************ Sermon on Hebrews 13:7,17 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 4, 1998
"God Instructs Leaders and Congregation"
Leadership. There is a need for it today as there never has been before. Morals are at an all-time low and moral standards are almost nonexistent among most of our national leaders. Many of those in positions of authority hold godless opinions on issues that matter to us like abortion, gay rights, Christian Education, TV programing, and the like.
It is fair to say that we are facing a leadership crisis today.
I'm afraid that the church is not immune to this crisis. As of late, many foundations appear to be crumbling. Beliefs, methods, and styles that have been dear to us for generations are slowly being abandoned. As we search for new meaning and direction, as we continue the process of ever reforming ourselves in the light of the Word, what we need are leaders who are able to give strong and decisive guidance, leaders who are biblical.
Every successful organization has one major attribute that sets it apart from unsuccessful organizations: dynamic and effective leadership. This is true in the business world; and, it is true in the church too.
You who are elders and deacons in Trinity have been given the mantle of leadership. Yours is the calling to give dependable, solid, loyal, strong leadership. Yours is the calling to set direction and goals, to guide the continuing reformation of the church, to direct and push and lead God's people in the direction He would have them go.
It is not an easy task you have been given. The Lord has not called you to beds of flowery ease. I hesitate to tell you and your families of the time commitment that is involved. Yet, you are not alone: the Lord is with you, He guides you, He leads you, He empowers you as leaders. And, in Hebrews 13 — as well as elsewhere in Scripture — the Lord gives instruction to leaders and the congregations they are called to serve.
The Spirit-inspired author of Hebrews speaks of two different groups of leaders in chapter 13. In verse 7 he speaks of the original leaders of the Hebrew Christians — leaders who are dead at the time Hebrews was written. In verse 17 he speaks of the present-day leaders — leaders who are alive at the time Hebrews was written. Yet, God's Word about both groups has been written for our instruction, so we, as leaders and congregation, must listen and learn from both verses.
I Instruction to Leaders
A It becomes clear from Hebrews 13 that those who are leaders in the church speak "the word of God" (vs 7). It isn't only pastors who speak "the word of God." In their work, those who are elders and deacons also speak "the word of God." In other words, it is the Word they use in exercising their pastoral care over the congregation, it is the Word to which they turn to for guidance, it is the Word upon which they base their deliberations and decisions, it is the Word which guides and molds and forms them. The Word should be their guide and their strength as they exercise the heavy responsibilities and many duties of their office.
In council and consistory meetings we turn to a number of books for guidance and instruction: The Deacons Handbook, The Elders Handbook, the Church Order, the Manual of Christian Reformed Church Government, the Agenda and Acts of Synod. All of these are valuable books to the council as it carries out its work. Yet, it is especially Scripture that we turn to in the functioning of church office.
We turn to Scripture because it is the "word of God" (vs 7). It is inspired by the Lord's Spirit. As such it is inerrant, infallible, and non-deceiving. It is dependable.
And, when church leaders look to God's Word for guidance, when they let themselves be led and guided by the principles of Scripture, they will not wander and waver and waffle and weave on the important issues of the day.
Topic: Christ That's one mistake that those in church office don't have to make. We can fix our eyes on the Word that never changes.
Subtopic: Divinity of
Abraham Lincoln once told of a farmer trying to teach his son how to plow a straight furrow. In the time- honored tradition, he told the boy to keep his eyes on some object at the other end of the field and plow straight for it. The boy started plowing and the farmer went about his chores. When he returned after several hours to check on the boy's progress, he was shocked to find instead of straight rows something that looked like a question mark. The boy had obeyed his father's instructions. He had fixed his eyes on something at the other side of the field -- a cow. Unfortunately, the cow had moved!
Evidently, that father forgot to tell his son to look for a stable object, one that wouldn't shift or move around.
B Church leaders are also to be examples of faith and in the faith. "Remember you leaders ... Consider the outcome of the their way of life and imitate their faith," says verse 7. Scripture can say this to us only upon the assumption that the leaders have a faith and a style of life which can be imitated.
In the past couple of years the church has been rocked because of leaders who did not live up to the calling of their office — leaders who failed to be examples. For instance, we have heard of church leaders exposed as adulterers, lovers of money, wife-abusers, users of pornography, manipulators and liars.
More than once the apostle Paul urges us to imitate the excellencies of Christ. Nor does he hesitate to tell us to imitate the excellencies of Christ to be found in his life. And, in the same way, we should be able to look to our spiritual leaders and find in them the excellencies of Christ to be imitated.
The leaders of the church have the duty, then, to be examples to the flock, especially for the children and youth. Children and youth, you see, learn so much from example. They are so impressionable. So it is very important that they have in the church leaders living examples of faith and in the faith.
Topic: ExampleAnd he's not an exception. Kids are looking for examples to follow and imitate. Yet many of them cannot find anyone worth imitating. But in the church, they should be able to find lots of good examples. According to Hebrews, they should be able to imitate every man in the consistory.
Subtopic: Inspiration of
Howard Hendricks tells of the time in a barber shop he struck up a conversation with a boy he had seen there before. After a while he asked, "Who do you want to be like?"
"Mister," he said, "I ain't found nobody I want to be like."
C In verse 17 the Lord instructs church leaders to "keep watch." In a similar vein Paul could instruct the Ephesian elders,
(Acts 20:28-31) Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers ... (29) I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock ... (31) So be on your guard!The apostle Peter further explains this when he says,
(1 Pet 5:8) Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.Church leaders are to keep watch, they are to guard, they are to protect the souls of the flock; they are to do so against the attacks of the devil.
