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“Obey” Your Leaders?

July 12, 2015


Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I believe that every member of The Body of Christ is a full and equal peer under ONLY Jesus.  I contend that all Christ followers are true siblings and that no believer ever has the “rule” over and above other believers.  Many in the traditional “church” believe in Ruling Elders and that only the Clergy are to be in charge over the church.  I say that ONLY Jesus is The Head, Ruler and true Shepherd of His Church.

It seems that most traditional “church” Pastors disagree with my stance on church leadership.  I mention these Pastors here because they often quote Hebrews 13: 17 as a validation of having humans rule over others in the church.  Today I want to take an honest look at that verse and determine what it might really mean to all of us in His Church.

We are going to look at several English translations of that particular verse. However, there is no real good substitute for the Greek.  I took over three years of Koine Greek in college, but that was over 25 years ago. Now with the Internet and computer tools we can all finally delve into real meanings that can be very eye opening. For example;

Hebrews 13:17a Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: – KJV

Hebrews 13:17a Obey your spiritual leaders and submit to them [continually recognizing their authority over you] – Amplified

Hebrews 13:17a Keep constantly obeying your rulers, and constantly be
submitting to them – Wuest

The Amplified and Wuest both do a better job bringing in the concept of
continuing action that is only implied in the KJV

However, translators that want to appease the King and Church (or today get endorsements that increase sales) do not want to “rock the traditional boat”.  King James would never endorse a translation that did not support hierarchy and “men” ruling over other “men”.  The King James translators were biased towards human leadership and rule in the church because they knew the King could have their heads if their words did not support Kings and Clergy.

Let us look at three Greek words that are prominent in this verse:

Peitho – persuasion
Hegeomai – chosen leader
Hupeiko – military term to stop fighting after a loss

Then taking the Greek into full consideration the verse should read like this:

Hebrews 13:17a Stop resisting and allow yourself to be persuaded by
those you have chosen to follow.

Now that translation of the Greek seems to me, to better line up with what Jesus showed us about true leadership in the church.  It also comes more into line with what Paul taught about authority in the church.  This translation makes the whole concept of leadership more relational, as it should be.  Instead of being ruled and made to obey someone in a position of power over us, we instead have the freedom of choice to be persuaded by someone we want to follow because of the life we have seen them live before us.  This is not being commanded or told what to do by someone with a title or position.  This is us voluntarily wanting to follow someone we love, know and appreciate because we have a relationship with them.  In a free church submission is always voluntary and never forced.  We should never be forced to follow anyone’s lead, even if they are licensed, ordained and have a title that makes them sound important.  Jesus does not force us to follow Him, so why should we ever follow ANYone who tries to force us to submit, listen to and follow them because of position or title?  True submission occurs when we realize that someone has laid down their life for us and that they are acting in our best interest in any given situation.  It is always about relationship and never about power, manipulation and control.

In most traditional “churches” Leadership is always top heavy and always top down.  That is not the way that it should be among us followers of Jesus.  Jesus led by example as did Paul and others.  In the church it should never be about edicts or commands from those in recognized Leadership.  The two main things I always look for in someone I might follow are love and humility.  The reason I follow any peer is that I see that they are following Christ Jesus.  As Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”  A true leader does not seek to lead, no they seek to follow Christ alone.  Leadership, true leadership, is merely a quite simple by-product of following and abiding in Jesus.

Love and ……

Kirk Out !


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  1. Ramma permalink

    Amen! And when or if you don’t see me following Christ……then don’t follow me. Build your foundation in Christ. Have the minute by minute relationship with Him. That way when the “winds” (of doctrine,etc) blow….you will stand firm. You may sway a little, but you will stand on the fait of God being ALL TRUTH! Have a blessed day!

  2. Love this. Thanks

  3. “Interesting” timing… Just last week I looked at many translations of this very verse. So, thanks for your insights on it, Chris. I thought it was interesting that some of the translations had “obey your pastor”, which once again supports the current 1-to-many structure that is very different from New Testament times. In 1-to-many settings people are often taught to automatically obey what is being taught. But, there are at least two sections in scripture that would indicate that it should be a two-step process where one Christian (i.e. not “pastor” but any Christian) can share and then the other Christian can discern how the Lord is having it apply to them. The one section is 1 Corinthians 14 where it says that if someone gets a prophetic word, that the others should weigh what they hear. In other words, it doesn’t matter who the prophetic person is (even a “big” name), but that each Christian has the freedom to weigh if the Lord is confirming it to them. The other example is the story in 1 Kings 13 which originally looked really weird to me, until the insight about “Holy Spirit confirmation” came in. In the story, the older prophet lies to the younger prophet and then later gets a true prophetic word for the younger prophet. The younger prophet took the older prophet’s word without getting a confirmation from the Lord, and it wound up costing him his life.

