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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Remember Your Leaders
Text:Hebrews 13:7-19 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Preached:2016
Added:2022-01-26
Updated:2022-01-26
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Selections from the 1976 Psalter Hymnal:
 
479 - I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord

277 - Gracious Lord, Remember David

468 - God of the Prophets

398 - The Church’s One Foundation
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


11/20/2016
Remember Your Leaders”
Hebrews 13:7-19
 
A former church had, on the council room wall, pictures of all their former pastors. Having been back in that council room a few times since serving there, I've always been surprised to see my picture there on the wall with the other pastors who had served before. Those pictures are one way of doing what verse 7 says: “Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you.”
 
However, when Scripture tells us to remember our leaders, it is not telling us to remember them just in a historical sense. Scripture is telling us not just to remember what decades in the church our leaders served. It is telling us to remember, among other truths, that God is the one who raises up leaders in the church.
 
While the Bible tells us that “if anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Tim 3:1), we realize that it is not our desire so much as God's providence that puts a person in ministry. We commonly speak of the internal and external calls in ministry. A man may feel that he is called to serve – the internal call – yet may not receive an opportunity – the external call – because it is not in God’s time for him to serve, or the man may be misguided in his desire to serve as a leader in the church.
 
That it is the Lord who raises up leaders is more than evident from Ephesians 4:11-13 which teaches, And He - Christ - gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry And then Paul describes the purpose of spiritual leaders – “for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
 
     “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
 
When God raises up a leader, that leader becomes an example to others. But being an example to others applies to each one of us, including you children among us. Our lives often speak louder than our words, and the goal of each one of our lives should be to set a good example for others as we focus on Christ and live by his word. But our text stresses that it is especially important for a leader in the church to be a good example. That is true not only for pastors, but for all who are on the council – as elders, deacons, and pastors – and for those who teach and serve in other areas.
 
But that is also the hardest part of being a leader. Paul wrote to young Timothy, in 1 Timothy 4:12-13, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”
 
It is easy for any leader to say, “This is what you should do,” but if they aren't doing what they say, their words will fall on deaf ears. And their lives, rather than reflecting Christ, will be a life of hypocrisy driving people away from Christ. But when by God's grace and the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit, a leader sets a proper example, then we are to imitate that example, as verse 7 teaches. The Apostle Paul likewise urged the Corinthians to “follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
 
Obedience
 
Not only are we to imitate the faith of those whom God puts over us, but also, we are to obey them. One reason why we must obey them is because they must give an account. As verse 17 explains, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”
 
When we call pastors or take nominations for elders, I'm concerned that we don't give enough consideration to the fact that by giving them an office, we also give them a huge responsibility: They become accountable to God for our spiritual well-being.
 
James 3:1, while not trying to dissuade men from being teachers in the church, also reminds all of us who teach and preach of our great responsibility, as we are told that those who teach will be judged more strictly.
 
When I was a child, I didn't like all the rules that my parents had for me. Did they really need that much oversight into my life? But after I grew up and became a parent myself, I realized that my parents had to oversee my life. They had to correct me, discipline me and mold me because they were accountable to God for my upbringing; they were accountable for my spiritual welfare.
 
And the same is true in the church. When elders come out for family visitation, they aren't coming out to harass you. They want to make sure you are living as you ought and growing spiritually because of their love for you and also because they are accountable to God for you. They aren't there to hinder you, but to help you. As verse 17 says, “Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
 
Before moving on to verse 18, one more point needs to be made about verse 17 where it says, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.” There are some dictators, some tyrants, some power hungry, greedy people masquerading as ministers of the gospel. And when they tell you that you need to submit to their "leadership" you need to remind them of what the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1: “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.”
 
How did Christ model his leadership? What qualities did he emphasize? Christ described his leadership this way in Matthew 20:26-28, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Every leader in the church needs the attitude of John the Baptist, who said of Christ, “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30) Beware of self-centered, self-promoting leaders in the church!
 
Just as obedience to the civil authorities is contingent on their allowing us to proclaim God’s Word, so too, this command to obey is contingent on our church leaders being obedient to the Lord. Because of that, every one of us needs to be a Berean. The Bereans tested what they were taught by searching the Scriptures. Acts 17:11 describes how they “received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
 
That is also how we are kept from being carried away by all kinds of strange teaching, which verse 9 warns us against when it says: “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.” We guard ourselves from false teaching by examining the Scriptures and obeying the Word of God as our leaders speak that Word faithfully to us.
 
“Pray for Us”
 
Verse 18 contains one of the many petitions in the Bible for prayer. The author of this letter pleads, “Pray for us.” In verse 19 he asks specifically for prayer that he would soon be restored to his congregation, but have you noticed how frequently the apostles asked for prayer? They were never shy about it. They realized their utter dependence on the Lord and their constant need for the prayers of God's people.
 