How are church leaders to "keep watch"? What is all involved? In mind here is making sure the Trinity congregation is faithful in attendance at worship, Church School or Catechism, Lord's Supper. It means to conduct home visits with each household so as to measure and to assist in spiritual growth. It means to take the painful step of discipline with wayward members. It means to visit those who are sick or poor so that the needs of the body will not stand in the way of the needs of the soul. It means to visit the lonely and mourning so that their condition does not make them bitter against God and the church. It means to make sure that sermons nourish the people on the full counsel of God's Word. It means to guard the sacraments and to let only the believing participate. It means to warn, admonish, council, and advise whenever and wherever sin rears its ugly head among the people of God.
When church leaders keep watch over souls they must be like the shepherds of old. These shepherds tended their sheep day and night. They kept unceasing watch over them. They were so intent on their task that they gave hardly a thought to their own comfort and safety. This is what God wants from church leaders — complete, total devotion to the needs and cares of the flock.
This I would judge to be the most important task of church leaders: keeping watch over souls. It this is ever neglected, the church so quickly goes downhill and pretty soon there are no souls left to watch.
D God's desire for church leaders is that they serve joyfully and not sadly in their callings (vs 17). I remember the time in one of the churches I served when two newly elected office bearers offered condolences to each other. I hope they were only joking around, because if they were not their behavior was totally inappropriate. Church leaders are to serve joyfully, not sadly; they are to serve willingly, not by constraint (cf 1 Pt 5:2; 1 Tim 3:1). To be an elder or deacon is something you must want to do, and will do, joyfully. Church office is too sacred and too important for anyone to be an unwilling participant.
E Finally, God declares that church leaders are to remember that in their office they are to "give an account" (vs 17). This means that they have to answer to someone for their work and for how they conduct themselves in their office. Throughout my ministry I have met members who think that the church is a democracy and it is the members who make the final decision. But, contrary to democratic principles and popular opinion, it is not the people, the congregation, that church leaders must answer to. Church leaders must answer to God. In fact, all leaders — even those outside the church (cf Romans 13:1-7) — must give account to God of their work and their office. Within the church, leaders are responsible not to the congregation, or to the classis, but to God. Therefore, when someone serves in office he serves God first of all, and not the congregation. And, because they must first answer to God, councils and consistories sometimes make decisions that are unpopular with the members of the church.
II Instructions to Congregation
A God gives teaching and instruction not just to the leaders but also to the congregation.
First, the congregation must pray for her leaders. "Pray for us," says the first part of verse 18. It is so important, dear people, to pray for your leaders. All church leaders are only human and none can fulfill the demands of leadership on their own; this can be done only by the grace and power of God. Pray, then, for the grace and power of God to exist in the lives of your leaders. Pray that God will grant wisdom, patience, love, and understanding. Pray that God will empower and equip for office. If the congregation wants better elders, better deacons, or a better minister, the best thing to do is to pray for the ones she already has.
Too often, I am afraid, God's people are too quick to criticize and cut down their leaders and too slow to pray for them. Let me urge you, congregation, to be slow to criticize and quick to pray for your leaders. That will do far more good for this church and for your personal faith life than criticizing or complaining will ever do.
B Also, congregation, you are to imitate the faith and lifestyle of your leaders: "Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith," says verse 7. This does not mean your leaders are perfect; not at all. They all, I am sure, would be the first to admit to their own imperfections. But in those areas that they do succeed in imitating Christ, the congregation is to imitate them.
The Apostle Paul was a man who knew his sin and misery. Yet, he had no problem in commanding others to follow his example. In 2 Corinthians 11:1 Paul can say, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ."
C "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority" (vs 17), is another instruction from the Lord. Of course, it is understood that the congregation is to obey and submit to her leaders in spiritual matters and in so far as what the leaders say is in accordance with the Word and will of God.
From this it follows that if members disobey the leaders of the church they are disobeying God, for God has chosen to rule His church through the Spirit-guided leaders He has appointed. Rebellion against the leaders is rebellion against God.
It is so very important that the members obey and submit to the leaders on spiritual matters. Don't forget, the leaders have been called and chosen by God to keep watch over the souls of the congregation and they have to answer to God for how they have done this task.
This does not mean that the leaders have an authoritarian power. Like Christ Jesus they are to serve the flock. Their authority is a serving authority. Their office is a serving office. But they cannot serve, they cannot function in office, if the people do not obey and submit to them on spiritual matters.
"Obey your leaders and submit to their authority ..." says Scripture (vs 17). "Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden" (vs 17). Church leaders are able to serve joyfully when church members display a willing obedience and cooperation, when church members submit and obey on spiritual matters, when church members do not have an ungracious and rebellious spirit. In fact, good and successful leadership is to a considerable degree dependent on the willing response of obedience and submission on the part of those who are under authority.
D Those of you who are leaders, allow me to sound a note of warning here. The Lord's instructions to the congregation do not apply for every leader but only for those who faithfully exercise their office. Those who have nothing but the title and abuse or neglect their office deserve little reverence and even less trust. God's Word about leaders applies only to those congregations whose leaders are faithful.
God has given instruction for leaders:
-speak the Word of God
-be examples of faith and lifestyle
-keep watch over souls
-serve willingly and joyfully
-remember your accountability to God
But God has also given instruction for the congregation:
-pray for your leaders
-imitate their faith and lifestyle
-obey and submit to them
I charge you, leaders and congregation, to listen to God's instruction.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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