I joined New Community Church in south-east London a year ago, as what might be termed a ‘leadership intern’. It’s been a genuine pleasure and so helpful to spend time with an incredible bunch of people who get what the church is meant to be doing, and try to get involved with their mission. I’m so happy that I can now call New Community my home. And I feel incredibly blessed that I’m able to carry on as part of the staff team.
Yet despite all this phenomenal opportunity to learn and develop, with a mind half on the future, I think one of the things God has challenged me on the most is submission.
It’s dawned on me that for all my strengths and weaknesses, for all my ‘calling’ and abilities and titles, I’m actually not here to suck the church dry and move on, or to try and reinvent the wheel. I’m here to be a part of what New Community are, and a crucial part of that is willing submission to the leadership that already exists.
I don’t think we speak on this enough – partly because it always sounds a bit weird when a leader stands up and says: “Submit to your leaders.” It tends to sound a bit dictatorial.
But the biblical reality is we are called to be followers of Christ and a part of his Church. And so it follows that we are also called to submit to his ordained leaders. Hebrews 13:17 is a pretty clear and direct biblical command concerning this: “Obey your leaders and submit to them.” If we want to follow the Bible in how we function as a church, submission to the leaders is a crucial part to it.
As someone who feels called towards leadership, I’ve tried to think a bit about what the responsibilities and duties are inside of that. And frankly, I’m a little daunted. I’m pretty happy to submit to my leaders because I’m aware that they “are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account”. Hebrews 13:17 again. The reality is the leaders of your church will give an account before God for the status of their flock – i.e. you. When they stand before the judgement seat, Jesus will turn and say: “What did you do to help build up my flock?” 1 Peter 5 suggests that leaders are to act as Christ’s representatives “until the Chief Shepherd appears”. They have a big call over them, and if they’re to lead well, there’s a whole host of challenges to them biblically.
The reality is that ‘submitting’ goes against a lot of Western culture about the ideal of the self, but also our achievement culture. Submitting is a statement of ‘Christ is my head, not the career ladder’. It is a genuine challenge to the way in which our society works – inside the Church the question is how can we play our part, or how can we die to self? Inside of society, the questions are so often how can we improve ourselves, or can we get that pay rise or more senior position?
I’m not naive enough to pretend that elders and other leaders won’t make mistakes in their leading, and the Bible isn’t either. What I’m speaking about is a general biblical principle about leaders who aren’t in sin (1 Timothy 5.19-20), teaching falsely (e.g. 2 Peter 2.1-3), or abusing their authority (1 Peter 5.2-3). Unless that’s the case, the biblical response is to submit, and even when it is, it’s to challenge with all love, humility and grace.
The summation of this post is pretty simple: while God keeps me where I am, it is my aim to willingly and joyfully submit to the leadership that is present. Even if it’s not how I’d do it, because Christ is the head, not me.