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.
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.)
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.