Follow Along

Get new posts by email:

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Matt's Messages - The Joyfully-Led Church

“The Joyfully-Led Church”
September 25, 2005
Hebrews 13:17

We are together in a series on the doctrine of the local church. Over the Summer, we read the book Stop Dating the Church! This Fall, we are studying the doctrine of the church in Adult Sunday School. And two weeks ago, I gave a message entitled: “The Newborn Church” on the things which characterized the church at her birth in Acts chapter 2. Among those things, we found the “worship, instruction, fellowship, evangelism, and service” that make up the last line of our church’s purpose statement. Or (as we said two weeks ago): loving Jesus, learning of Jesus, linking to others in Jesus, luring other to Jesus, and living for Jesus. “The Newborn Church.”

Today’s message is entitled, “The Joyfully-Led Church.” And it is a message on church leadership and church followership.

Hebrews chapter 13, verse 17 is about the vital relationship between the leaders of the local church and the followers in the local church. And when this relationship is working right–working according to this passage–you have the “Joyfully-Led Church.” That’s how it is supposed to be. The Joyfully-Led Church.

In just a few minutes, we are going to have a extended period of concerted prayer for our next ministry staff person–probably a second pastor, an associate or assistant pastor–for our church. And to get us ready for praying for that man–for the position, for the job description, for the timing, for the calling of that man–your church leadership board has asked me to preach on the subject of church leadership and church followership. And my mind went almost immediately to Hebrews chapter 13, verse 17.

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. (NIV)
I have four major things I want to point out to you in this passage today:

Your job (as church followers), our job (as church leaders), our joy (as church leaders), and your joy (as church followers).

Your job, our job, our joy, your joy. Got it?


Hebrews 13:17 begins with a command for all of us who are believers in the local church. “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.” King James Version: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves...”

In other words: follow.

Believers in Jesus Christ are to follow the leaders of their local churches.

We’ve been learning through the book Stop Dating the Church that every believer should be a part of a local church. Passionate and committed. Passionate and committed to the local church. Every believer.

And one of the ways that we are to express our passion and commitment to the local church is through following the leadership of the church’s leaders. Hebrews 13 uses what sounds like strong words to our American ears: “obey and submit.”

Believers in Jesus Christ are to follow the leaders of their local churches. That’s your job: follow.

Now, there are some qualifications that need to be made here. This command assumes that the local church has qualified leaders: 1 Timothy 3 leaders and Titus 1 leaders. This command assumes that the leaders of a local church are godly and trustworthy and have biblical goals for the local church that they are leading. This assumes that the church leaders are attempting to lead the church followers to love and to obey and to submit and to ultimately follow the Chief Shepherd–the Lord Jesus–and not their own little kingdoms. Peter instructs church leaders “to not lord it over the flock.”

This command also assumes that the authority of church leadership is derived from and defined by the Scriptures. Derived from and defined by the scriptures (not personality, charisma, charm, or even leadership gifting). Church leadership authority is derived from the Scriptures and defined by the Scriptures. This assumes that the church leaders see their sphere of authority being the teaching and application of the Word of God, the directing of the affairs of the church, and the watch-care of the church followers’ souls. This is not a cultic, unquestioning Jim Jones kind of following.

This command also assumes the plurality of leaders. It says, “leaders” not “pastor.” This command assumes that there is no one single man that leads the church and is to be infallibly followed (I am not a Protestant Pope!). We are all (every man on your Church Leadership Board) fallen, finite, and fallible. And that’s one reason why we have a plurality of leaders on our Church Leadership Board. I, too, am a church follower. I am submissive and obedient to them even though I am one of them and a leader of them as well. We are a team. You are led by a team.

[I am indebted to CJ Mahaney and his excellent message on Hebrews 13:17 “Leadership in the Happiest Place on Earth” for a lot of the insights in this message–especially the qualifications in the paragraphs above.]

This command assumes that all of those things are reasonably in place.

But where they are...believers in Jesus Christ should be eager to follow.

Your Job: Follow.

John Piper writes, “Hebrews 13:17 means that a church should have a bent toward trusting its leaders; you should have a disposition to be supportive in your attitudes and actions toward their goals and directions; you should want to imitate their faith; and you should have a happy inclination to comply with their instructions.” [“Obey Your Joyful Leaders: Part 2" October 12, 1997]

Now, this could be a very difficult message to preach in some churches. Many pastors would never preach this passage for fear of offending their people and making them mad.

But this is not an especially difficult passage for me to preach this morning because you are a very good church at following!

I think that all of our leaders would agree that you are a good church at following your leaders.

I’ve heard a number of our older board members say that the last several years especially have been the most enjoyable years of church unity and followership that they’ve experienced in the last 15 to 30 years of leading this church.

You’ve followed us through some pretty amazing things in the last several years. Wild West Day. The JESUS Video Project. Numerous opportunities to give and support missionaries and relief efforts around the world (You are a very giving church!). Family Bible Weeks. Hiring Summer Ministry Staff and an Administrative Coordinator. Big projects like the Ark Park and the parking lot. Corporately, you’ve done a great job at following.

I’ll just speak for myself. You have followed me through the Bible these last 7 years. Next month is Pastor Appreciation Month. Let me tell you how to appreciate me as your pastor: keep reading, studying, and applying your Bibles! “I have no greater joy than [to know that my church family] is walking in the truth.” (3 John 4). You accepted a rookie pastor fresh out of seminary, at only age 25[!], and you let him take you through book after book of the Bible. We’ve been through Philippians twice, the Gospel of John, Colossians, Ephesians, 1 Peter, James, Genesis, and now, Exodus (and a lot of other places along the way). And you have followed me through those books. And you have applied them to your lives. I have no greater joy than when I know that you are doing that. You want to show appreciation to me? Stay in the Word and apply the Word! Like you have been doing. You are a good church for following church leadership.

