Do your due diligence.
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 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.Hebrews 13:7, 17 ESV
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”1 Peter 5:1-5 ESV
The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion. Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve.John Stott
One of the great benefits of being part of a local community of believers is the privilege of having an eldership to watch for your soul. Different groups use different names, but our crowd usually calls the leader “Pastor.” Other leaders are then given titles and roles, elder, assistant, minister… The name is not so important as the function. It’s a joy to have a leadership team to whom I can consciously submit. There’s a spiritual freedom that flows that’s hard to verbalize.
We previously described New Testament submission this way: “…an attitude of the heart characterized by a meek and quiet spirit which avoids contention and rebellion. (1 Peter 3:4) It maintains obedience to the Lord out of reverence for Him, and characterizes the believer in his or her interaction with every person. When obedience to God comes into conflict with the demands of other authorities, the submissive person may well disobey, but they do so with respect and humility.” In our last lesson, we identified 3 facts about submission that help us to recognize the flow of authority wherever we are, and understand its purposes and limits. There’s one more very important fact we need to know:
Fact #4: Christian submission is given, not taken; offered, not demanded.
The New Testament asks the believer to submit in marriage, in the home, and in the church. It also gives guidelines or responsibilities for both parties in each relationship. Most of us are aware of the importance of making a good choice in a marital partner. In a similar manner, one of the biggest decisions you will have to make in this life is where you will go to church, or more accurately, to what leadership you will submit. Several New Testament passages give instructions both to leaders and to followers concerning how that relationship should function. Let’s take a look at both sides of the equation.
In Paul’s ending notes in 1 Corinthians, he makes a recommendation to the church that gives us a window into how he saw the relationships in the local church:
I urge you, brethren—you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints—that you also submit to such, and to everyone who works and labors with us.1 Corinthians 16:15-16 NKJV
In these verses, Paul shows us that we have the choice to submit or not: “I urge you, brethren.” The King James Version says, “I beseech you.” This is not a command, it’s a plea. “Please, submit yourselves to these people. It will be good for you!” He gives two reasons for recommending them. First, they have a record of devotion to serving the saints. Second, they are well known to the people. He then reminds the flock that a gentle and teachable attitude is to be rendered to all who are part of the ministry and who demonstrate this kind of character. The idea of willing submission to leaders of proven character is found in every passage that addresses the give and take of leaders and followers.
If you’re in search of a place to connect, submit, and develop your gifts, recognize that no leader is going to be perfect, but that some are certainly working at it. The New Testament is quite explicit in what to look for in leaders. Let’s review the highlights:
- Look for shepherds who smell like sheep. That means they spend time with the flock and are available, not just for counseling or services, but to rub shoulders with the people. Peter encourages elders to “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you.” He didn’t say “over,” he said “among.” There’s a big difference. Also, your pastor should have a pastor. Pastors are also sheep. In order to exercise authority, one must be under authority. If your pastor doesn’t have a pastor, find another pastor. (Acts 20:28; 1 Thess 5:12)
- Look for leaders who are in it for the right reasons. These offices are called by God. The desires to have power over people, to have a nice title, or to enjoy financial success are not good reasons. Spend enough time to see symptoms of these three things if they exist. Pride and avarice are dangerous in ministers. (1 Peter 5:2-3; Titus 1:7)
- Look for leaders who work at it. The call of God and a character that is “devoted” to it will be evident in how a leader organizes his time and resources. You want to serve with a leadership that is growing and developing both themselves and those around them. Paul told Timothy to extend double honor to elders “who labor in the word and doctrine.” The ministry is not supposed to be a cakewalk. Paul likens it to farming, war, and athletic competition. You need leaders who are willing to work at it. (1 Timothy 5:17; 2 Timothy 2:1-8; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; Colossians 1:28-29)
- Look for a shepherd who feeds the sheep. Not every pastor will be a great teacher or preacher, but he or she will make sure the sheep are fed. His own teaching will be biblically sound and, if teaching is not his gift, he will allow other ministers and elders to add to the diet of the flock. (1 Timothy 4: 16; 5:17; 2 Timothy 4:2)
- Look for a leadership with a positive impact. Paul repeatedly told people to follow or imitate him as he was following Christ. That ought to be a challenging statement for a leader. You want a leader you can follow with confidence based on evidence. Their life should leave evidence of a positive impact on the lives of others over time. Hebrews 13: 7 (ESV) says it this way, “Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”
Don’t get in a hurry. Take enough time to be convinced. Watch and listen. Remember, you’re not looking for flash, you’re looking for substance: character and commitment. When you find a place with a leader who scores well in the 5 categories above, it’s time to spend extra time praying for God’s guidance. It’s imperative that you know God planted you there. If you know in your heart that you’re still just shopping, be honest with yourself. Slow down until you get the internal green light. (Go back to Healing Help 22 for a refresher on how to pray for wisdom.)
