What Sovereign Grace Ministries Teaches About Obeying And Submitting To Leaders

September 21, 2009 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

How Sovereign Grace Ministries views its leaders’ authority is really at the heart of so many issues.  I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at what, exactly, they teach about obeying and submitting to pastors.  What follows is the first part of a transcript of a sermon preached by C.J. Mahaney to the Knoxville church this past August.  I would have preferred to post the transcript in its entirety, but it is so lengthy that I think breaking it down into parts will make for easier reading.  Also, I realize that C.J.’s introductory remarks don’t have anything to do with the topic at hand, but out of concerns for accuracy and fairness, I didn’t want to edit his sermon in any way.  If you’re interested in listening to the audio recording, you can download it here (click on “Media & Links,” then click on “Sermons,” then look for the message entitled, The Happiest Place On Earth).  As has been the case in previous similar posts, my thoughts will be in blue.


Begin transcript of The Happiest Place On Earth:

[Announcer’s voice]  The following message was recorded at a Sunday Celebration service at Cornerstone Church of Knoxville.  CJ leads Sovereign Grace Ministries, headquartered in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

[C.J. Mahaney speaking]  Over the past five years, this has been a common occurrence, and it brings me great joy, as I have the privilege to travel, speak in conference and church contexts, this is normally what I hear after I preach:  “Please thank your wife and daughters for their writing, for their example.”  That is normally what I hear after I preach.  Individuals in the midst of that then often feel awkward, as if I might be misinterpreting that, uh.  And I communicate to them, “Look, there’s – there’s nothing you could say to me that would be more meaningful than to draw attention to the girls and to communicate your gratefulness for the girls,” and usually then I just say, “Please do that yourself personally.  I’ll transfer what you’ve said, but it would be more effective coming from you.”  So, uh, so – that’s the first thing – I hear that the majority of the time.  [Kris says:  I realize that this audio recording does not provide us with any context for these opening remarks.  Because of what he says a few paragraphs later, I’m guessing that CJ is starting out this way because he and his family had just been honored in a pastoral introduction, before CJ took the stage.  Perhaps Cornerstone’s pastor had just expressed gratitude for CJ’s daughters and their writings.

But even if CJ were responding to the most flowery of introductory speeches, it strikes me as sort of…unusual…for someone to respond to complimentary remarks with, “Well, that’s just my typical experience.  Everywhere I go, people talk up my family so highly.”]

Second thing over the last five years I hear, uh, often now is, after I preach, someone says, “Last year you preached a sermon on…”  And I become aware that my sermons seem to have lost their immediate effect on people.  [Crowd laughs uproariously.]  But what’s changed is that there is, there is, there is this delayed effect, so I’m benefitting now from sermons I’ve preached in previous years, because individuals are bringing to my attention their gratefulness for sermons previously preached.  So those are the two things that are going on.  Uh, as they inform me about their gratefulness for a sermon I previously preached, there is the temptation to want to say to them, “How about the one I JUST preached?”  [Loud laughter from the crowd]  You might not have been paying full attention, but I just did it again!”  But then I comfort myself at night that a year from now, I’ll be hearing from them.  [Laughter]  They really benefitted from this.  

Thank you, Bill, for honoring Carolyn and the girls the way you did, and thank you as a church for the way you just received us.  I mean, uh, from the time we get out of our car, I turned to Carolyn as we were walking toward the building, and I said, “Is – is there a happier place?”  What a happy place!  And everyone I’m interacting with is encouraging me, thanking me for last week’s sermon, uh, thanking me for being here today.  I’m so grateful for that.  It extends to the children.  It seems to be a wonderful practice here of parents encouraging their children to – to – to – draw while someone is preaching, to draw.  Because I get these notes and pictures every year, and I – they are just wonderful, they, they move me.  Uh, they move me to tears, so, thank you so very much, it’s a commendable strategy.  [Chuckles and then laughs heartily as crowd joins him]  “Get to drawing, kids.  Mr. Mahaney speaks a LONG time.  So – [crowd laughs] – get a little artwork done.”  OK. 

