Teaching series from Hebrews

Christian Distinctives #4: Good Followership

Hebrews 13:7,17

Teaching t05010


Repeat theme and first 3 distinctives.

Read vs 7,17.  Here is another distinctive: being good followers.  While God makes his leadership available to us directly through the Bible and the Holy Spirit, he also provides much of his direction for our lives through human leaders.  Although he alone is the ultimate authority, he has chosen to delegate his authority to people who play different leadership roles in our lives: parents, governing authorities, employers, husbands - and church leaders.  Throughout the New Testament, Christians are called to distinguish themselves by the way they relate to these delegated authorities.

Choose Your Spiritual Leaders Carefully

Notice that the command in vs 7 ("imitate their faith") is modified by the phrase "considering the outcome of their way of life."  In other words, before you follow someone's spiritual leadership, make sure they are genuine spiritual leaders.  Good followership involves choosing your spiritual leaders carefully!

This is important because their are many false and unworthy spiritual leaders.  Jesus warned us to beware counterfeit leaders (Mt.7:15-20).  He predicted that during the entire period between his first and second comings, many false leaders would lead God's people astray.  Virtually every letter in the New Testament says something about this problem.

God provides us with two questions we should ask before we commit ourselves to follow a spiritual leader  - and they are not "Do you have a seminary degree and ordination by a denomination?"

Does their teaching agree with God's Word?  The primary function of spiritual leaders is to help people find and follow God.  And since God has revealed himself through the Bible, this test is obviously critical.  That's why Paul told Titus that the spiritual leaders he appointed for the Christians in Crete must "hold fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict" (Titus 1:9).  This is one reason why we want you to bring a Bible - so you can ascertain that we are following what the Bible says and not twisting it to suit our own opinions.  This is why we have a "Statement of Faith" - so you can know what we believe and whether it agrees with the Bible.  Before you follow the leadership of this church, we want you to be assured you can trust our doctrinal integrity.  What does it mean if a leader is offended that you ask him searching questions in this area?  He should be glad!

Does their way of life reflect godly character?  Since spiritual leaders help people to follow God, their own lives must reflect God's character.  That's why Paul says leaders must be "above reproach, (sexually faithful, good parents), not accused of dissipation or rebellion...not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled..." (Titus 1:6-8).  While no person does this perfectly except Jesus, spiritual leaders should be committed to integrity and be able to inspire others to godliness by their own example.

>> God wants us to follow spiritual leaders, but we are responsible for who we choose to follow.  He has given us the resources to make a wise choice here, so we can never say, "I just did what I was told - therefore I am not responsible."

Imitate Your Leaders' Faith

Good followership also involves knowing how to benefit from good leadership.  And the author says we can do this by imitating their faith.  This doesn't mean we try to copy their personality or unique spiritual gifts - God makes us different in these areas.  Rather, it means we should observe how they follow Christ in their own lives, and imitate what is worthy.

It is a well-known fact that imitation of models is one of the most effective methods of learning.

I can read a textbook or listen to a lecture about how to catch small mouth bass, and this will help me.  But it is far better to go fishing with someone who is a good bass fisherman, watch how they catch bass, ask them questions and imitate them in the ways they effectively follow Christ.

In the same way, you can listen to teachings about how to follow Christ, and this will help you to some extent.  But this will never be as helpful as spending time around someone who is a spiritual leader, observing how they pray, use the Bible, share their faith, serve other Christians, handle money and possessions, respond to suffering and disappointment, relate to their spouses and children, make important decisions, respond to authority - and asking them questions about what you observe.

This is how Jesus taught his disciples to follow God - not merely by teaching them, but also by sharing his life with them on this level.

I feel like I have been very privileged in this area in my Christian life.  God has provided me with many models for many areas of the Christian life (RAY; DEN; MARTHA; WILLIAMS; COUNTS).  And though I am far from a perfect model, I feel I have a responsibility to do my part in allowing others to learn this from me.  This is why I do HOME GROUP work...

>> Are you  in close enough contact with spiritual leaders that you can observe how they follow Christ?  This is a big reason why we have home groups, ministry teams, etc.  These groups are led by people whose faith is worthy of imitation, and they are small enough that you can do this.  Take advantage of this tremendous resource!

Obey & Submit To Your Leaders

The job of leaders is to lead.  By definition, they must set direction for the church.  Good leaders initiate (SANDERS, pp. 156,157).  God gives spiritual leaders the responsibility to discern how he wants them to do this, and he gives them the authority to lead the church in that direction.  Vs 17 says that good followership involves obeying and submitting to their leaders.

The meaning of these two terms is crystal clear.  "Obey" means "to assent to their direction."  "Submit" means "yielding one's contrary opinions in favor of theirs."  Sometimes, these terms were used in a military context.  Similar terms are used in the Bible to describe how we should respond to governing authorities, how employees should respond to their employers, and how wives should respond to their husbands.  It means we are to voluntarily place ourselves under their legitimate direction and actively choose to execute their directives - unless, of course, they call on us to disobey God's Word.

The scope in which this should be practiced is important.  Just as governing authorities have no rightful authority over your spiritual beliefs, and just as employers have no rightful authority over what you do during off-hours, spiritual leaders do not have authority to direct your life in areas outside the ministry of the church.  For example, spiritual leaders have no authority over what job you choose, or which house you buy, or who you marry, etc.  One of the marks of a cult is when spiritual leaders exceed their proper scope of authority.

On the other hand, they do have legitimate decision-making authority over matters which pertain to the operation of the church.  They have authority to decide what structures the church will employ, what the requirements are for different positions in the church, what ministries to start and stop, what courses can be taught, how resources like money and man-power are deployed, etc.  Although the Bible provides us with principles and priorities in these matters, most of these decisions are judgment calls.  Who should make these decisions?  The leaders should - and the others should be willing to abide by these decisions.

Does this mean you can never disagree with the direction of spiritual leaders, or attempt to persuade them to your point of view?  Not at all!  Since many of their leadership decisions are matters of judgment, you may often disagree.  And you are free to try to persuade them (and they may decide you are correct).  But when the time comes for the decision to be made, they are the ones who must make it.  And then you need to accept their decision and follow it, as vs 17 says.  This is what submission and obedience is all about: deferring to someone else's way when we would have done it another way. 

If you feel the decision is so wrong that you cannot follow it, or if your trust in the leaders' judgment is fundamentally eroded, then it may be time to go to a church whose leadership you can follow.

In other words, good followers do not have the attitude, "Unless you can prove to me beyond reasonable doubt that your leadership decisions are correct, I reserve the right to do it my own way."  Although this is the prevailing attitude toward authority in our culture, God calls this attitude rebellion, self-will, lawlessness - and he condemns it.  This attitude will greatly hinder the leaders' ability to do their job, which in turn results in spiritual impoverishment for the ones they are trying to lead (vs 17b).  Good followers have the attitude, "Unless I can demonstrate from scripture that you are wrong, I will defer my own preference, get behind your leadership and help you to succeed."  This is the attitude that enables a leader to lead with joy, and which results in great profit for those who follow.

>> Our culture mocks this distinctive.  Personal rights are emphasized to such an extent that personal responsibilities have faded from view.  Submission and obedience are viewed at best as a necessary evil to be endured only when necessary; at worst as a terrible sign of mindlessness and weakness.  But God has a different view (Titus3:1-6).  He calls on us to repent of this attitude and to willingly place ourselves under his loving authority - first by receiving Christ and following him, and also by cultivating this attitude in our relations with the government, at home, on the job, and in the church.  Do you want to become a good follower?