Leadership is an important and necessary part of a good church. But it needs to be the right kind of leadership.
Hebrews 13 shows us that good leaders should be honoured. But what is the right kind of leadership? Well, let’s see.
Two kinds of leadership: Hebrews 13:7 tells us to, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”
We see three characteristics of good church leadership here: (1) They speak to you the word of God, (2) their life shows they practice it, and (3) their faith in God’s word increases your faith. So, how do we examine this?
There are many ways to look at this, but I want to do this through the lens of Moses and Aaron who I see as exemplifying the two kinds of leadership we see in this church, the leadership of Moses and the leadership of Aaron.
What I Do Not Mean: Now this could be easily misunderstood, so first let me say what I do not mean. What I do not mean is that pastors and elders are prophets and priests.
Different kind of prophet: Now in some sense, all preachers of the word need to speak prophetically, they need to speak forth the oracles of God as found in the word of God, for sure. But Moses was a particular kind of prophet given a special level of authority.
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— 16 just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17 And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.”Deuteronomy 18:15-18
Moses and other prophets like him were given a special and unique level of authority and insight into the will of God. Like Elijah who had the power to raise the dead. Pastors are to teach the word of God directly, but we are not prophets in the same way that Moses was.
We may at times see clearly what is coming because we are examining the culture in light of God’s word, but this is more insight and wisdom than prophetic gifting. Anyone who studies God’s word and history together can do the same thing.
Different kind of priest: All pastors need to act as priests, but only in the same way that all believers are priests.
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”1 Peter 2:9-10
The Bible’s teaching and the Baptist Church’s position is that all Christians are priests, and all of us have a responsibility to represent God to our neighbours. So, church leaders are to be priests in the same sense that all believers are.
But I want to make this clear, I am not saying that church leaders are like Moses and Aaron in the unique sense that they were prophets and priests. What I mean is something different. To me, Moses is the archetypal Godly leader that pastors should aspire to be, and Aaron exemplifies the temptation that all pastors should avoid: people pleasing.
Let’s examine that.
Moses: Moses’ job was to be the voice of God’s truth to Israel, and to hold none of it back and this is what he did.
“On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. 2 They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, 3 while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” 7 So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. 8 All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.”Exodus 19:1-8
“So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him…”
This is who Moses was called to be, and this is what he did. He set before the people and their leaders all the things that he was told to tell them.
Moses did this consistently and well. Note this, he was not perfect, he missed out on entering the promised land because of his impatience with the people, but he was consistently bold in telling them the word of God, when it was popular and when it was not.
This is the pastor’s job as well. The pastor is to stare down the evil of this culture, like Moses did. Shelter their people from lies as much as they can, like Moses did. And tell them the truth whether they like it or not, like Moses did.
Moses is the archetypal good leader of the Church: imperfect, but bold with the truth.
Aaron: Aaron shows us the archetype of the bad leader who is swayed by people’s opinions. Now, we have to be fair to Aaron and say that his whole ministry was not terrible, and he was the head of the Levitical priesthood. But early on in his role he made a serious mistake. He instituted idolatry in the famous golden calf incident.
“When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” 6 And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.”Exodus 32:1-6
Why did he do this? The people wanted it, so he gave them what they wanted. This is the archetype of bad leadership; tailoring the word of God to suit the audience. Ignoring aspects of God’s word, or even denying them, as Aaron did here.
He broke the first and second commandments to make the people happy and forged for them a new god, a false god made of metal.
This is a constant temptation for pastors, to pander to the people or to the culture around them. Some ministers live in fear of offending the culture and this affects their entire ministry.
Every pastor faces this temptation, and Paul challenged this in Galatians 1:10, saying: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
It is a leader’s job to ignore the temptation to be like Aaron with the golden calf, and to be more like Moses and slay sacred calves. But this is easier said than done, because sometimes you have to challenge calves that people cannot let go of emotionally, or that are held to by people you hold dear, and for some, they just cannot abide causing offense.
But this temptation needs to be resisted by leaders, because as Paul said in Acts 20:26-27: “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”
If a pastor hides biblical teaching because of fear of the people, then he becomes responsible if people are led into error. However, if a pastor has declared the biblical truth as Paul did, then he is “innocent of the blood of all.”
So, when it says, remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you, and how they live and believe, this is referring to those who do this diligently. Jesus put it this way in Matthew 23:1-3: “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do.”
In other words, when pastors preach the clear words of God, be quick to obey it. But when they are not practicing or teaching it properly, that is different.
Our Hebrews’ writer even gives some guidelines here. In remembering those who spoke to you the word, we can test the quality of the person teaching you.
This is an excerpt from a sermon on Church leadership from Hebrews 13, you can listen to the whole message here.