The What & Why of Honoring Church Leaders for Unity’s Sake

We continue unpacking Paul’s quest in 1 Thess. 5:12-13 for preserving unity in the church by advocating followers’ respect for their leaders because of their work.

So far we have considered the family and hard nature of that work. This post focuses on the leading nature of the ministry.


Respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord. The verb over is made up of two Greek words, literally to stand before.

It means to provide oversight. Paul exhorted the elders at Ephesus about this aspect of the work in Acts 20:28.

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God (emphasis added).

Overseer is episkopos—one who watches over. These servants preside over the affairs of the congregation for its welfare and good order.

Please don’t miss those words in the Lord. The elder’s domain is spiritual. It’s the church. Elders tend to the affairs of Christ within the local congregation as His representatives doing His business.

I love to start every new member class the same way. I introduce myself: Curt Heffelfinger. I give my title: I am the pastor-teacher here at OGC. Then I add, “I am not the senior pastor.”

To which I then ask, “Would you like to know who is?” Inevitably I get a yes and some just blurt out the answer. Jesus. Jesus is the Chief Shepherd of His church (1 Pet. 5:4). Every elder and deacon who assists elders is nothing more than Christ’s underling/steward.

Hebrews 13:17 summarizes this well:

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 (emphasis added).

By the way, you simply cannot obey this verse, if you don’t belong to a local church as a member, partner, whatever you want to call it. Someone in a local context of Jesus’ universal church needs your informed consent to take accountable responsibility for your spiritual welfare.

Alfred Poirer notes this as one of several aspects of a biblical basis for covenant membership in a local church.

The New Testament writers assume that Christians can identify their leaders to whom they have voluntarily submitted themselves. . . . And conversely, they expect the leaders of a church to be able to identify those members for whom they must give an account (Acts 2:28-30; 1 Thess. 5:12-13; Heb. 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-4). If the sheep must know their shepherd, so too the shepherd must know his sheep. Yet God will not hold a pastor liable for failing to discharge his duties as shepherd over sheep that he cannot determine are his own.

But my primary point here is that a lack of respect for the officer for his work can tempt him to groan. It can tempt him to discouragement. Don’t go there.

Threatening Christ’s servants’ joy through disrespect and being unduly difficult to shepherd will not profit you and will jeopardize the peace of the church. Please determine to be easily led for the sake of the unity of your fellowship!

Some practical suggestions on this front:

Are you going to be gone for several weeks and go missing on Sundays? Let your pastor know so he does not wonder if you are OK.

If he tries to reach you via text, email, or phone to check up on you, to ask for your help, to follow up on something, don’t make it hard for him. Be responsive, be prompt, be cooperative in every way you can. You will give him such joy.

Of course, if you have not yet become a member of your church, determine to take advantage of the soonest possible opportunity you can to identify with that congregation and its leaders.

Labor mightily for a healing spirit!

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