  4. NIV-Hebrews 13:17: Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. Verse 18: Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscious and desire to live honorably in every way.
    We are always going to have Leaders. If you have a Boss, he is your Leader. A police officer has a form of leadership. Mayor. Governor. President. Weren’t they put in authority over us? We need to pray for our leadership. There is always going to be good and bad Leadership. Whether in the church or Secular. We need to pray for them. Because they will be held accountable for their positions. Not all Pastors or Elders are bad. There are many who are truly trying to serve people in the way the Lord wants them too. We need to pray for them.
    I think the verse is being taken out of context a bit. I don’t see where that verse is exclusive just to the church. Churches, Pastors, and Elders are not going to disappear. We need to pray for them.
    Paul oversaw several churches. He was a Leader. He was writing and telling the Church how to live the way he was being instructed to live through having communion with Jesus. He criticized following others who didn’t follow Jesus. He said, have nothing to do with them. Just as he was a good leader so there will be bad leaders. We need to pray for Our Leadership.

    • Angie, thanks for sharing even though we disagree a bit. When everyone is encouraged to share their portion of the truth in love…it is then we find our true balance in Christ. Yes, small L leadership needs to occur in the Body of Christ, but true followers of Jesus NEVER rule over others in the Body…they SERVE with them in mutual submission to the King of Kings and one another. Leadership in the Church should provide a stark contrast to Civil government Leadership. Bottom line is that those in the Church should follow Christ’s example of being a servant to all and avoid any type of ruling over others in the Body of Christ.

  5. I agree no one should rule over another if you are appointed into some form of leadership in the church.
    I think it would be so much easier if the conversations could be in person. So we can share back and forth our thoughts on the topic. As always thanks for sharing Christopher.

    • Angie, face to face real time dialogue is the best way to share and communicate I agree. At least everyone has the opportunity to respond and add to the discussion here. Which beats the hell out of sitting in rows, staring at the back of someones head while listening to a sermon/monologue. THat is exactly why relational fellowship in homes is what I choose to participate in and advocate for. I look forward to hearing from others here. If you are out there and have questions or something to add to the discussion please step forward and let your voice be heard?

  6. Good post!

    I like The Message here: “Be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel. They are alert to the condition of your lives and work under the strict supervision of God.”

    Also, like you said, a more relational perspective. But then, I see the whole of the bible as more of a “relational narrative” than anything else, so it fits for me!

  7. Ramma permalink

    Well, I tell you what…….when you are in a position where either, there is no “leadership” or every ounce of leadership has failed to demonstrate Christ………then the only thing left to do is follow Christ with your hand in His and allow Him to be your leader, learn to hear His voice. And IF I think that He is unable to do that, then I have now made Him a very small God. Some how we think it is impossible to be a true follower of Him unless we are under a man designed system of order. Jesus did not instruct us to design this kind of order, man did. And we believe that everything between the front and back of the book is God breathed, who are we kidding? There is enough information in the book to give you an understanding that there is a Creator, we are the created, He is in control and we are not, we are passing through this life into something else, and our main purpose here is to love one another and love God with all of our heart soul and mind.That will end us up in the best place to be. Nothing more, nothing less. It does not take any of the man designed stuff to accomplish that in any individuals life! When we accomplish that goal……….then we will have fulfilled everything else. It is a no-fail method. We complicate God, He does not.

    • The way of Christ really is that simple Ramma. The ways of “man” over complicate the way of Christ for sure inserting a human mediator between God and man called Pastor. The simpler the better I say. To know Christ and Him crucified is all we need to begin. From there on we have “one another”.

  8. " BK" permalink

    Well, I am another one who has had ‘leadership’ and ‘leaders’ on my heart these past couple of weeks especially. I have been reading some missionary books regarding Brother Andrew in the Middle East and a brother in Columbia. (and actually quite a few others). I have to admit I see one glaring ‘mis-step’, if you will. The focus after bringing the Gospel (good news) to the mission field is to then begin to build schools to ‘train leaders’. In so many places (even here in the States) it is mentioned how ‘because there is no leader’ or ‘pastor’…or even ‘elders’ the church becomes weak and discouraged. The reality is, the discouragement comes BECAUSE they are taught they NEED ‘leaders’. If each member of the body of Christ was taught to love and recognize Christ, Christ within them and within each other, there would be no discouragement due to lack of a ‘leader’ because He IS the Leader and He is ever present. Too long to write out all my thoughts but write I will. I am just kind of jotting thoughts down as they come at present. Hoping to present them to some of the places who I have read of, although because they are in the system of hierarchy (even in missions) it probably will be argued away…but even if just one get it. Anyway, great thoughts all. Much love, “BK”

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