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Salvation is free. Discipleship costs. Leadership costs a lot more. Praise God, Jesus has freely provided all we need to be saved from our sins. Yet, He warns us that once we become His disciples, we immediately become targets of Satan’s attacks. If God calls us as leaders, we will find ourselves in Satan’s crosshairs.
Why? Because Satan knows that God uses leaders. He knows leadership works. He also knows that if he “strikes the shepherd, the sheep will be scattered.” He knows command, control, and success are always compromised if leaders meet their demise or can be distracted or disabled. The Scriptures warn us incessantly of Satan’s attacks on leaders, and church history abounds with illustrations of his work.
Leaders who are under assault need to be encouraged. One of the ways our Lord encourages leaders is through principled followers. Good leadership can be encouraged, enhanced, and stabilized through good “followership.” Good followership, like good leadership, is defined by biblical precepts and empowered by a Spirit-led life. The writer of Hebrews provides two texts that, if embraced, will not only allow followers to profit from leaders but will also allow leaders to profit from them. The first is Hebrews 13:7: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the Word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” It contains three followership principles that empower both follower and leader.
Remember Your Leaders
The imperative “remember” in Scripture is designed to promote something far beyond historical accuracy in recalling factual data (“remember the body and blood of Jesus”; “remember the Sabbath”; “remember the Lord’s deeds”). To “remember” biblically is to hold in esteem with demonstrated respect and appropriate honor.
The ordained leadership within the church, while never the object of adoration or worship, should always be treated with honor and respect in light of the glorious truth that not only the position of leadership but the leaders themselves are Christ’s gift to the church (Eph. 4). They have weaknesses and inadequacies and are sinners saved by grace, but they have been gifted with gospel progress and called by the Lord to sacrificial servant leadership. Thus, for God’s glory leaders are to be “remembered” with honor and respect, which not only exalts the Lord but encourages them.
Consider Their Way of Life
It is obvious that the text does not assume perfection in the lifestyle of a leader, but it does assume gospel progress, which should be reflected upon by followers. This, in and of itself, is an encouragement for leaders to know that those whom they lead are evaluating their lives not as critics, but as learners.
Imitate Their Faith
A primary means of growth in life is by imitation, so we need to be careful in choosing our leaders because “the pupil becomes like the teacher.” There is perhaps nothing more sobering, yet encouraging, for a leader than the realization that those who have chosen to follow them in the name of Christ are using them as models and mentors in the faith. You can sense the personal encouragement of the Apostle Paul even as he exhorts the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
There is yet another text where the writer of Hebrews focuses on developing followers who both encourage and profit from their leaders:
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. (Heb. 13:17)
The writer of Hebrews now adds two more followership principles that maximize the benefits of following and encourage leaders accountable for their leadership.
Obey Your Leaders
This assumes you have joined a local church and acknowledge the leadership through covenant membership vows. The leaders are called to “keep watch” over the flock who are “among them.” All obedience to designated authority (even ecclesiastical leadership authority) is limited in that we must never obey any authority that would cause us to transgress the revealed will of God in His Word. But we also assume that God’s will is expressed to us through leaders who are seeking to be faithful to God’s Word while shepherding God’s church.
Submit to Them
Submission is not necessarily a declaration that we are in full agreement with the decisions of our leaders but that we are in full support.
A man once told me he was going to leave the church. I asked him why. He referenced a decision made by the leadership in carrying out a congregationally affirmed building program. He was convinced the decision lacked good business sense. I actually agreed with his evaluation of the decision, so I asked him if he thought I should also leave the church. He said no. So, I asked him why he would leave. While he paused, I decided to bring the issue home to his heart with another question: “Have you ever made a decision with which your wife disagreed?” His answer was yes. I then asked if she should divorce him over his bad decision. He said no, and I agreed. I suggested this was an opportunity for her to disagree with his decision, but once it was made, it became an opportunity for her to help him make it work.
Principled obedience and submission to our leaders are not license for runaway authority but encouragement to biblical authority. Such encouragement brings joy to the heart of a leader even when he is attacked by Satan or weighed down by the responsibilities of leadership.