Many years ago (as I tell the story, at least), I was tricked into becoming a manager. I had accepted a leadership role that did not include any direct reports, but a couple of days after agreeing to it, this role was converted into a pay manager. All kidding aside, the next two decades offered a lot of learning experiences, as well as plenty of surprises and weird situations along the way. I worked with many great people along the way, and am grateful that my team made things easy for me.
However, after more than 19 years in management, I finally got moved (at my request) back into a contributing role, where I’m even happier. My new responsibilities let me leverage my technical skills with more focus and freedom, while a colleague takes care of “management overhead”, like annual reviews.
I realize that being a manager and a leader aren’t exactly the same thing. For one thing, someone can manage without being a leader (although many of the best managers are also good leaders), and others can absolutely lead without carrying the title of “manager” (after all, Jesus did exactly that). This is true in business, and leadership in the church shares some of the same principles.
However, there is a weight that is carried by those who are entrusted with the care and supervision of other human beings. For many years of employment, the concerns of my direct reports became my own, and their challenges became my challenges. It was a substantial mental and emotional responsibility. Since I’m wired to be more analytical than relational, I was only able to sustain this by the grace of God and hard work. Even so, I cringe at the number of mistakes I made, especially in the early years.
Within the church, though, the author of Hebrews describes some shared responsibility in this relationship:
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.
Hebrews 13:17 NIV
The Bible has plenty of instructions for leaders in the church, although I suspect that many leaders wish that it had even more, like an instruction manual providing specific direction for each of their daily challenges. It is indeed a great responsibility to be a shepherd of other members of the Body of Christ, under the authority of Jesus Himself. If a business leader makes a bad choice, not only could their company or shareholders suffer financially, but employees – human beings – could also lose their jobs or be injured while working. If a church leader preaches or teaches something contrary to the word of God, though, souls may go astray or believers may become unproductive in sharing the love of God with a lost world.
However, leaders in the church (whether elders, pastors, ministers, or other roles) are not somehow “remote” from the rest of the congregations for whom they are responsible. They don’t just lead from a corner office or an “ivory tower”. They are a part of the body, and this verse from Hebrews shows that the other members of this body of Christ (the church) also have a responsibility to these leaders.
In light of this, I invite you to try something the next time that the leadership in your congregation makes a decision that affects you (whether you agree with it or not): The next time this happens, pause and consider where this message comes from. Is this choice the result of prayerful consideration of God’s will, as godly people honestly seek out the best way to be stewards of the responsibility that God has entrusted to them? Have these leaders prayed about this decision and sought God’s will at least as much as you have? Is the decision consistent with God’s word, even if there were multiple other choices that would have seemed equally Biblical on the surface?1
If so, spend some time meditating on the verse above from Hebrews. Read through the entire chapter of Hebrews 13, or the entire book. Consider how you can practice the first two instructions from this verse. Evaluate what it means for you to trust leaders that God has appointed and directed, and brainstorm how you can show them respect by submitting to their divinely-delegated authority. If the decision is unpopular, but still consistent with Scripture, consider reaching out to these leaders, to let them know that they have your support and prayers, even if the decision is inconvenient for you (or obliges you to take action). If you don’t like the leaders or the decision, yet you find that it is consistent with God’s direction, respect the sovereignty of the ultimate leader of the church (Jesus Christ), and follow God’s instructions in this verse, anyway.
I know that submitting to authority is difficult, and when we have management or leadership responsibilities in other parts of our life (whether in a family, school, or work environment), switching from leader to follower is a challenge. God doesn’t call us to do the easy thing, though. He calls us to obey His commands.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- Of course, there is a need to validate all teaching against Scripture. It is my belief, though, that many church leadership decisions are choices from a field of options that are all valid within the boundaries of Scripture, where one is [hopefully] selected based on God’s specific direction and strategy for a given time and place. ↩