Teaching series from 1 Thessalonians

Healthy Leadership and Followership

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

Teaching t22469


Remind of context (4:1-3a). One important part of living the Christian life/sanctification is healthy leadership and followership in the church. This is why Paul addresses this issue in 5:12,13 (read). From these two verses, we note three important truths concerning this subject:

Leadership in the church is essential. Since the whole church was only months old, we might think that Paul would not have commissioned any leaders. But he knew that young leaders are much better than no leaders (XENOS’ EARLY YEARS), so he recognized/commissioned as leaders those who were relatively best qualified (see below) before he left.

Leadership in the church should be plural (“those;” “them”). Since the church was probably small in number, we might think that a single leader would be sufficient/more efficient. But Paul knew that multiple leaders and group leadership are crucial for several reasons, some of which will become clear below. The local church needs lots of leaders!

Church unity requires proper relations between leaders and followers. “Be at peace with one another” (5:13b) is not a random statement; it is connected to 5:12,13a. When Christians embrace their God-given responsibilities as leaders and followers, a powerful loving unity flourishes. Conversely, when we have wrong views about leadership and/or followership (brought in from the world or the church), destructive disunity is almost certain to result. (FAILED HOME GROUPS’ FACTOR) This is why Paul gives such clear instructions on this subject. Let’s start with how he describes Christian leadership responsibilities...

Key Christian leadership responsibilities

First, Christian leaders are to “diligently labor among” those they lead. Two things are in view here:

Christian leadership involves intentionally serving the people you lead. Kopaio was used to describe shepherds who worked long and hard in the fields. Jesus said that His leaders must not take advantage of those they lead, but must rather serve them (Mk.10:40-45)—genuinely love them and meet their needs. Abuse of leadership authority in the church (e.g., PRIEST PEDOPHILE SCANDAL; HEALTH-WEALTH SCAM ARTISTS; PASTORS’ ADULTERY WITH MEMBERS) is the single biggest reason for the rejection of Christianity in our society.

This is one reason why plural leadership is important—so leaders are accountable to one another. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” in the church, too.

“Among” implies lots of interpersonal contact. Christian leaders don’t come out once a week to speak; they are among the people, talking to them, praying with them, helping them move forward in their spiritual lives. Jesus was “among” His disciples in this way (Lk.22:27), and Paul modeled this (Acts20:18; 1Thess.2:7).

This is one reason why a home group needs multiple home group leaders. It takes this to give people the personalized care that they need in order to mature.

Second, Christian leaders are to “have charge over them in the Lord.” Two things are in view here:

Christian leaders must lead! Prohistemi means literally “place before”—setting direction, planning, managing. Leaders are not transactional (giving people what they want), but transformational (leading people toward maturity and reaching out). They have real authority (and responsibility!) to devise structures, plan initiatives, etc. that will help God’s people mature and reach out to non-Christians (EXAMPLES: MEETING NUMBER & KINDS; WHO CAN TEACH; ETC.).

Their authority is “in the Lord,” which probably means that it is limited to the work of the church. Much damage is done by cultish leaders who go beyond their proper sphere of authority and try to control people (EXAMPLES: WHERE TO LIVE, HOW TO SPEND THEIR MONEY, WHO THEY CAN DATE; ETC.).

Third, Christian leaders are to “give you instruction.” The content of this instruction is God’s Word, the Bible. It is God’s Word (not my opinions, the latest cultural fads, etc.) that transforms the lives of God’s people (read 2Tim.3:16,17). So Christian leaders communicate God’s Word in two key ways (see 2Tim.4:2):

They teach or preach or lead discussion of God’s Word in group settings, like this one, in a home group meeting, a cell group, a class, etc. A steady diet of this kind of group instruction is essential spiritual nutrition (Acts2:42).

They personally apply God’s Word to individuals. Noutheteo means to counsel, to warn, to correct. Christians need personalized application of God’s promises to dispel their fears and doubts (EXAMPLE). They need personalized correction of sinful attitudes and behaviors (EXAMPLE). They also need personalized challenges to take steps of faith (EXAMPLE). Most of this takes place in discipleship relationships, which leaders model and promote among the flock.

