It is heartbreaking and shameful to hear about the rising number of pastors and ministry leaders in the evangelical world who are being exposed for past and present sinful, immoral, deceptive, and often perverse behaviors in ministry. The details are often appalling.
Under such circumstances, the question that presses to be answered is how and why should we obey and submit to church leadership when there seems to be so much hidden sinfulness among those called by God to lead?
The devastating impact upon the church’s effectiveness and testimony for Christ is immeasurable. The rippling effect of lost trust and respect for ministers and ministries creates ever-expanding circles of doubt throughout the Christian community. Appropriate confidence in pastoral ministry is often irreparably impaired by a spreading sense of wariness that hangs heavy over other pastors who are faithful and innocent.
A healthy church is made up of faithful, godly leaders who are being followed by people whose hearts are ready to replace inappropriate resistance with a readiness to obey and comply with the authority of the Scriptures being taught.
Hebrews 13:17 instructs us to, “Obey your leaders, and submit to them.” The word obey is an intriguing word. It is not a demand for blind obedience as we might assume. It is a command for obedience, which results from being convinced or persuaded that following something is correct. Obedience is to be based on one’s trust and confidence in what is being said, not a person’s title.
To understand this concept, we have to look at the context. Verse 7 states; “Remember those who led you, who spoke the Word of God to you.” We obey because they speak the Word of God. The spoken Word is to be followed with confidence because the authority is in the Word, not the person. When leaders speak from the Word of God, we are to obey and submit. When they live out the Word, we are to imitate their walk of faith.
Jesus faced this when He told His disciples to obey whatever the scribes and Pharisees told them to do, “The scribes and Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things, and do not do them” (Mt. 23:2–3)
The point is: “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Obey the Scriptures they read and teach, but don’t follow their way of life.”
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Hypocritical religious leaders are nothing new. Biblical discipline and correction are required. In his commentary, Matthew Henry calls them wicked ministers who freely commit the sins they condemn in others. He likens them to “bells that call others to church, but hang out of it themselves.”
In an interesting combination of words, Hebrews 13:17 also calls for submission to leaders. This particular word is often used for military subordination and embodies the idea of ceasing to resist, accompanied by a readiness to comply.
A healthy church is made up of faithful, godly leaders who are being followed by people whose hearts are ready to replace inappropriate resistance with a readiness to obey and comply with the authority of the Scriptures being taught. As the spotlight focuses on the iniquitous behavior of some well-known and unknown Christian leaders, we must guard our hearts against a general distrust of pastoral leadership and remember to follow the vast majority of godly pastors who speak the Word of God and live lives worthy of the gospel while shouldering great burdens.