Somewhere, on, um, I don’t know the roads well, is it 40 which goes into 81 – I’m not sure – uh, there’s a small caravan of cars headed toward home, uh, of very sad people.  Ah, because they love being here.  So, Owen, one of my grandsons – how old’s Owen, dear? – five?  He’s five years old, he looks at me this morning as we are parting, and just says, “Pop-Pop, I don’t – I don’t wanna leave Tennessee.”  [slight pause as CJ’s voice starts to tremble]  “And Owen, neither does Pop-Pop.”  [sighs emotionally with small catch in his breath, almost like a sob]  

I’ll have to get back to you on that one.  Uh, they – they mark – they really do – it’s really a – a – here’s another one I thought of.  Arn was kind enough to – to loan us a boat for a period of time.  You have to understand, got no boating background, grateful to have a son-in-law who knows how to drive one, so we’re doing all things on the water – how old’s Liam?  Six.  [Crowd laughs]  Ah, I’m way too old to keep up with all this stuff.  Uh.  Know ‘em, love ‘em, don’t have the specifics on ages or dates.  [Crowd laughs hugely.]  Trusts Carolyn to keep track of all that.  Uh. 

So when Arn came to get the boat, Liam is standing next to his dad, Brian, who is married to our middle daughter, Kristen, and as the boat’s going away, Liam says, “Dad – is – vacation’s over.”  He associates vacation with the boat, and once the boat’s gone, vacation’s over.  [Crowd laughs.]  So his dad informed him, “No, Liam, it’s not over.”  And with a wonderful smile on his face, he went, “Bonus days!”  [Crowd laughs uproariously.]  So that became our theme throughout the end of our – [CJ laughs heartily]  “Bonus days, Liam!” 

So, you just have to understand, my grandchildren, their calendar is built on this vacation.  It really is.  They will start falling asleep now within a period of weeks asking, “How long before we come back?”  So that’s their point of reference, their point of reference is this trip every year.  That’s their point of reference.  You make that possible by your kindness, and I’m grateful beyond words [voice cracks emotionally]…and…if we don’t get going, I won’t be able to speak words. [Kris says:  Maybe it’s just my lack of familiarity with CJ’s personality and preaching style that makes this sound jarringly theatrical to me, but…who gets weepy while talking about what sounds like a fun family vacation? 


Is the Mahaney family really so hard up financially that such a vacation wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of the Knoxville church members?  I mean, CJ tells his audience, “You make that possible by your kindness.”  So what’s he saying?  That he and his adult kids couldn’t afford this kind of trip on their own?  Really?]

So please turn quickly to – very quickly – to Hebrews chapter 13.  I trust you feel my gratefulness.  Hebrews chapter 13.  Um, this morning, our attention is going to be confined to a single significant verse.  Hebrews chapter 13, verse 17, I have the privilege to read from God’s Word this morning, let us all give our full attention to God’s Word this morning, in anticipation that God will reveal Himself and His grace as demonstrated and displayed through the sacrifice of His son, through this single passage.  This morning. 

Hebrews chapter 13 verse 17.  Obey YOUR leaders and submit to THEM.  For they are keeping watch over YOUR souls as those who will have to give…an account.  Let them do THIS with JOY and not with groaning.  For that would be of NO ADVANTAGE to YOU. 

Let’s pray. 

Oh Father, you know the special place this church has in my heart and therefore you are quite familiar with what I feel at this moment, my desire to serve them and yet my awareness of my inadequacies in and of myself for this task, this sacred task.  So, Lord, I now make public what I have prayed in private.  Have mercy on me this morning, so that I might serve all who are assembled, and have mercy on all of us present this day as we give our attention to this passage.  You have inspired these words.  You have preserved these words.  You have inspired them and preserved them with this day in mind, with this church, this day in mind.  How kind of you.  Present in this passage is a wealth of grace and wisdom.  So now as we consider this passage, as I have the privilege to proclaim this passage, reveal the wealth of the grace and wisdom present in this passage and transfer the wealth of grace and wisdom in this passage to our souls so that the content of this passage makes a difference, so that there’s a discernible effect we experience and observe from this passage, so that there is an enduring effect of this passage on the hearts and minds of all who are present in this church and present in this assembly this morning.  So, Lord, I proceed with anticipation, I proceed with confidence, not – certainly – not in myself, but with confidence in you because you are eager to bless your people and you are present to bless your people in and through the preaching of your Word for you have promised to bless your people in and through the preaching of your Word, so I thank you for doing this in advance all because of your Son and His sacrifice on the cross for our sins.  I thank you.  In Jesus’ name, amen. 

