Hebrews 13 contains 3 verses which speak directly to the issue of leadership. These verses are particularly significant because they alert us to perspectives on leadership not usually mentioned or noticed, especially with regards to the Pauline writings. Beginning with vs. 7, the author looks back at past leaders and notes two features of their lives that are exemplary for the contemporary congregation.
13:7 Continually remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; contemplate the outcome of their conduct, and imitate their faithfulness.
The congregation is urged to regularly call to mind their leaders. These were people entrusted with the task of guiding and directing them in the journey of following Jesus. The word used for “leaders” is one of several used to describe Christian leaders in the church (cf. Luke 22:26; Acts 14:12; 15:22; 1 Clem. 1:3; 21:6). It is used of leadership in a variety of circumstances, including political, military and religious contexts. The exhortation to remember them suggests that they were good leaders who embodied something worth remembering and learning from.
Firstly, these leaders are described as “those who spoke the word of God to you”, since this is one of the most important functions of biblical leaders (Acts 6:2; 8:14; 13:5; Gal. 6:6; Col. 1:25, 28; 2 Thess. 2:15; 1 Tim 4:11; Tit. 2:1). This is important for several reasons. Firstly, not many people could read and Bible’s were not freely available. There was no local bookshops with devotionals and study bibles to help people grow in their faith and obedience to God. So leaders had to be relied upon to deliver the teachings of Scripture.
“Those,” again plural not singular suggesting many teachers, who instructed them are to be remembered for a) what they taught, and b) how they lived in response to what they taught. These leaders taught not only with their words but also with their lives. Attridge suggests that,
Like the following summons to “imitate” the faith of the leaders, the call to observe them is part of common early Christian advice to follow those who follow Christ.
This is further seen in the injunction to “contemplate the outcome of their conduct.” They not only spoke the word of God, verbally guiding and instructing them via the teachings of Scripture, but also embodied and practiced God’s ways and will. They were exemplary in their conduct, and thus provided a concrete model of what the word of God looks like when performed in real life. Their teaching was thus not mere theory, but it affected the way they lived and acted as they embraced the values and vision of life in God’s kingdom under God’s reign.
This passage then assumes, though we cannot comment on the extent, that leaders are active in several contexts where their lives can be put on display for followers to observe and consider. This further implies a relationship between the leaders and followers. If it is the role of followers to consider their leaders teaching and exemplary living, this indicates a proactive element on the part of followers to carefully observe/consider their leaders actions in various contexts. It is as if followers are to “take notes” about how their leaders handle various situations, and embody the life of faithfulness to Scriptural teachings. This would then add the responsibility of leaders who are called to such a weighty and important task of moulding and shaping those seeking to follow Jesus.
This is further demonstrated in what Moffatt calls, “their consistent and heroic life,” where the congregation is called to imitate (2 Thess 3:7, 9; 3 Jn. 11) their faithfulness, not just their faith. They have lived in such a way that their lives become heroic, much like the heroes of Hebrews 11. Lane notes that,
The accent falls specifically on the firmness of faith, which characterised the exemplary conduct of the leaders throughout their lives. The quality of their faith aligns them with the exemplars of faith under the old covenant, whose faithfulness is celebrated in 11:4-38.