Hebrews 13 outlines the type of behaviours expected in the worshipping community. The first is the expression of mutual love. The second is the behaviour of the congregation toward the leaders of the local church. In this short article, I want to underline the importance of this second relationship. The writers says: 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 joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you (v. 17). The text is specifically addressed to the congregation, and is based on the assumption that church leaders are attentive to what happens in the lives of those under their leadership. This diligence is in turn encouraged by their awareness that they will have to "give an account" to God. The main concern of the author, however, is that the congregation "obeys" and "submits" to the vigilant care of its leaders because this will help them to carry out their work with joy. To “obey” and “submit” is not a reaction of fear, or passive “surrendering”. It is a behaviour that comes from love and appreciation for the leaders appointed by God. Instruction to congregations regarding attitudes toward pastoral leaders emerges very early in the church (1 Corinthians 16:15 -18), but without this particular emphasis on contributing the pastor’s joy. One of the things that this text makes quite clear is that the congregation is largely responsible for maintaining the joy of its leaders. Bringing Grief to the Ministry The pastoral ministry should be a joy, but often it is not. The question is why? Christian leadership is overwhelmed with daily rounds of things to do. If there is no adequate rest, the pastor will naturally suffer from mental fatigue. Could this be affecting the joy of the leaders? I don’t think so. This condition reduces energy but one recovers quickly when habits for maintaining health are improved. Exhaustion does not seem to be a problem in this context because in most cases it is precisely the joy of serving God that prompts leaders to take a break. I believe that the biggest challenge that the pastor faces for maintaining joy in ministry is criticism. I know what you are thinking. But, criticism is a necessary practice of the Christian community. I agree. Criticism is essential for preventing doctrinal aberrations (1 John 4: 1 –6), and for keeping deviant behaviours from the church (1 Corinthians 5). Most people, however, are unaware of the difference between judgement skills (in the NT sense), and a critical attitude that camouflages personal attacks, unjust criticism, and overly negative criticism with the disguise of legitimate criticism. The chronic critic wears out the pastor’s joy. The excessive critic looks at something that is accepted by others and yet tries very hard to find fault with some aspect of the leaders’ functioning. The critic will often seize on some small aspect of the leader’s ministry and then focuses on that only. What’s worse, they are very subtle and encourage others to do the same. If you set out to criticise the leaders, of course, you will find something to criticise. The sermon is too long, too short, too simple, too boring, too difficult. If you don’t have anything to say about it you can always say it was “interesting” or it was “repetitive” or “there was nothing for me in this sermon”. Even when critics can’t perceive anything wrong with the leaders’ conduct and preaching, they will always find something to criticise, because no matter how good something is, there is always the possibility of doing it better! No wonder the leaders of the church often experience a decrease in their joy. Anyone who is enduring the stress of repeated applications of unfair, unceasing criticism will feel discouraged. Why Do I Do What I Do? Why do I criticize? Criticism is emotionally seductive and satisfying. Criticizing what leaders say and do makes us feel superior to them. As they go down the critic automatically gains more superiority. This explains why people get pleasure from gossiping. Sometimes, criticism is a useful cover for jealousy. Believe or not, many people in the church find it difficult to recognize God's gifts in the leader's life. So, they criticise. Unfortunately, criticism is very easy and it doesn’t take a lot of effort to put someone down. The healthy Christian keeps this tendency under control, and aims to direct his or her efforts to increase the joy of the pastoral leader. The text of Hebrews 13:17 tells us that when we fail to take responsibility for my behaviour towards the leadership in the church, we are doing something wrong. We are making their work a burden. If we are going to help the leaders of the church to be joyful and effective in their ministry, we need to stop our obsession with criticism. Help Your Leaders Maintain Their Joy We have seen that Hebrew 13:17 rejects the idea that the pastor’s joy is simply a matter of intrinsic motivation and private devotion. The behaviour of people in the congregation has repercussions for the wellbeing of the pastor. They can contribute to his joy or become a burden on his mind. In fact, very little is required to make his work a burden. The more we criticise them the greater is the possibility of increasing their chances of becoming joyless servants. This, of course, leads to undesirable consequences for the church. The writer of Hebrews is clear. He says at the end of verse 17, Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden for that would be of no advantage to you. This is remarkable. The author is telling his readers to contribute to the joy of their pastors, because if you don’t, then you won’t have joy from their ministry. Their ministry will be no advantage to you. To put it differently, we are making a big mistake if we think that the joy of the congregation is independent of the pastor’s joy. Let me quote A. W. Pink on this matter, For the members of the church to so conduct themselves as to be a constant source of grief unto their minister is to despise their own mercies. It not only prevents their receiving his instruction into their hearts, which results in their spiritual barrenness, but it also saps his vigour, quenches his zeal, causing him to proceed with a heavy heart instead of with cheerfulness. What is still more solemn and serious, the Lord himself is highly displeased, and tokens of His favour are withdrawn, for He is sensitive of the mistreatment of his servants. The conclusion from this is that sometimes the barrier that prevents a joyful ministry comes from the pew. Church, the Christian pastor is not a selfish individual seeking his own joy. No! The pastoral worker works for the joy of his congregation. The inspiration of everything he does is described in the familiar words of 1 Corinthians 1:23 -24: I call God as my witness that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for you joy. This passage shows us what the leaders of the church do. They are engaged in a battle for your joy. They work hard to help you maintain true joy in this world of unreliable joys. What the Hebrews passage is pleading for then, is for an enjoyable spiritual environment where the leaders are able to pursue their joy in God so that their work becomes a great advantage to the people of God. Congregation, be prepare to say something positive to your leaders. Acknowledge their gifts with gratitude. If you struggle to encourage them in person, encourage them through prayer in private. Before you say something, check your motivation. Remember that very often the things that you want to criticise are relatively trivial and they are not worth the effort. But more importantly, find ways to contribute to their joy. Learn to grow with your leaders in the joy of knowing Jesus together.
When you subscribe to the blog, we will send you an e-mail when there are new updates on the site so you wouldn't miss them.