To those who lead: You have a very high calling! The church is the very flock of God, purchased by the blood of His Son (Acts20:28). The church is the very Body of Christ—His presence here in a world that needs to know about Him. To be allowed to lead in the church is the highest privilege accorded to Christians in this age. It is also deeply fulfilling (Acts20:35). Do you thank God that you get to lead—or do you complain to God and others that you have to lead? Christ promises to guide and empower you to lead His people. Are you depending on Him for wisdom, love, power to lead—or are you trying to lead by your own resources?

To those being led: It is a wonderful provision to have good Christian leaders! Christ Himself is working through them to supply you with truth, guidance, example, and effective direction so that you can fulfill His purpose for your life. Are you a good follower? The main point of this passage is to explain what good followership looks like...

Key Christian followership responsibilities

First, Christian followers are to “appreciate” their leaders. “Appreciate” is not a good translation. Oida here probably means to respect, to be subject to, to be responsive to their leadership direction (see this usage in 1Cor.16:18 in light of 16:16).

We are to be inclined to accept our leaders’ direction and to actively get behind it and help it succeed. Of course, this is easy to do when we agree with them—because then we are really doing what we prefer anyway! But the test of submission (to God and others) is when we don’t agree. Many Christians reserve the right to refuse or sabotage (actively or passively) any leadership direction with which they disagree. This is a worldly attitude, but it has no place in the church. If I say: “I have no problem submitting to Christ—but church leaders don’t deserve my respect or cooperation,” it may be that I am self-deceived! Christ expresses much of His leadership through them, so how I respond to them is usually a good indication of how I am actually responding to Christ’s leadership of my life.

Heb. 13:17 makes calls for the same response for a different reason (read). Christ is holding them accountable to lead you well, and you are responsible to follow them well by allowing yourself to be persuaded by them (peitho) and by following their direction (hupeiko)—within their proper sphere and unless it contradicts the Bible. When we are poor followers, we actually hurt ourselves because we prevent good leaders from caring for our souls!

Second, Christian followers are to “esteem them very highly in love.” Hegeomai means to hold them in the highest regard (NIV). Why? Not because they are intrinsically superior, but “because of their work.” Their work of servant leadership to advance Jesus’ church is super-important (see above)!

Our attitude toward godly Christian leaders is actually a litmus test of our own spiritual health. Who we esteem is a very telling indication of what we really value (Ps.16:2,3). Do you esteem those who do this work, or do you view them dismissively and esteem models of worldly values (EXAMPLE)?

Esteem imparts the desire to imitate. This is why, in a healthy church, members are very grateful for their leaders, and see Christian leadership as a “noble task” to which many aspire in some capacity (1Tim.3:1). Conversely, one symptom of a sick church is a ho-hum or even negative attitude about taking on servant-leadership in the church in whatever capacity the Lord assigns. One subtle way I hear this sentiment is when home group members say: “I’m glad you lead, but I don’t ever want to lead.”

Third, Christian followers are to help the leaders in the work. After describing the leaders’ responsibility to serve and feed the flock, Paul immediately urges all of the Thessalonian Christians to do the same thing with each other (read 5:14).

Should leaders admonish those who need correction? So should all of us admonish the unruly. Should leaders encourage those who are hurting? So should all of us encourage the faint-hearted. Should leaders help those who need to grow stronger? So should all of us help the weak.

This is the opposite of the “clergy-laity” mentality, in which the leaders do all the work while the people only sit passively and receive (STEDMAN: CHURCH AS A FOOTBALL GAME). Christian leaders are model servants so that you can imitate their service (Eph. 4:11,12)! When most people in a home group are following in this way, everyone flourishes and God usually adds new people to their number because he knows they will be well cared-for! Are you a good follower in this respect?


I want to make explicit something that has been implicit throughout this passage: The key to all of this is a vital love relationship with Jesus. Don’t get the cart before the horse (ILLUSTRATION)!

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who proves His goodness because he knows His sheep by name (deep personal knowledge of each person) and because He lays down His life for His sheep (sacrificial good will).

Are you ready to admit that you are not a good shepherd/leader of your own life? Tell Jesus that your resign from being your own shepherd, and ask Him to be your Shepherd! This is what it means to become a Christian.

Then, when you meet Him, you begin to experience His loving servant-leadership, His wisdom, etc. This is what enables you to trust and follow godly under-shepherds. This is what motivates you to be a servant-leader of others.