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Leadership #12 - Hebrews 13:7-8, 17, 24

Following Leaders
Hebrews 13:7-8, 17, 24

Teaching Moments

1. The present text refers to past leaders (13:7) and present leaders (13:17,24). It calls upon the church to (a) remember; (b) obey; and (c) greet their leaders. But who are these leaders? Are they elders, and only elders? Does it include “evangelists”? What kind of authority does this text envision? There are several significant questions about this text.

2. Who are these leaders? I will reserve my answer until after I have commented on each verse. We may be able to identify these leaders by the functions which are attributed to them and the respect accorded to them. The word “lead” is a general one that is used in many ways in the OT and NT, and used in reference different kinds of leaders. It is used of the heads of tribes (Deut. 5:23), commander of an army (Judges 11:11), ruler of Israel (2 Samuel 5:2), superintendent of the treasury (1 Chr. 26:24) and chief priest (2 Chr. 19:11). Jesus uses it in Luke 22:26. So the word does not identify “elders” or “evangelists” or any particular “office.” It simply means “leaders.” We must identify more specifically by what is said about them, if we can. But it may say “leaders” because the writer does not want to specify any particular “office” but it is a way of referring to the leadership team of a church (whatever that may include).

3. Verses 7-8. The first instruction is to “remember” past leaders. These people originally “spoke the word of God” to us and we saw their life of faith. Therefore, imitate them. Leaders should be people we can imitiate. They lead by example, and their example has a powerful influence on our memory. We can shape/model our life through remembering their life. Their faith and perseverance provides a model (much like the “herores of faith” in Hebrews 11). When the leaders imitate Jesus, then their model is something that has enduring value because Jesus himself has enduring value. The character of faith does not change, just as Jesus himself does not change.

4. Verse 17: Imperatives. This text contains two imperatives: (1) obey and (2) submit. These two verbs have overlapping meaning so that they are both used in an emphatic one. The writer did not want simply to say “obey”, but he emphasizes the point by using a synonymn (“submit”). The church is to yield, defer or give way to the leadership. The NIV has the word “authority” but it is not in the original text. But the idea is there by virtue of the imperatives.

5. Verse 17: Accountability. The reason the congregation should yield and defer to the leaders is because they have responsibility for the “souls” (NIV says “you”) of the church. They are responsible and they will give account for the life of the church and the spiritual health of the people. This is the idea of “stewardship”--managerial care for which a group of people are accountable. “Keep watch” is the idea of vigilance, tireless effort and care. It is applied to city-watchers who protect a city from enemies, but also to shepherds who watch a flock. These leaders are spiritual watchmen. Leaders need a deep sense of accountability in order to take their task with sufficient gravity and pursue it conscientiously.

6. Verse 17: Rationale. Obedience and submission will enable the work of the leaders to be a joy rather than a burden (grief, sighing, groaning). Many do not want to be leaders because followers will not follow and they will not yield/submit. Leadership becomes a struggle, a fight and never-ending battle. Where there is this tension, then leadership either becomes manipulative, overbearing and demanding or it becomes weak, lacking vision and energy. In addition to warping the leadership, it does practically irreparable spiritual harm to the church.

7. The imperative to submit and obey does not sound right in our culture. We do not like any assertion of authority. And this text has often abused by an overbearing leadership that wants its own way to the harm of the church. But there is a real sense in which we can speak of “spiritual authority.” Yet, this is not derived from power and position, but from the task of leading itself. It is rooted in the nature of the work and the task, and it must arise out a genuine love of the leadership for the church.

8. Verse 24. Note a distinction is made between “leaders” and the “people” (chruch). God has set leaders among his people to whom the people should be deferential and submissive. And the imperative here is “greet” which reflects the loving, cordial and healthy relationship tha exists within the church.

9. Who are these leaders? Many would understand them to refer to “elders”. The idea of “keeping watch” is certainly reflective of the task of elders. But is it restricted to “elders.” Verse 7 seems to point back more to evangelists or the original church planters. This probably includes those mentioned in Hebrews 2:1-4, but also other leaders as well throughout the history of this church. If this is written to Jerusalem, then this church has had a 30 year history. If it is written to Rome (cf. 13:24, “from Italy”), then this church has probably had a 15-20 year history. Either way, the original leaders probably do not refer primarily to elders, but to evangelists or house church leaders. Consequently, I don’t think the preacher here has in mind simply “elders” to the exclusion of all other leaders. Rather, given the functions of these leaders, I think he has in mind church planters, evangelists and elders as leaders of a particular congregation. It would have been nice if he had specificed, but, alas, he did not. So we are left to our best judgment. My best judgment is that “leaders” refers to a broad class of teachers/equippers (including apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors, as in Ephesians 4:11) as they relate to the planting, growth and stabalizing of a particular congregation.

Discussion Questions

1. Who is a past leader that you “remember”? What do you remember about him? In what ways do you want to imitate him?

2. What does it mean to “consider the outcome of their way”? Outcome of what? What is the meaning of “their way”?

3. What is the relationship between verse 8 and verse 7? Why make this comment on Jesus in this context?

4. What does the current culture reject the attitudes of “obey” and “submit”? What are the negative overtones of that language?

5. How can we avoid some of those negative connotations in verse 17 without sucking out all the weight of the imperatives there? What does it mean “to obey” and “submit” to leaders?

6. Is there a legitimate sense in which leaders should “submit” and “obey” the congregation? What is the nature of this mutual submission?

7. Why should the congregation obey its leaders? What is the rationale? What is the goal?

8. In what sense do leaders have “accountability” for the souls within the congregation? What does this accountability mean? What does it entail?

9. So, who controls a church? Is that a legitimate question? Who makes the decisions? How are decisions to be made? Can a leadership decide without dictating to a church? Can it lead without making decisions?

10. Who are these “leaders?” Does it refer only to elders, or does it include others? Why would you think so?


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