In seminary I remember reading a text called “By What Authority Do We Teach?” I don’t tend to be all that worried about authority when it comes to my opinions of scripture and theology, but I think it’s important for a pastoral leader to contemplate both the authority projected onto us by others and the sources (not to mention the Source) from which the strength comes that allows us to live into that authority authentically, clearly and cleanly

I think it’s safe to say that among pastors, chaplains, religious and other caregivers who operate from a spiritual perspective, we bring both our strengths and our weaknesses to our work. I think one of the keys to being effective in leadership is recognizing them and trying to avoid, well, avoidance of the weaknesses. What do we need to be whole as leaders?

We had a wonderful conversation about Moses and Paul at Bible Study Wednesday night. Moses had the special quality of being open to God, but he didn’t have natural leadership skills. More to the point, he was afraid to lead. YHWH encouraged him along the way by providing him with assistant. In this week’s lectionary passage from Exodus 33, Moses asks for God’s direct help. He’s been asked to lead people who get into trouble awfully easily. It wasn’t long ago that they gave up on him while he was off picking up the Ten Commandments, and the next thing you knew they were staging Dance Party around the Golden Calf Bonfire. They behave a bit like older babies, the ones who don’t know yet that you’ll come back again after you leave the room. They have separation anxiety. They need to *know* they are not alone.

Moses asks YHWH for more than a sign. He asks to see God’s glory. He makes the point that it’s all very well for God to say, “You are my people,” but without some visible sign, no one is going to know it. Moses says, “You know, if you’re with us, that’s great, but if you’re not, don’t send us out there wandering around again. Let us stay put here.”

I bet we’ve all found ourselves in that position in a relationship. We want—we need—to tell the other person to fish or cut bait. And for Moses, whose sense of himself as a leader was uneasy at best, an answer was necessary.

It’s funny. You’d think the burning bush and the voice of God would have been sufficient, wouldn’t you? But Moses wants more. Moses needs more. And apparently Moses is important enough to God’s plan for Israel that God will give him what he asks.

Paul, on the other hand, was a leader of men right from the beginning. He thoroughly enjoyed winning friends and influencing people—and persecuting them, as well. He had the skill set God needed, except for the persecuting, so God knocked him to his knees and blinded him and gave him a new name—Saul died and was resurrected as Paul. Now he had the belief to go along with the skill set.

What do you have? And what do you lack? Are you aware enough of the lack to ask God for help with it?

This week a parishioner approached me to talk about why her family hasn’t been in church for the past few months. I was really grateful because while I didn’t count their absence as unusual in the summer, so much time had bone by that I worried there was something important I didn’t know. As it turns out, her husband was distressed by the UCC General Synod’s vote in favor Marriage Equality. She has encouraged him to come and talk with me, but owing to his relationship with his father, “he has issues about confrontations with authority figures.”

I have to work very hard to imagine myself on the power side of that equation. I’m short and round and soft and utterly approachable—or that’s how I see myself, anyway. For most of my life, people have come and poured their hearts out to me whether I liked it or not! But now someone I would like to talk to, someone whose concerns I would like to address or at least hear, categorizes me with the authority figures who intimidated him.

So this is news to me. Is this why Mr. Crusty didn’t talk to me about his dissatisfaction? It’s dangerous to be so unconscious of this new characteristic in my ministry, because it’s about more than how effectively I run a meeting. It’s about people’s hearts, the very part no one ever hesitated to bring to me before.

9 thoughts on “Authority”

  1. It’s interesting isn’t it? I feel pretty *clueless* about stuff a lot of the time, and I would add that to my personal list of “reasons why I don’t feel like an authority and am surprised when others see me that way.” I suppose that we project things as well as have them projected onto us.
    Hope you can get to a good place with Mr. Crusty.

  2. I’m feeling even less worthwhile as an authority now that I have discovered a dryer should be professionally cleaned annually, and that because I didn’t have mine cleaned, the motor burned out, and now I have to buy a new one. And guess what? When we turned part of our mudroom into a half-bath, and in the process blocked off our doghouse bulkhead, we made it impossible to ever deliver a normal-sized dryer to our house. See, I already had the washer and dryer down there, and it seemed like such a good idea to build the bathroom, and we talked about digging another bulkhead entrance, but who wants to spend money on something that dull?
    Yep, I’m a real authority.

  3. Um, I have never heard of gettting a dryer professionally cleaned period, let alone annually. I know we never did and my parents first dryer lasted 25 years or so.
    As to the authority thing. Well I suspect that we get given authority that we don’t want, don’t know we have, and have no desire to use. Actually I suspect that in some places there are people with little authority but lopts of power, people with lots of authority but little power, and the clergy person who is somewhere between the two and never knows quite where they stand 🙂

  4. Interesting thoughts…. Important questions to ask yourself, but how do you determine whether or not it’s how you are perceived or how the office of pastor is perceived by the people in question? I’m asking this because I’m wrestling with a similar issue in the residency. I have a colleague in the program who is intimidated by me. I don’t think of myself as intimidating, but there’s no doubting the way the colleague feels and the difficulty it’s created for working together. The question for me is how much responsibility am I willing to take for the problem. I fear that sounds cold, but is it possible that the greater learning for the colleague happens if I refuse to “dumb down” and/or exhibit a higher level of anxiety about the work than is true so that I am perceived as more approachable? Is it possible that what she needs more than for me to build the bridge is for her to address the internal issues that get projected on to me? Or am I just avoiding an issue of my own that needs some attention? It’s hard to decide how to respond.

  5. Well, since you ask…
    As of the second-to-last question, my question was, “What does Friday Mom need?” And if you are avoiding something, it’s living in to who you are, not just your newly more open sexual orientation, but the totality of YOU. Do you think that living in a closeted way had an impact on how much of the rest of yourself you revealed? And isn’t the reality of your Friday Mom-ness, no longer alternating between apparent (at home and wherever else) and hidden (all those other places), isn’t that reality a source of enormous power?
    Doesn’t this feel like IPR? I like it. Give me more.

  6. Okay, I’m game. I’m working on a post in response to this. Not sure when I’ll be done, hopefully tonight, maybe tomorrow. With some luck, I can actually turn it in as a reflection paper for CPE :).

  7. re the dryer I have NEVER heard of getting a dryer professionally cleaner! What nonsense to put it very nicely. They just don’t make them as they used to.
    and yeah 27″ will go through 27″ if not they can take down the doorframe :)Don’t fret they can put it back up again. Remember they said it would fit!!!
    out of toilet paper? erm we happen to be selling that to raise money for the youth work in UMC Finland! Can I interest you in 42 rolls? grin 🙂

  8. Heehee! Fortunately we had plenty of Kleenex on hand, one box for each bathroom.
    I got to the store yesterday, and now I am making a list of the things I forgot:
    *special City By the Sea trash bags
    *special lightbulbs for little sconce fixtures in upstairs hall and vestibule
    *more later, I’m sure

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