Eight Responsibilities of Church Members to their Leaders
According to the New Testament, the members of a local church have at least eight ongoing responsibilities to their shepherds. We find the first two in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian church.
Responsibility #1: To appreciate them (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). The first responsibility of church members to their leaders is to “know” them. The word means “to appreciate or respect.” The Thessalonian believers were to appreciate those that diligently labored among them, thanking the Lord for their willingness to expend themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally for the benefit of the flock. Paul refers to the leaders as those who have charge over you. Some have trouble with this phrase because they think it conflicts with the priesthood of the believer. But that is not the case. There is a certain God-given authority that leaders have in order to preside over, to lead, to direct, to protect, and to care for God’s flock. This is not a picture of tyranny, but rather servant leadership. Leaders are those who give instruction; they admonish, warn, or correct those in error. For this faithful soul-care they should be appreciated.
Responsibility #2: To esteem them (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). Church members are also responsible to esteem their leaders. The word esteem means “to hold in high regard” and “to consider.” Believers are to hold leaders in high regard because of their work. The ministry is a high and holy work and believers are here exhorted to place proper value on their leaders—esteem them for their work’s sake. For example, regarding Epaphroditus, the Apostle Paul instructed the Philippian believers to receive him in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard (Phil 2:29).
The next two responsibilities are found in the book of Hebrews.
Responsibility #3: To obey them (Hebrews 13:17). The third responsibility is that of obedience. Obey means “to be persuaded, or to listen to.” It speaks of an obedience that is the result of confidence. It is not speaking of a weird, cultic allegiance to a man simply because of his position, but rather to obedience that stems from confidence in a man’s ability to lead according to Scripture. Chrysostom wrote, “Anarchy then is an evil, and a cause of ruin, but no less an evil also is the disobedience to rulers. For it comes again to the same. For a people not obeying a ruler, is like one which has none; and perhaps even worse.” Leaders are accountable to God for how they lead His sheep. To the extent that they love God and lead an exemplary life they should be followed.
Responsibility #4: To submit to them (Hebrews 13:17). Submission and obedience go hand in hand. Full obedience requires submission of the heart. Submit means “to yield under or surrender.” Believers are called to cheerfully rank themselves under their leaders because of the serious responsibility to watch over souls. To keep watch means “to keep oneself awake.” It implies that leaders are watching and guarding at all times. Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock (Acts 20:28) was the apostle’s exhortation to the elders in Ephesus. Leaders stand in a watchtower position—always alert for soul dangers. Like the Coast Guard watches for storms, or an air traffic controller for potential jet collisions, church leaders need to be aware of the subtle errors that sneak into the church so they can warn God’s people of potential danger. This type of watchfulness demands tireless effort. The church body is to submit to leadership for their own spiritual welfare. When this takes place, shepherding is a joy. When it does not, joy disappears.
The next two responsibilities are found in Paul’s first letter to Timothy.
Responsibility #5: To support them (1 Tim 5:17-18). The apostle makes it crystal clear, “the laborer is worthy of his wages.” The “double honor” that teaching shepherds are worthy of includes honor (respect) and financial remuneration. When a church does not adequately care for the material needs of the pastor and his family his freedom to minister most effectively is hindered. Like the ox was not to be muzzled while it was threshing grain so pastors must be free to “get their living from the gospel” (1 Cor 9:14).
Responsibility #6: To discipline them (1 Timothy 5:19-20). Church members must also hold their leaders accountable for their life and doctrine—two areas of great importance (1 Tim 4:16). When a leader is guilty of open sin, or serious doctrinal error, God’s people are responsible to discipline him. It’s important to remember the “two or three witnesses” in this text are those who have witnessed the grievous sin firsthand, not angry cohorts who were recruited by a factious man or woman through bitterness, selfish ambition, or gossip. God provided this safety measure to guard pastors and elders from those in the church who are always ready and waiting to launch guerilla attacks against them without the knowledge of the whole membership. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning. When open, public sin is tolerated in the lives of leaders it can spread throughout the body and cause a spiritual disaster. Another reason for this responsibility is that there is greater judgment awaiting spiritual teachers (James 3:1). God’s people must love God and their leaders enough to discipline them.
The final two responsibilities of the church body to its leaders are again found in the book of Hebrews.
Responsibility #7: To remember them (Hebrews 13:7). Church members must remember their leaders. The word means “to call to mind, to recollect, or to be mindful.” It is a present imperative, meaning it is a command the body is to constantly fulfill. Believers are to constantly call their leaders to mind. One of the best ways to fulfill this command is through prayer. Paul pleads with the believers at Thessalonica, “Pray for us” (1 Thess 5:25). Perhaps there is no greater way for church members to love their leaders and remember them than to keep them before God’s throne of grace so that they may receive grace and mercy for their every need (Heb 4:15)! Satan targets church leaders. If he can take down the shepherd then he can scatter the sheep. Pray for your shepherds. But also be generous with words of affirmation, which are so beneficial to the health of a local church. It requires great self-sacrifice and courage to stand for sound doctrine and to faithfully preach the Word of God week after week, year after year, decade after decade Believers need to remember their leaders by means of encouraging words and expressions of appreciation for their ministry.
Responsibility #8: To mimic them (Hebrews 13:7). Another responsibility of the congregation toward their leaders is to mimic them. The word follow is from mimeomai, meaning “to mimic or imitate.” Follow their faith. That is why God has given qualifications for those in leadership. It is not that God does not want all believers to strive for these virtues. He does. However, leaders must meet these qualifications because people need visible role models. Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ (1 Cor 11:1). Paul was not being arrogant or bossy. He was confident that he was doing his best to follow the Lord for his own life and could, therefore, tell people to follow him. When God’s people imitate the lives of godly leaders they become imitators of the gospel and its power is manifested before a watching world (1 Thess 1:2-7).
Let us appreciate, esteem, obey, submit to, support, discipline, remember, and imitate our church leaders so that the glory of God may be manifest in our churches.
To learn more about every-member ministry in the local church, read Counseling One Another: A Theology of Inter-Personal Discipleship.
Read the related post: 6 Reasons to be a Faithful Member of a Local Church
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