Wise Advice On The Balance Between Submission to Leaders and Personal Responsibility

The church must balance analytical independence (1 Thess. 5:21) with submissiveness to its leaders (1 Thess. 5:13; Heb. 13:7, 17; Gal. 1:8–9). We “obey [our] leaders” and we “test everything.” Yet we test humbly, reticent to question pastors who have been called by God, then trained, tested, and approved by the church. Contrary to contemporary sensibilities, not all opinions are equal.

Dan Doriani, Putting the Truth to Work: The Theory and Practice of Biblical Application (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2001), 66.

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

4 thoughts on “Wise Advice On The Balance Between Submission to Leaders and Personal Responsibility”

  1. An honest and meek question: How do you know if a Pastor has been “called by God?” This is something I have wondered for a while. Does anyone who decides to be a pastor have a “call?” Is there a way to know this? Does a call ever become invalidated?

  2. Andrea, just two thoughts:

    1. Paul is very clear that an elder (which is a word used interchangeably at times with “pastor”) can sin. In that case, they ought to be rebuked publicly. “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (1 Tim 5:20).
    2. Jesus says you will know false prophets by their fruits (Matt 7:15–20). Good trees, good fruits. Worthless trees, worthless fruit. In recent study of mine, it does appear significant that Jesus’ isn’t likely to have meant “corrupt” fruit, although that would certainly be the case often enough. The word often translated “bad” is used of fish who have just been caught (Matt 13:48). These would not be rotten but useless. Likewise with a false prophet. His fruit may simply be worthless, not necessarily overtly corrupt.

    Dr. Steve Hankins of BJU Seminary wrote his dissertation on the call to ministry. I have not read it, though I have a copy. I feel too young and inexperienced to do more than repeat what Scripture says and give you a bibliographic citation.

  3. I’ll chime in here. It is difficult to discern much about a call from the Scriptures. We quite clearly see Paul’s divine call, but if you sift through the Timothy’s, it seems that Timothy was called by Paul. (At least to me.)

    And, if there is a call, it is a pretty subjective matter as it is described today. Pretty hard to validate or invalidate. There are some who should be in the ministry who think they aren’t called and some who think they are called, but shouldn’t be in the ministry.

    As outside observers of others, I think it is more important to look for pastoral gifts and abilities rather than a call. If there are no real pastoral gifts/abilities present, the guy for sure isn’t called. “A bishop then must be …” (1 Tim 3.2)

    Can a call be invalidated? Not by men. But a man can be disqualified, ‘called’ or not. So we should look to gifts, abilities, and qualifications when assessing the ministry of another man.

    For self-assessment… well, there should be gifts, abilities, blamelessness in its many forms, and at some point something of desire as well. (1 Tim 3.1).

    Hope that helps some.

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  4. Just remembered this morning to check back to read responses to my question! Both are quite helpful, thank you. Looking to “gifts, abilities, and qualifications” is easier for me to understand than the more nebulous “call.” The former seems less subjective, more easily observable, the latter…not so much.

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