What emotions stir up within you when you hear the words obedience, submission, and leadership? For many these words conger up anger, skepticism, disappointment, even rebellion. We live in a culture that bucks against authority, challenges leadership, and grumbles against submission.
Yet can you imagine a world without leadership? Homes without parents leading their children. Businesses without managers overseeing production. Nations without government protecting people. Churches without pastors caring for their flock. It may be delightful for a moment, but in the end it would be chaos.
On the flip-side, leadership can be a lonely responsibility because you have to do hard things, deal with difficult people, and lead by example. A leader has a great responsibility. Leadership is not a position with special perks and privileges. In the words of Scripture, a leader “watches over your soul.” (v.17a)
“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.
Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.” – Hebrews 13:17-19, ESV
The shepherd terminology in this text is crucial to understanding leadership. The Bible often calls Christians sheep. Sheep are prone to wander. Jesus was known as the Great Shepherd knows all his sheep by name and brings them to himself (John 10:1-18). Jesus even cares to bring the one lost sheep home (Luke 15:1-7).
Pastors and leaders are essentially under-shepherds of the Great Shepherd. They, like Jesus, have the job of watching and protecting their flocks from harm. It is a job they will give an account to God (v.17b). So leaders submit to Jesus as Jesus submits to his Father. By obeying our leaders and submitting to them we are helping them to do their job with joy (v.17c). For a joyful follower makes a joyful leader.
The author of Hebrews gets personal. As a leader himself he asks prayer for a clear mind and honorable life (v.18). He feels the weight of his responsibility. He knows his weaknesses. He is is okay being vulnerable. He wishes he could be on the other end of the letter with the recipients, which shows his shepherd-heartedness (v.19).
It is wonderful when leaders seek the prayer of people they lead. Prayer is a huge ministry to leaders—entrusting them to God. This is the first step of walking in obedience.
Questions for Reflection:
- Why are leaders often under a lot of scrutiny and criticism? Why is our culture so anti-authority or submission? What is your response to leadership?
- Why are leaders necessary for the church? How can you encourage the spiritual leaders in your life? How can you pray for your leaders?
- How is the term shepherd a fitting term for a leader? How is the term flock a fitting term for the church? How do shepherds watch over your soul?