“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17)
My mother’s church recently held its annual “Pastor Appreciation Day.” Many churches do this as a means of expressing their heartfelt thanks to the man of God for his tireless service in shepherding God’s flock. While it is important that we appreciate the pastor, I believe the subject of pastor appreciation is two-sided, as brought out in our text.
First is the role of the congregation to “obey them that have the rule over you.” The word “rule” is the same word translated as shepherd or pastor. Simply put, Paul says obey the pastor. This is done as he rightly divides the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15), as he preaches that same Word, reproving, rebuking, exhorting, etc. (2 Timothy 4:2).
Church is more than singing songs and preaching. And obedience requires more than listening. One of the pastor’s duties is to encourage the church members in the use of their spiritual gifts for the edification of the Body of Christ. Instruction in such requires action in order to bear fruit. We have to obey.
Also, the congregation is told to “submit yourselves.” So many Christians today are self-willed. There is no Biblical model of a rogue Christian. On the contrary, God’s model is that His people should be in subjection to His order. Our text is a clear statement to the fact that our appreciation for our pastors should be shown by obedience and submission to them.
Secondly, pastor appreciation is shown by the pastors themselves, “for they watch for your souls.” The Lord calls His pastors to be watchmen over His flock. Protecting this flock sometimes requires protecting the individuals from themselves. This is all the more reason for submission by the congregation, even when faced with reproof for their sin; because the pastor acts in love for the flock to build and strengthen them.
Many pastors see their congregation as their own children in the faith. John spoke on this relationship when he said, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 4). The pastors show their appreciation for the flock by leading them into Truth. Subsequently, they receive joy from the fact that their flock is so walking, as our text points out: “that they may do it with joy, and not with grief.”
A pastor rejoices when he sees his church members living productive, Christ-centered lives. His prayers are of thanks-giving to God for His goodness. But when a church member is living in obvious sin, bringing forth bad fruit; the pastor’s spirit is grieved. He goes to God asking for a work of grace. He labors in prayer and admonishment with the individual.
Just as the pastor is the head of a congregation, he stands in type of Christ as the Head of the Church. When we truly show our appreciation through obedience, our pastor is able to show his appreciation through guidance; and the result will be rejoicing for both parties. The same is true for the Church and Christ: when we are obedient to His Word, He is the Head of our life and will bless our obedience.
So both sides of pastor appreciation are perfect illustrations of our relationship with Christ. Our desire should be to do that which is pleasing to Him. We do this in obeying His Word and submitting ourselves (crucifying the flesh and its wicked desires) to His leading. In this position, we can expect Him to watch for our souls, making intercession for us, and directing us through the work of His indwelling Spirit.
When we see the pastor as an ambassador of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), we will see our obedience to him as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24). Our devotion to the Lord will then be seen through our devotion to our God-ordained pastor. Don’t think I’m proposing pastor-worship; only a recognition of God’s order. It’s good to show our pastor that we love him. But this is not a once-a-year affair. True appreciation is exercised throughout the year as we bring joy to him through obedience and submission to the Truth.