The Myth of Christian Authority

In his seminal book that serves as an accurate guide for those who want to understand how to navigate their work life, Robert Ringer focused on the three kinds of people there are in the business world: The person who is after your chips, and lets you know it; the person who is after your chips, but tells you he's not; and the person who is after your chips but honestly doesn't believe that he is. In "Winning Through Intimidation", Ringer describes the third type of person as the most dangerous of all. (As an aside, if that title bothers you, I strongly recommend you read the book! A revised version is entitled, "To Be or Not To Be Intimidated.") Ironically, I have discovered over the past few years that many Christian pastors and leaders are of this third type: they honestly believe they aren't after your "chips," but experience will prove that they are. Your "chips" may be any combination of your time, talent, and treasure, but they are the essence of what you bring to your service.

These are those men – and less often women – who will assure you that they have your best interest at heart. And, to be explicit, they actually believe they do. But, they don't. Over time and when viewed objectively, it becomes clear that what they interpret as your interest they see through their own interests. They want to be right, they want to be loved and accepted, they want to believe they belong in the role in which they find themselves, and, most unfortunate of all, they want you to fit the mold they have shaped for those they can be proud to call their own. All of these concerns of theirs form their truth and make it impossible for them to actually hold your interest ahead of theirs.

This is further complicated by the misrepresentation and misinterpretation of Christian scripture over the past hundred and more years. Many Christian leaders believe that they are "in authority over" those who attend their churches. However, scripture makes it clear that this is not so. On the contrary, the role of a "Christian leader" is twofold: on the one hand to be a "servant of all," and on the other hand to "equip the saints for the work of the ministry." That's it! Nothing in there about telling the sheep what to do!

In fact, sheep are notoriously difficult to herd! …and shepherds know better than to try to teach them any tricks. Sheep just don't do what you want them to do. So, smart shepherds focus on guiding them to fresh grass and clean water, allowing them to wander within relatively safe confines, and do what sheep do.

Unfortunately, many Christian "shepherds" aren't so wise. They use guilt and manipulation to coerce their flock into what they believe the sheep should and should not do. They exercise their "authority" over their flock, making demands of the sheep, and using the tools at their disposal to get the behavior they deem "holy". Ironically, this violates the core of the Christian gospel!

If you are a Christian leader, my hope is that you can honestly examine yourself and adjust your expectations and behavior as necessary (it might help to review Romans 12:3 and the verses following it. There's work to do in the church!). Serve the body, equip them, allow them to do what they do, to fail and to succeed, to eclipse your status, and even to make a mess.

On the other hand, if any Christian leader you know places behavioral expectations on you or other members of the church, run away! You must protect yourself! You have found a pastor who is not mature enough to step into the full truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for the gospel is grace. And grace, at its most basic, is this: there is nothing you can do to make God love you any more... or any less. There is nothing you can avoid doing to make God love you any less ...or any more. He loves you infinitely right now at this moment regardless of anything you do or do not do. It is impossible for you to diminish his love for you. It is also impossible for you to increase his love for you. It is out of your hands. It is grace, and only grace.

Thank God!