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Wrong patterns of Authority

Problematic authorityIt is possible to be a Christian leader and exercise a different authority than the pattern that God has established to be used in the church. On one hand, each member must be submissive to the leadership; on the other hand, the leader must learn how to properly exercise authority. There are various problems caused by extremism or by laxity in the exercise of authority. It is therefore necessary to seek a balance. Below is a list of inherent problems in the exercise of spiritual authority.

Spiritual dictatorship

A type of spiritual dictatorship arises when a Christian leader feels that no one must ever question him in exercising the authority that belongs only to God. Thus they impose a spiritual dictatorship; bringing confusion and conflict, and every suggestion or criticism is seen as rebelliousness. The leader must tolerate disagreements and perceive his limits, since his voice cannot be above the voice of God.

Many pastors and leaders fall into the error of exercising spiritual dictatorship because immature disciples transfer the responsibility to hear God with respect to their personal lives to their leaders. This may appear to be submission but it demonstrates a spiritual sickness the symptom of which is flight from responsibility for one’s own choices.

Signs of a dictatorial leader:

  • Fights for position
  • Struggles with greed and ostentation
  • Stimulates competition
  • Plagued by centralization and egocentrism
  • Falls into uncontrolled ambition and disrespect
  • Insults and threatens followers to get his way (Ephesians 6:9)
  • Curses followers and staff instead of leading with an attitude of gratefulness

Conflict between delegated authority and the Bible

This occurs when the leader gives a direction that directly contradicts the clear direction of the bible. In this case, there is an explicit lack of balance of authority since the authority of the Word is above any delegated authority (Acts 23:1-5).

Customs and traditions imposed upon the Bible

Customs and traditions only have value if they are subject to the Word of God (Matthew 15:1-3). If they are anti-biblical, it doesn’t matter how many centuries they have been in place, they must be eliminated or resisted.

The exercise of authority through manipulation and control

The leader must not annul the ability of the disciple to make decisions. The following is a list of subtle forms of manipulation:

  • Mysticism (Colossians 2:18)
  • Prejudice and judgment (Colossians 2:16, 17)
  • False prophecy (Jeremiah 5:30)
  • Debt of gratitude
  • Emotional and financial seduction
  • Acumen


The authoritarian leader exercises leadership through his own strength and oppressive temperament. This type of authority doesn’t last very long, since it is based on fear. Such leaders attract insecure and dependent followers and as a result the church becomes weak and repressed.

We must always seek balance, respecting intelligence, space and disagreement, without however tolerating sin and lack of commitment. God Himself teaches us to reason (Isaiah 1:18) so that we can know his motives and obey with a conscious understanding.

Exclusive authority

Exclusive leadership is exercised through intimidation because of a superior ability, gift or intelligence. Such leaders become exclusive and go to the point of prohibiting their followers from learning from other people and seeking out other sources of information. The truth is, despite all of the intellectual ability and talent that they may possess; these people are insecure and want to maintain their followers through ignorance. Exclusiveness produces fragility and not strength as some imagine.

Perfectionistic authority

The basis of this leadership is obsessive demands in insignificant details. In this situation, the leader afflicts his followers with constant feelings of inadequacy and inability and they feel drawn into a bond of dependency to their leader, which always portrays the image of someone who is super-efficient.

Fear and paternalism

Some leaders fear the exercise of authority because they don’t think that they are spiritually apt to exercise it because they were rejected in the past. Noah did not fall into this deception. Even after he had fallen, he exercised discipline over his son Ham, who was rebellious (Genesis 9:21-27).

Others don’t exercise authority because of paternalism. The paternalistic authority figure paralyzes and incapacitates his followers. The paternalistic leader is possessive and overprotective; he does not tolerate confrontation and considers others incapable in this way producing incompetent, fragile and dependent people. Paternalism is not God’s pattern, and not the proper exercise of authority. Paternity is of God; paternalism is of the flesh.


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Those who exercise leadership should understand what spiritual authority is and fear the position that they occupy. The following criterion helps us to recognize consecrated leaders.

Assume responsibility for the flock

Consecrated leaders seek responsibility while corrupt leaders seek authority. Timothy is an example of a consecrated leader that sought the well-being of the flock and not his own interests. His passion was to fulfill his responsibility and not to embellish his position or title. However, Paul said that all of the others sought their own interests and not those of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:19, 20).

John spoke of a certain brother called Diotrephes, an example of a corrupt leader that wanted to exercise preeminence and authority in a forced manner. He is cited as someone who possessed a divisive spirit, spoke with malicious words against his leaders, he manipulated and tried to control others and prohibited the members of his flock from having fellowship with one another. (3 John 9, 10).

As we shall see, John did not encourage the brethren to follow bad leaders (verse 11), but to follow Demetrius who was a model of a good leader. Normally those who seek authority and position treat the flock with harshness and try to dominate the members of the flock. (1 Peter 5:2, 3)

Feed the Flock

Consecrated leaders feed the flock while corrupt leaders take advantage the flock (Jeremiah 3:15; Ezekiel 34:1-10; Micah S 3:10, 11; John 10:12, 13) Above all, a pastor according to the heart of God is concerned with feeding the flock of the Lord. The flock does not exist to serve the leaders, or to satisfy their own purposes and needs. For the consecrated leader, it is the sheep that are important; for the corrupt leader, it is the advantages that he will have. When our principal interest is money, we are rejected by God as leaders. It is a great privilege to be able to renounce any advantage in order to serve the Lord.

Gather the flock

Consecrated leaders gather the flock while corrupt leaders scatter it (Isaiah 40:10, 11; Jer. 23:1, 2) A gentle and meek pastor will always gather the flock, stimulate the gifts of each sheep and will not break a bruised reed. An unconsecrated pastor abuses his authority and scatters the flock, creating confusion and division. A truly consecrated pastor does not hide behind his authority: whenever he does something wrong, he seeks out the sheep, repents and asks for forgiveness.

Lead the flock as stewards

Consecrated leaders recognize that the flock belongs to God while corrupt leaders claim the sheep for themselves (Psalm 100:3; Ezekiel 34:23; 30; 31) The consecrated pastor always remembers that the flock belongs to God. Pastors and church leaders merely work for the Lord. Mercenary pastors normally claim the sheep for themselves, principally those who are rich and well-positioned. Corrupt pastors generally do not succeed in securing the submission of their flock; the most they can manage is subservience. The least a local church or denomination can do for their people is to assure that their leaders are men who have consecrated themselves to the Lord’s flock.


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adequate leadershipThree signs of adequate spiritual leadership

Any great endeavor either fails or succeeds because of leadership. Leadership is foundational and an adequate leadership is the key to success. We can express and describe the characteristics of an adequate leadership with the following equation widely used in some leadership materials and courses that helps us understand the equilibrium that must exist in the exercise of spiritual authority:

The equation for balanced authority

  • Position = character + gift + call + time

If we invert this equation we can also conclude that:

  • Position – character = irresponsibility
  • Position – gift = inefficiency
  • Position – call = violence
  • Position – time = immaturity and pride

An adequate position of authority demands the combination of these four factors. This is what God desires.


No man can adequately exercise authority without first having submitted to it. Lack of submission breeds confusion and imbalance. Therefore, it is necessary to understand this concept clearly. I have already presented definitions and examples of what submission is. Now I will suggest what it is not.

Submission is not annulment – submission is not an emotional conditioning in which a person annuls him or herself because of fear and rejection or by threats of retaliation. This is mere subservience.

Submission is not blind obedience – submission does not exclude the right to understand the situation. As I already suggested here, no man may demand unquestionable obedience. This does not mean that we only obey if we agree, but that the submission must always be conscious.

Submission is not bondage – true submission is never forced or demanded but is supported by responsibility and willingness. Not even God forces submission, because it must come from the heart.

Submission is not omission – many people motivated by fear use the strategy of silence and clam up for everything. Omission can mean indifference to the leader or repressed anger. Submission must be the fruit of a conscious and voluntary intention of the follower to do God’s will through the conviction given by the Holy Spirit.


The exercise of authority is proportional to the maturity of the follower, since it exists to protect him. We can perceive this in a clearer way when we understand the relationship of dependence, independence and interdependence between parents and children.

Dependence – In infancy, we are all totally dependent. The parents must care for the child and therefore they exercise greater authority.

Independence – In adolescence, we want to be independent. As an adolescent child begins to assume responsibility for himself, the demands of authority also decrease.

Interdependence – In adulthood we are independent. Here authority begins to exercise itself in a more subtle way, since both have reached the same level. The mature adult knows that he must obtain mutual cooperation to continue growing.

The goal of authority is to neither produce nor perpetuate dependence, but interdependence, where everyone works in harmony to fulfill the purpose for which they were created.


Sometimes our submission also demonstrates our spirituality. When we spontaneously decide to follow certain types of leaders that are outside God’s pattern, we reveal the reality of our heart Jeremiah prophesied that the prophets prophesied falsely, and the priests ruled by their own power; and God’s people loved to have it so. (Jeremiah 5:31). When we do not accept God ordained leaders, invariably we end up following foolish and libertine leaders. The responsibility for this error belongs to the follower as much as it does to the leader.

There are two very important principles with respect to this:

A church or a nation rises or falls upon its leadership. The leadership that we follow determines what we are. People may suffer the consequences of the sins and mistakes of their leaders, as happened with those who followed David, whose sin of numbering the people without God’s authorization, caused all the people to suffer (1 Chronicles 21:1-8). However, the reverse also is true: because of the faithfulness of the leader the people can be blessed. We see an example of this in the life of Moses when because of his intercession by asking God to spare the people or else blot his name out of the book of life; everyone was saved (Exodus 32:30-35). Therefore, we need to be very careful in the manner that we lead, because it determines who our followers are and what they will become.

The leadership limits spiritual growth. The leader is the limit of the people. If we are under a poor leadership in God, we will have little chance for growth. The majority of people will never go beyond the level of their leaders. In order for a church to grow, the leaders must grow first. In order for the church to change, the leader must change first.

An adequate leadership is one that is most similar to that of Jesus. Therefore, we must hold Him up as the model and choose leaders who also do this, because what we are and what we do is largely determined by our leaders and their leadership.


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submissive disobedience

Disobedient, yet submissive

Many Christians don’t believe that any type of disobedience should be tolerated nor could it be biblical. However it is possible to be disobedient, while yet remain submissive. This doesn’t mean that we can be rebellious or tolerate a rebellious attitude. However, it is necessary to emphasize that in the Word of God, submission is absolute while obedience is relative. If any representative authority has overstepped the limits imposed by God, then we should not obey it.

Therefore, we can say that a father that prohibits his children from going to church or from giving their lives to Jesus should not be obeyed in this aspect nor should a husband that prohibits his wife from doing these things. Of course this should not be resolved with a challenging, argumentative or railing attitude, but with wisdom, doing the will of God. It is more important to obey God first, and then if possible human authorities. Let us examine several biblical examples that clearly show this.

Five examples of submissive disobedience

1.    Shiphrah and Puah

These two midwives disobeyed Pharaoh’s orders to kill the children and for this they were rewarded by God (Exodus 1:15-17; 21-22). Pharaoh is an example of an authority that although was constituted by God, he overstepped the limits of his authority by directly opposing God’s purposes.

2.   Rahab the prostitute

This woman had committed high treason against her own country when she hid the Hebrew spies to protect them from the authorities of Jericho. But for all of this, despite the fact that she disobeyed the authorities designated by God for the city, she was honored by God and was included in the genealogy of the Messiah Himself (Hebrews 11:3).

3.   Samuel

Saul was still the king that the Lord had given and established to rule over Israel, when Samuel was sent by the same God to anoint another king in his place (1 Samuel 16:1, 2). Such an attitude could easily have been interpreted by Saul as treason, a treacherous crime against the king, and could have cost the death of Samuel the prophet. However, God himself gave Samuel the solution. In order that Saul not find out about these plans, God instructed Samuel to merely tell Saul that he went to sacrifice a lamb to the Lord in the house of Jesse.

4.   Jonathan

At one point Saul ordered Jonathan to kill David. We know that children should obey their parents, but Jonathan did not obey Saul and was right to refuse to do so. (1 Samuel 19).

5.   Shadrach Meshach and Abednego

These three young men did not obey the command to worship the golden image built by King Nebuchadnezzar. They chose to honor God instead. Therefore, they faced the punishment and were thrown into the burning furnace however, God preserve them (Daniel 3:1-26).

6.   The apostles

The Jewish authorities ordered the apostles to stop preaching the gospel of Jesus, to which the apostles responded: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). If the heart is submissive, it is possible to honor the leadership without always obeying it. God’s Word gives us these examples so that we can distinguish between foolish obedience and wise obedience as a reasonable expression of our submission.