Having already addressed the first part of a difficult, and sometimes abused passage, from Hebrews 13:17 (see the post Obey or Be Persuaded), we need to examine the meaning of the second half of the verse, “obey your leaders and submit to them….” However, before proceeding into the translation and meaning of submit, it would do us well to review what our Lord had to say regarding leadership during His earthly ministry. Whatever else the New Testament says regarding “church leaders” must flow downstream from the kingdom paradigm that Jesus established.
Below are two critical passages concerning the nature of leadership, according to the kingdom paradigm of Jesus Christ. Notice how He dismantles the present religious leadership and then rebuilds with kingdom principles.
First is Matthew 20:20-28
20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?”They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Second is Matthew 23:1-12
23 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.
8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
How do these passages inform the nature of leadership in our modern churches?
Is a leader a servant or is a servant a leader?
Are those in “offices” or who bear titles, pastor, elder, shepherd, bishop, deacon, de facto leaders because of their position?
What is the nature of authority among believers?
Is their a hierarchical leadership or authority structure among believers?
Before one can build a framework for leadership based on such passages as 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1, or even difficult passages such as Hebrews 13:17, we must come to an understanding of the kingdom leadership principles that Jesus laid out which were counter-cultural and counter man-centered religiosity. The difficulty, and it is real, is to view these passages without the influence of culture or our own religious experiences and preferences.