It is, it is, uh, highly doubtful that many present have ever heard of John Fawcett.  Ah, I was introduced to this man through the writing of Jim Elliff.  John Fawcett was born in 1740.  He was converted through the preaching of George Whitfield.  And at age 26 he was an ordained Baptist minister.  He became the pastor of a church in an obscure, impoverished village in Wainsgate, located in northern England.  In 1777 he opened a school for young preachers.  He wrote a number of books on practical Christianity, and in 1811, Brown University in the United States awarded him a doctorate in light of his accomplishments.  Mr. Elliff writes the following about John Fawcett: 

On the day he was scheduled to leave Wainsgate, after some years of pastoring there, the saddened parishioners, the saddened members of this church gathered around the wagons.  I want you just to pause for a moment, try to picture this scene with me.  You have an older, godly pastor and his wife.  You have horse-drawn wagons that are filled.  You have a saddened congregation gather around them.  In that moment, what would you expect John Fawcett to say to his church?  He has pastored them for many years.  He cares for them deeply and profoundly.  He has demonstrated that by his service to them over a period of many years.  What do you expect him to say to them in that moment just prior to departing?  What do you expect his wife to say to this assembled saddened church in that moment?  What would they say?  What did they say?  Well at the end of this sermon, I’m gonna tell you what they said. 

And I pray that by the time we arrive at that moment, the relevance of this passage in relation to what they said will be quite evident to you and deeply affect you and make a difference in how you serve in the context of this church. 

Hebrews chapter 13 is filled with very important and very specific exhortations, applications if you will.  The writer of this letter is aware that apart from very specific and corporate application, the previous powerful and profound chapters of this inspired letter will not have their intended effect upon the original recipients.  [Kris says:  Really?  Is CJ really saying that the whole book of Hebrews hinges on whether or not church members obey and submit to their leaders? 

So all that stuff about how Jesus is the perfect sacrifice, the High Priest to end all earthly high priests…all that stuff about how we have now been brought near and can come boldly before the throne…all the stuff about the great heroes of the faith…all of that “will not have their intended effect” without talking about obeying your pastors?  This just seems like a HUGE leap of logic to me, a HUGE (and strange) assumption.

Also, just because something is mentioned in the concluding chapter of a book of the Bible, that does NOT make that thing the central point of said book.  Otherwise, we could say that II Timothy was all about Paul’s cloak and parchments, as those things are part of Paul’s final words in the last chapter.  Clearly, this would be a faulty approach to biblical scholarship.]

And it is also quite obvious that the writer understands the vital role of leadership in the plan and the purpose of God in – because – in this brief concluding chapter, we have – count ‘em for yourself – not one, not two – we have three references to leaders.  We have a reference to leaders in verse seven.  “Remember your leaders.”  Those who spoke to you the Word of God.  Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.  We have a second reference to leaders in verse 17, which we read – which we read moments ago, and then we have a third reference to leaders in verse 24, “Greet all your leaders and all the saints.”  The writer understands the vital role of leaders, but the writer also understands the critical relationship between the congregation and leaders.  And in verse 17, we encounter both, we encounter both the vital role of leaders and the critical relationship of the congregation to leaders.  We encounter them both in verse 17. 

But.  The undeniable emphasis in verse 17 is not on the pastoral team, the undeniable emphasis and accent in verse 17 is on the responsibility of the congregation TO the pastoral team, and here’s why.  Here’s why. 

The effectiveness of pastoral ministry is dependent upon a proper response TO pastoral ministry.  THE effectiveness of pastoral ministry is indeed dependent upon a proper response TO pastoral ministry.  [Kris says:  Really?  Is it really true that pastors can only respond passively to the attitudes and obedience levels of their congregants?  That pastors have no other influence?  That an effective ministry can only happen if everyone hops to and is cheerfully behaving?

Can C.J. back up this assertion by citing ANYTHING in the Bible?

