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.
Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. (Hebrews 13:17-19, ESV)
It would seem that the leaders of the Hebrews congregation were in agreement with the author of this epistle and faithful adherents to the true gospel. They were also urging their congregation to abandon this idea of abandoning Jesus and returning to their former practice of Judaism. As those charged with keeping watch over the souls of these believers they had no doubt spent many a night groaning in prayer for them.
How much better that our pastors/shepherds should watch over us with joy. And how important that we pray for them. Our author asks for prayer that he might continue to act honorably in all things. Perhaps he is experiencing persecution as well and wants to keep a brave testimony. He wants to be restored to this congregation, also, and we cannot fault him for asking prayer to survive whatever trial he is going through.
But what if their leaders were not faithful to the gospel? Should they obey and submit to them then? As much as we need leaders, true followership must not abdicate responsibility for maintaining the gospel’s purity to leaders. We are all responsible. That is why this letter was addressed to the congregation, not to the leaders. All of us must wrestle with the arguments, with the Scriptures, and with our own consciences. I won’t be able to make a case on judgment day that I listened to a bad leader and so I plead “not guilty.”
The apostles Peter and John refused to obey their spiritual leaders, the Sanhedrin, when this court required them to quit preaching in Jesus’ name (Acts 5:27-32). They said, “We must obey God rather than men.” A leader’s authority is God-given but therefore always God-subservient. A leader’s authority with people will necessarily be located in his or her example of godliness and faithfulness to the gospel (1 Peter 5:1-3; Acts 20:28-35). The apostle John commended Gaius who helped traveling evangelists who arrived at his church in contradiction to Diotrephes, who “liked to put himself first,” rather than telling Gaius to submit to Diotrephes.
Still, the general requirement is for church leaders to be obeyed. And we should pray for them.
PERHAPS the most central characteristic of authentic leadership is the relinquishing of the impulse to dominate others. [David Cooper, Psychiatry and Anti-Psychiatry]