"Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." Hebrews 13:7-8
When I was a monk living at the Little Portion Hermitage (see my article, The Journey of Faith), we would often have visitors come by to see the community, so whoever was available would give them a tour. Since the Little Portion is Franciscan in its origins, we would frequently see Franciscan priests and sisters, as well as Franciscan lay men and women visitors. Some of these visitors would expound upon the virtues of Francis, telling us how he would have reacted to one thing or another they saw at the community, informing us how we could do things differently. Sometimes they would even encourage us in the things they approved of. Very comforting.
As an Assemblies of God minister, I was still more proficient in my knowledge of Scripture than of Francis, so I would listen and then pose biblical questions in response. Some visitors, being more proficient in Francis than in Scripture, answered my questions in ways that were often, in my opinion, thin at best. What I discovered was that some people, in their search for God, fell short and followed Francis. They could quote him and give you the important dates of his life and tell you all the wonderful books they have read about him. They could recite the names of his first followers and how he met Clare, his female counterpart. They could give you a detailed history of the movement, its struggles and its triumphs, and bring you right up to date on the worldwide events in Franciscan life. Very impressive. But when I asked them simple questions about Scripture, they stumbled and fell. Very sad.
But this is a symptom I find in many Christian circles, not just among a few Franciscans. It is not hard to find people who can go on and on about their favorite author and tell you all about their books. They will gloat about spending the entire weekend reading the author's newest novel, perhaps even staying up until 2:00 a.m. just reading. "And wow," they would say, "was it ever a good book; you just gotta read it!" Others will drive hundreds of miles to hear their favorite speaker, and they'll do this year after year. But more often than not, if I ask these people when was the last time they sat down and read through an entire book of the Bible other than 3 John, they can't remember. Once I gave an assignment to my Sunday school class to sit down and read the entire Book of Hebrews in one sitting. I told them it would take between 45 minutes and one hour. Maybe 10 percent rose to the challenge.
My fear is that too many Christians are living at a level that is far below their confession.
"Jesus is my Lord and my Savior" is the qualifying cry to be accepted in most churches today. But when you look closely at their lives, they don't really resemble Christ. They say they follow Him, but it must be at quite a distance because there is such little resemblance between His lifestyle and theirs. It has been said that you can tell who a preacher's pastor was by the way he preaches. Quite often a young man will take on the characteristics of his pastor, especially if he grew up under that ministry. That is to be expected, but I often wonder if that was the only thing he learned to imitate.
This need to correctly imitate godly leaders also seems to be the concern of the author of Hebrews. In Hebrews 13:6, the author quotes Psalm 118:6 and seems to phrase it as a rhetorical question: "What can man do to me?" The author first shows us leaders who died faithful, and then Christ who, being the same yesterday and today and forever, will never leave us or forsake us, for He is "a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1). This is an exhortation to be faithful and look to God, for what can man do to us?
The good pastor to these Hebrew believers is continuing in his efforts to convey practical advice to his faithful flock. Pressures from faithless men were pressing in on every side to make them sway from their faith. But there were also pressures from false teachers who were trying to poison their minds with errors that would undermine the foundations of their faith. Now, after speaking about love, the author passes on a few thoughts about Christian leaders. This is important, for although we find much in the New Testament on the behavior and qualifications of leaders, there is less instruction about how Christians should treat their leaders.
Three times in chapter 13 the author mentions the leaders. In verse 17 the readers are told to obey them, in verse 24 they are told to greet them for the author, and in verse 7 they are told to remember them. In verses 17 and 24 reference is clearly made to living leaders, but in our current passage reference is made to leaders who led them in the past but now have gone to be with God. These leaders left complete examples of how to live, behave, and die, and their whole lives were open for review, for they were of such fine character that the author says we can "imitate their faith."
Listen closely. We are to "imitate their faith."--not their speech patterns or manner of dress.
We should not be looking at the cars they drive or the neighborhoods they live in. We are not to imitate their ministry, mannerisms, gifts, talents or experiences. We are told to imitate and follow their faith.
That was the problem I had with many of the Franciscans I met, and it is the same problem I have with many Christians today who know more about their favorite speaker than they do about Scripture. They are so enamored and captivated with the personality that they follow the person. But that is a subtle trick of Satan himself, who knows that if he can convince people to keep their eyes on their leaders and imitate them, then they will no longer be truly following Christ, and they will ultimately be ineffective in the Kingdom of God.
It is one thing to imitate the lives of our leaders, and quite another to imitate their faith. To imitate the faith of our leaders means we consider their trust in God and pray that our own faith increases. I'm convinced that if those Franciscans who came by the Little Portion were really following the example of Francis, they would think less about Francis and completely follow Jesus, which is exactly what Francis did. The most important book in the life of Francis was the Bible. And when his little group only had one Bible, Francis tore it into sections so that they all had portions to read. Francis had only one focus in life, and that was to love Jesus.
We imitate the faith of our leaders when we remember their instructions and practice what they preached.
We should "meditate upon their lives," A. W. Pink tells us, "and so far as their world corresponded to their words, imitate their conduct. Copy their virtues, and not their eccentricities."  We have enough people in churches across America today who regularly sit under the teachings of their pastor and nod in approval as he preaches. They support his ministry and his doctrines, admire his courage to expand the church in a building project, and defend him in the community. But too often they do not carry out his teachings in their own lives or follow his example as he follows Christ. We need to imitate the faith of our leaders in such a manner that it actually has an effect upon the way that we live.
But it is not just anyone that we are to follow. Simply because people put up signs in storefronts and claim for themselves the title "pastor" does not mean that we are to follow their example. The leaders that the author is referring to were probably those who were trained under the apostles. (Some think that the author himself was Paul, who was trained under the leadership of Gamaliel, a respected Jewish teacher; or perhaps Barnabas was the author, who was trained under Paul.)
Do you see the pattern? The leaders were appointed to lead because they had spent their time in training. It is unfortunate to see so many churches started today by people who could not stay more than a few months in any one place under the leadership and training of their pastors. They never had decent training, refused to submit to their authorities, and when their denomination would not sanction the work "God" had told them to do, they broke away from the organization, saying that they must follow God and not man.
What a bunch of pretentious, pseudo-spiritual hogwash. These people are nothing more than adolescent rebels who refuse to submit to the established authorities in the church and go off to do their own thing. Then they gather around them like-minded rebels and wonder why they seem to have so little effect upon the lives of their listeners, much less upon the lives of the unsaved in their community. These are not true leaders. Any man or woman who is not submitted to a higher authority is not worthy of our attention, much less our imitation, and should be avoided at all costs. One only needs to read the lives of Moses, David, Paul, and Jesus to see how they submitted to authority.
Pink, A.W. An Exposition of Hebrews. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1987.