Christian Leadership and Submission
“But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.’” (Mark 10:42-45)
God is redefining for me the entire idea of “leadership”.
I’ve come to recognize that God considers ALL Christians to be ministers (2 Corinthians 5:18-19) and priests (1 Peter 2:5,9) in the Church, that He has commanded us ALL to make disciples, baptize and teach (Matthew 28:19-20), and that starting with the original disciples and then the 70 Jesus sent out and on to modern times the Lord utilizes people with often no real training to build His kingdom.
All of this and other Bible study has brought me to the understanding that Christian leadership essentially has to do with influence that GOD establishes in and through those who have a heart to really follow Him. We are to recognize who we influence on behalf of God, and minister to those what grace has been supplied to us – for His glory.
There is a big difference between being a leader (having God-granted influence and, therefore, authority) and merely “lording it over” or “exercising authority over” people. Often, because of how the world system works, leadership degenerates into leaders wielding power over people.
The words Jesus used here when He said the earthly leaders of His day “lord it over them” mean that they were “controlling and subjugating” the people.
When He said that “their great ones exercise authority OVER them” it meant that He knew that these leaders “practiced full privilege over them.” In other words, they saw themselves as being better than the people and did whatever they wanted with and to them.
Jesus was talking to James and John and what He said to them was most likely said in the presence of the other original disciples. These two siblings had just asked to be seated on either side of Jesus, thinking that someday he would replace human earthly rulers and have His own throne here.
Whether they understood it or not they were using the way earthly rulers behaved toward people as their standard for being in authority. They believed that when someone was in authority on the earth they were somehow superior to those over whom they had authority, so they were positioning themselves to be up near the top of the organizational chart in Christ’s regime.
Jesus responded by rebuking this idea and teaching these very first soon-to-be Christian leaders how HIS kingdom was going to be very different.
The first thing He says, after pointing out what people know about Gentile rulers, is “…it shall not be so among you…” (Mark 10:43a).
It seems to me that many in the Body of Christ today have missed this truth because so many in leadership seem to approach that privilege as if they were earthly kings and so many of the people they lead expect them to behave that way.
In great contrast, God never intended Christian leaders to be superior, to act superior or to be treated as if they are superior to other Christians. The same price (the blood of Jesus) was paid for ALL Christians, whatever our roles in God’s Kingdom. Therefore, we all have the very same value in Christ.
Because earthly ideas about authority and, correspondingly therefore, submission have creeped into the Church, we often seem to approach these ideas with some kind of organizational chart in mind. On this imaginary chart Christian leaders are at the top and are exalted….and “regular Christians” are at the bottom and exist solely to financially support and be used by those at the top or the ones near the top of the organizational chart.
Jesus has a problem with this idea. As he told young and ambitious John and James:
“Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.” (Mark 10:43-4)
Elsewhere in the epistles we are told to honor those who lead us in the Body of Christ, so that is right to do. Yet, Jesus tells those who desire to lead that they are to be servants and slaves to those they lead.
Did you know that the word we translate in English to “minister” literally means “to be a lowly attendant, a waiter, a menial servant”?
Leaders in GOD’S Kingdom exist to serve Him by serving His people - not the other way around. They have been set in place in roles in the Kingdom because they are there to accomplish something in the lives of those they lead.
Take the role “pastor”, for example. It shows up one time (in English), in the plural, in the entire New Testament (Ephesians 4:11). The Greek word translated to “pastors” in that verse is “poimen” (pronounced “poy-mane”) and it simply means “shepherds.”
The word “shepherd” shows up many times in the New Testament in various forms of the word and it always refers to the same activity: “feeding and caring for” others that are appointed for them to watch over
The most prominent use of this word is in 1 Peter 5:4 in which Jesus is identified as the “Chief Shepherd” (“archpoimen” in the Greek).
“The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.” (1 Peter 5:1-4)
Peter was probably with James and John when Jesus taught them (Mathew 10) how to behave as godly leaders.
What he wrote here reveals that he took it to heart.
As what some call an “under-shepherd” in God’s Kingdom I have spent a lot of time studying what God expects of me as a pastor because I wish to please the Lord in my serving. Hence, I know this passage well.
Several things about this verse strike me as being worthy of note:
1) Pastors are to shepherd the flock which is among them. This tells me that we are not to go about soliciting and recruiting people to join our flock. We are to simply trust that God will assemble who HE has equipped us to oversee or watch over. We are to keep our eyes and hearts open to recognize who He draws to us and then try to do well by serving and caring for them.
2) The Word says God has “entrusted” these to pastors. We should take that idea seriously. Genuine and secure leaders in the body of Christ know the people do not belong to them. They know there is but one flock in the Church, that the flock belongs to the LORD and that He trusts us to take care of them the way He did and does.
“I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.” (John 10:14-16)
It is my understanding that the pastoral relationship is a very personal one and that it pre-dates man’s invention of “church buildings” and the signs outside them. By this I mean that a modern day earthly title bestowed by people is not what establishes the relationship between a leader and whoever chooses to follow that person.
Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of telling us which of Jesus’s people we are to watch over and of telling us who we are to turn to as an under-shepherd. We are to simply obey Him and connect with those He has set apart for us.
3) There will come a day when the Chief Shepherd comes to collect His people. Our rewards as “under-shepherds” come that day but, as far as I am concerned, we should be honored He chooses us to take care of His people in the meantime. Doing this well is the best way to worship the Lord and show our gratitude in this regard.
Between the ascension of Jesus just before Pentecost and when He returns God has and will cause leaders (pastors, teachers, etc.) to emerge in His Kingdom. I’m coming to understand that genuine Christian spiritual leadership has nothing to do with power, titles and/or position in earthly organizations. Anyone can generate that sort of thing for himself, therefore I believe those have a very limited effect in God’s Kingdom.
Genuine Christian spiritual leadership, rather, has to do with relationship and influence that has been established by God Himself. Concerning that fact, the Apostle Paul says this:
“And He (Jesus) gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:11-16)
God is telling us here that He has connected us with whomever we find ourselves connected. Church advertising campaigns and efforts don’t do it. Friends inviting us to Christian events don’t do it. It is GOD who has given us the chance to know other people and become a part of their lives.
“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’” (Acts 17:24-28)
Thinking about all this causes us to see the whole idea of spiritual leadership, overseeing souls, and submission to leaders from a different perspective.
The idea is that God has equipped some to lead and this means that it is His thinking that He supplies our needs through these people. He assembles us knowing that what we lack will be present in those who have been equipped and willing and available to serve those they are to lead.
My thought on the concept of submission, then, has become a very simple one (despite my knowing how much damage has been done throughout history to people in the name of authority and submission in the Church Jesus built.)
Submission, simply put, has to do with allowing a person to supply what God has that person in our life to supply.
Also, true submission is ALWAYS voluntary and NEVER comes through being forced, coerced, manipulated or threatened.
Whenever someone tries to force submission both the one who is trying to establish himself as a leader and the one who “submits” (or gives in) are cheated out of the wonderful blessings built into real Christian leadership and submission.
When we approached Jesus for salvation it was because we became aware that He was sent to seek and save the lost. We understood we were lost, wanted to be saved and submitted ourselves to Him for salvation. This is how we were saved: we submitted to Jesus and allowed Him to give us the salvation He was equipped to give us.
Salvation is not all Jesus has for us but, sadly, He is rarely presented to the lost as a supply for anything else. He also can supply stability, peace, joy, love….everything we need. Most, though, only go to Him for salvation because they haven’t been made aware that there is more.
Jesus has provided many gifts to the Church for the time between when we are born again until we arrive in heaven. Some of these gifts come directly to us through our spirits and some of these gifts are people who have been equipped with various forms of grace. The people gifts (apostles, prophets, etc.) mentioned in Ephesians 4:11 are just five of these gifts but those with healing, hospitality, giving, serving, etc. are all every bit as important as are those five.
God has put us where we are geographically and has chosen for us to live when we do in human history (Acts 17:26) for a purpose. It seems significant to me that He has connected us and that we should highly regard these connections to the degree that we not take them for granted.
For those who are being released to operate in the influence the Lord has established for us (in other words, leaders), we must honor God by receiving whatever gifts He has for us to share with others. We must watch over the ones entrusted to us by the Lord and represent Him well in that.
This means that being involved with us will cause those we watch over to grow, develop in their gifts, learn to hear the Lord’s voice both through the Bible and directly and to sense in us the presence of Jesus. To do this correctly means that we will spend ourselves for our brothers and sisters…..just like Jesus did.
It won’t always be fun but it WILL bring fulfillment and joy as we participate in the building of God’s Kingdom in and through those we disciple.
For all of us, we must practice the humility of allowing those who watch over us to actually do so. That is, we must submit to the Lord through another human and LET them be in our lives what God chose them to be for us.
No matter how infrequently this is practiced in the modern Church, it has ALWAYS been a part of true Christianity.
“I urge you, brethren—you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints—that you also submit to such, and to everyone who works and labors with us.” (1 Corinthians 16:15-16)
As valuable as group teaching can be, effective Christian leadership is something else. It is a much more personal thing and it satisfies the first and third aspects of the Great Commission: the making of disciples and teaching them.
Practicing it both as a leader and as one submitted to others has been a rich and fulfilling thing for me. I’ve learned in large venues, of course, but I’ve found that things learned in small, more intimate settings are more easily received and become a part of the fiber of a Christian.
“The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9)
Paul wrote that to the people who met in small home gatherings in Philippi as one who watched over, discipled and loved them. The context of his comment was personal Christian leadership and submission. They received his letter and everything in it (even the difficult parts to hear) because they knew HIM and they knew he loved them – therefore, they could benefit from what God was doing through him.
THIS is the fruit of genuine Christian leadership and submission to God through a leader of HIS choosing.
I pray that no matter what form of worship you choose to participate in you also seek God to see who you should lead and to whom you should submit. Then practice it.
May the Lord richly bless you in every way.
Pastor Mike McInerney
Mike McInerney Ministries, Inc.
Decatur, TX 76234
© March 30, 2016