I don’t think so.  In fact, I think that much throughout the New Testament would seem to indicate the exact opposite.  Otherwise, from many of the corrective things that Paul sees fit to write churches like the one at Corinth, or at Galatia, we would have to conclude that Paul himself was, at least at the time those corrections were penned, not effective in pastoral ministry.

So this assertion simply cannot be true.

Plus, it even contradicts much of what SGM teaches in other departments.  Take parenting, for example.  Would SGM pastors ever DREAM of telling anyone that their parenting is only as effective as their children’s responses to their parenting?

Or how about the counsel that SGM pastors give to couples who are unhappy in their marriages?  That’s actually an even better parallel.  Let’s take the example of a husband who has complaints about his wife’s lack of submission.  Does the SGM pastor sit back and nod in sympathetic agreement with the husband and say to him, “Yes, that is correct.  You simply will not be an effective husband and father until your wife submits to you in a manner that you find satisfactory.”

We know that SGM in fact teaches the exact opposite of this sort of thing.  We know that if someone presents a problem or struggle to an SGM pastor, the pastor will be quite willing to assign at least some of the blame for the problem on the person’s own sinful behaviors and attitudes.

So why would pastors themselves be exempt from responsibility, if they find themselves feeling like their ministries are “ineffective”?

SGM’s own teachings in other areas would totally negate the assumption that a ministry’s success hinges on the behavior of members.]

So, the accent of this message is gonna reflect the accent of this passage, and I pray serve you, and the accent of this message is going to be on the responsibility of this assembled congregation TO the pastoral team OF this congregation.  If you’re not a part of this congregation, this would have application to you regardless of which congregation you participate in.  

But I also must make – must make – a few qualifying remarks so there is no misunderstanding as I proceed.  Please understand, th – this message was my idea.  It was my idea, my initiative.  Uh, I mean, well – a number of things.  First of all, I invited myself to speak.  [Crowd laughs loudly.]  Here’s how you should think of me this morning.  I – I’m a – I’m a former senior pastor…looking for work.  OK?  So that – [crowd laughs] – so I invited myself to speak, and then not only did I invite myself to speak, then I chose this message.  So I’m not asking the pastoral team for permission to teach this message, although I’m submitted to that, it might not appear to you that I am after what I just said, but I chose this message.  This is not a passage or message that they would be inclined to speak.  Understandably so.  If they spoke this passage, if they spoke this message, it could appear to be self-serving.  Therefore what I love to do when I have this privilege to travel is to take passages that pastors might feel awkward to address to their congregations and address them myself as a means, hopefully, of serving them. 

[Kris says:  C.J. has presented this message to different congregations – even non-SGM congregations – all around the country.  A quick internet search yielded two other sound files of The Happiest Place On Earth, one which was done at John MacArthur’s church during some college conference, and another that had been given at Mark Dever’s church.  C.J. does seem to give this same disclaimer every time he preaches this sermon.  It’s always “his idea,” and NEVER something he was asked to say.

But…it’s still rather…coincidental that C.J. chose THIS message to give at Cornerstone Church of Knoxville.  Cornerstone is currently in the midst of putting a rule in place that requires all members – longtime, short-term, new, doesn’t matter – to sign a new document, a membership covenant, and some folks there have significant questions and concerns about the version that they are being asked to sign.  It is a rather negative document, focusing solely on matters of church discipline, with a clause all about how a member who does come under discipline cannot then rescind his membership but must endure the discipline process.  There’s even a provision where members must acknowledge that they are aware that the Knoxville church may elect to track down the pastors at whatever church they attempt to move on to after leaving SGM, and tell their new pastors all about why they’re under church discipline at Knoxville.

So for obvious reasons, there are some folks at Knoxville who are asking questions about this membership covenant.  Things there are NOT all “happy-happy-joy-joy.”

I guess I just find it difficult to believe that I (as a mere blog moderator) would be aware of Knoxville’s membership covenant fracas, while C.J., SGM’s top banana, would NOT know about it?]

