Pray for your Leaders
The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, "First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity." (1Ti 2:1-2)
This is of primary importance. We need to pray for our leaders, not just the leaders of our national government, but also those in authority in the church. If we all spent more time praying for our church leaders, rather than criticizing and blaming them, things would go better for them and their flocks.
Imitate the Faith of Your Leaders
"Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith." (Heb 13:7)
What does it mean to imitate the faith of your leaders? The Greek word used here literally means to mimic. This does not mean to mimic their personality, but rather their faith. In other words, you should reproduce the same faith you see in them. You should follow them.
This is what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote to the Corinthians, "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ." (1Co 11:1). Notice he said, "as I imitate Christ." To the degree that Christ is central in the lives of the leadership, you can follow them. And to the degree that Christ is not central in their lives, you should address that with them humbly. If they do not receive what you have to say, then that's when you may need to move on to someplace else.
It's difficult for most people to take what they read in Scripture and put it directly into practice in their own lives until they have seen someone else model it for them. This is one reason why godly leaders, who make Christ central, are so important. As you watch them imitate Christ, you will see what it looks like to be a disciple, and then you should imitate them.
Obey Your Leaders and Submit to them
"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." (Heb 13:17)
Perhaps it's best to begin this section on obedience with an important caveat. As a friend of mine commented: "I think when you try to define obedience and its requirements, you also have to define and find what the limits of biblical leadership are, something that is usually never done. So in most situations, there has been a lot of abuse, because it has been commonly understood that the leader is beyond questioning. I agree that in some areas, the leader’s authority is full and final, but that the scope where this is true is actually quite limited. So what commonly occurs is you have a leader, who believes his leadership domain is plenary when it is not. Then he gets offended when the 'followers' chafe at something, and they both lose respect for each other, and end up at odds. I think it all stems from misunderstanding of the leader’s real role, and that is to lead, not dictate." I agree with my friend's comments, and I think he adequately sums up the caveat.
With that said, elders in the Body of Christ are supposed to be keeping watch over the souls the Lord has placed under their care. They must give an account to the Lord for those souls. Many times people take this for granted and do not sense any sort of accountability to their elders. Rather they are always in a non-committed state, choosing to remain "a visitor" wherever they go.
While there is no Scripture that says you must have a "home church," it is assumed in Scripture that you will be connected to the Body of Christ in a local assembly, where you are accountable to the elders there. That does not necessarily mean you need to be part of an institutional church, as we normally think of church in the twentieth century. It could be a house church, as well.
It would also seem to go beyond Scripture to suggest that elders are accountable for the souls of every visitor who attends one of their services on occasion. At least, it's not the same level of accountability as that which concerns the people who have made a commitment to be an ongoing part of that local expression of the Body of Christ. Therefore, it's necessary for the elders of a local assembly to know who are the ones whom the Lord has led to commit themselves to serve under their oversight.
If certain people insist on remaining perpetually non-committed, this presents an issue for the leaders. Since the elders are accountable to God and one another, then the people under their care need to make a decision before the Lord where they will be planted and serve. That's why you need to make up your mind where the Lord is leading you to be connected, and then follow through with your commitment.
Respect Your Leaders
Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, "We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves." (1Th 5:12-13)
Here we are taught not only to respect our leaders, but to esteem them very highly in love. And it's important to note that he is referring to specific leaders here. First, he means those who labor among you. These are not simply people who carry a leadership title, but do not serve. The text connotes those who diligently labor. In other words, they are toiling and working hard. And they not only do so while positioned separately from you. They are especially working like this "among you," in other words "in your midst." They come up alongside you to help you grow in your walk with the Lord.
Secondly, Paul here refers to the leaders as those who are over you in the Lord. This expression in English comes from the Greek word “proistamenous”, which means to “preside,” “maintain,” “be over,” or “rule”. Not all leaders in the Body of Christ around the world are over you in the Lord, but only those who specifically have charge over you. I realize this is contrary to what many people believe today. Many reject the notion that anyone is in charge of them or over them. But this is not my idea. It's straight from the Word of God. These are the ones we are to esteem very highly in love.
Honor Your Leaders
"The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching." (1Ti 5:17).
So there is a clear instruction to honor our leaders. In fact, those who rule well, those who maintain the flock well, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching, are worthy of twice as much honor as leaders who simply discharge their minimum duties.
There are many ways to honor people. One way is to bless them with gifts. And in the context of this passage, Paul was explaining that we must financially support our leaders. He continued, "The laborer is worthy of his wages." (1Ti 5:18). So financial gifts are one way to honor our leaders, and certain leaders are worthy of double the honor we would normally give. As he taught the Corinthians, the Scripture says, "YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING." (1 Co 9:9). That's not just referring to animals. “So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.” (1Co 9:14). As he wrote to the Galatians, "The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him." (Gal 6:6). Therefore, look out for your leaders, and be careful not to withhold from them what they deserve.
Avoid Accusations Against Leaders
"Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses." (1Ti 5:19)
So anytime someone speaks to you, making an accusation against an elder, don’t receive it. Unless there are two or three witnesses who can substantiate the accusation, dismiss it.
Avoid Using Titles for Leaders
"But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. "Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. "Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. “ (Mat 23:8-11)
Jesus taught that those who serve as overseers of the flock must not be called leaders. True leaders serve, and we all have One Leader, Jesus Christ. In this one blog alone, I have used the word “leader” nearly fifty times! That reflects how ingrained this word has become in our vocabulary. Yet the only time it is used in the New Testament is when Jesus told us not to use this title. Even in the Hebrews passage I have quoted earlier, the original language does not use the term "leaders," but literally says, “Obey those who led you and submit to them…” (Heb 13:7). So when we need to refer to those who lead us, it would be better to choose a term used in God’s word, such as elder or overseer (Tit 1). And when speaking directly to these people, we should avoid titles altogether.
Yet how often do people call leaders, “Father,” “Holy Father,” “Pastor,” “Reverend,” “The Right Reverend,” “Apostle,” “Bishop,” “Archbishop,” “Bishop Doctor,” or “Elder so-and-so”? Don’t do this to your leaders! And if you are a leader, don’t let people call you by any of these titles! They should be able to address you by your first name, just as Paul was addressed by his first name and just as the members of the Body of Christ should address one another by their first names. We are family, and brothers and sisters don’t use titles to address each other.
Putting it All Together
So often, we see leaders being falsely accused, blamed for things, and not honored or supported by the people they are presiding over. Yet we are taught in God’s Word to hold our leaders in honor, to pray for them, to support them financially, and to obey them so their work will be a joy rather than a burden. We are not to receive accusations against them that cannot be substantiated by two or three witnesses.
We are also taught to obey our leaders in Christ and submit to them. This requires a commitment on our part to be planted in a local assembly and be accountable to those who have the oversight there.
Even so, in all this, we need to avoid addressing them with titles, since this only puffs them up. We want to help them to walk humbly and not lead them into the sin of pride, which is the human tendency.
If you have not treated your leaders the way you should, there's still a chance to do so. Now is the time of God's favor. Now is the time to ask Him to forgive you and help you to do what His Word commands.
Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.
Author's note: If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the other posts in this blog available through the links in the side bar. If you would like to read more on this topic, see my other post in this blog, "The Lord, Our Shepherd." You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.