A. Biblically, the jurisdiction of elders to rule or govern is shown by the
following New Testament words:
1. Exousia – a term that connotes delegated right and duty to exercise
authority over something or someone. In the New Testament, the contexts
refer to the authority that issues from the Head of the Church, King Jesus and
is delegated to His ruling officers. It is an authority that is subject to Christ and
His Law or Word.
a. This delegated authority is the duty and right to think, decide, act and govern
within the sphere of authority to which the officers are placed (session,
presbytery, or general assembly). This delegated authority is the duty and
right to make policies that determine the direction and emphases of Christ’s
church that are in keeping with God’s revealed will. We have illustrations of
(1) Jesus Christ (in Matt. 9:6-8; Mk. 6:39)
(2) The Roman Centurion (Mt. 8:9)
b. In a general sense, all believers are subject to all God-ordained rulers and
authorities (Lk. 10:19; Rom. 13:1ff; Ti. 3:1-2; etc.)
c. This leadership authority is given to officers for the purpose of building up,
and not for tearing down (2 Cor. 13:10).
d. This position is a stewardship from God Himself. Officers are answerable to
the Lord for their faithfulness:
(1) Officers are accountable to the Lord under the biblical authority God has
assigned (local, regional or national church rule).
(2) However, officers are not answerable to the people or congregation
(1 Cor. 4:1-5; Ti. 1:7).
Note: It is often asked, “What about the command for all believers to be
subject to one another?” (Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 5:5).
(a) First, this subjection is to be done “in the fear of Christ” meaning that
all are ultimately subject to Him, and all are to be subject in Him.
(b) Secondly, Scripture never teaches that the sheep or congregation has
authority. In fact, many passages, such as 1 Thess. 5:12 and Heb. 13:17,
(c) The subjection to one another is qualified by the context(s). It is a
subjection under Christ, out of love, for the highest good and need of
God’s people. God’s sheep place themselves under subjection of the
God ordained authorities of His Church, and God’s officers are subject
to the Lord, and demonstrate subjection to Him by loving and serving
e. Scripture defines for us the manner in which this authority is to be exercised:
(1) From a motivation of love (John 21:16)
(a) making appeals from love for Christ’s sake (Philemon 8-9)
(b) with compassion for distressed sheep (Matt. 9:36; Mk. 6:34; Jas. 5:14)
(c) sacrificially, willingness to lay down their lives for the sheep
(2) With a servant’s heart (Matt. 20:25; Lk 22:26)
(3) With a watchful care for the flock (1 Tim. 3:5; Heb. 13:17).
(4) Voluntarily as shepherds (1 Pet. 5:2).
(5) Examples as shepherds (1 Pet. 5:3).
(6) Guarding themselves and the church (Acts 20:28).
f. Scripture also informs us how officers are not to be characterized:
(1) Having uncontrolled home (1 Tim. 3:4,5,12).
(2) Desertion of the office and/or church in times of distress
(3) Not to serve under compulsion or greed (1 Pet. 5:2ff).
(4) Not abusively, ‘lording it over the sheep.’ (Matt. 20:25; Mk 10:42;
Lk. 22:25f; 2 Cor. 1:24; 1 Pet. 5:3) (for more, see below)
2. Hegeomai – a term that means to “lead” or “guide.”
a. Of a political ruler (Mt. 2:6; Acts 7:10)
b. As chief speaker (Acts 14:12)
c. As church leaders (Heb. 13:7,17,24)
3. Proistemi: literally, “to stand before” as a leader stands before the people.
a. To have a charge over (1 Thess. 5:12)
b. To lead (Rom. 12:8)
c. To manage (1 Tim. 3:4,5,12)
d. To rule (1 Tim. 5:17)
B. What does it mean to ‘lord it over’ the sheep?
1. What it does not mean:
a. It does NOT mean that God’s officers should not reprove and rebuke
(2 Tim. 4:2).
b. It does NOT mean that God’s officers should never at times reprove or
rebuke severely (Ti. 1:13; 2:15).
c. It does NOT mean that God’s officers should not “come with a rod” when it
is appropriate (1 Cor. 4:21).
2. What it does mean:
a. Abuse – (from Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English
(1) To use ill; to maltreat, to misuse; to use with bad motives or to wrong
(2) To violate; to defile by improper sexual intercourse.
(3) To deceive; to impose on.
(4) To treat rudely, or with reproachful language; to revile.
(5) To pervert the meaning of; to misapply; as to abuse words.
b. “Lord it over” is translated “subdue” in Acts 19:16.
c. Two verses that demonstrate the abuse of authority are
(1) Matt. 20:25
(2) Luke 22:25
d. Therefore, to “lord it over”
(1) Is the excessive or coercive use of authority for unbiblical, sinful, and/or
self-serving purposes rather than for the glory of God and the edification
and loving welfare of God’s people.
(2) Hence, officers of God’s Church are not to “lord it over” His sheep by
ruling abusively or coercively (1 Pet. 5:3). The abuse of authority happens
when leadership steps beyond the boundaries defined by the Word of God.
C. Here are some practical questions to consider:
1. Has the pastor or have the elders acted in any way that has clearly violated
2. Has the session (elder board) developed policies that are out of sync with their
delegated authority to determine the direction and emphases of the local church
according to Scripture?
3. Have the policies or actions of Session built up or torn down the church
(2 Cor. 13:10)?
4. Is there anything session has said or done that demonstrates or proves they
have NOT acted:
a. From a motivation of love for the sheep (John 21:16)?
b. With compassion for distressed sheep (Matt. 9;36; Mk. 6:34; Jas. 5:14)?
c. Sacrificially (John 10:11,15)?
d. With a servant’s heart (Matt. 20:25; Lk 22:26)?
e. With a watchful care for the flock (1 Tim. 3:5; Heb. 13:17)?
f. Voluntarily as shepherds (not under compulsion or greed) (1 Pet. 5:2)?
g. By guarding themselves and the church (Acts 20:28)?
5. Have the elders led or guided the church down the wrong path doctrinally
or behaviorally (sinned)?
6. Have they failed or abused their role by having a charge over, leading,
managing or ruling?
7. Have the elders sinfully mistreated or subdued any member or members
of the church?
8. Has there been any excessive or coercive use of authority for unbiblical,
sinful, and/or self-serving purposes rather than for the glory of God, and
the edification and loving welfare of God’s people?
9. Can any of these questions be factually, truthfully, and Scripturally