Now, further explanation.  Or clarification.  I – I – didn’t choose this passage or message because you’re in need of correction.  Didn’t do that.  Wasn’t praying yesterday, this past week, thinking, “OK, what are the obvious, blatant deficiencies of Cornerstone Church that I could somehow heroically serve while I’m here.  What – what – what – what – what – can I throw my body in front of to capture their attention and hopefully serve them?”  No, no.  This is not a corrective – actually, this message gives me the opportunity to commend you.  I’m not – if there was a corrective, I would announce – no actually, if there was a corrective, your pastor, your senior pastor, would be addressing you on this.  He wouldn’t be asking me to come in, and I wouldn’t come in to correct you.  Uh.  That wouldn’t be my role.  So, the passage actually gives me an opportunity to commend you, because you – you are, you are a demonstration of this particular passage.  So, it’s good news.  

Now.  There’s also concerning news for all of us, because indwelling sin remains, indwelling sin is active, therefore, think of this message not so much as corrective, although it might have application to some, given the size of this congregation, but do think of it as preventative, because indwelling sin dwells in us all and is active in us and through us all on a daily basis.  

And finally, I would just want you to view this passage as a wonderful gift from God for it is a gift from God.  And I think that will become evident to you as we just spend a few moments pondering this particular passage.  BECAUSE, the effectiveness of pastoral ministry is dependent upon a proper response TO pastoral ministry.

So, three points I want to draw to your attention.  Point number one, the role of leaders.  The role of leaders.  Because the role of leaders is revealed in and through this passage.  It’s not the primary emphasis of this passage, but the content is certainly present in this passage.

Number one, the role of leaders.  It is possible that the original recipient of this letter had experienced the recent death of Godly leaders.  We read in verse 7, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the Word of God.  Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith,” followed by verse 8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  So, if they had experienced the recent death of certain leaders, what a comfort verse 8 would be to them in the midst of their grief.  Be an immediate comfort, be an immeasurable comfort. 

This – this – if this has indeed taken place, if there had been the loss of leaders through death, this does not render leaders optional or non-essential, and therefore the writer addresses the vital role of leaders, and remaining leaders in verse 17.  And the writer provides, really, a rich description of the role and functions of pastors, and a rich, a rich description of the role and function of YOUR pastors, “They,” he writes in verse 17, “are keeping watch over your souls.”  They are keeping watch over your souls.  Good and godly pastors – and your pastors are good and godly pastors.  Good and godly pastors effectively watch over the souls allotted to their charge.  This is what your pastors do, and your pastors do this well.  

Actually, this word “watch” forms, in effect a primary responsibility for pastors, a primary practice of pastors, we read in first Timothy chapter 4 that pastors are called to watch their life and doctrine.  In Acts chapter 20 we encounter this verse, “We are to keep watch over ourselves.”  Paul addressing the elders of the church in Ephesus.  So, pastors are called to watch their life and doctrine, they are to watch over each other, so pastors don’t just they – they don’t just work together, they watch over each other in the context of working together. 

[Kris says:  Something that is quite fascinating – something that might be instructive for current SGMers, actually – is to listen to the very subtle ways that C.J. alters this teaching when he presents The Happiest Place On Earth to non-SGM congregations.

For instance, at Mark Dever’s church, C.J. commends them for how they have a “plurality of elders,” and he is very careful to keep inserting the word “elders” whenever he mentions pastors.  He does the same thing when he gives this message to John MacArthur’s college conference.  He talks a lot about elders and pastors.  And (I think it might have been in the Capitol Hill Baptist sound file), he talks about how important it is for there to be elders to hold pastors accountable.

Yes, it’s the same idea – sort of – as the kind of “watching” that he is claiming takes place among Knoxville’s pastoral team.  But practical reality would dictate that accountability for pastors is going to be VERY DIFFERENT if pastors have to answer to elders (in the way that your average church member today would define “elder”), men who have been elected in some fashion by the people in their own congregation, rather than the type of accountability that SGM pastors have.  Accountability among SGM pastors only flows upward, to the pastors and overseers who are above them in the leadership food chain.  As far as I know, there isn’t a Sovereign Grace church out there that has an elected board of elders to whom their pastors must answer in any sort of official manner.

