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Leader’s Authority

This is not true just among the ordained. Untold thousands of volunteer church leaders have lost sight of where their authority and ministry came from and have begun to act as if it belongs to them. In contrast to pastors who lost perspective, I have personally sat in many churches where the board said to the pastor, “We were here long before you got here and we’ll be here long after you leave.” What they were saying is, “Ultimately, we are in charge—the authority around here belongs to us.” They said it almost as if that authority actually began with them in the first place.

I am responsible for tremendous amounts of ministry, but none of it belongs to me. That is the essence of a servant leader.

There are many volunteers who are well-meaning and (in general) godly people who are empowered to do ministry. They have been empowered to do ministry for which the elders and staff took the risk and ultimately carry the responsibility. One such church in California started a ministry to the deaf. It was a great ministry that helped many people. But the day came when the elders and staff no longer sensed the press of God to continue this ministry, and so they shut it down. You’d have thought they just blasphemed the Holy Spirit. The volunteers literally said, “Who are you to take OUR ministry away from us?” How quickly we all forget where our authority comes from.

 

The Transference of Authority

Authority is always transferred. Let’s go right to the top. Even Jesus’ authority was transferred to Him from the Father. Take a look at Matthew 28:18-20.

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Now read John 10:17-18

17 “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” It is not difficult to see the pattern of Jesus acknowledging His source of authority. Take some time to read John 15, it’s a beautiful picture of what I’m talking about.

So then what happens? Jesus transfers His authority to the disciples. You have already seen this in Matthew 28. Consider also Luke 9:1-2.

1 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” The theological weight of this passage is heavy. God granted authority to man over Himself! But it was still given. Let’s come back down to earth.

If my 14-year-old son John-Peter said, “Mackenzie, mom says you have to clean your room,” the room will soon be clean. What is the difference? Authority was transferred from mom to John-Peter!

Empowerment is like a river that must continue to flow, not pour into a still lake to sit and grow stagnant.

It’s funny. Why is this so easy to understand but then so quick to be forgotten in the local church? I have an enormous amount of authority at Crossroads Church, where I serve as Executive Pastor. But I’m clear that the authority is not mine, and that it was transferred to me from the Senior Pastor Kevin Myers. I am responsible for tremendous amounts of ministry, but none of it belongs to me. That is the essence of a servant leader. In the same way, Kevin’s authority is transferred from the elders. I am responsible for leading the staff at Crossroads. I have transferred large amounts of authority to the team. This authority, however, doesn’t belong to them, and neither do the various ministries—they are stewards of what they have been given for as long as it is entrusted to them.

If, for example, one day Kevin should decide to no longer transfer authority to me, that’s it. I’m done. I leave with gratitude to have been entrusted to lead that which did not belong to me. That is not always how it happens, is it? Don’t some pastors leave with their underwear in a knot? They say things like, “I built this church, you can’t take it from me” or, “If it wasn’t for me this ministry would be nothing!” Or how about, “I’m not letting go of MY ministry without a fight!”

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Category: Ministry, Winter 2020

About the Author: Dan Reiland is executive pastor of 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY. He is the author of Amplified Leadership: 5 Practices to Establish Influence, Build People, and Impact Others for a Lifetime (Charisma House, 2012), Shoulder To Shoulder Strengthening Your Church By Supporting Your Pastor (Thomas Nelson, 1997), and From a Father's Heart: Letters of Encouragement to Children and Grandchildren (Thomas Nelson, 1999). DanReiland.com. Twitter: @DanReiland

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