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LEADERSHIP (7): I Have Made You A Watchman

"Stand On Your Watchtower"

"Stand On Your Watchtower"

A passage which weighs heavily on the hearts of many elders is Hebrews 13:17.

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Some understand this to mean elders are personally liable to the Lord if anyone under their charge goes astray. This has kept some good men from even considering the work of an elder because they are unwilling to assume such responsibility. If that is your understanding of this text, I could certainly understand why you would be reluctant to accept such a duty.


Accountability cannot be avoided so easily, however. Note that the passage does not speak specifically of elders but of “leaders” or “those who rule over you” (KJV). They are identified in verse 7 as those who are to be imitated “who spoke the word of God to you.” While this certainly includes elders, it will also involve Christian parents, teachers, preachers, and others who influence us for the Lord. It is possible we have applied this passage to elders because we want a passage that establishes the authority of elders. If that is so, we have seized on the wrong passage.

What does obey your leaders mean here? The word obey is not the same as in “We ought to obey God, rather than man” (Acts 5:29). Here, the root means to convince (by argument, whether true or false). Thus, we are to be open to persuasion by our Christian leaders. In Acts 5:29, it is this word in compound with the word archo, which means to rule. Thus, God persuades as one ruling over us. Our leaders persuade us by their teaching and example. They persuade us, as by those who are knowledgeable and experienced in the ways of the Lord, not as those who have authoritarian rule over us whom we must obey.

Also notice that this passage does not lay personal guilt on the leader when a follower strays. Are parents always responsible when a child goes wrong? Does the child have free will to choose which way he will go? Was Jesus responsible for Judas’ betrayal or Peter’s denial?

Certainly parents have both influence over and responsibility for their children. Yet, these are limited to things within the parents’ power. The same is true of all leaders. They have a certain amount of moral authority that must be used for good. They must be careful not to neglect any who are in their charge. But they may use their influence for good and responsibly seek the one who is straying – and still have some wander away. The Christian leader is not answerable for that person’s lost soul any more than Jesus is liable for some being lost after he died to save them.

When I was a youngster L.B. Chastain, who preached for my home congregation, was fond of saying, “Ability plus Opportunity equals Responsibility.” No one must do something beyond his power or opportunity. This principle certainly limits the guilt of leaders when rebellious, careless people go astray.

The shepherd must give an accounting for the sheep in his care. But when he struggles with the lion and the bear instead of fleeing, when he seeks the one who is straying instead of staying safely and comfortably in the fold, his account may not be joyous – but he will not be held liable either.

When the Lord asks, “What about John Doe? Whatever happened to him?” can you say, “You know, Lord, I talked to him many times. He knew he was doing wrong, but would not come back. We did everything we knew to do, and nothing seemed to help.” If you can reply like that, then the Lord will say, “That’s o.k. I know you tried. I died for him, and he wouldn’t listen to me either.”

On the other hand, the situation would be quite different if you have to say, “John Doe? I am not sure what happened to him. In fact, I am not even sure I remember who he is.”


The passage above says that leaders “keep watch over you as men who must give an account.” What does it mean to be a watchman? Ezekiel 33:1-9 describes the work of a watchman. He watches for the approach of an enemy. If he does not give a warning, he is responsible for the loss of the city; if he gives an unheeded warning, the city’s blood is not on his hands. The Lord then said to Ezekiel, “Son of Man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.

Part (but not nearly all) of the work of a Christian leader is to be a watchman. We are not only to be examples of what is right; we are to warn against what is wrong. Thus leadership has certain confrontational duties as well. There is not only nurture; there is also “the admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians  6:4), which is said to fathers about the rearing of their children.

We seldom enjoy admonition – either to give it or to receive it. We can easily criticize, but admonition is more difficult to administer. Most prefer to let things drift while we deplore the situation. Admonition requires direct contact. You cannot do it without getting involved up to your elbows. It also means you cannot beat around the bush or be so indirect that no one gets your meaning.

When a self-willed, fractious person is causing trouble in a church, the Christian leader must speak up so he can be heard. This is the clear teaching of Titus 3:9-11.

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

A showdown is not to be sought for its own sake, but you must confront some people with the gravity of their attitudes and actions.

When a child is going his own way and leaving the way he has been taught, the Christian parent must speak up with the “training and instruction of the Lord.” When someone through neglect is wandering and drifting, those who are spiritual must speak up to “turn a sinner from his error” (James 5:20). Do not allow the world to win the battle by default.


