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.
In Revelation 19: 1-8 the Lord is praised by "a great multitude in heaven" for a very specific reason. The reason is underlined by the word "salvation" also found in 7:10 and 12:10. In the setting of the Apocalypse, salvation means that the will of God have come to earth to start something new. But this action of deliverance is connected with a terrible judgment -the condemnation of Babylon ( v. 2b). As in 16:7, God's judgements are welcomed and acknowledged as "true and just" (v. 2a). In verses 3 to 8 follows a response of joy, represented by celestial shouts of "Hallelujah", "Praise" and "Let us rejoice". If this is true, how can we rejoice in the will of God? How can we celebrate the Lord's salvation? In this text, John understands that God's salvific intervention is not complete until God executes his judgment on the Babylonian system that has "corrupted the earth by her adulteries", and until God has "avenged on her the blood of his servants". The longing of the angelic world is to see the earth under the rule of the Lord. The dilemma for Christian is how to connect the "Hallelujah" with the judgment of God. How do we do this? First, we should avoid the error of assuming that God's enemies must be treated as our enemies. The worshipping community is called to pray and to witness to God's enemies (Matthew 5:11 -12). Second, the text call us to recognise that God has a right to judge. Third, the church needs to remember that we are called to live in holiness, and this necessary implies opposing evil and the forces of evil that oppose God. Lastly, we need to remember that vengeance belongs to the Lord. He will do it righteously and perfectly. This is the motivation behind the “Amen” and “Hallelujah” of verse 4. We want to see all the earth under the rule of God. Christian communities, therefore, need to learn how to long for justice and the reign of God. The people of God are never interested in vengeance, or retaliation. Their concern is the full establishment of God’s kingdom.The NT categorically rejects the use of violence as a way of life. Lord, your kingdom come!
The fundamental difference is in the emotion under which one acts. In control one acts under the emotion of wanting things to happen that must correspond to what one expects. If what we expect to happen does not fit with what one wants, the controlling leader is strongly inclined to stop or reorient existing processes of organisation to impose personal expectations. In the action of facilitation, the leader operates under the emotion of cooperation. Leaders who are skilled at facilitating expect certain things to happen as well. But not according to what they want but according to what God wants. The leader who likes to control feels angry when a personal performance criterion is not satisfied. The controlling leader often produces tantrums to manipulate others. In the facilitation process, the reaction of leaders is curiosity and a genuine interest in providing guidance in order to achieve goals together. Controlling leadership creates resistance. Under the influence of excessive control people usually act to free themselves from it by moving out of range or finding ways to escape. A person under the influence of excessive control, may leave church, become a backslider, or avoid contact with the culture of control.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked problems of life is the presence of sinister forces that continually oppose everything that human beings can do to make life happy and sacred. So –beyond the disturbances that come to us from the environment and the tendencies towards evil that we are born with –we have to struggle with seductions to evil coming from Satan. Outside our physical reality, there are intelligent and evil entities all around us.
In Ephesians 5:12 Paul lifts the curtain of human reality, and he gives us a quick glimpse of this evil domain, which seems to be organised as a kingdom of “rulers, authorities, and powers of this dark world”. They are inhabitants of the heavenly realms that want to subjugate the human race to their influence. If we believe Scripture, we need to face the fact that these evil superhuman beings exist in other realms of life –and that this realm is beyond the possibility of explaining it through human observations.
Now –Jesus came to show God to the human race. He also came to reveal what human beings are without God. I want to take this further, and say that Jesus also came to reveal the existence of these spiritual forces that oppose humanity. And it’s only when we study the conflict of Jesus with these evil forces, that we can understand their power and how we can conquer them. In Matthew 4 Satan comes to Jesus with three temptations –to make the stones into bread, to throw himself from the top of the temple, and to secure the kingdoms of the world.
The story of Satan confronting Jesus in the desert, not only describes three different episodes of temptation, but the text also helps us to see that this hostile spirit follows certain methods for tempting people. Let me show you what I mean. In Matthew chapter 3, Jesus has come out from the isolation of Galilee, and he came to the Jordan to be baptised. There, he heard the voice of his Father saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
Then, the devil begins to tempt Jesus. This immediately tells me that Christians are more vulnerable to the attacks of Satan, when they experience a new vision or a new understanding of God. Having a new understanding God is more than thinking in a different way. When we have a new vision of God we experience practical understanding –and this understanding becomes the basis for the motivation of new actions of love and service and worship. No wonder the devil chooses this moment to tempt us. But the devil doesn’t stop there. He often comes to us with the suggestion that what he has to offer is a good thing. Look what verse 2 says:
Every baby starts the journey of life with some physical qualities that are inherited from each parent. In the field of human development this is called heredity. The Bible also speaks of heredity. But it tells us something else. It tells us that not only do we pass on physical qualities from one generation to another, but we also inherit from the people that we are connected to –a serious problem. The theological description of this problem is the doctrine of the fall of man, or the doctrine of the transmission of sin. Our text talks about this problem, and shows us very clearly that sin is part of our human inheritance. Look what Romans 5:12 says:
Therefore, just as a sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because of sin.
We’ve talked about the problem of self. The self is our internal environment where thoughts, the sense of identity, and spiritual desires take place. Self is who we are. And the self can be a problem when we don’t know ourselves. Now –we’re going to focus on the pressures that disturb the human person from the outside. Every human person lives in two domains of existence –the domain of the bio-psychological and the domain of interactions with what is outside the skin.
In this song the psalm-singer incidentally touches on one of the most serious problems of human life –and it’s a problem that includes all other problems. The problem is to know who we are. If human beings knew who they were –there wouldn’t be conflicts in our personalities. When you know who you are –you can look into your relationship of yourself with yourself, and you become what you should be, and you also find God. So, I repeat: the most serious problem that we face as human beings is the problem of self –“knowing who we really are”.
Who I am? What I am? Where did I come from? Where am I going? What is the meaning of these conflicting aspects of my personality? What is man? That’s the question! And to answer it we’re going to focus on some observations that David makes about what we are.
The elder needs constant readjustment of his personal life with the purpose of God in the Bible. Part of that process is prayer. Without it there is always lacking that something that makes holiness holiness.
Luther once said: “Prayer, meditation and temptation make a Minister”. The same is true for the elder. The need for prayer in the Christian ministry is underlined by the disciples’ request in Luke 11:1 “Lord, teach to pray”. That request is often misunderstood. Notice that the disciples did not say: “Lord, teach us how to pray”, but teach us “to pray”. They are not asking for techniques or a prayer manual. Their request is “teach us to pray”. Many elders, perhaps, know how to pray, but they do not actually pray. Shepherding God’s flock demands that elders carry out their pastoral commitments in a prayerful spirit. The elder who is concerned for the welfare of the flock will make the church a subject of continual supplication.
In Acts 6: 1-4 Luke records the following incident within the church in Jerusalem:
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”