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I don't know if we have covered it elsewhere, but something we have long taught orally within this community is that there is a definite difference between leaders and followers. These principles are true whether it is parents and children, husbands and wives, or pastors and congregations. Anarchical fantasies about a world where there are no leaders simply do not work, and all they succeed in doing is destroying whatever organisation and unity people had to begin with.

If anarchy were God's solution, then Jesus would not have said anything about Christians working two by two, and taking second and third stage grievances when they had disagreements. Nor would he have appointed some of his followers to act as apostles over the others. What Jesus did teach is that true leaders must be "servants" and "examples", and not function as "lords" over the sheep. However, this does not mean that these servant leaders should follow the sheep. They are still leaders, and, in general, they have a clearer picture of where they are going than what the sheep do.

The sheep can argue that they managed to find green pastures when they were wild, without help from the shepherd; but it seems that simply learning not to be wild is part of the overall spiritual exercise.

In other words, organisations (with leaders and followers) are there to overcome our tendency to be anarchists and to do our own thing. Submitting to one another in love is an important part of our overall spiritual growth, and the perfect way to learn humility. Anyone who argues against it is almost certainly having problems with their pride.

Every day there will be differences of opinions on a long list of issues, and God can use them to teach us spiritual lessons. It often doesn't matter at all whether (for instance) we have hot dogs or hamburgers for tea; but it does matter that (a) the leaders try to look out for the needs of all of the followers, and (b) that the followers submit their will and opinion (at least at times) to the will of others. This is an important part of the spiritual lessons that God is wanting to teach us.

In both cases there must be 'submission' in order to find out what is best for everyone.

Leaders need to guard against abusing their position as leaders in order to force their will and opinion on others. However, it doesn't necessarily mean that followers get equal say on opinion matters. It just means that leaders should use their position to graciously accommodate the opinions of followers as much as possible. If they do that, and if the followers are prepared to follow them whether or not they appear to be accommodating their own personal opinions, then both sides should get along quite well.

A tip along that line is to sort out which opinions are most purely "opinions". In other words, what makes us so opinionated in various matters is usually just that we convince ourselves that every opinion matter is really a moral issue. But obviously even our teachings are not all equally set in concrete. There is a strong unity between most of our teachings, so that it makes me feel at times like if I were to change one little piece it would upset the overall whole. But this is not true.

Bible prophecy, for example, is very important to me because it reinforces the teachings of Jesus, and the practical need to learn to live by faith (i.e. so that we can survive when the mark of the beast comes in, if for no other reason). But if someone comes along and they say that they believe the entire book of Revelation has to do with events that have already taken place on the earth, it may not be wise for me to even bother with arguing the point. I can just agree to disagree on that one, and shift my attention back to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels if I want to push living by faith.

Another good example is the story of Tom, the Muslim, who felt it was blasphemy to say that Jesus is the Son of God. If anything sounded like a fundamental belief that could not be compromised, that was one. But we compromised it and accepted him into our community as a believer only in Jesus the Prophet.

Three months later, he announced that he had become a believer in Jesus the Son of God... and he had done it without any arguments from any of us. It was simply the work of the Holy Spirit. We need to have the same kind of trust in other matters of faith, where we let the Holy Spirit (and the person's own sincere desire to know the truth) lead them into areas where we personally are not able to lead them without serious tensions.

Mostly I have worded this in such a way that it sounds like an instruction to leaders to do all the compromising. But I have to warn you followers that what you have learned so far has largely come through your leaders, and it is quite likely that God has not finished teaching you all that he wants to teach you through them. So if there is a case for them being patient with you, there is an even better case for you being patient with them. You will need to put an awful lot of your opinions on hold. You may also remind yourself of how many other opinions you once had, which have proven to be false since you started listening to the wisdom of your present leaders.

The devil will tell you that you have changed on so many issues that it must be our turn to do the changing now. But the opposite is true. The more a person teaches you, the more trust you need to have in that person when new truths start to come from that person. Give them a chance. Listen to what they are saying. Seriously consider their arguments. It doesn't mean you must shut your mind off altogether. You can go along with some things without necessarily agreeing with the wisdom of the decision, simply because such submission is expedient. Don't be tricked into demanding perfection from your leaders. Give them some credit on the basis of their overall record.

And do not become blind to your own imperfections either. Basically, we're all looking for utopia, i.e. a place where everything works smoothly, with a minimum of effort. But until we find it, we have to operate with the best thing available, and that seems to be a community of believers who are (overall) trying to find God's will, even if none of us does so perfectly.

Love one another, for "love never fails." (1 Corinthians 13:8)

(See also Pastors and Teachers, and The Pizza Parable.)

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