The Joy of Mutual Ministry
"Church leaders have an important responsibility towards the members of the church: they are to keep watch over our souls...How, then can we, as church members, make our leaders’ work a joy and not a burden?" Ps Eugene encourages us to work together for our common joy in Christ.
Last week, I wrote about the importance of loving the church, which is Christ’s beloved. We are to love one another because we belong to Jesus, who has lavished His love and mercy upon us so generously.
What does this love look like in practice?
The Bible says Christians relate to one another in the church in mainly three ways: as church leaders caring for members, as church members following our leaders, and as members caring for one another. Our discipleship to Christ is worked out in the context of these relationships in the local church. These relationships, which are not mutually exclusive, give concrete expression to our love.
Hebrews 13:17 refers to these interdependent relationships in the church. It says, “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.”
Church leaders have an important responsibility towards the members of the church: they are to keep watch over their souls. This means that the elders of the church (this includes the pastors, since Scripture uses the terms ‘pastors’ and ‘elders’ interchangeably) are to shepherd God’s flock, which has been entrusted to their care. The goal of such pastoral oversight is to encourage the people of God to press on in following Jesus, especially in times of trials and temptation.
The elders are to faithfully discharge their responsibility “as those who will have to give an account”. One day, the Chief Shepherd will call His under-shepherds to account for how they have pastored God’s flock. As an elder, this verse fills my heart with godly fear. This is an awesome responsibility: how well do I know the members of the church? How am I encouraging them to trust, grow and persevere in Christ?
Church members also have a responsibility towards their leaders: as members, we are to “obey our leaders and submit to them”. Scripture is not calling for a blind submission that puts our leaders on a pedestal and assumes they can do no wrong. Rather, biblical submission means submitting to Christ and to the godly leaders he has placed over His church.
We live in a culture where authority is viewed with increasing suspicion and distrust. Given the sinfulness of humanity, there are grounds for such suspicion. The church, however, is God’s new humanity – a people created anew in the image of God’s Son. This does not mean that believers are perfect, but it does mean that the Spirit’s regenerating power is at work in us all. What gives us the confidence to submit, therefore, is the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This gospel impacts the lives of both the leaders as well as the members of the church.
Indeed, church leaders are to model Christ’s good authority to the rest of the church. Just as the reign of King Jesus brings blessing, so the elders are to exercise their authority for the spiritual good of those under their care. Church members, on their part, are to submit to and cooperate with the leaders as they labour for the good of His sheep. After all, to hinder the work of the leaders would “be of no advantage” to the members themselves.
How then can we, as church members, make our leaders’ work a joy and not a burden?
1) Pray regularly for the elders. Ask God to strengthen the elders with His grace, and to grow them in humility, wisdom, love and faithfulness to God’s truth.
2) Practice giving godly encouragement and feedback. The church and its leaders thrive when there is a healthy culture of encouragement that recognises God’s grace in each of our lives.
3) Work with the elders to strengthen God’s flock. Having co-labourers to share the load makes the work of ministry a joy. As an elder, one of the things that encourages me the most is to see church members investing in one another’s lives, speaking God’s truth in love and helping one another grow in Christ-likeness. We all have a part to play in keeping watch over one another’s souls.
There is great joy in mutual ministry, where all of us are working together to “stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb 10:24). As we love one another in this way, the whole body grows and builds itself up in love. We work with one another for our common joy in Christ.