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Why do churches teach believers to be
accountable to spiritual leadership?

Because the Bible requires it. Even more important than secular authorities, Christians must be obedient and submissive toward their spiritual leaders who are charged with the responsibility to "watch for their souls." The scripture says, "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you" (Heb. 13:17).

Not only are Christians to be accountable to the authority of a spiritual leader, but this passage also shows that believers should be a part of a local church — where such pastors and elders can be found (Heb. 10:25). One cannot really be accountable to spiritual supervision without a commitment to a church. Nor can a person be accountable if they merely drift from one church to another, week after week — making themselves inaccessible from the supervision, teaching or correction of a pastor who knows something about their personal life. Despite what some people like to think, God has no lone rangers! Accountability to a continuity of ministry and leadership is vital to God's plan of providing the necessary "checks and balances" to produce solid spiritual growth.

One common reason that some Christians "hop" from church to church, or abandon church participation, is that they foster an "independent spirit" which resists authority. They do not wish to be corrected or to confront truths they would prefer to avoid. Without accountability to authority, a believer develops "itching ears" (2 Tim. 4:3). They look for teachings that agree with their own opinions, instead of "objective" instruction — the whole counsel of God's Word — that will force them to face their areas of immaturity and grow up.

Some believers with an independent attitude will contend that they don't need the church or spiritual leaders — that they have God's Spirit to teach them. Indeed, every believer has the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit to guide them (1 John 2:27), but this does not discharge them from the Biblical counsel and ministry of the church (Heb. 13:7,17, Prov. 11:14-15, 2 Cor. 13:1). The church is Christ's plan for His followers. He is the head (Eph. 5:23), and commissioned His church to represent Him and His authority in the world (2 Cor. 5:20, Matt. 18:17-20, John 14:12). He has ordained elders, deacons, and pastors, to supervise and manage His flock (Acts 14:23, 1 Tim. 3:10-13), and additional ministries to teach, train, and spiritually equip the saints for service (Eph. 4:11-16). Ministers are not lone rangers either. They too are accountable to the authority of overseers, who may offer counsel, reproof, or discipline when necessary (Acts 21:18-24).

All believers should be committed to a Bible believing, Christ-centered church. They should be accountable to a Pastor and spiritual leaders, on the condition that leadership meets basic qualifications of (1) a moral and Godly lifestyle (Matt. 7:15-16, Gal. 5:19-25, 1 Tim. 3:1-7), and (2) that they proclaim the uncompromised Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16, Rom. 1:16). Cooperate with the man of God whose life exhibits these biblical qualities. Don't rebel or give him a hard time. The Bible warns that contempt toward God's obedient servant is equal to contempt toward God (Exodus 16:2,8, Josh. 22:19).

Not only does Paul teach that all believers are to have someone over them in the Lord, he also directs that they should know their leaders (1 Thes. 5:12). So often, the people in the church want their pastor to know all about them — however Paul says that believers should get to know their leaders. That is, know their lifestyle, their sincerity, their integrity. Knowing your pastors and leaders provides a tangible example to follow, and also enables you to have trust and respect in their ministry.

Sometimes people will balk at the authority of some pastors because they think they're too young, inexperienced, or not sufficiently spiritual. However, the Bible says we are to submit — not to those we deem qualified — but to those whom God has seen fit to give the rule. I'll never forget the rugged, old Army sergeant that lectured new recruits about the chain of authority. "As far you may see, the second lieutenant may be younger than you, inexperienced, and green behind the ears. You may not figure how in the world he got to the rank he is, but when he gives an order, you look at the bars on his uniform and say 'Yes sir!' When you obey his orders, you're obeying the one at the highest level who, for whatever reason, saw fit to grant him that authority."

God requires us to respect the authority He has placed over us, even if that authority isn't perfect. Spiritual leaders are human and will make mistakes, but the Lord still demands our respect and restraint toward them. They are His servants and He reserves the right to correct or reprove them (Psa. 105:15).

We recall that even after King Saul had become disobedient to God and corrupt, he remained as the anointed King over Israel for quite some time. Saul eventually became jealous of the heir to his throne, David, and began a relentless manhunt to kill him. At one point, David and his men stumbled across Saul encamped in a cave and had the opportunity to kill their sleeping pursuer. But instead, David chose to quietly cut off a portion of Saul's robe as evidence to show his unwillingness to slay Saul when he had opportunity. However, later the Lord convicted David's heart that not only was it wrong to slay God's anointed, it was wrong to even cut his robe or lift a finger against him in any way. "Now it happened afterward that David's heart troubled him because he had cut Saul's robe. And he said to his men, The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lord's anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the LORD" (1 Sam. 24:5-6).

Respect toward authority is not limited to our actions, but even relates to how we speak of them. The Bible warns against lifting our tongue against the Lord's servants, even though they might be worthy of criticism. When the Apostle Paul was unjustly punished for preaching the Gospel, he spoke defiantly until he realized that he was addressing Ananias, the High Priest. He apologized and said, "I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, You shall not speak evil of the ruler of your people" (Acts 23:5). Just imagine. Even though this High Priest was an enemy to the Gospel, and was wrong to have Paul slapped on the mouth, yet he was still a spiritual authority whom Paul was obligated to respect. If Paul was not permitted to speak against Ananias, then you certainly don't have any right to badmouth Godly, spiritual leaders. It is an act of rebellion, for which you will answer to God.

Certainly, leaders and pastors must be held accountable for their behavior, and may even need to be corrected or disciplined. But God has ordained for this to be done in an honorable way, through an appropriate chain of authority by other spiritual overseers.

This article is from the book, What People Ask About the Church, authored and copyrighted © by Dr. Dale A. Robbins, 1990-2015, and is a publication of Victorious Publications, Grass Valley, CA - Nashville, TN. Unless otherwise stated, all scripture references were taken from The New King James Bible, © Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982. You may download this article for personal use as long as you retain credit to the author. Obtain permission before reproducing copies for any reason, by filling out our simple use permission form. Many of our writings are also available as free pdf tri-fold pamphlets, which can be downloaded for reproduction from our Online Catalog. For media reproduction rights, or to obtain quantities of this title in other formats, email us. A newer revised version of this book is available from Amazon. If you have appreciated these online materials, help us reach the world with the Gospel by considering a monthly or one-time tax-deductable donation.