[In 2018], we heard countless stories of anger, frustration, and disappointment in political leaders. The #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements have also reignited a real question about trusting those in leadership positions. If you find yourself upset with leaders right now, you are not alone. If you do not trust leaders right now, you are not alone. Many people deeply love God, but are not happy with leaders. How can we know if our attitudes and actions towards leaders are honoring to God? Here are six questions to help examine our actions towards leaders.
1. Do I Believe God Establishes Authority?
Romans 13:1-7 teaches us that all governing authorities are established by God. This may be difficult for us to believe or understand when government does something we radically disagree with. We may even think that Paul does not understand. It is important to remember that these words were written to the church in Rome during the reign of Nero. Nero inflicted incredible torture on Christians. Yes, Paul commands Christians to submit to Nero. Please note – God establishing authority does not mean God approving of all they do.
2. Do I Pray for those in Authority?
For every social media post I have seen about those in authority, I have this lingering question in the back of my mind. I wonder how many people are praying for leaders? 1 Timothy 2:1,2 urges us to not only pray, but also give thanks for those in authority. How can we believe that God is with us in our complaint if we aren’t with God in his command to pray and give thanks?
There is another key word in these verses – the word “for.” When you pray, do you pray for them as opposed to against them?
3. Do I Submit to Them?
This is the painful one for many people. We don’t like the idea. We don’t think we need to, and are convinced we know better.
- Romans 13:5 “therefore you must submit”
- Hebrews 13:7 (talking about church leaders) “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls”
Please note – submit does not mean that you never question. It does not mean that you never try to influence someone. It does mean that you respect and abide by their decisions.
4. Do I Have Reason Not to Submit?
This is probably the question that creates the most debate. Ungodly leaders obviously exist, so what do we do?
- If leaders are commanding us to disobey God – we must choose to obey God instead of man. (Acts 5:29 as an example) This may come at a great cost to our lives.
- If church leaders are teaching heresy or deliberately disobeying the Scriptures – we must hold them to account and even have nothing to do with them (Galatians 1:7-9; Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 5:1-7; 1 Corinthians 5:9-11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14; 2 Timothy 3:5).
5. What Is My Approach in Confronting?
If I have a reason not to submit, then I also have a responsibility on how to respond.
- The Scriptures are rich with stories of godly people who attempted to influence the thinking and decisions of the government (Daniel 4:27, Luke 3:19, Acts 24). I believe it is important that we influence, speak out, and respond when we see errors being made. The best way leaders will know God’s heart for leading people is if God’s people explain it to them.
- I also believe that we must value the reality that those in authority are also image bearers of God. In other words, speak the truth, but do so with respect. There are too many Christians on social media who are using derogatory names and words when describing the leaders God has established. Remember, you are God’s ambassadors. Make sure your words reflect that fundamental truth.
- If you have an accusation against a church leader (specifically an Elder), 1 Timothy 5:19 commands that you must bring some witnesses to be part of the accusation. The accusations should not start in public or on social media.
- If you have an accusation of a leader breaking the civil law – report it to the police. The Bible is clear that the governing authorities are established to bring justice against the wrongdoer (Romans 13:4).
6. Have My Painful Experiences Impacted My Ability to Follow?
Sadly, I think almost every person has had a painful experience with a leader. Some people have never been able to go back to church because of how they were abused by another leader. Some people cannot bring themselves to follow an employer because they were burned before by another employer. This is a sign of a deeper issue. Not all leaders are evil. God has established leaders for our benefit. If you have a hard time following anyone, then maybe it’s time to explore your heart. Invite God to heal you, help you forgive, and set you free to receive good leadership.
I know that this article may sound like I’m defending leaders. Leaders are not without responsibility or accountability. I also wrote a post that talked about the responsibility of being a godly leader in a world where people don’t trust leaders. This is a two way relationship, designed by God for the common good. It does not always work out this way, but it is a beautiful thing when it does.