Church Authority and Control

As I have been presiding over Charge Conferences it has been apparent that much of church life, and, I dare say, all life, is about authority and control. Nobody likes to be accused of having “control” issues, but I think we all do. It’s a part of our human condition to want control. Isn’t that what Adam and Eve were hoping for in their grasp for autonomy in the Garden?

I heard a “thinker” piece of humor some time ago. Somebody asked what the difference is between capitalism and communism. Someone replied that in capitalism man (pardon the sexist language) exploits man; and in communism it’s the other way around! Well, it sounds to me that no matter what you call the system, exploitation occurs. Control is when we want things our way and want to be the rulers of our own existence.
Many of the questions that come my way as a District Superintendent are about who gets to decide this or that in the local church: Is it the Pastor? Is it the Church Council? Is it the Trustees? Is it the Finance Committee? Is it the PPRC? Who’s in charge? These questions, however important, aren’t the penultimate most important question. Sure, on a specific point of church law, the question may be about one of the groups mentioned, but as Christians the real question is about who Jesus is in our personal and corporate lives.
All of our efforts to go our own way and manipulate power into control miss the mark of being under the Lordship of Christ. If Jesus is Lord then we yield to the Mind of Christ. Christ modeled humility rather than pride. Jesus did not try to grasp authority. He already had/has it! It was a non-issue for Him. It should be a non-issue for us. Jesus is in charge!
So when I sense and see the buzz-saw tenor of some of our church squabbles it’s easy to know that Jesus isn’t the One in authority. If a church is wrapped up in warfare over who’s in charge or control then it’s not a healthy church. The situation then becomes difficult as I preside over these meetings. How do I speak the truth in love and point out the fact that we’re seeking something we’re not supposed to have?
I think the answer lies in my own exercise of my authority as “Presiding Elder,” the old lingo and title for District Superintendents, and the title still used on the Charge Conference Minutes’ form. If I try to beat people up with the “power” of my office and make threats about sending the church a less-than-adequate pastor, church closure/merger, or some other very real possibility, then I’m not acting from the vantage point of being like Christ.
Perhaps the best way to be in authority is to be like Christ who was non-reactive before Pilate; and who said from the Cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Humility and non-reactive leadership through listening and speaking only God’s words are the answers that I hope to model. Godly authority is about love not control. May it be so as I/we try to submit to God’s authority, and lead others to do the same.

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