Pastor. While they should be equally vocal that they will only follow their Pastor as long as he is doing what is right for the church and what brings about the glory of Christ, they should follow their pastor by default.

Friends, I have heard many, many pastors express frustration at their inability to make right (but difficult) decisions for the glory of Jesus and the betterment of the church because they believed they would be fighting the battle alone. While many Pastors see a doctrinal issue or a moral issue as a hill on which to die, they will not put their neck on the chopping block for secondary issues unless they know there are some faithful, godly, influential men and women who will stand up for them in a public way when things get tough.

Do you believe your pastor to be a man of biblical conviction, godly character, and competent leadership? Then do your church a favor and make it clear that you will follow your pastor and stand up with him unless he ever strays from the truth or would appear to do things that will not promote the health of the church or the glory of Jesus.

4. Have checks and balances.

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” – John Dalberg-Acton (historian, politician)

No pastor should ever, ever be given unchecked authority. He is never, ever above being held accountable.

So, as we call for accountability, we need to encourage our congregations to check everything the Pastor says and does against Scripture.

Acts 17:11 (CSB): “The people here were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, since they received the word with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

And if a pastor has done something wrong, then he is to be called to repentance. If he doesn’t repent, then it must become a public, church matter that is dealt with that sets an example for the church.

1 Timothy 5:19-20 (CSB): “Don’t accept an accusation against an elder unless it is supported by two or three witnesses. Publicly rebuke those who sin, so that the rest will be afraid.”

So, when we are talking about authority, we are NOT talking about unchecked authority. Pastors are human and battle with sin just like every other Jesus-follower. That being the case, they need to be held accountable, even as they lead.

Personally, I love checks and balances. To that end, I formed a Senior Pastor Team last year. While I have given the Deacons, some ministerial staff, and others the right to speak into my life if they see anything amiss, I created a Senior Pastor Team (click here for job description) to make sure that I, the Pastor, am doing well. After all, if I am not doing well, I will not lead well, and the church will suffer.


Every weekday afternoon, I make my way to the middle school to pick up my youngest son. On some of those days, I see the blue flashing lights from blocks away and know that a sheriff’s deputy is directing traffic. On other days, there is no law enforcement to direct traffic.

On the days that I see the blue lights, the traffic enters and exits the school parking lot quickly. On the days when law enforcement is not directing traffic, it takes a month of Sundays to get out of the parking lot.

So, obviously, I love it when there is an authority figure who directs traffic. Things go much more smoothly. But, when everyone is left to themselves, we all eventually get the job done but in a much less efficient manner … and the risk for an accident goes up.

This is also true when speaking of pastors, authority, responsibilities, and the church. I am convinced that much of the problems that churches deal with are a result of a failure to understand biblical authority and to work within that biblical framework.

Churches would do well to think of the implications of authority for their individual congregations and make the necessary adjustments. After all, the church, Christ’s Kingdom, and lost souls are on the line.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash