Should Christians obey their pastors?

Hebrews 13:17 teaches, "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." Believers are clearly called to follow their teachers under normal circumstances. However, there are occasions in which believers may make exception.

Of special importance is the biblical practice of evaluating a leader's teaching to make certain it is consistent with Scripture. Acts 17:11 reveals the practice of the Bereans, sharing, "Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so." If a pastor's teaching is inconsistent with God's Word or contradicts it, a person is under no obligation to obey.

In addition, the Bible also warns against false teachers. Though there are many noble ministers of God's Word, there are others who preach and lead for selfish personal reasons. Jude 1:3 notes, "Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." Second Peter 2:1 says, "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction." False teachers are not to be obeyed, but rather rejected.

In cases in which an ungodly or false teacher exists in a church, two or more witnesses are required before presenting the case to the church (1 Timothy 5:19). If accusations are found true, "As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear" (1 Timothy 5:20). In some cases, this will involve discipline of some sort. In other cases, the concern will lead to removal from leadership.

The godly leader, however, is worthy of great honor. First Timothy 5:17 teaches, "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching." This "double honor" likely included financial support as well (see v. 18). Church leaders who serve well will also be greatly rewarded in eternity: "So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory" (1 Peter 5:1-4).

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