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Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Authority and Family

I have said that authority must be seen in the context of family. If a stranger came into my home to meet my family and one of the first things he asked was 'who's in charge around here?', 'who's the boss?' how would I feel? Terrible. Offended. Upset. I would want them to experience the life, fun, play, messiness, thrills, spills, laughter, love, tensions, honesty, openness, security and intimacy of family life; not concern themselves with the 'government' of the family. Even where there is loving leadership and responsible parenting, it does not draw attention to itself. It's success would be in its own invisibility. 

I'd love for the same to be true of the local church family. It's not that there isn't leadership or authority but that it is not the focus, or the first thing people notice. Hierarchy is never invisible and is an inappropriate structure for family, including the church family. Apart from inevitably working against the servant nature, the 'power under' dynamic of the different kingdom, it ultimately stifles the life and freedom that is the birthright of every child of God. And it requires constant attention to maintain - over the years I have heard more arguments about and attempts to organise how such church government works. Family is far more organic and vital - it also requires continual attention, but this is to all of the relationships involved, not just to governmental structures.

For the church to work effectively as family, we need to prioritise relationship, release the gifting of all in the family, including the various gifts of leadership, and discover those spiritual parents whose gift, maturity, faithfulness and stability help bring strength and security to the family even as other kinds of leaders are released in their gifting. 


  1. Interesting stuff, its starting to shape up. So tell me Trevor how is this different in practice to a normal MWB style of leadership where there is (to be fair) usually good pastoral relational authority exercised? Is this just a different emphasis or a different model?

  2. I don't think that there was a party line for everyone who has worked with Keri and Bryn over the years; and there was and is certainly many good examples of what you call 'relational authority.' Although I think it would be true to say that there was at least implicit assumptions towards hierarchy. A lot of the time, though, it is not the doctrinal position but the culture that is most influential. I believe that ultimately hierarchy - even when well-intentioned - contributes to a culture that is limiting and restrictive. Perhaps I should be clear that the things I express on this blog represent where I am at at the moment in my personal understanding, and are not the 'position statements' of any church or organisation.

  3. From: Jeremy
    [I will work out how to subscribe or whatever, but Newsnight's just finished and I'm up at 5.30 so won't tonight!]

    This is good stuff to post, Trevor (if I may offer an outsider's perspective) - at work, I often encounter people who exercise authority they don't even have to lord it over colleagues, rather tnan building respectful relationships with them.

    I've seen people in churches, too, valuing the authority given them over the responsibility of exercising it in respectful relationship to those they exercise it over.

    Re your point, Deane, is there a 'normal MWB style of leadership'? Maybe there is, but individuals - even those going by the letter of the same system! - can come over very different. (To take a trivial example, the Bowerham and Greaves Spar shops are barely 5 minutes' walk apart, same branding, but noticeably different team management standards).

    all the best

  4. "loving leadership and responsible parenting... does not draw attention to itself. It's success would be in its own invisibility" I love this!

    How invigorating and thrilling when the success of leadership is seen in the release and empowering of the 'children'. When people are encouraged and equipped to be all that they were made to be. It's an exciting and liberating prospect when the execusion of spiritual authority and government results in the visible effect of seeing the family thrive, rather than seeing the leaders lead!

  5. Re your second sentence - this IS very often what people ask In church. How do you respond to that?

  6. "It's not that there isn't leadership or authority but that it is not the focus". I think your point is well made. The leadership is clear, but it's a servant leadership, seeking to encourage others into their giftings- even when this takes them beyond where the leader is!

    John Maxwell talks about 'the law of the lid'. The church/organisation can only go as far as the leader has gone. But in a church setting, that is how far I am journeying in my relationship with God, not in my authority. So as a leader, I need to stretch as far as God would have me go, which release others.

    My attitude is key though. A good friend in an apostolic role uses the phrase 'your success is my honour'. I think that sums it up well.

  7. Matthew, you ask a fair question. The fact that this is what they ask may indicate something about how people have perceived church historically. I like to think that I would try to start a conversation with them about how the body of Christ is meant to work, and how it is about the release and exercise of everyone's gifting. And then put the gift of leadership in that context. I'd probably tell them a little about my journey on this issue also. That's assuming they're still listening!

    1. Those conversations can be fun can't they? I usually get into them by being asked "are you the Pastor?" a title I refuse to own!

  8. Helpful comment, Ralph. Thanks. The problem with the concept of the church only being able to go as far as the leader is that it can inadvertently contribute to a hierarchy mentality; sadly, a lid is exactly what some leaders can become! I have come to realise that for what I'd call 'the generational advance' of the kingdom, I want the people I lead to be empowered to go much further than I have!!

  9. Interesting how Apostles are described as being the foundation on which the church is built. Where do you find the foundations? Underneath.