17 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.
18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. – Hebrews 13:17-19 ESV
In our culture, we tend to view leadership through a distorted lens. We aspire to leadership. We see it as something to be sought after and as kind of a reward for a job well done. Leaders are the successful ones, the over-achievers who have earned the right to be followed and to enjoy all the benefits that come with their title.
For many of us, leaders are not so much to be followed as envied. We covet their corner office and exorbitant salaries. We grow jealous of their prestige and power, and we dream of the day when we will get our moment in the spotlight. This mentality, while mostly visible in the secular arena, can even make its way into the church, the body of Christ. It can even lead to a sense of disrespect for leadership among God’s people. But this is nothing new.
Moses, the man whom God chose to deliver the people of Israel out of captivity in Egypt and lead them to the promised land, found himself constantly questioned and blamed for everything. His own brother and sister tried to stage a coup and force him to share his power and authority with them.
The prophets of God were all ignored, disliked, and treated like social outcasts – all because their message was not what the people wanted to hear.
Jesus Himself was a victim of leadership loathing. As long as He performed miracles, handed out free meals, and talked about a new kingdom, the people flocked to hear what He had to say. But as soon as He started talking about suffering, taking up your cross, and dying to self, the crowds quickly thinned out. When He entered into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, fresh off the heels of His raising of Lazarus from the dead, the people celebrated Him with great gusto. But when news of His arrest got out, His former cheerleaders disappeared from sight, including His twelve disciples.
The author of Hebrews knew that people can be fickle when it comes to leadership, even in the church. So he encouraged his readers to do three things: Obey, submit, and pray. He knew that the role of a leader was difficult and virtually impossible if those being led refused to follow. He also knew that reluctant or disgruntled followers could make the life of any leader miserable. Gossips, grumblers, and discontented followers can become like cancer, spreading discord and disunity throughout the body. So, he encouraged his readers to obey and submit.
The Greek word for obey is peithō and it means “to listen to, obey, yield to, comply with.” But it also carries the idea of trust and confidence. As believers, we are to place our trust and confidence in those whom God has placed in leadership over us. We are to see them as hand-picked by Him, and we are to submit to them. The Greek word he uses is hypeikō and it means “to yield to authority and admonition.” It includes the concept of non-resistance. When we submit to and obey the leadership God has placed over us, we are ultimately placing our faith in Him. We are displaying our belief that He knows what He is doing and is working through those He has placed in authority over us.
Finally, the author of Hebrews encourages us to pray for those who lead us. It is easy to complain about leadership. We won’t always agree with what they are doing or where they are leading us. But rather than question our leaders, we should pray for them. Theirs is not an easy job, and we must never lose sight of the fact that they will one day answer to God for how they have led. Leaders in the church answer to a higher authority – God Himself. They will have to give an account of how they have cared for the flock of God.
It was Peter who warned the elders of the local church to “care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly – not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God” (1 Peter 5:2 NLT). Paul told the elders of the church in Ephesus, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28 ESV).
Leading the church of God is not easy. Shepherding the flock of God is a big responsibility. Do some godly leaders do their job in a less-than-godly way? Certainly. Do all pastors, teachers, elders, and deacons always lead in the way that God would have them? Sadly, the answer is no.
Moses was far from perfect. David had his flaws and failings. Solomon was wise, but not always the brightest bulb in the box when it came to leadership. But God had placed each of them where they were. Praying for our leaders is the best way to ensure that they become godly leaders. Obeying and submitting to them as having been placed over us by God is an expression of our faith in His sovereignty. But we must never forget that godly followers are essential to the success of any godly leader.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.