Having located your place, it’s up to you to connect so you can receive the full benefit that God intends. The same passages that give us qualifications for shepherds also describe the responsibilities of sheep:
- Commit. Psalm 92 says you flourish where you’re planted. Once you take this step, you will have opportunities to get mad, get tired, or just get apathetic. Don’t move. God planted you there. Stay put. If you’re struggling, ask your leadership for their guidance and counsel. Don’t just disappear. Stay until you learn why you’re there. (Psalm 92:12-15)
- Say so. Acknowledge that this is where you belong. Words matter. If your church leader goes by the title “Pastor, “ then call him or her that. Tell people that this is your church, then act like it. Be there and serve there in some capacity. (1 Thessalonians 5:12; Hebrews 10:24-25)
- Be submissive! Listen to the direction for the group that comes from leadership. Look for ways to help. Fight the temptation to critique. Identifying a problem without proposing a solution is complaining. Complaining to other people is never the right thing to do. (Philippians 2:14-16; 1 Peter 4:9; James 4:9)
- Participate financially. Where your treasure is there will your heart be also. If it’s your ministry, your church family, then do your part to support it. (I’m a passionate believer in the tithe. Try it. You’ll like it.) It will plug your heart in to receive the gifts where God has planted you. (Galatians 6:6-10; Malachi 3:8-11; 1 Timothy 5:17-18)
- Pray for your church family every single day. Pray for your leaders and for others in the group who have needs. Let God put people on your heart to intercede for. Look around at meetings and be open to the promptings of the Spirit. Put people on your prayer list. You are part of a spiritual network in which each part is connected to every other part. Prayer is the thread of connection. (1 Timothy 2:1-4; Romans 12:4-5; Colossians 4:12)
- Esteem your leaders highly for the work’s sake. Speak highly of them. Look for ways to make their work easier. If the work of this group was ordained by God and He made you part of it, then treat it that way. Honor the leaders He has put there, for the work’s sake. (1 Thess 5: 12-12; Hebrews 13:17)
Here’s the Point: If you have access to a good Spirit-filled, word of faith, church where the gifts of the Spirit are manifest and healing prayer is readily available, then be grateful! Get there regularly and be a fountain, not a drain. If not, it’s still spiritually important to be connected somewhere. The Lord will move through His people when they gather even if they don’t always do things the way we think they ought to be done. If specific prayer for healing is not done at your church, then look for a small group of some kind where you can connect around the things of faith and healing. If necessary, try to find just one other person to pray with. In person is always best, but if online is the best available, then use it. Don’t do this alone!
Next Steps: Take time to review this content. Don’t let pride or self-pity discourage you in this search. You are not designed to live the life of faith alone. It’s not weakness. It’s God’s will. It will help you receive your healing. I’m praying that this will build your faith to find a good place of connection and an eldership to care for your soul. God wants you healed, and so do I.
I said earlier that “your pastor should have a pastor. Pastors are also sheep. If your pastor doesn’t have a pastor, find another pastor.” For most Christians that probably means very little. You assume there must be some system of oversight, or maybe you think your pastor is uncommonly holy and needs no real oversight. I hope you’re right, but you need to know for sure. It’s so important that we will take a deeper look at it in the next lesson, “Accountable Shepherds.”