I guess I used to think that authority in the church was basically the same as authority in the world but that we were nice about it! I thought that when Jesus was telling us not to lord it over people like the Gentiles do (Mark 10:42-45) that he was just talking about the way in which authority is exercised. We were still to exercise authority 'over' people but that we were to be gentle and considerate about it.
Because the kingdom of God is not of this world (John 18:36), I now see that authority in the kingdom and therefore in the church - the kingdom community - is of a totally different nature, kind and order. Authority in the kingdom is not 'power over' but 'power under'. It is not hierarchical - it is not about who's in charge, who has the last say, where do the lines of government lie, who's accountable to who? When we think that way, we are beginning to imitate the kingdoms of this world. Instead, we must look to the Godhead for our model.
In the Godhead there is total equality, yet not one that is grasped at (Phil.2:6); rather, there is a willing, voluntary, beautiful submission of the Son (and the Spirit) to the Father. It is in this model of the community, or family, of the Godhead that we must find our example. As it is in heaven, so let it be on earth. And the heavenly model of family is the context in which authority must be understood.
For of course there is still a place for authority and leadership. And in the church that includes issues of direction, decision-making, instruction, purposeful restraint (in the sense that it is not a free-for all, for everyone to do as they see fit) and even discipline. But they must be seen in the context of family - and the heavenly model of family (Eph.3:14-15) - in which the desire of the father/parent is for the realisation of the full potential of the son/child.
And it must also be seen in the context of the counter-cultural, 'power under' dynamic of the different kingdom - authority that serves, sacrifices and empowers. I hope to develop this more tomorrow.