Pastoral Leadership: Authoritarian Or Persuasive? -- By: Richard Land

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 03:1 (Spring 2005)
Article: Pastoral Leadership: Authoritarian Or Persuasive?
Author: Richard Land

Pastoral Leadership: Authoritarian Or Persuasive?1

Richard Land

Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
901 Commerce Street, Suite 550 Nashville, TN 37203

Neither “authoritarian” nor “persuasive” are neutral words in our culture. “Authoritarian” is quite pejorative in connotation while “persuasive” is conversely strongly positive. The Oxford American Dictionary defines “authoritarian” as “favoring complete obedience to authority as opposed to individual freedom” while defining “persuasive” as the adjectival form of persuade, identified as “to cause (a person) to believe or do something by reasoning with him.”2

By contrast “authoritative” is defined by the same dictionary as “having or using authority.” Consequently, the more neutral and accurate “authoritative,” rather than “authoritarian,” is utilized to describe the pastor-authority model of leadership in the local church. The distinction in these terms “should not be confused.”3

Authoritarianism says, “This is right because I say so.” Authority says, “I say this because it is right.” A good leader has authority on his side but he is not authoritarian.4

Also, it should be noted that the authoritative-persuasive dichotomy is neither mutually exclusive nor interchangeable. In fact, an authoritative ministry must be persuasive to fulfill its scriptural mandate. Conversely, a merely persuasive ministry will not suffice.

Any serious Southern Baptist discussion of the basis, nature, and style of pastoral leadership in the local church must commence with an examination of the New Testament text. Ultimately, sound, accurate theology will be based on exegesis. The concept of authority is inextricably interwoven into the text of the New Testament.5 For instance, it speaks of pastoral leadership as “taking the oversight” (1 Pet. 5:2) and “them which have the rule over you” (Heb. 13:7). The rebellion of many Christians against such concepts of pastoral authority often arises out of modern secular understandings of authority and leadership.

Christ, however, made it clear to his followers that his definition of authoritative leadership departed radically from the natural world's experience.

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