Revisiting The Chair O’ Great Authority

kinnon —  October 16, 2009 — 14 Comments

Linkwithin, the blog plugin tool that provides the “You might also like” items below, recently pointed to this post of mine. The Pearls Before Swine cartoon from it, is worth a repost.


In a book review that got a fair amount of traffic this past summer, I responded strongly to the “authority” issue on which the writers pontificated – suggesting the book Why We Love the Church really should have been called, Why We Love Hebrews 13:17 – Obey Your Leaders & Submit to Them.

UPDATE: Read Alan Knox here and here on Hebrews 13:17. Via Alan the word peithō translated as obey “means “to be won over as the result of persuasion””.

Too many “leaders” see authority as a position attained via title. They translate the word as “the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience”. It’s a power word – submit or else.

Mark Driscoll in a January 2009 NYT article title, Who Would Jesus Smack Down, was famously quoted as saying that people who dared challenge his authority were “sinning through questioning” – this during the church process of consolidating the power in the church to “Driscoll and his closest aides“. It would appear that MD would translate authority as the right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience – “break(ing) their nose(s)” if necessary.

But authority can, and in my not humble but accurate opinion, should be translated as the power to influence (UPDATE: or persuade) others because of one’s recognized knowledge about something and experience practicing it with a high level of efficacy. (Note that this is a Kinnon translation based on a number of others.)

Unfortunately it is both via experience and research that I can write that the church seemingly overflows with narcissistic leaders who live to exert power and control. (Follow Alice down the rabbit hole that is the People Formerly Known as discussion if you’d like to do your own research.) It matters little what cheering section of the theological pool these people are in – they are in it for the power. Let me reinforce this: because I use a Driscoll example does not mean that I believe his particular section of the theological pool – filled as it is with buff naked guys and no women (I’m creeping myself out) has any higher percentage of narcissists than the mainline, emerging, RC, EO or the 90,000 variations of the evangelical church. (One of the positions people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder – extreme narcissists – are attracted to is church leadership. It is one of the best places to practice irrational authority unchallenged – as these leaders convince you they are on a mission from God. If you learn best via pictures – this might help.)

GuyMegaphoneOnChair Perhaps it is a knee-jerk reaction then, when I read or hear church leaders insist on authority – and use terms like discipline rather than discipleship. Who speak of themselves as shepherds and their followers as sheep. (Though technically, biblically correct – too often this is twisted into stupid, smelly sheep being owned by their respective “shepherds” as this attests. I should note that Pastor is the Latinate translation of shepherd.)

But Matthew 20:25-28 is still the true test of Christian leadership. You are a leader with authority if you serve, rather than are served and value your position as last rather than first amongst the sheep – of which you are one.

Authority is earned. Respect is given – rather than demanded.

Titles no more give you authority than owning snow tires gives you a vehicle that works in the winter.

UPDATE: I should note that my friend, John Frye’s posts on the role of Pastor have been one of the triggers for this post. Particularly the discussion between John and Alan Knox on John’s first post of his series. John’s latest posts seem quite different from his position here. (Which was written 2.5 years ago – people are allowed to change, of course.) I actually left a post in drydock that dealt directly with John’s series.

Jamie Arpin-Ricci engages positively with John’s series – Of Pastors, Priesthood and Power

In the comments below, my good friend and fellow Canadian, Robbymac appears to suggest that my negative review of DeYoung Kluck’s book might be a symptom of wanting to be one of the cool emerging/missional kids. This post and particularly it’s comments might dissuade him of that. My coolness factor is more a function of seasonal climate change. I am particularly cool right now – and not enjoying it – though the leaves are gorgeous as viewed from my office window. (Robby is working for YWAM in Mexico – perhaps he misses the cool… of Winnipeg.)

Len Hjalmarson’s Vision, Mission and Revelation is a very good post to read after this one.