In general. But don’t let your good reputation or your history keep you from examining yourself in light of this command.

How are you doing (not just as a whole but you personally) at following church leadership? Don’t rest on your laurels or on your neighbors’ good followership.

Are there things that your church leadership wants you to do that you are not willing to do? Are there areas where you are passively rebellious if not actively rebellious? Are there things that you know that you could do to support the leadership but you have not done for various reasons? Are there any attitudes that need repenting of if not actions?

How are you doing at following your leaders? What more can you do?

Your job is to follow.

Our job (#2) is TO WATCH OVER. V.17 again.

“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. [For (Greek)] They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.”

Your Job Is to Follow.
Our Job Is to Watch Over You.

The Greek word agrupnew (agrupneo) means to watch over or be vigilant about. It comes from a word that means “to keep oneself awake, to stay alert.”

Our job as your church leaders (and especially mine as your pastor) is to stay alert to you. To watch over you. To care for you like a watching, wakeful shepherd.

Figuratively speaking, I’m supposed to lose sleep over you (and sometimes literally speaking).

It’s my job (our job, as church leaders) to watch over you.

Literally (and woodenly), this could be translated: “to watch over for your soul.”

It’s our job to watch over your souls. Your life. Your hearts. What is going on inside of you. To correct sin, to point out evidences of grace, to comfort you in trials, to protect you from winds of false doctrine and false teachers, and to point your soul in a Godward direction. To watch over you.

That’s a big job.

It’s another reason why we have a plurality of church leaders and why we have a paid staff person (myself) who is a professional people-shepherd. It’s a big job. So big, that your leadership board thinks it’s time to pray in another professional people-shepherd to come on board with us. Watching over you is a big job.

And it’s a very serious job.

Do you see how serious it is in verse 17?

“They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.”

That’s a pretty scarey statement when I get to thinking about it.

I will have to give an account for what I did with your souls.

There will be a day when I will have to answer for my leadership of this flock.

I am to keep watch over you as a man who must give an account.

And that’s true of all of our church leaders. We are accountable. To each other, yes, to the whole church family at our congregational meetings, yes, but most importantly to the Most Important One. We will give an account for your souls.

Your job is to follow our leadership.
Our job is to watch over you in view of that Day.

Pretty serious stuff.

Now, I won’t be held accountable for what you did with what I said to you. You will. But I will be held accountable for whether or not I did say it.

I will have to give an account for your souls. And I take that responsibility very seriously. And studying it this week, I realized that I need to take it even more seriously. It’s my job to watch over you–in love.

But it’s also my joy!

#3. OUR JOY: YOU! V.17 yet again.

“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden...”

You are my work, therefore, you are my joy.

And as you respond in faith to my leadership and grow spiritually, my joy increases.

It’s another reason for you to follow. So that I am joyful!

Our job is to watch over your souls.
Your job is to follow our leadership in such a way that you grow as our joy.

And you do.
And you are.

At our quarterly church family meetings, I try to always end my pastoral report with this sentence (does anyone know what it is?): “It’s a joy to be your pastor.”

I believe that. [Not that I don’t have my moments, and you yours!] But you are a joy to pastor. And you, yourselves, are my joy.

The Apostle Paul said that about one of the churches he has planted. He said, “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (1 Thess 2:19-20).

That’s how I feel about Lanse Free Church.

Can I do a little Pastor Appreciation of you?

This Summer, I just completed my seventh year as your pastor.

Now, the average American Protestant pastor doesn’t stay at one church for more than five years. And many pastors get the seven year itch about this time.

I have a seven year itch of a different kind! I’m itching for seven more!

In fact, my wife and I have just this year set a goal of pastoring you for a least another twenty years. Now, God may have other plans. I don’t know. But the plans that I am laying out right now call for at least another 20 years. That’s 27 in total.

You are my joy.

And during that time, I want to grow in my ability to watch over your souls. And I want to help our church grow spiritually and numerically and reach out in our community for Christ. And I want to do it by discipling families (starting from the Dad’s down and working out through the rest of the family) to disciple families and live wise, joyful, and holy lives.

And I need you to follow me. I need you to do your part. To roll up your sleeves get to work. To not grumble or complain. To join the church. To get a ministry. To love, learn, link, lure, and live for Jesus. I need you to follow me.

We, as your church leaders, need you to follow us. V.17 says to do it so that our work would be joy (you would be a joy to us) and not a burden.

Literally that is “not a groaning.” A joy not a groaning. Next weekend, you are sending us on a District Pastors and Wives Retreat. And I am sure that when we get to connect with the other couples next week we will hear some groaning. Church followers who don’t follow cause groaning.

I am thankful that we will get to go and spread our joy in you. That’s the way it should be. A joy not a groaning.
Because that wouldn’t be for your joy!

YOUR JOY: JESUS. V.17 one last time.

“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

What good would it be for you to have groaning leaders? If Keith, George, Charlie, Lloyd, Tom, Wally, Blair, and I go around groaning all the time, how will that help you to enjoy Jesus who is the whole goal of our church?

We exist to glorify God by bringing YOU into a love relationship with Jesus church leaders who watch over you for your joy in Him...and by church followers who obey and submit to church leadership so that it is joy to be your leaders.

You are to allow yourself to be joyfully led.
We are joyfully lead you.

And together this beautiful dynamic, this poetic dance, will be the Joyfully-Led Church.