The second work of elders is to lead, which means “to go before.” David appreciated this aspect of God’s shepherd care when he wrote the beloved 23rd Psalm; “leading” is the only verb used twice in the Psalm. Many people know that elders have this responsibility, but are not sure how to support it biblically. The Gk. word “hegeomai” meaning “to guide,” occurs three times in Hebrews 13, where the rendering “your leaders” is found in NIV, NASB and Darby’s translation. But why not just use the word “elders” when referring to those who lead the church? Sometimes a wider term is needed. When Paul the apostle visited an assembly, he would not automatically become an elder even though he worked closely with the elders. I have often been thankful that a new assembly ‑ which may not yet have recognized elders ‑ is nevertheless not without leadership. We exhort the believers with confidence to obey or pray for their leaders as we await God’s timing to publicly recognize elders. Thus, in reminding the believers of their responsibilities to those whom God was authenticating among them, the writer to the Hebrews uses this broader term: “your leaders.”
What Makes a Good Leader?
Leading has some tough requirements. First, a man must have direction himself. This comes from years of experience in the ways of God, being led by the Spirit and the Word. Then he must have the credibility to lead others; he must be a good example. “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” wrote Paul to the Corinthians (I Cor. 11:1). One helpful way to understand what leading is all about is to think of the word “influence.” Remember that leadership is not a spiritual gift, but part of every elder’s work regardless of his individual gifts and abilities. Of course this applies as well to other Christian servants who have godly influence with people. Learning to communicate clearly, dealing with difficult situations promptly, and working well with others are essentials for good leading. Being a team player is very important in assembly life, for in nothing is the statement so true “in the multitude of counselors there is safety,” (Prov. 11:14 ) as in leadership.
Good leaders know how to be gentle, for “the servant of the Lord must not strive” (I Tim. 2:25). Direction in the work must not be sustained at the expense of a humble servant spirit. Peter exhorts the elders not to lord it over God’s heritage, but to be examples to the flock (I Pet. 5:3). Even taking the title of “leader” was forbidden to His disciples by the Lord Jesus (see Matt. 23:10 where the word used is a form of the verb “hegeomai” referred to above). But good leaders must at times be firm and take decisive action to ensure that righteousness is upheld. Anyone who thinks a good leader need only set a good example doesn’t know much about leading sheep. Many dangers along the way require shepherds who not only can function “up front,” but also those who, with rod and staff, can care for any who lag behind or tend to stray. Paul spoke twice of the authority God had given him for edification (II Cor. 10:8; 13:10)
Seeing the Big Picture
Throughout the book of Acts, one cannot help but notice that the strong and capable leaders with which the Lord was supplying His church were first of all dependent on God’s leading. For example, gifted men responsible for the assembly in Antioch received guidance concerning the next major step in the direction of the work while they “ministered to the Lord and fasted”(Acts 13:1‑3). It is no surprise then, that we find occasional notes throughout the book of Acts describing the remarkable expansion of the work and the spread of the gospel. Elders today must be sure that all their time is not devoted to the small details of assembly life and “firefighting” as some call it. Quality time must be reserved for seeking direction from the Head for the care of His sheep, the future expansion of the work, and even the pace at which to proceed. Opinions may vary as to the exact meaning of Prov. 29:18; “Where there is no vision the people perish,” but the thought expressed applies well to the Christian community: God initiates but who will perceive and lead the people in obedience?
Finally, leaders probably get more criticism than anyone else. They need prayer to keep from getting discouraged. How many times have elders been engaged in the work of God late at night while the majority of the flock was asleep in their beds! Pray for those who lead!