Obey your leaders and submit to them

by monax

Note: I’ve updated my understanding of Biblical Leadership in a new SpAu post on Church Leadership published June 10, 2016

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Πείθεσθε τοῖς ἡγουμένοις ὑμῶν καὶ ὑπείκετε

repost from SSB July 4, 2013 @ 11:26 am

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Amos, my friend, you write: I think the word “Leadership” is NOT “Biblical.”

It is true that much of the “Church” has fallen under forms of “Leadership” that are NOT “Biblical.” However, the word “Leadership” is a “Biblical” term and concept.

The question at hand should be:

What sort of leadership does the bible call us to conform to?

You’ve squarely hit the mark, Amos, with Matthew 23:

vss 8-12, “You are not to be called rabbi [meaning my teacher, or my master], for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

We are all brothers and sisters and servants of one another.

They are blind fools who sit upon the seat of Moses—lawless, greedy, self-indulgent hypocrites!

You know, many Catholic Priests have never read Matthew 23. Yet for the ones who have, I must wonder how they read verse 9, “Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.”

I also agree with you, Amos, that the bible makes no such clergy/laity distinction. In fact all signs point to such a worldly concept being most hateful to our Lord.

In terms of it being worldly—let’s consider Matthew 20

vss 25-28, “Jesus answered them, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”

In terms of it being hateful—let’s consider Revelation 2

Jesus hated “the work of the Nicolaitans.” To the church in Pergamum (the city where Satan was enthroned), he warned them to repent for having some who held “the teaching of the Nicolaitans” lest he come to them and war against them with the sword of his mouth.

Who were the Nicolaitans and what were their teaching? We don’t exactly know. However, we may get a clue as to what they believed and taught by looking at the meaning of their name.

This is what Lance Ford writes in his book Unleader:

‘The root of the word “nicolaitan” comes from the Greek words, nikos, which means “victory” or “conquest,” and laos, which means “people.” We get the word “laity” from laos. The compound of these Greek words means “conquest over the people” and points to the earliest forms of a priestly or clergy class in the church. Church history shows us that a full-blown clerical system developed relatively quickly in the early life of the church. By the mid-sixteenth century the Council of Trent announced, “If anyone shall say that there is not in the Catholic Church a hierarchy established by the divine ordination, consisting of bishops, presbyters and ministers, let him be anathema.”

‘How amazing is that? This declaration directly contradicts several clear statements Jesus and the apostles made in reference to hierarchy. The issue of ministry gifting and guidance by gifted individuals is not in question. The problem is the hierarchy and the dominating, conquering ways and means behind the structures it creates, coupled with the behavior of those who maintain them. The insidious nature of Nicolaitanism lies in the separation between normal saints and elevated leaders. Take note, Jesus doesn’t merely dislike this stuff. He doesn’t prefer things were not this way. He categorically hates it!’

With that in mind let us take a deeper look at the biblical phrase ‘obey your leaders and submit to them’ as found in Hebrews 13:17.

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Obey your leaders and submit to them

Peithesthe tois hegeomenois hupon kai hupeikete

The first word—‘obey’—is a translation of the Greek word peitho.

Peitho basically means to ‘persuade, convince; trust, believe’ (EDNT).

What is important to note, to get technical for a moment, is that the verb is inflected in the middle voicepeithesthe, indicating that the subject of the verb is acting upon itself or is being affected by its own action. In the Greek the subject is affixed to the verb as a second person plural imperative that is ‘understood’ in the English Standard Version as ‘(You) obey.’

As Peithesthe is followed by the dative with the indirect object being a participle in either the middle or passive voice—tois hegoumenois, modified by the second person plural possessive pronoun—hupon, followed by the conjunction—kai, which locks in a reinforcing second person plural imperative verb in the active voice—hupeikete, the entire phrase can literally be translated:

‘Follow (or obey) those who are leading and yield (or submit) [to them (or to their authority)].’

In his expository dictionary W. E. Vine relates the significance of peitho as it is found here in the middle voice: “The obedience suggested is not by submission to authority, but resulting from persuasion. Peitho and pisteuo, ‘to trust,’ are closely related etymological [terms]; the difference in meaning is that the former implies the obedience that is produced by the latter. . . . Peitho in the New Testament suggests an actual and outward result of [an] inward persuasion and consequent faith.”

