What gives you the authority to lead others?
Whether you're a CEO or a middle manager, your perceived source of authority is crucial. Anyone who has ever read anything on leadership understands that there are basically two sources of leadership authority: positional authority and relational authority.
Positional authority is the authority we gain because of the position we hold. It is a delegated authority. It comes from the top down. The boss says you're in charge of all marketing decisions, so you're in charge of all marketing decisions. Whether the people under you in the marketing department like you or not, they know you're in charge. But, of course, since you're not a Neanderthal, you know that to be effective and productive you need to have your team on board; you need them to buy in; you need the chemistry to be strong. You know positional authority is not enough; you have to win their relational authority.
Relational authority is the authority you earn from individuals because of their trust in you.(That explains why Michael Scott from "The Office" tries so hard to impress his subordinates, win their admiration, and gain their friendship.) Nevertheless, in almost every corporate environment, positional authority is granted first; relational authority is earned later.
We learn early on that positional authority precedes relational authority.
And without even questioning this, we take it as a law of life, a veritable "irrefutable law of leadership." In the Church world, we apply it to our leaders, citing Jesus' declaration that "all authority in heaven and on earth" had been given to him, and therefore our authority as leaders comes from God. In essence, we are making the "positional authority" argument with God as the ultimate authority who delegates his authority down to certain leaders.
This is harmless enough, until you start to probe the issue further. A whole host of questions arise:
Who says YOU are God's delegated authority? What gives YOU the right to be called "God's mouthpiece"?
For a church leader, our opening question is more critical and maybe more complex:
What gives you the authority to lead others?
The platform you stand on? The microphone in your hand? The title on your business card that says "pastor"?
Most in positions of ecclesiastic power will eventually get around to telling you that their authority comes from...GOD...(gasp!). Then they likely will proceed to defend it with stories of the tragic deaths and diseases that befell those who questioned Moses' authority so long ago. They might gently remind you how young David the refugee refused to "touch the Lord's anointed", and that we would be wise to heed his example. Strangely, all their examples will have one thing in common, the same glaring flaw: they are an Old Testament model of leadership.
Not everything from the Old Testament is different in the New, but leadership underwent a severe overhaul. My leadership mentor, Paul Stanley, insightfully points out that in the Old Testament the man of God went up to the mountain of God to get the word of God and then came down and told the people of God what to do. But in the New Testament, we are all a Kingdom of Priests, each with individual access to God. This was God's original intent. It was the people of Israel who were afraid and refused, begging Moses to go for them. This inclination to have someone else in charge surfaces generations later when they plead with God, "Give us a king!" God wanted to be their King, to have each of them follow Him. But they refused. Strong human leadership is easier; it's more convenient, and far more efficient. Just put someone in charge and let him delegate authority down.
1 Timothy 3 contains the New Testament guidelines for elders and deacons. Here is just one line from the long list of qualifications, and this is one for deacons:
"A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and household well." (1 Tim. 3:12, NIV)
Who was the best and greatest king of Israel? No brainer-- David. Every other king is measured against David. For God's love for David, He wouldn't punish Solomon for his sins during his own lifetime. Even the best of the kings of Judah that followed couldn't hold a candle to David. He was the greatest.
Yet David would not meet this New Testament qualification to deaconship.
What did deacons in the New Testament church do? Remember in Acts 6? Deacons were appointed to wait on tables to help with the care of the widows. Wait a minute. You mean David would not have been allowed to wait on tables in the New Testament church? Yup.
The greatest leader in the Old Testament would not have qualified for the lowest position of leadership in the New Testament.
Why? Because in the Old Testament, leaders got their authority to rule from "divine right"; in the New Testament, people get their authority to lead from earned trust. Every one of the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and even in Acts 6 when they chose the first 7 deacons has to do with trust. What kind of reputation do they have? Are they known for servanthood? Are they known for being people of wisdom, full of Spirit of God? Have they been tested? Do they have the abilities necessary? (Paul says specifically, "able to teach".) He doesn't ask if they've been prophesied over as children or if they have a calling on their lives or if they believe they are called to be a prophet to the nations or even if they're anointed. He asks what sort of reputation they have. In essence, can they be trusted?
Trust is the currency of leadership in the New Testament era. And trust is earned by serving.
Jesus turned old notions of leadership on its head when he arrived on the scene. If anyone could have cited God as the source of his authority, Jesus could have. He could have repeatedly coerced people to follow or believe by dazzling them with divine power. Yes, Jesus does say that He only does what He sees the Father doing-- i.e., His boss is God. But He doesn't use that line to get people to follow; He uses it as an explanation for his decisions and as the source of His miracles and ability to forgive sins. Furthermore, every time Jesus appeals to God as the source of His authority, He's talking about an authority over demons or over their souls-- a spiritual authority. Likewise, when Jesus in Matthew 28 says that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him therefore, go, He's not saying, "Tell everyone that you're in charge because I said so." The authority He's talking about is an authority over hell and demons. It's the authority to heal and disciple and rescue people from destruction. It's a spiritual authority not a governmental or organizational one.
How do I know? Because in Matthew 20, He specifically tells His disciples not to lead like the Gentiles, exercising "authority" over them. Spiritual authority from God is not enough to be the basis for our authority over others. Just because a person can prophesy or preach doesn't mean they should be in a position of leadership. In John 13, Jesus shows us the most dramatic display of how a leader should use his spiritual authority.
"Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him." (John 13: 3-5, NIV, emphasis mine)
We learn a few things from that passage: All authority comes from God. Romans 13 confirms this. Jesus had all authority. Jesus chose to serve his disciples by washing their feet instead of using authority over them. It is a model of a new kind of leader. It shows how we use authority, but also how we earn it with others. OK, so you believe that God has given you authority. What then? You don't demonstrate it or make it public and actually earn authority with others by declaring that God has set you up as an authority in their life. You display it by washing their feet.
There are authority structures even in the New Testament church. It's not spiritual anarchy. The church in Jerusalem was led by a council of elders, the head of which appears to be James. Authority is not a bad word. Furthermore, all authority ultimately comes from God. The question is how God wants to establish that authority publicly in His domain, the Church. It seems that in God's Kingdom, you gain authority by serving-- the last shall be first, the least shall be the greatest. From the examples in Acts and from Paul's writings, the process seems to be as follows:
- God works in an individual's life, giving him gifts and the desire for leadership.
- The individual gains the people's trust by his servant's heart and solid character.
- He then earns the people's trust in his giftings by his faithful and skilled service
- The established leaders (who've already been through this process) lay hands on him in front of the people, confirming his calling and setting him in office
So, by the New Testament pattern, relational authority-- gained by earning trust because of a servant's heart, solid character, and strong skill-- leads to positional authority.
This is a new kind of a leader. Technically, it's 2000 years old. But it's ironic that the Church, of all places, so often resorts to an Old Testament leadership model and process and not the one they pioneered back in Jerusalem in the 1st century. Maybe we can be the generation of leaders that revolts against our culture of business leadership models and return the original counter-cultural leader.
A leader is one who demonstrates God-given authority by serving others and earning their trust.
Your authority comes from God; your leadership comes from trust.