Category: Pastors and Preachers


The verse that speaks the most directly to this question is Hebrews 13:17, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”

Pastors are hurt deeply to see people ignore the counsel of God they share in messages or Bible lessons. Some people “blow off” the Word of God, doing so not only to their own hurt but also to the hurt of those who are around them. Young people especially have the tendency to ignore the counsel of those older than they, making the mistake of trusting their own wisdom as well as their own heart. God states that a godly pastor shares precepts from God’s Word because he desires not only to serve God but to feed the flock the spiritual food that will result in their experiencing the abundant life Jesus promised (John 10:10b).

On the other end of the spectrum, the Bible gives warning about “false shepherds” who do not have the welfare of the flock at heart but are more interested in maintaining control or exercising lordship over others, or who fail to study the Word of God and end up teaching men’s commands instead of God’s. The Pharisees were guilty of this during Jesus’ time. There are numerous examples of this in the prophetic books of the Old Testament. And there are repeated warnings about this in Acts, the epistles, and Revelation. Because of the unfortunate existence of these self-seeking leaders, there must also come a time when we disobey man in order to obey God (Acts 4:18-20). However, accusations against a church leader are not to be lightly launched and need to be substantiated by more than one witness (1 Timothy 5:19).

Godly pastors are worth their weight in gold. They are usually overworked and underpaid. They bear greater responsibility than medical doctors as Hebrews 13:17 states—they must one day give an account of their ministries before God. First Peter 5:1-4 points out that they are not dictators, but lead by their example and by their teaching (1 Timothy 4:16) in humility of heart. And like Paul, they are like nursing mothers who truly love their “children” and are willing to give themselves for their flock and rule with gentleness (1 Thessalonians 2:7-12; John 10:11). They are characterized by sincere devotion to the Word and to prayer (Acts 6:4) so that they can rule in God’s power and wisdom and impart to the flock spiritual meat to make them healthy and vibrant Christians (1 Timothy 5:17). If this is a description of your pastor, or close to it (no man on earth is perfect), he is worthy of double honor and obedience as he declares the plain teachings of God.

So the answer to the question is yes, we should obey our pastors. We are also to pray for them always, asking God to grant them wisdom, humility, a love for the flock, and protection as they protect those in their care.

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The modern definition of ordination is “the investiture of clergy” or “the act of granting pastoral authority or sacerdotal power.” Usually, we think of an ordination service as a ceremony in which someone is commissioned or appointed to a position within the church. Often, the ceremony involves the laying on of hands.

However, the biblical definition is a little different. The word ordain in the Bible refers to a setting in place or designation; for example, Joseph was “ordained” as a ruler in Egypt (Acts 7:10); the steward in Jesus’ parable was “ordained” to oversee a household (Matthew 24:45); deacons were “ordained” to serve the Jerusalem church (Acts 6:1-6); and pastors were “ordained” in each city in Crete (Titus 1:5). In none of these cases is the mode of ordination specified, nor is any ceremony detailed; the “ordinations” are simply appointments. The word can even be used negatively, as an appointment to punishment (Luke 12:46).

Acts 13 includes a good example of a ministerial appointment: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia” (vv. 2-4). In this passage, we note some key facts: 1) It is God Himself who calls the men to the ministry and qualifies them with gifts (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 4:11). 2) The members of the church recognize God’s clear leading and embrace it. 3) With prayer and fasting, the church lays hands on Paul and Barnabas to demonstrate their commissioning (cf. Acts 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:22). 4) God works through the church, as both the church and the Spirit are said to “send” the missionaries.

Paul regularly ordained pastors for the churches he planted. He and Barnabas directed the appointment or ordination of elders “in each church” in Galatia (Acts 14:23). He instructed Titus to “appoint elders in every town” on Crete (Titus 1:5). Titus himself had been ordained earlier, when “he was chosen by the churches” (2 Corinthians 8:19). In the above passages, the ordination of elders involves the whole congregation, not just the apostles. The Greek word used in 2 Corinthians 8:19 for Titus’s appointment and in Acts 14:23 for the choosing of the Galatian elders literally means “to stretch forth the hands.” It was a word normally used for the act of voting in the Athenian legislature. Thus, the ordination of church leaders involved a general consensus in the church, if not an official vote. The apostles and the congregations knew whom the Spirit had chosen, and they responded by placing those men in leadership.

When God calls and qualifies a man for the ministry, it will be apparent both to that man and to the rest of the church. The would-be minister will meet the qualifications set forth in 1 Timothy 3:1-16 and Titus 1:5-9, and he will possess a consuming desire to preach (1 Corinthians 9:16). It is the duty of the church elders, together with the congregation, to recognize and accept the calling. After that, a formal commissioning ceremony—an ordination service—is appropriate, though by no means mandatory. The ordination ceremony itself does not confer any special power; it simply gives public recognition to God’s choice of leadership.

  In recent years there have been several news features on the phenomenon of pastors who do not believe. The report has essentially been that, in anonymous surveys, some pastors admit to being atheists/agnostics. Why would an atheist/agnostic want to be a pastor? While some reported that they enjoy the control and authority the pastoral role gives them, the majority stated that, while they themselves do not believe, they understand that the Christian message can be a help to weak-minded people; therefore, they are willing to teach it. What does the Bible say about “pastors who do not believe”?

In a word, “Woe!” “Woe to you, you hypocrites…woe to you, blind guides…” (Matthew 23:14-16). “Woe to the shepherds who only take care of themselves…” (Ezekiel 34:2). “These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever” (Jude 12-13).

It is the height of hypocrisy to teach a message you do not believe. It is dishonoring to God for anyone—especially pastors—to consider the Christian message a psychological crutch for unintelligent and needy people. Proverbs 6:16-19 declares, “There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” If the Christian faith is a lie, it is not a “useful psychological crutch.” Rather, it is useless, vain, empty, futile, and pitiful (1 Corinthians 15:14-19).

An unbeliever is absolutely disqualified from serving in any form of church leadership. A man who is willing to preach a message he does not believe is hypocritical and arrogant. Many people are excellent at faking the Christian life. But, ultimately, “by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16). A pastor who does not believe will eventually reveal himself in his words, actions, and teaching. Be vigilant! Keep watch! A church led by a pastor who does not believe is on the path towards ineffectiveness, apathy, lethargy, and, for some, eternity without God due to being taught an incomplete message of salvation. “If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:14, emphasis added).

Now, there are also pastors who truly know and love the Lord and yet are struggling through a time of doubt. This is fairly common and understandable, as pastors deal with a tremendous amount of stress and are subject to heightened spiritual attack. This article is not directed towards believing pastors who struggle with doubt. For pastors in such a trial, the prayer should be “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24)! If the doubts become persistent, the pastor should probably step down until spiritual renewal occurs. A pastor in such a situation deserves our prayer, comfort, encouragement, and empathy.

But, again, for the pastor who is declaring a message he does not believe, who is pretending to be a servant of a God he does not even know, the only proper response is immediate expulsion. Without repentance leading to genuine faith, God’s judgment on such an individual will be eternally severe.