Russell Blowers offered up the following description of what most of us would recognize as a pastor: “Somewhere between the call of God and the heart ward of the local hospital there exists a specialist in everything, variously called a ‘minister,’ a ‘pastor’ a ‘clergyman.’ He is a hero to his wife, a stranger to his children, a fine boy to his mother, an easy touch to some down and outers, a name on the mailing list of hundreds of agencies and organizations, an example to his flock. To some he’s a fuddy-duddy, to some a stuffed shirt, to some he’s a character that never lived it up, to some he’s ‘Reverend.’ To others he’s ‘Johnny on the spot’ when death’s angel hovers over a loved one; he’s the one who is called when medics have done all that they can do; he’s the man who can mend marriages, but can’t fix his wife’s toaster. He’s the one who marries young lovers, prays with the sick, and buries the dead. He’s a financial expert, a public orator, janitor, errand boy, typist, file clerk, writer, public relations expert, poor golfer, professional tea-sipper, journalist, reformer, evangelist, pastor, business executive, counselor, prophet, book-worm, diplomat, human being, sinner, very poor golfer, bass, tenor, planner and terrible golfer!”
In his concluding chapter of the very exhortative book of Hebrews, the New Testament writer begins his concluding remarks with: “Let brotherly love continue.” In the remaining 21 verses, he mentions our relationship to those whose ministry we sit under, spiritually, with three admonitions: “Remember them which have the rule over you”; “Obey them that have the rule over you”; and, “Salute all them that have the rule over you.” (Hebs. 13:7,17,24)
In a podcast, Pastor Darrin Patrick reported these sobering findings from a Focus on the Family study: “1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, contention in churches or spiritual burnout; 50% of pastors will be divorced before the time they leave the ministry; 80% of pastors feel discouraged or unqualified in their roles as pastor; 50% of pastors are so discouraged they would leave the ministry if they had another way to make a living; four out of five of Bible School and/or seminary graduates will leave ministry in the first five years after graduation; 80% of spouses feel over-worked and 80% of them wish their husbands were not in ministry; 70% of ministers fight depression; 40% have had an extramarital affair, and 70% of pastors say that the only time studying the Word of God is when they are preparing a message.”
No doubt the situation has not improved. If those findings—reported and recorded before Covid-19 hit the world in 2020!—are anywhere close to reality, we should all give careful and prayerful consideration to those admonitions concerning “those who have the rule over us,” as inspired by the Holy Spirit and inscripturated in Hebrews 13. Look at them again, briefly, with me:
- Remember them which have the rule over you (v. 7): This means that we must “keep in mind, think of, retain in memory.” The word translated “rule” has the connotation of “leading with authority.” Those men in the early church who were leaders—such as the half-brother of Jesus, James, who led the mother church in Jerusalem (Acts 15)—were sometimes called “elders ” (I Peter 5:1, 2) and “bishops” (I Tim. 3:1) and “pastors” (Eph. 4:11). These were men who would feed the flock and yet were responsible for “taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly, not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind.” (I Pet. 5:1, 2) His readers were to “remember them” by following their faith and by considering the end of their way of life (v. 7). In so doing, they would not be carried away with strange doctrines. They would find themselves “outside the camp” and would be able to keep the right focus between the temporal and eternal. They would exude a right attitude of praise, and they would communicate spiritually (vss. 9-16). A lady who wanted to remember her pastor sent this note of appreciation: “I never really sat down and thanked you for everything you have done. L is in heaven because of you. You got out in the cold to hold my dying mother’s hand. Sat with my husband during my surgeries. Preached my dad’s funeral and my mom’s. I will work on being a better sheep, and thank you for looking out for our souls.”
- Obey them that have the rule over you (v. 17): This means we are to be persuaded and convinced; we are to depend upon and trust their spiritual leadership. It means to submit to one’s authority. The result will be that those who lead will have joy in leading, not grief. And, consequently, it will go better for the ones who obey. It should be noted that pastors do have differing leadership styles—from the extreme of being an “autocratic” leader to the opposite of “passive” leadership. Biblical models portray both of those leadership methods as dangerous and damaging. Pastors are not called to be spiritual dictators, nor will they find a “laisse-faire” model in the New Testament. Instead, they are to take the “oversight.” James, the pastor of the Jerusalem church, provides a good example of Scriptural, pastoral leadership in his handling a major problem (as recorded in Acts 15). When a pastor executes the office of a bishop, led of the Spirit and filled with wisdom from above (James 3), the church will be a healthy flock and the leadership will function with joy, not grief. Horror stories of churches led by autocrats or by pastors in abstentia are far too numerous. Nothing in the New Testament gives any credence for “Deacon Boards” assuming the role and responsibilities for what should be pastoral oversight.
- Salute all them that have the rule over you (v. 24): This means that we are to “greet, welcome and respect” these men for their office and for their sacrificial service. We do this by praying for them (II Thess. 3:1; 5:25) and encouraging them in their faithfulness. Obedience to the Word of God, and faithfulness in serving the God of the Word, is the best way to encourage your pastor. Deut.3:28 is insightful here. Moses, soon to pass the leadership baton to Joshua, exhorted the Israelites to “charge Joshua and encourage him and strengthen him: for he shall go over before this people.” Every pastor needs a good word of encouragement, as did Joshua. So do not hesitate to be forthcoming with a kind note or word of appreciation shared at the right time.
When I was a young pastor in the first church God placed me in to lead, I hit a pretty low spot on one particular occasion; in fact, it would eventually result in my resignation from that six-year stint. At my most difficult day, I found a note under a windshield wiper, left there by young Air-Force couple (young being 20 and 19 years of age, stationed at McConnell Air Force base and members of our church, the husband having been reared in a staunch Catholic home). The note was written as a poem, and it read: “We are thankful for a pastor like you, who will always stand for what is true; who is a man of convictions, and not contradictions; we hope that you keep preaching real strong, so that we may know the right from the wrong; feel free to preach and step on our toes, because when you do our spirit grows. So please don’t teach the ‘gospel’ of another, just keep on keeping on and ‘preach it, brother!’” I did not feel worthy of that admiration then, nor do I now. But at that moment, it did surely encourage a young pastor and his wife. Every pastor has received many such notes through the course of his ministry, as God moves the flock to remember, obey, and salute the ones who are leading them.