We were taught submission at our former church: children to parents, wives to husbands, husbands to Christ, congregants to pastor/elders, civilians to governmental authorities.
Most churches have a check and balance system in place to ensure that there are no abuses going on in church. Here is part the doctrinal statement from our former church (located on the church website).
To each of these churches, He has given needful authority for administering that order, discipline and worship which He has appointed (1). There are two Biblically designated offices serving under Christ in the church. Elders (males, who are also called bishops, overseers, and pastor-teachers) and deacons (males), both of whom must meet Biblical qualifications.(http://www.beavertongracebible.org/doctrine.html)
Here is part of the bi-laws discussing the responsibility of elders at our former church:
ARTICLE VI. ELDERS
The New Testament Scripture is clear about those who have the responsibility of rule, oversight, and care of the church. These men are called elders, overseers, and bishops. All three different titles are used to refer to the same spiritual office of leadership in the church and are interchangeable (1 Tim 3:1-7). We know that Christ is the head of the church and that He mediates His rule in the church through the shepherding of elders (pastors). (Acts 20:17-18, 28-31; 1 Pet 5:1-4)
SECTION 1. THE AUTHORITY OF THE ELDERS
A. DECISION-MAKING AUTHORITY
All the decision-making authority of the church is vested in the elders (pastors) who shepherd the church. The objective of any and all decisions made shall be to do the will of God regarding the matter at hand. (Prov. 11:14)
B. DECISION-MAKING PROCESS
Decisions shall be reached after prayerful consideration in a spirit of humility, with each elder regarding one another before himself. All decisions are to be made unanimously. This will at times require a dissenting elder to yield graciously to the elder body as a whole, thus allowing the Lord to direct and correct the decision made, while keeping the unity of the elder body intact in private, in public and before God. Any decision will bebe a unified “yes” or “no” decision. All elders agree to be unified in the final decision, “yes” or “no” in public and in private, even though it may not agree with their personal preference (Heb 13:17)
C. SPECIAL DECISIONS
1. The calling of or removal of the pastor-teacher.
2. The calling of or removal of pastoral or non-pastoral ministry staff.
3. The church’s annual budget.
4. Expenditures involving new property or new buildings and related indebtedness.
5. The selection of elders.
6. Any changes or amendments to the constitution and by-laws.
In one meeting with just the elders (we purposely asked that the pastor not be present at this meeting), we asked if they had ever, in 10 years of working with the pastor, brought up anything that needed to be addressed, ie, any sinful behavior, anger, pride, relational issues, any issue whatsoever. We weren’t asking for any specifics, just asking the elders if they in fact were holding him accountable.
This was his first pastorate. No person is perfect and it is the job of elders to keep their pastor in check and hold him accountable.
Elders are supposed to be on the same level as the teaching pastor. Our pastor should not have been exempt from that close observation just as the elders were certainly not exempt from his watchful eye. Both elders told us that they had found no reason to bring up any issue, behavioral, sin, etc, in the prior decade.
Not even one minor issue for a first-time pastor in 10 years? That raised a huge red flag for me.
So, if the elders did not and were not able to bring any issue to light, correction, criticism, concern, regarding any character issue, behavior, sin, etc, then who is? We did not see anyone fulfilling that role. What we saw were yes-men as elders and a pastor as an authority with no other pastoral oversight. I never got the impression that the elders were equal level with the pastor . . . ever.
As I have been reading so many stories of spiritual abuse, there seems to be a common thread. Some of these involve independent churches with pastors and elders who are yes-men with no other accountability or oversight. If you are in a church with elders who are yes-men”, it can be a perfect system set up for spiritual abuse.
I’m sure this subject will come up again with the amount of stories I’ve read. Perhaps this is something very important to consider when looking at new churches. I had never thought to consider this when looking for a new church. Hindsight is 20/20, huh?