We live in a time when leadership is talked about everywhere you turn. The Bible says far more about being a servant than about being a leader, yet we tend to study and think a thousand times more about leaders than servants. Jesus declared that the greatest among you will be the servant of all. But as we reach the conclusion of the Book of Hebrews the writer made some points on following leaders that are significant for all times. It is in chapter 13:17-19. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give account. Let them do this with joy and now with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honorably in all things, And I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you sooner.”
We aren’t sure who wrote the book of Hebrews and certainly don’t know his situation. But there does seem to be something, whether jail, prison, or sickness that keeps him from being with the people he loves and wants to serve. Who are these leaders that he refers to that they should follow and submit to? Many would say the elders of the church, of course. Others declare that it is the preacher or pastor of the church. Still others think it was the apostles of Christ who were still alive at the time or some combination of all the above. One thing that does give some indication of who it was is that he earlier referred to those who had led them in the past and asked them to remember the outcome of their lives and imitate it, back in verse seven. There he said of those leaders that they were ones who had declared to them the word of life. So, ten verses earlier the leaders referred to those who had declared God’s word to them, and would seem to be either the apostles or preachers of the word of God. But I suspect that his choice of the word, “leaders” instead of being specific and speaking of preachers, or elders or apostles indicates he wasn’t referring to any single group of people but to those who served in any leadership capacity in the church.
Leadership and having a position or office are two entirely different things. It is quite common in any organization for the best leaders that more people are ready to follow to be one that doesn’t hold any position or have any authority. It is their character, their heart and attitude that causes people to want to follow them wherever they lead. That is certainly true in church. Having served several local churches as their preacher and preached in several hundred in some kind of meeting or special occasion, it has been evident many times that the real leader in the church was someone that if you were to ask, if they were the real leader would declare insistently that they were not, yet everyone, including the elders and preachers waited to see what they thought before making any real decision. They had moral authority. Leadership can’t be handed to a person. How many times have you heard the stories of a young man coming out of one of the military colleges with all the degrees being sent to lead a group of men who have been serving on the front lines for years. He has the stripes, they have the experience. Are they ready to follow him into battle when he has never one time had snipper fire whizzing by his head or been rattled by some explosive device left along the road? They may submit based on the stripes, but when it comes to the battle, they will want to see what the experienced Sergeant is going to do. Leaders have followers that want to follow them. Officers have followers that don’t have a choice.
In the church, everyone has a choice. So he doesn’t write to the leaders and tell them to step up and take their role. He tells the people to obey and submit to them. Why? Why should we follow someone who is just a human like us? He said, the ones who lead will give account to God for their leadership and that for the followers to refuse to let them lead is to make the whole job one of misery and grief. He said being a leader in church ought to be a thing of joy. How can a church make leadership a joy and not a headache? We can certainly pray for those in leadership. After all he immediately put himself as one of the leaders and asked that they pray for him, since he was trying to do the right thing and have a good conscience. So praying for leaders in the church would be a great thing. I can remember a time when we never had a time of worship that someone didn’t pray for the preacher that God would bless him in preaching his word and give him boldness to preach with power. At the same time it was common to pray for the Shepherds of the church to be wise and to lead as they were led by Jesus the great shepherd of the sheep. Those prayers aren’t nearly as common any more. But everyone that tries to lead needs your prayers.
But what else can we do that would make leadership at church a thing that is joyful rather than frustrating? We can follow the lead of these people as they follow Jesus. Now if anyone is leading us away from Jesus we need to follow a different leader. But if people are trying hard to pull us closer to the Lord then follow them willingly, submitting to their lead. We could actually tell them that we appreciate them as leaders among God’s people and the time and effort they put into it. Far too often leading at church is a thankless job. Even though most of those who lead in God’s family aren’t paid for their work. They volunteer, taking valuable time away from jobs, family and whatever else may be going on in life to serve and strive to guide God’s church in the way it should go. Surely, we should tell them we appreciate their good work. By the way, I’m not just talking about the elders or preachers, but those who lead your small group, your Bible class or the ministry you are involved in. These are leaders in God’s church as much as anyone else. So make it a joyful work instead of a burden to bear.
Something else that would help every person that serves as a leader. If you take on a job or responsibility, show up and do the job. Don’t leave someone hanging wondering what in the world happened, that the person they thought was going to do the job isn’t to be found. There is nothing more common than one volunteering for a job then not showing up when the work is to be done. Too often, they not only don’t show up, they don’t even take the time to call the person who is depending on them to tell them they aren’t going to be there. That makes leadership frustrating, and downright miserable. You may be the leader or you may be the follower, (in truth, most of us are both at different times), but let’s each work to make the other’s job a matter of great joy, not one of misery.