The Greek imperatives here—“obey” and “submit” are in the volitional mood exhorting us to respond with willful assent. ‘Allow yourselves to be persuaded and willfully submit to the authority of your leaders,’ would be an appropriate rendering of the Greek.

This point cannot be emphasized enough: the authority our leaders persuade us to submit to is the authority of the Word of God.

The will that our leaders persuade us to obey is the Will of God.

The moment a leader authoritatively interjects anything into the mix that is not supported in Scripture he has crossed over the line into spiritual illegitimacy.

Just a few verses above our phrase in question the writer of Hebrews gives us this:

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings” (13:7-9a ESV).

The force of the underlying Greek exhorts us to constantly bear in mind the character of those who faithfully taught the Word of God and to scrutinize their life carefully, and then to follow them as they have followed Christ.

This sets us up to receive the instructions in question—‘obey your leaders and submit to them.’

What’s important to keep in mind, especially for those in unhealthy authoritarian churches, is that this very appeal to obedience and submission is not to any leader (outside of God Himself), but to the truths and teachings of Scripture. These leaders must foremost model this obedience and submission to Christ and His Word if they are ever to be entrusted with any degree of pastoral stewardship.

We are called to allow ourselves to become persuaded by those who are leading us—tois hegoumenois. The Greek noun form of this participle is hegemon where we derive our word hegemony from. It’s the word used for rulers and high officials in the military, religious, and governmental spheres.

However, when it comes to the sphere of the church—only Christ is to be acknowledged as the Head—as our Hegemon—as our “ONE” Leader—Jesus.

“You know how the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. For whoever would be great among you must be a servant, and whoever would be first among you must become a slave.”

Christians: we are kings and queens of the King of Glory; priests and priestesses of our High Priest Jesus; prophets and prophetesses of the Most High God; and brothers and sisters; servants and slaves of One another.


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Here’s more on the meaning of peitho further down the comments at SSB:

[Yes, Amos, good eye. You’ve recognized] the breadth of meaning these words take. . . peitho finds it’s meaning—“obey”—in Heb 13:17 due to its special grammatical relation to the words that follow. And, yes, it’s the same word for “trust” and being “convinced” and “certain” found in the following verse—“Pray for us, for we are persuaded [peithometha] that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things” (Heb 13:18).

Peitho is not the general Greek NT word for “obey.” Hupakouo is.

Hupakouo means to “hear” in the sense of “heed;” to “obey.” Just like it’s Hebrew OT equivalent—shema—to “hear” and/or “obey.”

Fwiw, Peitho (as a proper name) is the Greek goddess of Persuasion, Charm, Seduction.


And, Yes, as I was looking at the Greek this week I noticed, as you have, the wide base of meaning for hegeomai.

Again, this Heb 13:17 appeal to obedience and submission is not to any leader (outside of God Himself), but to the truths and teachings of Scripture.

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Here’s another pertinent comment:

Amos writes:

. . Who are the “Leaders” (*hegeomai*) in Heb 13;17?

. . When Heb 13;17, says “leaders” or those who have “The Rule” over you…

. . Who is it refering to? In Heb 13:17?

in Heb 13:17 our “Who” in question are not referred to as “Leaders” but to “those who are leading.” Hegoumenois is a participle in the dative—meaning it is a verbal adjective acting as our indirect object.

This is how the Greek literally reads: “Follow those who are leading and yield.”

In Heb 13:17 those men who are leading are identified as spiritual watchmen accountable to God for how they lead.

This word—hegeomai—as used to signify “leaders” is used only four times in the New Testament. Three times in Hebrews 13 (vss 7; 17; 24), and once in the Gospel of Luke (22:26). In each case it takes the form of a participle—a verbal descriptor. It is never inflected as a noun, let alone a noun to be regarded as a title.

Heb 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. . . [vs 9] Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings.”

The leaders of verse 17 are assumed to be different teachers than those spoken of (in the past tense) in verse 7. As verse 7 emplores us to follow their faith we are reminded of the great cloud of faithful witnesses of Hebrews 11.

Heb 11:8, “By faith Abraham obeyed. . .” and so forth.

