Power, Authority and Influence in the New Church

Today is my decadal birthday and I plan to celebrate every wrinkle. In some cultures, age is a source of power, authority and influence, but where I live and work, it is usually not. However, there are many sources of authority out of which people lead.  Many years ago I heard a wise teacher declare that Christians are willing to talk about the power of God’s Spirit, and about the rampant abuse of power, but that it was rare for us to consider appropriate uses of power and influence. He suggested that ministers learn to recognize these and lead well out of them. Topping the list is spiritual authority. It comes from walking humbly and obediently with Christ. The next best is the informal relational authority that comes from pouring one’s life into others. It is about serving, listening and caring.

There are other sources of power and authority too. They include the influence that comes from education, expertise, knowledge (information), vision and the gift of generating great ideas. More superficial sources are money, clothing, and appearance, or cultural biases like ethnicity, stage of assimilation or gender. The most rapidly declining power source is formal hierarchical roles. At one time this kind of positional authority meant everything, but now it is best mediated through good relationships and dependency on God, as well as through leadership capacities like expertise, vision and knowledge.

Church planting leaders both intentionally and inadvertently choose the sources of authority on which they rely. Relational and spiritual sources of authority are freely available, but they take time, discipline and wisdom to cultivate. Since every member of the family of God is able to access them, these things are clearly supposed to be shared. Knowledge and expertise are also best when widely distributed among the body. In a truly great church, many members are empowered to lead and influence others, not just formal leaders. It makes little sense to train people to use their spiritual gifts without also empowering them to lead. Go for shared influence. Start churches by multiplying whole communities of spiritual, relational leaders.