Pastoral authority is a difficult topic to discuss. How much authority should the pastor have, if any at all? If he does have authority then to whom does he answer? Likewise, who answers to him? How should he exercise that authority? Positions on authority are as many as there are pastors and there are several other factors that guide a pastor's understanding of his own authority.
Some pastors feel they don't need to know what is going on in the church; a hands-off approach. Some pastors micro-manage every minute detail of church life. The Scriptures give evidence of some semblance of authority when Peter urges the elders to whom he was writing. "Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain, but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you but being examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:2-3). It is apparent that in Peter's time there were pastors who saw their role in church life as "he who is to be obeyed." Perhaps this attitude did not play out in actual practice but quite certainly the tendency was there.
It was about fifteen minutes before I was to preach at a funeral with one of the predecessors of the church I serve. He is seventy years old. Spending twelve years at the church I now pastor, he asked, "How long have you been here now?"
"Almost six years, sir."
"Well, you've been here long enough to be called pastor now haven't you?"
This is one of the first principles of pastoral authority. Authority is earned. I believe a certain amount comes with the office, but not much. People are not by nature trusting people and when a man comes in from outside their congregation, there is a natural uphill climb to garner respect. Many pastors do not take advantage of this uphill climb to allow their muscles to be hardened by the difficult work of winning people's hearts.
A good friend of mine (and if you're reading, you know who you are) often says, "A man who leads and nobody follows is only taking a walk." Pastoral ministry is not some kind of divine follow-the-leader. It is an earned respect, an earned influence.
A second principle is just to simply love people. We emphasize the Great Commission as well we should, but often we have done it to the detriment of the Greatest Commandment. Loving people is hard and its much easier to tell people about Jesus than to love them to the point of acceptance.
Moreover, people are needy and demand care. One brother pastor jokingly said he had 85 children. Though I disagree with the spirit of that retort, there is a grain of truth in it. As children are needy so God's people are needy and need constant attention and provision.This does not mean God's people won't act unloving. The pastor then can take the lead in a delicate area of church life and show the congregation he serves how to love unloving people. Peter did say "be examples."
A third principle I guide my ministry by is trod where they have trod. Walk with the folks through their difficulties and burdens, rejoice in their rejoicings, weep when they weep. Sometimes pastoral ministry just needs to be a ministry of presence. For the pastor's watch to stop for just a few moments means the world to a lonely elderly person, a grieving widow, or a hurting divorcee.
A final principle is to always pray. I pray with the people God has given me to serve every opportunity I get. I never leave a congregant's home, bedside, or hospital room without praying. Whether the time is happy or sad, I always pray.
One final concern is when to exercise authority. The pastor only has as much authority as the congregation allows him to have. It can raise incrementally through a life of integrity, dealing well with mistakes, and living an authentic Christian life before them. A real pastor and not "super-Christian" fosters an environment of trust when times to exercise authority comes yet hypocrisy can do irreparable harm.
Pastoral authority has its limits and can be abused. The Bible does not even call for "servant-leaders," the vogue, falsely humble moniker for how pastors ought to be. Rather, Jesus just calls for servants.
You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first of all shall be slave of all. Mark 10:42-44