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.

 

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Showing 8 comments
  • Mary Tucci
    Reply

    Well I have to tell you today I had a lady come to my till today and she started talking about the penny rounding up and down about balancing books at her church and about world system. So I lean over my counter and I said remember when Jesus said give to ceasars what is ceasars we dont serve this world system.
    Then here I come home open my email and read the blog I love the God we serve my sheep hear my voice it encourages me. I just finished reading Corinthians and I tell you how we need this in the institutional church today its so important that the whole body walks side by side together no one greater than the other but honoring and encouraging one another in the gifts he has given us. May we all follow the shepherds voice and they will know we are his by our love for one another. Love these blogs encouraging.

  • Jacob
    Reply

    It’s amazing how when we aren’t “serving” and being “used by God” to serve the institution how quickly “relationships” end. I was with a group of people recently whom I used to serve in a “leadership” role and the tension they were putting off because I was now a “lost sheep” was so thick, you could cut it. In the end, it was quite humorous to watch.

    I really enjoyed this blog. Thank you!

    • Back 2 Eden
      Reply

      Yup. So true. In all aspects of life, one wonders if a relationship is based on the person or the position. The only way to find out is when the position of either party is no longer in play.

      Interesting that Paul and Barnabas had a relationship that transcended their changing positions over time. Initially, Barnabas had the greater authority and influence which then became missionary peers/partners and ultimately became one where Paul was the one with the greater authority. While they had some bumps along the way, their relationship was strong throughout.

      • Jacob
        Reply

        That is astonishing. I had never looked at Paul and Barnabas that way. It’s very intriguing. Its amazing too that you think the relationships are so strong and then boom, they’re gone. That’s probably the toughest part of “deprogramming.”

  • Jessica Sanders
    Reply

    Great wisdom. -It’s so important that we, as believers understand our freedom, to not follow every leader who carries a religious title.. -Also thought it was significant how you described the way we should intentionally choose who we will follow as leaders, freely, in relationship, and in what context they have leadership in our lives, whether they are truly invested, etc..
    –Seems like there can be a hugely misconstrued concept of “respecting authority”, that causes folks not to fully mature, in relationship with God, in order to understand whether their leaders are speaking, and doing truth, and even to understand that they have a choice in who have a leadership influence in their lives..

    -(I especially enjoyed this last line) –“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.”

    • Back 2 Eden
      Reply

      Thoughtful response Jessica. It seems to us that the most significant leaders in history were willing to or did give their lives for their followers/cause. Mandela, Ghandi and of course Jesus are but a few examples. An interesting contract to what passes for leadership in the 21st century.

    • Jacob
      Reply

      That last line rocked me!

      I grew up in a church that was part of the ‘Shepherding Movement’. Such a gross misrepresentation of leadership.

      Thank you putting some words to my thoughts Jess!

  • James
    Reply

    This is a helpful paradigm. As I read it I think back on times where I was excited about one part of a school or program I was joining and didn’t look through to the leaders, and the heart of the institution. I never fully thrived in those places.

    Then I read of Paul in Corinthians, and instead of Paul giving a great resume, in the world’s eyes, for leadership, he speaks of how he has done hard work. and not been a burden as a church leader (huge), and the amount of suffering he has faced, and continues to face. Only someone devoted in love to Christ and God’s people would do this. Wow.

    I am taking note, to pay attention and listen to heart, eyes, and spirits of the people in places I go in life, whether business, or social.

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