“Contrary to contemporary wisdom, the Bible teaches that one cannot yield to the authority of the Word without submitting to the authority of the church.”
Christian author and pastor, John Stott, insightfully wrote, “Seldom if ever in its long history has the world witnessed such a self-conscious revolt against authority.” Be honest. When you hear these words, authority or submission, what comes to your mind? Do you welcome them as pleasant words? Or bristle and put up your guard?
Our nation was founded on a rebellion against authority. One of our early mottoes was, “Don’t tread on me!” Nearly 250 years later, we’re still known for our defiant national spirit which exalts individual rights. The concept of submission to authority seems wimpy…even foreign to us!
Then, our culture is permeated by postmodernism which holds that there is no absolute truth. Each person is free to make up “truth” or at least interpret it as they see fit. So your “truth” is fine for you, but I have my own, and do not feel obligated to submit to your “truth.” You can believe as you like, but you must let me believe as I like. Truth is not authoritative. “I” am the authority over my life, and use “truth” for my own ends.
When we add to that the concept of congregational church government, where each member has an equal vote with passages in the Bible like Hebrews 13:17, “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,” this all becomes particularly problematic!
Tragically, church government is often notoriously political. Christians are infamous for dividing from other Christians over petty issues. In our individualism trumps all world, if a believer doesn’t like something at church, they’d never consider submitting. They’d just join or even start a new church! Yet, against all of these powerful cultural influences, comes Hebrews 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to them….”
No doubt, some of you reading this are thinking, “What happened? Why are you writing this now, Scott?” And that’s why I am writing it now. There are no leadership issues that I’m aware of. Consider this pre-protection for our church because there will be.
Churches typically fail for one of two reasons. The first is poor leadership—the failure of those whom God has called to lead, to lead well, lead biblically and lead in an exemplary fashion. Many churches have been destroyed because leadership didn’t live up to biblical expectations. Second, churches fail because of a lack of congregational support. All the leadership in the world can't lead those who refuse to follow. Leaders must lead well, but they need people to follow well, too.
God has blessed us with wonderful leaders at Grace: Rich Benson, Ron Strelow, Mike Wiemer and Ray Ziebell. All of these men love the Lord and love you. They’re not perfect, yet they’re committed to pleasing the Lord, and serving you. Only their wives and families know fully their commitment and the hours they pour into serving the Lord and our church. I’m thankful for each one of them and I hope that you are too.
The vast majority of folk in a local church are never an issue, nor do they want to be. It’s usually only small minority, like 5% who make being a leader wearisome and grievous. Some don’t want to submit to any authority. Usually, if someone has problems with leadership at church, it’s very likely they also have problems with leadership at their job and other places. More often than not, they’re chronic and even petty critics of government or anyone in authority. Sometimes it’s driven by jealousy and an arrogant longing to be in charge. Please mark it down. When someone longs to be in charge, it’s a warning that they shouldn’t be. So what are the church family’s responsibilities to church leadership?
Pray for them. It’s instructive that the Apostle Paul frequently asked for prayer. We’d think that a great Christian like Paul wouldn’t need prayer but he knew that he did. If Paul was aware of his need for prayer, how much more do the rest of us who seeking to serve the Lord need it! Pray they will have a clear conscience because leaders are accountable to God, that what they say and do brings glory to God and our church’s spiritual welfare. Every leader who is faithful to God must say or do some things from time to time that undoubtedly will offend someone. So pray that they not only do the right thing but that they do it in the right way. If more people prayed consistently for church leaders, maybe there would be fewer church splits and fewer people leaving churches over petty matters.
Submit to them. The Greek words in Hebrews 13:17 for “obey” and “submit” mean to obey and submit! The difference, if any, between the two words is that obedience implies going along with direction or commands, whereas submission involves an attitude. We all know you can obey outwardly while seething with anger inwardly, but you aren’t submitting. Submission implies a sweet spirit of cooperation that stems from trust. You trust that the leaders have your best interests at heart, and so you follow them. Obviously, this is not talking about blind obedience. If a congregation doesn’t trust their leaders because the leaders are carnal, then those leaders must be confronted and removed (1 Tim. 5:19-21).
Be concerned about your leaders. Hebrews 13:24 says, “Greet all of your leaders.” We don't understand greeting in our contemporary culture. When we greet one another, we say, "Hi! How are you doing? (But don’t really answer. I’m just being polite and I’m in a hurry.”) That's not how they greeted one another in the Scriptures. A Jew would say to another Jew, “Shalom.” Shalom does not mean “peace” as we often use the word. When a Jew greeted another with shalom, he meant “total wellness.” They were saying, “How are you, over all?” To greet leaders means then to express personal concern. We’re to look out for the concerns of our leaders. We’re to affirm and encourage them.
The bottom line is for all of us is to grow in becoming a better church family and our leaders will try to be grow in being better leaders as we all seek to build our church together for the glory of King Jesus.
Can we help you spiritually? Can we help you know Jesus better? Please check out more resources on our church's web page, Gracechurchwi.org. Or, call us at 262.763.3021. If you'd like to know more about how Jesus can change your life, I'd love to mail you a copy of how Jesus changed my life in "My Story." E-mail me at Carson@gracechurchwi.org to request a free copy. Please include your mailing address.