Now as Heb 13:24a reads “Greet all your leaders and all the saints,” we can not assume this to indicate a hierarchical division in the body between a clergy and a laity.


Because Jesus first qualified the meaning of hegeomai as a leading that models what it’s like to serve as He did. Our Lord flips the worldly ways of governing on it’s head, and regards “leadership” in the body of Christ to be a “servantship.”

Luke 22:24-27—‘A dispute also arose among the disciples as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”’

Who are the leaders among us? Let’s recognize them for their obedience to the Word of God, for their humility, gentleness, wisdom, and self-sacrificing ways, for their submission to God and to others, for their being gifts of God to the Body. These are the ones we elect to stand before us, the ones we entrust pastoral stewardship to. These are the teachers we set before us, whose authority we do well to honor and yield to.

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Full context and further conversation on this can be found at Spiritual Sounding Board (SSB).

There was also a short conversation on this at Phoenix Preacher (PxP).

Feel free to join in on the discussion and leave a comment at SSB—it is (at present) a relatively “safe” place. PxP, however, exists as a “bully culture” and is the haunt of a few unchecked wolves, so be warned. I consider it to be an “unsafe” community.

[[ Update: I no longer consider SSB a spiritually safe or sound community.

related post: calling ‘wolf!’  ]]

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The reposted comments below fall under a brilliant post by PxP’s host Michael Newnham:

My Philosophy of Reform: Why do I encourage dialog with Calvary Chapel pastors?

Here are a few comments and interactions from the thread mostly between Michael Newnham and me, streamlined along the themes of Biblical Leadership and Hierarchy. Links for each comment have been provided for context.

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monax says
June 25, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Biblical Education

“how do we do it”?

Yes, through a life of prayer in the Spirit—Who empowers each of us to properly wield the sword of the Spirit with all grace, wisdom and authority.

And each of us must do our part. Personally, as I’m gearing up to openly rebuke and hold to account the elders of my former Presbyterian church in Pittsburgh—I plan to expose their abuses in light of Scripture, along with providing biblical exegeses of the various Scriptures many overseers twist to support their tyranny. I consider my tiny church in Pittsburgh to be a microcosm of the abuses, rebellion, lack of discernment, etc., that are epidemic or actually endemic to the church at large.

Ambitious project, yes. So I’m drafting my church abuse story now, and plan to post/publish my Scriptural understanding/scholarship of the true biblical nature and scope of spiritual authority soon—wanting it, of course, to be refined and informed through dialogue, via iron sharpening iron, that sort of edifying engagement.

Presently, Biblical Education for me involves initiating and participating in online conversations toward corporately discerning God’s will and functional design for His Church.

I fear many of our church governance models—from CC to Presbyterianism—is severely unbiblical.

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monax says
June 25, 2013 at 1:33 pm

I guess that’s just the imposition I’m reacting so strongly against—this idea of “You wanna drink go ahead and drink. Just don’t expect to lead a ministry at my church”

A church like that sound legalistic to the degree of being an unhealthy body! A sick church, imho

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Mark says
June 25, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Or maybe a sick individual who puts alcohol ahead of serving The Lord. An autonomous church has the right to make rules just like a business does. If leadership has concluded for whatever reason that its not too much to ask to put aside alcohol during the season of leadership that is thier right

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monax says
June 25, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Wrong. A church is never autonomous from the Word of God. Churches that assume to make that their right have gone beyond the authority of Scripture and have become something other than a true and legitimate expression of God’s pleasure. Period.

Leadership is absolutely and always constrained by Scripture in how it goes about doing the business of God.

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monax says
June 25, 2013 at 7:50 pm

MLD, here’s a short something I read recently representative of what I believe to be the biblical model for church governance. It’s a 50 page booklet by Mark Dever entitled By Whose Authority


Church Polity matters and I believe Dever gets our ecclesiology right—the biblical model of doing church involves a congregational approach with a plurality of elders who are ultimately accountable to the members they serve and stand before.

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monax says
July 4, 2013 at 1:28 pm

regarding Biblical Education:

here’s a short exegetical look at “biblical leadership” via Hebrews 13:17a


would be interested in any feedback, especially from Calvary Chapel pastors who have assumed the seat of Moses


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Michael says
July 4, 2013 at 1:56 pm


There are some interesting and helpful things in the article. However, the idea that there is no “hierarchy” of any sort intended by Scripture I think is in error. The question is how that “hierarchy” should act and in that sense I agree with the writer.

