One of the most difficult tasks of a pastor is to provide correction for those who are making poor choices or those living in open rebellion. In either case, from the most severe to the least—the duty of the pastor is to provide the correction necessary for the child of God to live in obedience to the will of God. In short, pastors are more than talking heads on the Lord’s Day. They serve as far more than spiritual commentators who provide insight and commentary on paragraphs of the Bible. Pastors are shepherds and shepherding involves leading, feeding, protecting, and correcting.
Option 1: Rebel
The easy road is not always the best road. Unfortunately, the ubiquitous pattern of today’s evangelical church culture is that of individualism and spiritual autonomy that bypasses pastoral leadership. The natural tendency of the human heart is to rebel against correction.
Consider the reality of the sheep and shepherd illustrations that are common in the Scriptures. Why is this the case? Could it be that we are like sheep in many different ways? If you talk to shepherds, you’ll find that sheep will often wander off from the flock and get lost. Unlike a dog, they don’t have a built-in mechanism that enables them to find their way back home. If left alone, they will walk off the side of a cliff’s edge and plummet to their death or wander right into the direct line of a predator. Since sheep are innate followers and will often follow bad examples, they need correction and guidance on an ongoing basis.
In the same way, Christians are referenced as God’s flock (1 Pet. 5:2) and we need constant leadership and guidance. God has designed the church in such a way that the sheep are led by shepherds who are responsible for shepherding souls. All throughout the Old Testament, we find Israel in rebellion against the LORD (Ps. 107; Is. 30:1). In Judges, we find God’s people “doing what seemed right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). In the same way, when we come to the New Testament, the rebellious heart seeks to rebel against leadership.
When rebellion to leadership festers in the heart, it will lead a person to pull away from the fellowship of the church, drop out of leadership, and even in some cases depart from the church altogether. The devilish temptation is to start over with a fresh start in a new church. However, that’s not dealing with problems—that’s running from problems. This approach will eventually manifest itself in a long resume of church membership at various local churches.
Option 2: Submit
I recall years ago sitting under my childhood pastor when I was a boy as he made some helpful points on this subject. He would urge people to be slow to reject correction when confronted with a problem. He said, “Before getting angry, take a moment to see if there is any truth in the accusation.” He went on to make the point that he often finds that there is usually some truth in almost all criticism. If this true of unfair criticism, imagine the need for loving, biblical, pastoral correction.
Pastors are given as a gift to the church for the purpose of leading and overseeing (Eph. 4:11-12; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4). When confronted with biblical correction, the best option is submission. This requires humility and that’s not always an easy thing, for the human heart is prone to pride. Arrogance will lead a person to rebel, but submission to the Lord will result in submission to the Scriptures and directly connected in this chain is proper submission to biblical leadership.
In Hebrews 13:17, we find these words, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” This is not optional. Notice the charge is to obey (πείθω) which is a Greek term that carries the meaning of “causing to come to a particular point of view or course of action.” This word means to convince, persuade, to appeal to or to win over. This verb is in the imperative mood. Therefore, it’s not up for debate. Obedience is demanded.
Furthermore, the word submit (ὑπείκω) carries the idea of giving way or yielding. That’s the relationship between sheep and shepherds. Sheep are to yield to the leadership of the shepherds. In the biblical context of pastoral leadership, pastors do not possess authority simply because of their office. It’s always connected to the truth of Scripture. Therefore, if they have no chapter and verse to present, they must not lord their opinion over the church.
Yet, in the end, the passage concludes with a joyful approach to submission. As the church properly submits to the leadership of their pastors, the pastors will be able to lead, feed, protect, and correct with joyful hearts.
At the end of a letter aimed at confrontation and correction, Paul writes the following to the church at Corinth, “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss” (2 Cor. 13:11-12). The word “restoration” is the Greek term (καταρτίζω) which carries the idea of mending broken nets or setting a broken bone into place. That’s not always a fun process, but it’s necessary.
Rather than rebelling against biblical leadership, remain humble and submissive for the glory of God and the good of your soul. This will create a happy home and a healthy church.
Consider making a year-end tax-deductible gift to our ministry, a decision that supports vital work and helps provide resources for Christians around the globe.