So yes, while many SGM documents will refer to how they “govern by rule of a plurality of elders,” what they neglect to mention is that in just about every case (except when a church is too new to be able to fund an entire team of pastors), the “plurality of elders” equals a group of paid staff pastors  and (sometimes) these pastors’ hand-picked minions.  Who all – let’s be brutally honest here – have definite conflicts of interest (most are concerned about keeping their jobs, at least) when it comes to offering up “correction” or “accountability.”

I mean, who is actually ever going to “watch over” the guy in authority over himself?  Who would even be able to do such a thing, unless that guy had given him express permission to do so…

And let’s say, hypothetically, that some junior associate pastor found, to his dismay, that the senior pastor was doing something wrong.  Let’s say that the senior pastor had even been good enough to establish an environment where the junior associate could feel free to confront the senior pastor.  The bottom line reality is, though, that unless the senior pastor chooses voluntarily to embrace the correction, any confrontation that might take place will simply have no teeth.  If there’s no risk of job loss, there’s no real guarantee that someone who has already fallen into sin would be compelled to submit to correction.

So, sure – theoretically, there may be an environment where these guys can “watch over” each other and hold each other accountable.  But given that human nature is what it is – especially considering SGM’s excruciatingly dim view of human nature – it’s really strange that the end result of such accountability is still dependent upon these guys’ own individual willingness to consent to accepting correction.

Honestly, how is this any different than permitting children to give themselves their own report cards?  Or grade each other’s work as a group?

How much credibility would colleges give a high school student’s transcripts if they knew that the high school student bore sole responsibility for grading himself?  Or that he was graded by his peers?

Or even that he was only graded by teachers who had never had any real firsthand experience with his actual schoolwork?

This is the reality of SGM’s “accountability,” as it is currently set up.

So I found it intriguing to hear C.J. speak in a way (in a non-SGM setting) which would seem to indicate that he thinks boards of elders are a good idea when in fact none of the churches he himself “watches over” have fail-safes for accountability to the common people, the very ones who have the firsthand experience with what these pastors do.]

And finally, in this passage, they are call, led to watch over your soul, so they are keeping watch over your soul.  That’s – That’s not an exhaustive description of the role and responsibility of a pastor, but it is a most important aspect of pastoral ministry.  They are called – your pastors are called, by God – they are given to you as a gift to watch over your soul. 

Now, at first glance, that might not be appealing to you because none of us like to be watched.  Who likes to be watched.  I don’t want you to misunderstand this passage.  There’s – there’s a difference between being stared and watched.  There’s a difference between being stared at and watched over.  Often when we think of being watched over we’re thinking of being stared at, don’t like to be stared at, who likes being stared at.  Here’s a common experience for me, particularly when I travel, this happens to me regularly, this has happened to me for many years, this happens to me normally in airports, I am very aware – I’m reading, and then become aware in the midst of reading, somebody’s staring at me.  I’m waiting for a flight, I’m not, to my knowledge, doing anything to draw attention to myself, and I become aware of somebody staring at me.  Or somebody approaches me, and they approach me asking me if I’m aware that I look like John Luke Piccard – is that his name? – [crowd laughs]  yeah, right, I am asked that with regularity, I – I’m also asked if I *am* this guy, and there was one guy I couldn’t convince that I WASN’T this guy.  [crowd laughs] 

Nobody wants to be stared at.  There’s – there’s – having your soul watched over by godly pastors who love you, and being stared at are two completely distinct experiences.  They – they – bear no resemblance.  Listen, your soul needs the caring and discerning eyes of a godly pastor.  [Lowers voice to dramatic whisper]  God has designed it so.  

[Kris says:  I think that C.J. is arguing against a straw man here.  Are the people in his audience really so dumb that they’d actually confuse the meaning of “watching over” with “being stared at”?  I do not think so!

It seems to me that C.J. is not dealing with the REAL issue that might be setting off alarm bells for some of his listeners.  As they consider the idea of being “watched over,” what people might object to is NOT “being stared at,” but rather, being watched critically

People aren’t going to worry that their pastors will be staring at them.  But people might think that C.J. is advocating a level of “watchfulness” that involves viewing congregants with a nit-picky, sin-sniffing eye, just LOOKING for problems, flaws, and faults.  Just LOOKING for sin.

