Respecting Christian Leaders: Are We Doing It The Biblical Way?

#MeditationMonday‬ – Out of the abundance of a man’s heart, his mouth speaks. 

In our inaugural post of the year, we examined the first four of 12 instructions given to us this year. We’ve decided to implement these instructions by on one of them each month. So, for January, our first instruction if you haven’t guessed it already is to:

HAVE RESPECT FOR OUR LEADERS IN THE LORD

Our original passage, I Thessalonians 5:12 – 13a reads:

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labour among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. 

From this we get two things we have to do for our leaders:

(a) respect them

(b) love them

*these two things are expanded upon in Hebrews 13:17 & I Timothy 5:17.

A. RESPECT FOR CHURCH LEADERS

Before we go into how to respect church leaders, it is good to know “why” we have to do this in the first place. There are two major reasons why scripture encourages us to respect church leaders:

i. Because they are accountable to God for watching over our souls

“for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”

– Hebrews 13:17a

God has delegated authority to those chosen as elders or pastors (shepherds) to oversee the church (Acts 20:28) and serve as our examples (I Peter 5:1-4). These people do not hold absolute authority but will give an account to God for those placed under their care. Therefore, we respect them out of reverence for the source of their authority – God himself.

ii. Because if you cause them grief, you cause yourself grief.

“Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

– Hebrews 13:17b

Respect for church leaders is to our benefit. Disobedience to them would be unprofitable for us because God designed authority to protect and bless. Since it is clear that our leaders exist to shepherd our souls (under the authority of the chief shepherd), we ought to assist them by making their job joyful. Sheep who are always causing disruptions within the flock, make the work of the shepherd stressful and full of groaning. It is to our own advantage when the shepherd is joyful, for we too will partake in that joy.

How Can We Respect Our Leaders In The Church?

i. The first step towards showing respect for our church leaders is through obedience.

Hebrews 13:17 says:

“Obey your leaders and submit to them”

“Obedience implies going along with directions or commands, whereas submission involves an attitude. You can obey outwardly while seething with anger on the inside, but you aren’t submitting. Submission implies a sweet spirit of cooperation that stems from trust.” 

The concepts of obedience and submission are often difficult to speak about because our culture is largely built upon rebellion against authority. Many of our countries have been founded upon “independence” from colonialists or rebellion against the church/monarchy.

Such ideas have become so ingrained into our lifestyle that when we hear the words, authority or submission, we almost instantly become militant towards them. We don’t welcome such words as pleasant, rather we put up our guard because “nobody should have to tell us what to do or control us”.

We love our independence.

However, God expects us to be dependent on Him, obedient to His commands and submissive to His authority, which He delegates to some in the body of Christ to lead, train and prepare us for every good work (Ephesians 4:11-15).

Therefore, our duty is to obey godly church leaders. These are people who are walking in line with their duties according to Ephesians 4:11-15, and bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Matthew 7:15-20). Abusive leaders should be confronted and removed from office (1 Timothy 5:19-21).

Let it be absolutely clear that Christians have no duty of obedience and submission towards abusive leaders and false prophets/teachers.

The church is only responsible to obey and submit when its leaders teach God’s truth, especially on the essential doctrines contained in Hebrews 6. In any other area, especially where many godly Christians hold differing opinions, we should always allow grace to disagree.


The concept of submission and obedience to godly church leaders does not mean following them blindly without question. In a church seeking to follow the Bible, it is not wrong to examine whether the teaching is sound, just as the Bereans did in Acts 17:11.

Even where we are completely sure that our leaders are walking upright, bearing fruit and living holy lifestyles, there must always be room in the church for asking questions and seeking answers about things we don’t understand.

However, there has to be mutual trust for times where there are no answers. Our leaders are human too and may not always be able to explain everything. In such times we need to trust and obey, knowing that we do this, not just for their sake or for the sake of peace in the church but in honour of God that leads them (and us too).

More importantly, we shouldn’t be prideful in our thinking: “Well God speaks to me too, why didn’t I get the same instruction directly from Him?”Thoughts like this often lead to rebellion, which comes with great consequences. Look no further than the example of Korah, who led a rebellion against Moses for similar reasons and perished along with everyone who joined him (Numbers 16).

ii. A key part of having respect for our leaders is being respectful in times of conflict.

Have you ever been in a situation of conflict with your church leader? Did you make sure to resolve it in a peaceful and respectful manner? You can read more about what to do when you disagree with your pastor here.

How you react to discipline or correction from your church leaders shows the level of respect you hold for their leadership. Are you offended or angry when they correct you or do you respect their decision and respond with humility?

Church discipline is difficult because there are always those in the church who have emotional ties to the one being disciplined. Some always feel sorry for the person and urge others in the church to show grace and mercy, not judgment. But to be effective, discipline has to be enforced. So obedience to church leadership is especially important if the church has to discipline a sinning member.


 B. LOVE FOR CHURCH LEADERS

Once again, why do we have to love them? Scripture says plainly that it’s because of the work they do. The work of pastoring, preaching and teaching is no small matter and those who respond to God’s call to take on such roles should be showered with much love and care. Much like we love and appreciate those in high places of authority – politicians, governors, the president – due to the nature of their work, so we should also appreciate our leaders in the church even more because their work extends to the spiritual and concerns the eternal destination of our souls.

“esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”

– I Thessalonians 5:12 – 13a

How Can We Love Our Leaders In The Church?

i. We can show love to our church leaders through prayer.

The apostle Paul frequently asked for prayers for all sorts of matters (Romans 15:30-31, Ephesians 6:19, Colossians 4:3-4, I Thessalonians 5:25, II Thessalonians 3:1, Philemon 2). We ought to pray that our leaders maintain a good conscience in all things. This is not just to their benefit when they give an account before God, but also to our benefit as we continue under their leadership.

We must also pray that our leaders be delivered from circumstances beyond their control. Any circumstance that can cause them to fall away or fall into temptation will not only affect us but will bring disrepute to God’s kingdom; so it is necessary to uphold your leaders in prayer. The more you pray for them, the more you cultivate love and respect towards them.

Prayer is not just a polite gesture that shows brotherly concern, it is a way to lay hold of the power of God. If people prayed more regularly for their pastors, there would be lesser church splits and fewer people leaving churches over petty matters.

Conclusion

Respecting and loving our church leaders go hand in hand, there is no love without respect and no respect without love. What other ways can you think of through which you can love and respect your church leaders?

Prayer: I pray for you today that these words will spring you into action, that you will set aside time to pray for your church leaders, show them respect by standing in obedience to their instructions and encourage others to do the same. In Jesus name, Amen.

Grace & Peace!

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