Leadership is a fascinating subject. Leaders often find themselves in precarious positions due to the very nature of their task. They must aggressively point the way forward in such a way as to inspire others to action. They must also be sensitive, deliberate, and patient enough to allow their followers the opportunity to keep up. Leadership is a delicate balance.
An additional challenge exists, however, on the “follower” side of leadership. This challenge seems to be especially evident in the context of the local church. Let me explain. Members of local churches come from all different backgrounds. They come from all different socioeconomic settings. They serve in a wide variety of vocations. Despite this diversity, there is one similarity. People, in general, find it difficult to submit to spiritual leadership. People, in general, seem to view the church as the one place where everyone should have a voice and no one should be expected to yield their opinions or wishes to anyone else. Certainly this must be true to some degree, but can this sentiment be true unilaterally?
I have a theory on the subject. I believe many people are in positions in life where they do not lead. There are far more employees in the workforce than there are employers. There are certainly more students in the public school system than there are teachers and administrators. Therefore, there are exponentially more followers than there are leaders across our communities in a given 5-day work week. In light of this truth, I believe many people come to the gathering of the local church with the expectation they will finally be able to supervise others instead of being supervised by others. They will finally be able to give directions instead of take directions. Ultimately, they will finally be able to lead instead of being led. There is, however, a problem with this thought process: it gives no consideration to the calling of God.
God calls the spiritual leaders of His church. He not only calls them to serve; He calls them to prepare and to be equipped. In addition, God proclaims that spiritual leaders are a gift He gives to His church. Observe the language inspired by the Holy Spirit and written by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:11-13:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
Leaders (Pastors) in the local church are given (called) by God in order “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” It is difficult to equip someone else if you yourself have not first been equipped. This explains the call of God to ministry as also being a call to prepare, to be equipped for the task.
The challenge comes when those who have been called and equipped to lead actually attempt to lead those under their spiritual care. What if they do not want to be led? Most people of adult age have experienced both good and bad leadership. They have been encouraged and motivated by some while being disappointed and let down by others. I believe this truth contributes to the reluctance of some to submit to godly leadership. Everyone fails at some point. Every leader will let you down eventually. No one is perfect. But, please hear me when I say this: refusing to joyfully submit to the spiritual leadership of the one God has called to His church is certainly not the way to guard against the potential of being disappointed.
I have failed personally as a leader at times in the course of ministry. I have made decisions that proved to be less than ideal. I have faced challenges and difficulties in the context of the local church. I must accept full responsibility for the errors I have made throughout my pastoral ministry. However, there are also countless times when I have made the correct decisions. I have succeeded as a leader. I have faced challenges and handled them appropriately. So….what is the point of this personal reflection?
Here it is. You cannot afford to judge spiritual leaders by one moment or one instance when they let you down. Would you want someone to judge you by one moment or one instance in your life when you were not at your best? I didn’t think so. God calls pastors/teachers/elders to lead His churches. He also calls them to be equipped for their task. Believers (church members) are instructed to follow the leadership God provides for His churches. Hebrews 13:17 reminds us:
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.
The bottom line is this: pastors and teachers have an obligation and responsibility to seek God’s face, maintain a growing relationship with the Lord, and to lead according to God’s will for His church. In the same way, all believers have an obligation and responsibility to seek God’s face, maintain a growing relationship with the Lord, and to joyfully submit to the spiritual leadership given to the church as a gift. Practically speaking, if your pastor is doing nothing illegal, immoral, unethical, or unbiblical, then personality conflicts and other petty matters do not constitute grounds for you to undermine, ignore, or subvert God-given pastoral leadership. Do the body of Christ a favor and follow the leader.