That has NOTHING to do with “staring.”  But it DOES have to do with fearing a pastor’s critical eye.

If C.J. truly wanted to put people’s minds at rest, he should have addressed how this won’t happen – that they don’t need to worry about being constantly scrutinized in a negative, critical manner. 

But instead he raises up and then seems to argue against something – the fear of being “stared at” – that has nothing to do with what his audience is likely thinking.]

Your soul needs the caring and watchful eye of a godly pastor – why?  Let me just give you a few reasons.  Don’t try to turn to these passages, but I’ll just give you a few right from Hebrews, I don’t even need to go out of this book.  I’m just gonna give you a few reasons, just a sampling of – really, I would argue, compelling reasons drawn just from Hebrews, for your consideration. 

Why you need godly pastors to watch over your soul.  Number one, the continued – the continued presence and influence of remaining sin.  The continued presence and influence of remaining sin.  Sin is subtle, sin is active, and sin is present.  And so we read in Hebrews chapter 12 verse 1, “Let us lay aside every weight AND SIN which clings so closely.” 

[Kris says:  This teaching would have been so much stronger if C.J. could have demonstrated specifically from scripture just how and where pastors are instructed to assist members with “the continued presence and influence of remaining sin.”  The truth is, we don’t find many places in the New Testament that spell this out.  C.J. assumes this.  But the Bible does not.]  

Second, the deceitfulness of sin.  Not just the presence of sin, not just the influence of sin, but the deceitfulness of sin.  So we read in Hebrews chapter 3 verse 13, “Exhort one another every day as long as it is today that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”  We need good and godly pastors to watch over our souls because we are vulnerable on a daily basis to the deceitfulness of sin, the hardening effect of sin upon our souls.  So sin is deceptive.  That’s the DNA of sin, the DNA of sin is deception, therefore we need the discerning and caring eyes of pastors and others because so – so often I’M BLIND TO WHAT IS OBVIOUS TO THEM. 

[Kris says:  Um, where in the Bible does it tell us that pastors have a special kind of vision in this regard?  That pastors have a better insight into and more awareness of the sins of their people?  Even the verse that C.J. does cite – Hebrews 3:13 – is addressed to the body of believers at large.  We are to “exhort one another.”  This is NOT an instruction given only (and specifically) to pastors.  C.J. is twisting scripture to get it to support what he wants it to say here.]

Third, the possibility of drifting.  And this would be, without a doubt, a primary concern of the writer of this letter.  So we read in Hebrews chapter 2 verse 1, “Therefore we must pay closer attention – much closer attention – to what we have heard lest we drift away from it.”  Actually, Hebrews is about the importance of perseverance and the possibility of drifting.  [Kris says:  Is it?  Is that the main theme of Hebrews?  It is my understanding that the main purpose of Hebrews is to present to its original audience – Jewish Christians – (and to us)  the sufficiency and superiority of Christ, especially as juxtaposed against the insufficiency of the Jewish law and Old Testament system of animal sacrifices.]  

So pastoral care is this means of imparting God’s preserving grace so that we might persevere.  And you can do your own reading of Hebrews.  Throughout, you’ll encounter numerous warnings that are sobering us, convincing us, of our need for those who are called to watch over our souls.  We need the caring, discerning, watchful eyes of godly pastors and a pastoral team, your pastors are called to watch over your souls, and they are doing so on a daily basis.  [Kris says:  Yes, there are plenty of warnings and exhortations about persevering in the faith.  But there are also equally as many reassurances of just Who it is that does the ultimate preserving.  AND, most importantly, there is no direct connection between these exhortations and anything having to do with leaders.  There’s no statement in Hebrews that specifically says that leaders “keep us from drifting.”  Once again, C.J. is reading things into the text that are not actually there.]

They are watching over your souls through this Sunday celebration, through small groups, teaching, prayer, hospitality, personal care, discipleship, encouragement, correction, church discipline, and the list goes on and on.  All of these are a means of pastors caring for you and watching over your souls.  And regardless – regardless of the context, they as your pastors are never simply present or passive, they are always watching and caring for your souls.