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monax says
July 4, 2013 at 2:05 pm

appreciate your response, Michael.

can you direct me to some Scriptures supporting such “hierarchy”

i’d like to take a look at them?

keep in mind. . my views of the nature and scope of spiritual authority are open for being refined. . so i do appreciate all gracious feedback. . this is somewhat new territory for me. . i know that i don’t have it altogether right yet. . i’m at the beginning of my research on this. . but that’s what i’m aiming for. . to have the right view of biblical leadership.

again, thank you

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Michael says
July 4, 2013 at 2:18 pm


I believe that biblical leadership in the local church is comprised of elders first, then deacons. Those elders will have the spiritual gift of a pastor/teacher. Deacons seem to be of lesser “authority”.

Now, I think we also need to look at church history…where Polycarp was a bishop in leadership over other elders and churches. As he was a disciple of John, either the hierarchy was considered normative in the early church or the whole thing went off the rails after the death of the last apostle.

I would also point you toward the writings of Clement of Rome who was a bishop in that early church and exercised and was acknowledged as having authority in the churches..

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”” (1 Peter 5:1–5 ESV)

“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.”(1 Timothy 3:1–13 ESV)

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monax says
July 4, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Ultimately, Michael, I’m not wanting to look to church history but to the Word of God for my answer on this.

“The church is always to be under the Word; she must be; we must keep her there. You must not assume that because the church started correctly, she will continue so. She did not do so in the New Testament times; she has not done so since. Without being constantly reformed by the Word the church becomes something very different. We must always keep the church under the Word.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

I find nothing in either 1 Peter 5 nor 1 Timothy 3 that supports “hierarchy.”

The oversight of an elder is a coming alongside with the authority of a life submitted to the Lord and to His Word.

Keep in mind how Jesus turned the tables on this, turned the worldly concept of hierarchy upside down. He said to his disciples, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).

When His disciples desired such a hierarchical position—“Jesus answered them, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’” (Matt 20:25-28).

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monax says
July 4, 2013 at 2:53 pm

O, Michael, the ‘writer’ is me. . and the ‘article’ is simply a repost of an (academic) comment i made in the context of a larger conversation on Spiritual Sounding Board.

If there’s any Greek Scholars among us I’d love for you to look over my exegesis.

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Michael says
July 4, 2013 at 3:03 pm


A hierarchy is nothing more than a leadership structure.
The Bible not only identifies those leaders it requires submission to them.
Now…what that “submission” looks like and how leadership is practiced is open to debate.

I value history far more than you do in this case.
If the very earliest church had a hierarchy that included bishops, deacons, and elders that is a very good indicator that the apostolic church did as well.

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Michael says
July 4, 2013 at 3:32 pm


In my opinion Jesus was not speaking against any hierarchical structure, but against abusive leadership in the hierarchy.

As far as your exegesis, I believe you are correct that leaders are to be of good character and their authority is derived and limited by the word of God. However, I don’t believe you can simply exegete the passage in part.

“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.”
(Hebrews 13:17 ESV)

If leaders are “watching over your souls” and are going to called to account for their leadership, then that assumes biblical authority.

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monax says
July 4, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Yes, Michael, I’ve taken the full verse and the entire book of Hebrews as my context, along with the whole counsel of God. There is no question that elders (and every spirit-filled member of the body of Christ, for that matter) possess and wield spiritual authority. But that authority is certainly not exercised within a structure of a hierarchy.

In fact if you’ll look at the etymological meaning of the word “hierarchy” you’ll find it to be a linguistic concept that runs antithetical to Scripture. Any ranking of those within the body of Christ into clergy and laity divisions, for instance, runs contrary to the Word of God. It exalts itself against 1 Cor 12:25 for one.


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Michael says
July 4, 2013 at 3:48 pm


Are all in the church elders or deacons?
If not, then you have a division in authority and responsibility.
Are all going to give an account for the souls in the local church?
If not, you have a division in authority and responsibility.
That is the clergy/laity division and you can call it whatever you want, but it looks like a structure we would refer to as a hierarchy.

