Garry spoke tonight about submission to church authorities, looking at Hebrews 13:7-17. In continuing to talk about the need for submission in the Christian life, he spoke also about cults and ‘heavy shepherding’ before talking about Biblical leadership.

A religious cult is an organised group which dominates its members, often through psychological manipulation. Cults tend to be led by charismatic people who demonstrate absolute power without accountability, a belief that they are always right and that the leader is the exclusive means of knowing truth or giving validation. Cults often have zero tolerance for criticism or questions, often keep their finances hidden and tend to have quite a strong ‘Them’ and ‘Us’ attitude. Cults believe that anyone who leaves the cult is wrong; there is never a legitimate reason for leavng, and there is often abuse of member (which could be spiritual, emotional or physical.) Submission is not a voluntary option in a cult, but is demanded. The church should not be a cult.

‘Heavy shepherding‘ is the term used to describe controlling leaders. Jesus Himself is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11), the Great Shepherd (Heb 13:20) and He loves, leads and cares for His sheep, even sacrificing himself for his sheep (see John 10).God’s people are often called sheep (see Matt 9:35, John 10:16, John 21:17). Those in church leadership are often known as shepherds (see 1 Pet 5:1-5), but heavy shepherding is spiritual abuse, where leaders want to know everything about a member (finances, relationships, service and so on) and want to control what people do. Again, alarm bells should ring if people are not allowed to question or crticise.There is no place in Christian leadership for lording it over people (see Matt 20:25-28).

Biblical leadership is indeed God-given (1 Cor 12:28-30) and varied, but every leader is first of all a follower of Christ. Their lives should match their words and they should be respected when we see a Christ-filled heart. Paul urged the Corinthians to follow his example as he followed the example of Christ (1 Cor 11:1). Leaders may well have to rebuke as well as teach (see 2 Tim 3:16). Paul had to rebuke the Corinthians for their sexual immorality (1 Cor 5) and the way they carried out Communion (1 Cor 11), but even when leaders rebuke, there is the choice for us to submit or to ignore.

It is God’s idea that there are spiritual leaders who act as guides and who direct and govern in His church. We are called to submit to their leadership provided they are following God and are living and leading accordingly. To submit is a free choice and a choice that can be changed. Where there is good Christian leadership and good Christian submission, God can do amazing things.