It is not enough, though, to admonish. We must admonish appropriately. I remember a mother of three pre-school terrors who said to an elder, and me “I teach my kids what’s right. I sit them down right there on the floor and read the Bible to them, but they won’t listen.” (One of the little fellows pointed to an extension cord and said, “That’s what Momma whips us with.”) Too much of our counsel is as misguided as this mother’s poor attempts.

The Scriptures say a lot about how to reprove someone. The “famous” passage on church discipline in Matthew 18:15-17 is really about how to admonish one who sins against you. What we often overlook here is that this is nestled between the parables of The Lost Sheep and The Unforgiving Servant. It is introduced with the statement, “Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”

The implication is obvious: the purpose of the confrontation is the salvation of the sinner and his forgiveness. Do not lose sight of these objectives while concentrating on procedural matters. In fact, probably the most important thing to remember during the actual confrontation is God’s desire to be able to forgive. This will ensure we maintain the proper spirit at all times.

Even the procedural matters discussed in Matthew 18:15ff emphasize things that will protect and preserve the erring brother. The meeting is to be private, “just between the two of you.” It is to be persistent; “if he will not listen,” do not give up – take one or two others with you. Perhaps he will then listen. If not, take it to the church. This is not merely to report a brother’s sin, but that all might counsel with him. Only when all efforts have failed are we to reject the sinning brother. The procedure is not so we can justify excom­mun­i­cation. In fact, withdrawal of fellowship itself has as its purpose the objective of winning the sinner back.

It is possible to be procedurally correct and spiritually wrong. Galatians 6:1 points out that attempts at restoration should be with meekness – and that the confronter should also be careful lest he fall into temptation. 2 Timothy 4:2 charges all who preach the word to “… rebuke… with great patience and careful instruction.” Admonition is not to degenerate into “foolish and stupid arguments” that merely produce quarrels. Instead, when men resist reproof, they must be gently instructed with the hope they will return to the way of godliness (2 Timothy 2:22-24).

All this suggests a non-accusatory approach is probably best. Explain your concern, and give the person an opportunity to explain. Perhaps you have bad information. Go with the hope that this is true. If he becomes defensive or, in a worst case, becomes offensive, remain calm. Remember the example of Jesus: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate” (1 Peter 2:23). Be like Jesus.

Emphasize that your concern is based on your love for him and respect for the authority of the Lord. Do not try to exercise authority yourself, especially in a first meeting. Go with tears, not with rancor. You are not leading an inquisition or conducting a trial; you are seeking a straying lamb.

If a proper spirit is maintained, the person will have ample opportunity to see just how he has gone astray. It is seldom that a spirit of “authority” is the right one to adopt. I know a Christian father whose young adult son was leaving the fold of God. After talking with him father-to-son over a span of several weeks with no results, the father tried a different tack. He said to the son, “I want to talk to you, not as your father, but as a Christian brother.” When he got rid of his “authority” as a father and addressed the young man as an equal in the Lord, the response was different. Note that this also took it away from being a father imposing his own will on the son and brought the will of God into the matter as well.

Without a proper spirit, admonition can quickly degenerate into bitter wrangling and quarrelling. Instead of looking to the matters of the heart that are the real issues, the confrontation can become a real “showdown” where “victory” is determined by who wins the “I said, he said” argument. It is unlikely that such a battle will promote God’s work.


In summary, leaders are called to warn sinners gently, hoping for their restoration and salvation. Such work will surely test our mettle – but its rewards are eternal. Many times we hold back when we see situations where we know we should say something – but we fear we will do something wrong. If love is in our hearts, though, it is not likely we will go far wrong. In fact, the biggest danger is that we will do nothing – and thus incur the guilt of the watchman who does not warn the city of the approaching enemy.


  1. How is the watchman responsible? How must he give an account?
  2. How and why do leaders neglect their responsibility as watchmen?
  3. How should we give warning admonitions? What is the purpose of warning admonition?
  4. How can procedure take precedence over purpose in our practice of following Matthew 18:15-17? Why do you suppose we often have more concern with procedure than with the purpose for the process?
  5. Who is responsible for warning the sinner of his danger?
  6. How do the principles in this lesson apply to leaders in the home?
  7. Why is there usually more danger that we will do nothing when something should be done than that we will do the wrong thing?
  8. Why are tears better persuaders than authority?

– (8) Leadership Objectives

PREVIOUS – (06) The Shepherd Model of Leadership


One Response

  1. Hey man great entry. Did you watch last nights news? That is some great blogging material lol. Laters
    Thanks for your kind words. Come visit again. – Jerry

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