On Abuse of Power


Scripture is very clear on the tendency of each of us to go wrong if left unchecked. We need to be constantly aware of our propensity for self-deception. This is especially true of church leaders.

This morning, I read this in Deuteronomy where Moses lays out guidelines for anyone who was to be king in Israel.

When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold. “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.

Deuteronomy 17:14–20, ESV (emphasis added)

Basically, the king was not to abuse his power and lose sight of the fact that he is a man just like every other man in the country. When we look at the actual history of Israel, we should note that the abuses that Moses warned them about were what actually took place.

This should be instructive to us as we look at how the church should be structured. We have too many examples of how celebrity pastors have gone astray by assuming power that was never theirs to assume. My guess is that every reader of this post could name at least one pastor who has made headlines for scandalous behavior.

Each of us, and especially those of us who are called to leadership in the church, needs to honestly face our ability to deceive ourselves and allow ourselves to be held accountable to the standard of Scripture.

In the denomination with which I am currently associated, the church constitution recognizes this need for accountability by stipulating that elders have equal authority to pastors. In other words when the pastor and the elders vote on a decision, the pastor has one vote, just like each of the elders.

I think that this is healthy because when followed, it protects the church from manipulation by a pastor who has an unhealthy agenda for the church. This should prevent the pastor from pushing the church in an unhealthy direction if the elders are willing to stand for what they know to be true.

Much heartache could have been avoided if the kings of Israel had followed Moses’ command.

Much heartache could be avoided today if church leaders recognize their own ability to deceive themselves and willingly submit to their fellow elders.

But unfortunately, in many cases, we set up our pastors for failure by expecting too much of them. We expect them to “cast a vision” for the church which will promote growth and popularity in the community. We expect them to be the draw for new people to attend the church. We expect them to dazzle us every Sunday with their polished presentation full of pop-culture references. We set up our celebrity pastors to begin believing their own press clippings to the point where they feel they are superior to the people that are called to hold them accountable.

In short, we too often set up the very structure that allows for things to go wrong.

It is my hope that we can begin to learn from our mistakes and rather than make a flawed human the focus of our Sunday, we could get back to focusing on Christ and what he has done to set all of us right, including the pastor.

If you are encouraged by this post or would like to make a comment, please use the comment form below to offer your feedback. I enjoy hearing from you.