Leadership in the Church

 

(Heb. 13:17)

Martel Pace (Truth for Today)

A DAILY DUTY

After discussing the unchanging nature of Jesus Christ and the need to hold firmly to Christian doctrine, the writer of Hebrews returned to the topic of leaders (see 13:7). He refocused on our responsibilities to church leaders. They have a sacred trust to guide others toward the heavenly goal. At the same time, we have a responsibility to help them in their task:

The command to obey church leaders is in the present tense. It relates to those who were "soul-watchers" at this time, not to those of the past as in 13:7. Those watching over souls must have been the elders. As proper shepherds, they would tirelessly seek to protect the sheep (Acts 20:17, 28-30). Naturally, having regular assemblies of the church helps the elders to be aware of the spiritual conditions of the members in their charge.

Every member of the church should want to be in a congregation where he or she can be under spiritual overseers. This does not mean that one should continue blind obedience if leaders are going astray. The word "watch" (agrupneo) "is not a technical term for oversight of a community, in contrast to episkopein, but was commonly used in exhortations to watch with a view to the coming judgment (Mk. 13:33; Lk. 21:36; cf. Eph. 6:18)." With eternity in mind, the elders/pastors/overseers were to "keep watch over … souls." This implies that some sort of reinforcement may be necessary to keep our souls on the right path!

 

 

A SACRED SERVICE

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

The fact that "elders" and "shepherds" refer to the same office is demonstrated in Acts 20. Paul sent for "elders" (presbuteroi; v. 17) and then called them "overseers" (episkopoi; v. 28). Their work of shepherding is presented as tending and feeding (poimaino; v. 28), which was the work of "pastors." "Elders" and "overseers" are therefore the same as "pastors," which is the Latin word for "shepherds." The word is rendered "pastors" in the KJV only in Ephesians 4:11. In the New Testament, then, all these are descriptive terms applied to the same position. This is again illustrated in 1 Peter 5:1-4, where Peter appealed to "elders (presbuteroi; v. 1), to "shepherd the flock" (poimaino; v. 2a), which meant to feed the flock or do the work of a shepherd/pastor and to exercise "oversight" (episkopeo; v. 2b).

The New Testament plainly sets forth the pattern for church leadership. Acts 14:23 says that elders were appointed in every church. Acts 20:17, 28-30 indicates that elders served the Ephesian church. Philippians 1:1 shows that the church in Philippi had "overseers" ("elders") and "deacons." Their qualifications are listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-12 and Titus 1:5-9. Various religious groups differ in their systems of organization, but we should follow what the Scriptures teach. If we reject or revise the pattern for an eldership as overseers of each congregation independently, how can we establish a pattern of authority for anything in the Scriptures? Elders participated with the apostles in making major decisions (Acts 15:6, 22, 23). The elders, and not some parachurch organization, received money to be administered in Judea (Acts 11:27-30). The New Testament knows nothing of church-related organizations which do the work of the church for it.

The recipients of this letter were not themselves part of the eldership; they were urged to "obey" and "submit" to their leaders. "Obey" (peitho) can mean "to persuade," "to pacify," or even "to conciliate." The command to "obey" is reinforced by "submit" (hupeiko), which means to "yield," "resist no longer," or "surrender." Some religious groups give the congregation the leadership, which is backwards from New Testament doctrine. Certainly, elders should seek suggestions for their work in matters of opinion. However, "when they teach the oracles of God, when they plead for faithfulness to Jesus, we yield our contrary opinions in favour for their guidance. Habitual submission (present tense imperative) is the thing commanded." "Obey" and "submit" are two key words that cannot be disregarded.

Elders are men who live and work among the congregation, not bureaucratic officials in some faraway office. They may not seem as impressive as guest speakers or experts who come in to dazzle the brethren, but their work will be rewarded as a necessary and humble service (1 Pet. 5:1-5).

The LXX uses the term for "leaders" (hegeomai) in reference to those who "have the rule." Some official authority is implied here, but no specific office is indicated. In classical usage the episkopoi ("bishops" or "overseers") were political officials sent by Athens to their vassals to oversee church, state, and commercial activities of the subject cities."

 

 




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