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monax says
July 4, 2013 at 4:10 pm

indeed, Michael, pastors and teachers will be held to a stricter judgement.

but this idea and language of “division” runs contrary to the unity we’re all to have as we submit to the authority of Christ who is our Head.

do you not see the conceptual creation of at least two bodies within the church—a ruling body of clergy; and a laity to be ruled. We’re to be one body—undivided.

yes, He gave to the church gifted men, pastors and teachers, to unify the body—not divide it, to equip the saint for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.

In our roles as shepherds, as watchmen, as overseers we must never assume the place of Headship (as many pastors do) over anyone. That is reserved for Christ alone.

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Michael says
July 4, 2013 at 4:33 pm


Your simple appeal produces inconclusive results…the church has argued these things for two thousand years.
If John approved of Polycarps’ bishopric, then we have a clue as to how the very earliest church interpreted those verses.
With Ignatius, Polycarp, and Clement, it seems that we have clear examples that disprove part of your theory.
Your only argument would have to be that the very first generation after the apostles corrupted the church.
I can’t quite accept that.

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monax says
July 4, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Michael, I only care to have our arguments (or understandings) grounded upon the Word of God. If it’s not acceptable in Scriptures, if I don’t see it there, then I can not accept it as being right for the Body of Christ. Again, I’m wanting my understandings—as iron sharpens iron—to be made of the stuff of Scriptures.

If there’s anyone with a fair working knowledge of the Greek, I’d love for them to check my conclusions against the text. Again, I’m wanting to be challenged solely by the Word of God.

With that. . I’m wanting to look at any and all Scriptures that bear upon this discussion of the true biblical nature and scope of spiritual authority. Huge, ambitious project, I know, but it’s what I’ve set my mind and heart to.

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Michael says
July 4, 2013 at 4:54 pm


That makes any reasonable discussion impossible.
Ecclesiology has been debated by spirit filled people for two thousand years using the same verses.
I will trust that Polycarp knew the heart of John and was “biblical” in his bishopric.

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Michael says
July 4, 2013 at 5:05 pm


This is Sola Scriptura gone to seed…

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monax says
July 4, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Michael writes: “That makes any reasonable discussion impossible.”

In my eyes the only reasonable ground when it comes to discussing ecclesiastical matters must be the Word of God and the Word of God alone.

That is the only solid ground from which we might work out our theological reasonings concerning the will of God for his church.

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monax says
July 5, 2013 at 5:35 pm

“Pastoral authority can be attained only by the servant of Jesus who seeks no power of his own, who himself is a brother among brothers submitted to the authority of the Word.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer Life Together

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Here is an exceptional 40 minute podcast by Wayne Jacobsen on biblical leadership, Hebrews 17:13, and more!

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Some insight from A. W. Tozer:

on Reluctant Leaders

The true and safe leader is likely to be the one who has no desire to lead but is forced into a position of leadership by the inward pressure of the Spirit and the press of the external situation. Such were Moses, David and the Old Testament prophets;and I think there was hardly a great Christian leader from Paul to this present day but was drafted by the Holy Spirit for the task and commissioned by the Lord of the Church to fill a position he had little natural heart for.

I believe that it might be accepted as a fairly reliable rule of thumb that the man who is ambitious to lead is disqualified as a leader. The Church of the Firstborn is no place for the demagogue or the petty religious dictator. The true leader will have no wish to lord it over God’s heritage, but will be humble, gentle, self-sacrificing and altogether as ready to follow as to lead when the Spirit makes it plain to him that a wiser and more gifted man than himself has appeared.

It is undoubtedly true, as I have said so often, that the church is languishing not for leaders but for the right kind of leaders; for the wrong kind is worse than none at all. Better to stand still than to follow a blind man over a precipice. History will show that the church has prospered most when blessed with strong leaders and suffered the greatest decline when her leaders were weak and time serving. The sheep rarely go much farther than the Shepherd.

That is why unqualified democracy is not good for a church unless every voting member is full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. To put the work of the church in the hands of the group is to exchange one leader for many; and if the group is composed of carnal professors it is to exchange one weak leader for a number of bad ones. One hundred blind men cannot see any better than one.

Chapt. 41 of The Warfare of the Spirit “Leaders and Followers”