As many of you know, I have been pastoring a church in Hemet, CA for six years. In April of this year, the Lord called Kimberly and me to Denver. We completed the move this last week, and today I preach my final sermon as pastor of Fellowship Community Chapel. Below is an excerpt.
The author of Hebrews makes a fairly involved argument through the book, and the major point is that the Hebrew Christians ought not to abandon their position as priestly worshippers in God’s heavenly sanctuary and return to the inferior service of the earthly sanctuary. In his closing instructions, he focuses this admonition still further by turning their attention to the elders who rule over them in the church. They must remember and obey these people, who have taught them in the past, who watch out for their souls in the present, and who must yet give account to God for them in the future.
You must also obey this principle today, because human nature hasn’t changed in the last 2000 years, and you need someone to watch out for your souls just as much as the Hebrew Christians did then. So you also need to obey the rulers God has set over you.
In order to have rulers to obey, you have to have rulers. In order for them to give account to God for your souls, they must know that you’re there. So you don’t just get to float anonymously from church to church, sitting in the back row and never speaking to anyone who matters. You can’t say, “My ruler is Pastor X,” if Pastor X doesn’t even know you’re there.
That is a serious temptation, because it’s very convenient. If the rulers don’t know you’re there, they will never give you commands to obey. You can claim that you’re in submission to them, but in reality, you’re in submission to no one at all. And don’t tell yourself, “I’m in submission to God.” He’s telling you to be in submission to church leadership, and if you’re disobeying that command, you’re not in submission to Him either.
So the first part of the charge is to go and find yourself some rulers—faithful, qualified shepherds who will teach you the Word of God and watch out for your souls. Having found those rulers, you will need to submit to the requirements necessary to come under their authority.
I have watched out for your souls for six years, and God is now moving me to a place where I can’t continue to do that in the same way. You will always be my friends, and I will always help you as best I can. But I’m not a regular, weekly presence in your lives anymore, and to shepherd you well, I would need to be.
We never drew up formal membership papers or anything like that, but there was never any doubt in your mind or mine that we were part of this church together. I always knew which people I would have to give account to God for, and you always knew who your pastor was.
Now, you need to make that arrangement with a new set of elders, and this means that you will need to join a church. In a church larger than ours, there probably will be formal membership arrangements—new members’ classes to go to, agreements to sign, all that. This kind of thing is necessary in a larger group, so the elders of that church know who they’re responsible for, and so that you know who you must obey.
So the second part of the charge is this: Do not mutter to yourself, “We never had to do this with Tim.” God is taking you to a different set of rulers, and the requirements will be different. Submit to the requirements, and do it gracefully and willingly, so that they may give account for you with joy and not with grief, because that would be unprofitable for you.