Thoughts on Authority

Authority is hard to nail down in emerging churches, home congregations, and other new expressions of church. Many have had a hard time with authority in the past because it has been abused in some way over time. Sometimes the authority has been gentle, but it holds to the wrong views. Other times leaders hold to the right views, but they exercise their authority with a heavy hand. Either way it can be hard to know how we should approach leadership and authority. Do we only place ourselves under the authority of those we agree with? Do we approach all fellow believers as dialogue partners and not worry as much about leadership and authority?

There is a sense in which the body has a variety of parts who all work together for the common good. Is it logical to assume that some parts should have authority of some sort over the others? Yet, does leveling the playing field of authority help the body more? We all have a part to play, but we all submit to one another?

I don’t think there is one answer that we can settle on that will govern all Christian communities, but I think we need to grapple with it. Are we under someone’s direction? Do we pay heed to a fellow believer or a group of them? If they warned us of something, would we listen? How do we know that a leader is exercising authority in a God-honoring way.

I have more questions than answers at this point. Essentially, I wonder, “What does authority look like in the Emerging Church?”

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2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Authority

  1. Mark

    I have no answers on this either, but I do have some thoughts. I do think you are asking some good questions.

    As I wrestle with these same questions, I think that relational authority is a mark of the emergent church. That is, you are a leader only if and when you are leading someone. More specifically, leading someone toward Christ and christ-likeness. When this is occurring in its best form, it seems to involve a relationship of mutuality and respect.

    Authority in this model would be fluid, not structured or permanent. The danger here is a "cult of personality" influencing people and in the wrong direction. But then again, this we wouldn’t label as "leadership" because it wouldn’t be "leading people towards Christ and christ-likeness."

    Authority is tough for the emergent type. While in Jesus we see the perfection of relational authority, often in God the Father we see the perfection of positional authority. And positional authority is what most of us are rebelling against. I think our ideal as an emergent community would be to come to a place where we would seek out relational authorities in the form of mentors, accountability partners and spiritual parents. This "seeking out" of relational authority in our lives may balance some of our running from positional authority that we have done thus far.

  2. Ed Post author

    Good thoughts. It really helps to have some categories. I think that some would consider "positional authority" as the only way to have a leader, which could make it hard to have dialogues with those outside of emergent.

    Nevertheless, I think you are right about relational authority. It is a good place to start.

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