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Q&A: Submit to and obey your leaders?


This question comes from J:

So I've been in a many year struggle with impurity. I've actually been making progress lately and doing better. But my singles leader thinks I should break up with my girlfriend and that would be good for me. I don't agree with this and want to stay with my girlfriend. He also seems to be telling me this more as a command than advice. I know there are scriptures about submitting to and obeying your leaders. (Hebrews 13:17) My question is: How literally should these scriptures be taken in regard to making personal life decisions? I personally feel like I'm being commanded when I should rather be "advised" to do something. Does a ministry leader have the authority to tell others what to do? I've been confused on this point and how to respond to this situation. I don't want to rebel but also don't feel I should "obey". I've also heard this is a common practice in our fellowship of churches.


Thanks for your question, though I am quite hesitant to answer this as it seems by the question that this is multifaceted and not as straight forward as it may seem. Even from the surface, there seem to be many dynamics at play here.

Let me offer a few thoughts:

It is true that we are called to obey to our leaders and submit to their authority because God says that is actually to our advantage and benefit (Heb 13:17). And that these leaders are actually going to be held accountable for their leadership and shepherding role. (No one should be overly eager for this because of some power trip (c.f. James 3:1), which of course we see in headlines all the time). In an ideal world, I would think that this scripture is to be taken quite literally, but of course we also have to be discerning through the word of God in order to not be lead astray.

And this is where so much more of the nuance of the story comes in I believe. 

At the heart of the issue is likely your relationship with your leader, not so much the advice/command that is being given, but your relationship with them. Ask yourself, if they were "advising" you (whatever you think would feel more like advice and less like a command), would you find that easier to then be able to do what you truly want? If that is the case, haven't you already really discounted the biblical principle of "advice" in the first place (i.e. that we would allow ourselves to be "influenced" by what others think to the point that we even change what we think)? (for a great study on advice, counsel, and correction do a study through the book of Proverbs).

I would also add that as disciples of Jesus, we are to be radically committed to our personal holiness, righteousness, and repentance (c.f. Mat 5:27-30; Heb 12:14; etc.) and must take this very seriously in our lives. Nothing in the scriptures guarantee us romance or marriage because we follow Jesus, and our discipleship to him must trump all else.

So there are clearly a lot of various factors in a discussion like this, and it's impossible for me to give clear input without being more intimately involved, but I would say that the most important thing is your relationship with your leader. Have a conversation with them about how you are feeling about their advice that seems like a command, and try to hear and understand their heart and motives for what it is they are saying and why.


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