[Kris says:  So really, what C.J. is saying is that pastors, by virtue of their role in the church, have become a special and separate class of human beings?  That they are never just hanging out and relating to others, without always being on the lookout, always “watching and caring for souls”?  ALWAYS?  Where do we see scriptural support for making pastors into people with so much extra responsibility, all the time?]

So yeah, it’s a wonderful announcement and a wonderful means of service.  Lemonade on the lawn, wisely brought into the lobby this afternoon.  Your pastors will be there, watching over your souls.  Caring for you.  Moving from individual to individual, making their way guest to guest.  Not simply present, certainly politically motivated, not simply being polite.  [Lowers voice to dramatic whisper.]  No, no, they’re pastors!  They are about people.  And watching over souls.  “How goes it with your soul?”  That’s what they want to know. 

[Kris says:  So again, in C.J.’s ideal world, pastors would never just hang loose, relax, and be normal human beings?  They’re always flitting from person to person, watching over eternal souls?

I think it’d be better – and more scripturally accurate – to emphasize the concept that ALL CHRISTIANS are to view others as “eternal souls.”  It’s not just pastors who are supposed to be doing this.  They’re not the only ones who are equipped thus.

Plus, what a major amount of phony weirdness to put on mere men…to suggest that they’re “always” doing this.  They’re never really relaxing.  It’s always about their duties.  If you’re having a conversation with your pastor about the weather or a football game, there’s always some other layer of interaction taking place?  It’s never just about two guys (or a guy and a gal) relating as humans, as brothers and sisters in Christ, members of the same family, where – most importantly – there are no favorites?]

They have some awareness of the present activity of sin, the deceitfulness of sin, the potential for you to drift even a week, the hardening effects of sin.  And look, actually, it’s not exclusively, or even primarily, about applying the doctrine of sin to your soul.  Actually, it’s primarily about identifying evidences of grace in your life.  That’s a primary way pastors watch over souls.  To draw to your attention – to draw to your attention – the ways in which God is at work, because often we are unaware of the ways in which God is at work because we are more aware of sin than we are grace.  So God provides pastors to come into our life and say, “I discern God at work in your life,” and they, through communicating how they discern evidences of grace in your life, leave behind – well – leave behind an edified soul as a result.  They’re watching over your souls.  That’s their privilege, that’s their joy, that’s their responsibility, and – let’s be clear – it is your soul that is most important to them.  Your soul is their main concern. 

[Kris says:  OK, I actually think this is C.J.’s only really strong point in this entire message.  I love the idea of relating to my pastor in a way where I think of him as watching for the ways that God is at work in my life.  I love that.

I’d like to think that this type of thinking would flow both directions, though – that I could encourage my pastor by sharing how I saw God at work in HIS life.  Again, it feels like the office of pastor bestows upon a man some extra level of Christianity that the rest of us will never get to enjoy.]

The writer intentionally uses “soul” here to identify that which of eternal importance and significance.  So the concern of your pastors is not simply or primarily with the present.  The concern of your pastors is with your soul in relation to the future.  See, there’s an eternal perspective present in this passage.  Their concern is to prepare your soul for that final day.  That’s their concern.  Their concern is for your soul, and their concern is for your soul in relation to eternity, their concern is to prepare your soul for that final day, their concern is for your soul in relation to heaven and hell.  Their concern is for your soul and the future experience of your soul because you are prone to neglect this biblical perspective of the future and to neglect this biblical perspective of the present in relation to the future.  You are prone to neglect or even forget the eternal perspective and pastors are given as a gift from the ascended Christ to remind us of this perspective and this priority and to watch over our souls in relation to eternity.  [Kris says:  Scripture, please?  Where does the Bible tell us that us “commoners” will forget our eternal perspective while pastors will not?  Are pastors somehow removed from the same kinds of distractions and temptations with which the rest of us mere mortals struggle?  Seriously?  If so, then, where does the Bible tell us this?]  They exist as a gift from God to care for your soul and to prepare your soul for that final day of examination and evaluation.  They are here to shepherd your soul in this life with the gospel so that on that final day, you hear the words, “Well done,” and NOT, “Depart from me.” 

That’s why they’re here.  That’s what they do. 

[End of first half of sermon transcript.  To be continued…]