In our previous Spirit Blog: Church Redefined? we explored the impact of the information age and the corresponding empowerment of the individual on institutional religion. We concluded that the Greek word “ecclesia” has nothing to do with what we have now come to know as institutional church and the associated leadership hierarchy. If that is the case, what does healthy leadership and the closely related concept of authority look like? Leadership redefined?
A clue to the answer to this question can be found in the following incident recorded in the Bible:
So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” He saw through their duplicity and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent. – Luk 20:21-26 NIV
In this confrontation, the institutional leaders of the day (teachers of the law and chief priests) were trying to trap Jesus by attempting to put him in a situation where he would have to chose which authority (leader) he would submit to. His answer brilliantly stumped them but also gives us a clue about the right attitude toward leadership and authority. What Jesus was saying was “Who is the authority over the Roman monetary system?” by asking whose image was on the coin. His answer indicated that when you are operating within a system with Caesar as leader then you need to follow the rules of that system. When you are in God’s system, you follow His rules (leadership).
Let’s bring this into a simple example that applies to our lives. If you choose to join a basketball team there will likely be a coach and captain performing roles of leadership within that environment. In that situation, you should honour and respect their authority and submit to it within the team system and the specific relationship they have with you in that environment. We would call this situational or relational leadership. This scenario applies to our workplace, school, community project, religious institution or any other situation where we connect ourselves through relationship to the applicable system and the leaders associated with it. To continue our example, your basketball coach has no leadership authority in your workplace. The authority is completely connected to your relationship within the basketball team.
In healthy examples of the above situations we will go through an assessment process by asking questions such as:
Does the leader care about the people in the group?
Does the leader care about me?
Do I identify and align to the vision/purpose of the group?
After some period of assessment, we will decide to join/connect/sign-up and honour the leader and submit to the authority structure in place. If that doesn’t occur, that person has no authority over our lives. This is the root of the issue we are addressing.
This concept can be tied together if we examine our decision to join/connect/sign-up to God’s system (a.k.a. kingdom) by developing a relationship with Him. In that system, who is the authority? The answer of course is God. Whose authority or leadership have we willingly submitted to through this relationship? The answer is obvious.
So what of institutional religious leaders that claim to be appointed by God? Is that true? Perhaps they were placed there by an institution claiming to be acting in God’s name rather than by God Himself. We can go on from here to ask ourselves the same assessment questions mentioned above. If we meditate on this long enough we can begin to see how scandals such as pedophile priests can happen.
The conclusion from all of this is that biblical leadership and authority flows through lines of relationship and genuine caring and is voluntarily given by followers. It is entirely situational based on the assembled team in a specific time and place (more about that in future blogs). For now, let’s look at the words of one of the most impactful leaders in history (the Apostle Paul) when his leadership was challenged. Rather than repeat the long passage here, read 2 Corinthians, chapters 11 and 12 and note how Paul defends his leadership and more importantly compares himself to false leaders. Those are the kind of leaders we should be looking for in whatever organization or group we connect with.
Jesus said “Therefore consider carefully how you listen.” Luke 8:18 implying that you are responsible for what you to be hear.
People who lay their lives on the line for you can be trusted to lead you. You will never regret having this high standard before following them. Look for them in whatever group situation you find yourself in.