Leaders in the church today still have a great need for prayer. One reason is that because they are undershepherds of the one Great Shepherd, they face a constant assault from the evil one. This assault can take many different forms.
 
I had only been in my first church for a year or so when a couple moved from the eastern United States to Oregon and joined our church. I remember how intimidated I was. They had been members in a church where the pastor had a nationwide radio program, was articulate, insightful, a joy to listen to. I was fresh out of seminary, bumbling my way along, seemingly twisting my tongue on every word.
 
They had only been in Oregon a few months when the man came to me and asked prayer for their pastor back on the east coast. “He had a nervous breakdown,” he explained. “He has been hospitalized and has had to leave the ministry.”
 
That pastor stayed out of ministry for over a decade. By God's restoring and sustaining grace, he went back in ministry. But his experience was not unique. Many other leaders in the church that I have known, more than I can count on both hands, have had the same experience he had. Ministerial burnout is a common reason why men leave the ministry for other occupations.
 
No wonder the author of Hebrews writes, “Pray for us.”
 
Still, many others have fallen because of moral sin. Pastors, even in conservative, Bible believing denominations are caught, increasingly it seems, with “their pants down.” It doesn't matter which denomination, liberal or conservative, there are many ministers who because of their conduct have been deposed or have had to demit the ministry – though many liberal churches no longer depose but applaud those who live openly immoral lives. But as far as personal acquaintances go, I know way too many, even in conservative Bible believing churches, who have had to leave the ministry because of sexual sin.
 
No wonder the author of Hebrews pleads, "Pray for us."
 
Many other leaders in the church, whether ministers or elders or deacons, get caught in personality conflicts, often over the smallest of issues. But those small issues and personality conflicts grow until finally one, or several, of the leaders are forced out. Or, if they remain, they see an exodus of people from the church as a result of the conflict.
 
Statistics from the Barna Group, Focus on the Family, and Fuller Seminary reveal that an alarming percentage of ministers starting out today will not last five years in ministry. Some surveys find that only 1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister. The rest quit or are fired.  According to some statistics 1,500 pastors leave the ministry for good each month with the main reasons being burnout, contention in their churches, and moral failure.
 
By contrast, Lifeway Research records a much smaller attrition rate, and I am thankful that the number who persevere in ministry in our federation is considerably higher than in many other federations and denominations. But when you stop and look around, you see that many fall by the wayside. When you “consider the outcome of their way of life” (v. 7), many are seen to have lives unworthy of imitation.
 
The plea of verse 18, “Pray for us” is such a crucial request! And it is so crucial for every congregation to respond, to take that request to heart and put it into practice with fervent and frequent prayers for their leaders.
 
Many human leaders in the church fall in tragic ways. A surprising number take their own lives. And while even those who don't fall in those ways, all leaders still fall so far short of perfection. The Apostle Paul, in reflecting on leadership in the church, asked the rhetorical question, “Who is equal to such a task?” (2 Cor. 2:16)
 
There is only One who is a perfect leader. We can be thankful that the ultimate Leader, Sustainer, and Builder of the church is Jesus Christ, described in verse 8 as “the same yesterday, today and forever.”
 
He is the great Shepherd of the church and he set the ultimate example by coming to this earth as a servant. Although he is indeed the head of the church and worthy of all praise, he did not come to this earth calling himself the president of the church. Instead, he came to serve and told his disciples, as we heard before, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:27-28)
 
If you know with saving faith that he shed his blood for you, if you know by saving faith that you are, by God's grace and Spirit's work, among the many for whom Jesus paid the ransom for - then seek to serve him in all that you do, seeking obedience to him, and to those whom he raises up in the church to serve as leaders in the church. 
    
(Next week I want to come back to this passage, the Lord willing, and focus on the continual sacrifice of praise that we are to offer through Jesus Christ to the Lord, but for this week, I thank you for your prayers for our elders, our deacons, our teachers and leaders of Bible studies, Sunday school and catechism. And I appreciate your prayers on my behalf and express my constant need for them.) Amen.
 
     
Sermon Outline:
 
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider
The outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. -  Hebrews 13:7
 
                               “Remember Your Leaders”
                                         Hebrews 13:7-19
 
I. Verse 7 tells us to remember our leaders, which includes:
     1) Recognizing that God raises up leaders (7, 17; Ephesians 4:11-13)            
 
  
 
 
 
     2) Imitating the faith of godly leaders (7; 1 Corinthians 11:1)
 
 
 
 
 
     3) Obeying them (17), so long as they are faithful (Acts 17:11)
 
 
 
 
 
    4) Praying for them (18-19)
 
 
 
 
 
II. The ultimate Leader – the Great Shepherd of the sheep and the Head of
     the church – is our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, who never changes for,
     “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (8)
 
 
 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Ted Gray

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