In a recent article, Branton Burleson rightly highlights how a congregation is instructed to submit to their pastors in Hebrews 13:17.
The verse reads, “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.”
Much attention is given to the first part of this verse and the weightiness of a pastor’s responsibility to keep watch over the souls of people in their care. In fact, that responsibility is given as one of the reasons why a congregation should submit to their leaders.
The last part of the verse offers another reason for submission. Submission allows a pastor to carry out his ministry with joy, which brings blessings and benefits not only to the pastor but also to the entire congregation.
In pastoral ministry, there are those who are easy to pastor with joy and there are those who are more challenging to pastor with joy. I’ve experienced the truth of Hebrews 13:17 in my own ministry.
I remember one former deacon was hard to pastor with joy. He was a constant critic. One day during a regular pastoral visit, he listed out all my faults as a pastor on 1-½ sheets of paper. I listened and tried to heed his criticism, yet I continued to seek to pray and care for this soul. He continued to point out my weaknesses and even indicated he wished that the church had never called me as pastor. I continued to pastor him, but I struggled to do so with joy.
Submission allows a pastor to carry out his ministry with joy, which brings blessings and benefits not only to the pastor but also to the entire congregation.
It’s hard to shepherd stubborn sheep. Yet, it is nothing new in a fallen world. Moses was criticized by his closest allies (Numbers 12). Timothy was challenged in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1). Even the authority of the Apostle John was not acknowledged (3 John 9-10). In a fallen world, there will be challenges to godly authority.
Although the former deacon was hard to pastor, I still tried to pastor him. I was accountable for his soul and I wanted how I cared for him in his stubbornness to reflect the character of the Lord Jesus.
Pastors must continue to watch over the souls of the people of God. Jesus is a patient, kind, compassionate shepherd. He is gracious and merciful to us when we challenge His authority, so must we be the same to those who challenge us. His patience toward us led Him joyfully to the cross. Let our kindness and love win God’s people to rejoice in godly authority.
Another former deacon was a different story. He graciously loved me and the church. We didn’t always agree, but he supported me, loved the church and wanted the Holy Spirit to fill our congregation. When he was in failing health, I visited him regularly for prayer and encouragement. We would laugh and sing and pray. It was such a blessing, and I would often take others with me so they could share in the experience and be encouraged by him. He was a joy and delight to pastor.
I will stand before God and be held accountable for both men’s souls. I feel I labored to pastor them both well, but only one had the advantage of a joyful shepherd.
Church member, your pastor has been given the solemn task to care for your soul. Your pastor is not perfect and thus his authority will not always be used perfectly. That’s on him. Your job is not to be a stubborn sheep.
Delight in the good gift of godly authority. Love your pastor. Respect his authority so that he will pastor your soul with joy. He will pastor your stubborn heart, but he will do so with groaning, and that is of no advantage to you. Joyfully submit for the glory of God, so he can joyfully shepherd for the glory of God.