Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. — Hebrews 13:17-19
Idelette asks cheerily, “Hey John, how’s it going down at Geneva City Hall?”
“It’s like trying to herd cats,” John growls bitterly.
You can herd cattle and sheep, and you can walk a dog, but it seems that neither works with cats. I’ll let you in on a little something: many a pastor has felt that way. It may have been that they weren’t trustworthy shepherds, that they were sincere but lacked skill, or that the pastors had some other deficiencies. But it also may have been that the flock was refusing to acknowledge its need of shepherding. Perhaps they knew, but were too proud.
The passage above is plain and clear. Most people at Redeemer, however, generally believe that self-government is the best kind of government. After all, we are Americans who have a love affair with individualism and do not like being told to submit to anyone. Many of us are Evangelicals who were raised on the unbiblical doctrine of the “priesthood of the believer” (the biblical doctrine is the “priesthood of all believers” [1 Peter 2:9; Rev 5:9]). So we American, self-governing, Evangelicals are prone to be very wary about obeying leaders and submitting to them! That means this passage ought to arrest our attention and demand our consideration. The New Testament is unmistakable in its teaching that the local church should have leaders.
The writer to the Hebrews not only tells us that we ought to do this, but we ought to do it in a way that makes it a joy for the leaders in the church. He then appeals to them for prayer in the task. It’s not easy; a clear conscience and acting honorably are at stake.
The shepherds are to look after the sheep, not the rule them like a tyrant, nor use the people for personal advantage (as is the case in politics!). Insofar as the church leaders are doing their job, it is in the sheep’s best interests to follow where they lead. It really isn’t patronizing, but rather common sense. Every Christian in every congregation must recognize that God calls people to lead, teach, instruct, and warn the flock. There are those who need to study the Word and study people and study themselves so that wisdom is at the ready. This takes time and effort, but as it is accomplished, these learned and trained and disciplined leaders become a great resource and gift to those in the flock.
It’s at this point where I ask the question, “Then how do you know if a particular leader is worth obeying and submitting to?” That’s a critical question. We’d need to look back a few verses to the overall context to find that answer. Verse 7 in the same chapter says, Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. What is it that they speak? They speak the word of God, they speak with their way of life and they speak with their faith. We have a standard even to measure that by. Verse 8, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Is their word consistent with the word of Jesus, with the faith of Jesus, with the way of life of Jesus? If so, the discomfort of obeying and submitting to such leaders is turned into a comfort because it is not ultimately those men who are keeping watch over your souls, but it is Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever. And that’s the gospel!