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

14 responses to Revisiting The Chair O’ Great Authority

  1. Hey Bill, good post. What did you think of Belcher’s ‘Deep Church’ with regard to authority?

  2. Good leadership doesn’t have to prove itself. People who demand respect often don’t get it. They just show themselves to be arrogant. It’s just the way it is. I’d rather people respect me because I have earned it (usually this happens through service anyway!).

  3. Bill,

    I’m just about finished reading Why We Love The Church, and honestly, I can’t understand why people are freaking out about what they’ve written.

    It’s well-written, much less sarcastic that Why We’re Not Emergent (unless the final two chapters to there — as I said, I’m “about” finished), and poses a lot of very good questions and observations.

    If Frank Viola can write Pagan Christinaity and be all whoop-a** and have people defend him by pointing out that he had some good insights, why can’t that cut both ways?

    Are we supposed to oppose anything Calvinists say on principle (to maintain our emerging/missional credentials with the cool people who decide who’s “in” or who’s “out” of the conversation), or is Viola the infallible pope of the simple church movement?

    I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Calvinist, but honestly, they seem to be the only people willing to speak up about the problems in the de-churched mentality and emergent theology. I can respect them for that, even if I have no great liking for tulips. 🙂

  4. Let me nuance that last paragraph in my earlier comment:

    “…they seem to be the only people (with credible research and methodology) willing to speak up… etc.”

    Don’t want the heresy hunters to get lumped in with good critiques. 🙂

  5. Robby,
    I wasn’t a fan of Viola’s PC. I found it just as arrogant as DeYoung Kluck.

    I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on DY-K’s book.

    I have no emerging/missional credentials and am only cool when the heat is down.

  6. Mike,
    I’ve been meaning to get to my review of Jim’s book. Next week!

  7. My experience is that if you HAVE to call someone ‘pastor’… they probably aren’t!

  8. Bill, I wrote a review on it this morning. I may be too hard on Jim. You can click on my name above and it will take you to the review. Let me know what you think.

  9. Mike,
    I don’t think you are too hard, at all. Jim has had a lot of positive feedback – not unjustified, but it is far from a perfect book. I respond to your post in your comments (once approved, of course.)

  10. Bill, like it or not the thick glasses and the peek-a-boo header photo make you kinda cool…these days. Not to worry – hang around long enough and you be back out of fashion.

    “Kingdoms are ruled by consent” (HT: Dallas Willard). No exceptions. True authority granted by the people who are governed – even in some sort of violent “archy.” Sooner or later power-hungry megalomaniacs are overthrown by someone.

  11. Jason,
    Thick glasses fell off my head when I was doing some filming in Lost Wages this past spring. I didn’t notice. When I found them, they’d been stomped. I’m much less cool than the header would suggest.

    Willard, as per usual, is correct.

  12. Bill, you are so one of the cool kids. At least, I’ve always thought of you as cool. 🙂 (You’re one of the original seven instigators of Missional Tribe, which is cool…)

    I guess my time away from the conversation has left me rusty and in the dark about the latest developments.

  13. Years ago I read the phrase “the authority of compassion,” which, I think belongs to Mother Teresa or Malcom Muggeridge. The phrase presents a constant challenge to me. Am I willing to suffer with those in need of rescue, and to identify with those I lead? The truest thing I know as a pastor is “a leader leads by serving and serves by leading.” But the order is important, otherwise the leadership does not represent God’s heart.

  14. Confession time: Whenever I hear about a pastor exerting his authority strongly, as in the recent story about Andrew and Mars Hill at Matthew Paul Turner’s blog, I imagine Cartman from South Park and his “authoritah.” Sometimes authority just becomes its own monster to assert and maintain over others.

    I am a firm believer in placing myself under authority. I have that in my pastors, small group leaders, and some other trusted friends. However, I have no patience for supposed leaders who try to lead through the power and authority of their positions rather than the integrity and love in their lives. The difference is that positional authority needs me to affirm their position. Living authority spends itself for the sake of others. It’s all about who is washing who’s feet.


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