I am someone who, like almost everyone else, has been under authority, had authority, shared authority and, on occassions, rebelled against authority! I guess its one of those things that’s part of our lives and we all react differently too it and act differently when we have it. There are, of course, different kinds of authority. I’m sure you’ll recognise these types of authority and may even be able to think of some more.
Positional Authority – where you have been given a position of authority by an organisation.
Moral Authority – authority which comes out of the substance of your life.
Spiritual Authority – when God speaks through you and people recognise it to be God using you.
Special Authority – based on an expert knowledge of something (science, bible, cheesemaking, law etc)
Relational Authority – where people respect you because of the nature of your close relationship to them.
Now, I ask myself, “as an officer, what type of authority have you exercised?” Probably most of them at one point or other (although I’ve no idea what I’d be an expert in!) I’d say that many a time, however, I’ve defaulted to Positional Authority when really I should have been leading from a different place. Is positional authority all bad?? Not entirely sure, but its certainly a leadership that comes more from what your organisation has given you rather than from who you are as a person. If you only lead like this, it will be poor leadership, I imagine.
Neil Cole contrasts a picture of leadership in the film, Braveheart. Where William Wallace is talking to Robert Bruce (the true heir of Scotlands throne) and he encourages Bruce to rise up and lead the people, throwing in that if he did that, then he’d follow him too. The contrast is clear. One man has all the position and title (Bruce) but the other has all the authority (Wallace). Leaning on a title is poor, leading a cause because it has first inspired you is an entirely different thing. This is a good example of relational authority, but take it into a Kingdom setting and the better, by far, model is spiritual authority.
So, what happens with authority in officership and in organisations like The Salvation Army? I’ve previously noted the hierarchical structure. You know, we have soliders, local officers, non-commissioned officers (envoys etc), officers. In officership, you have Lieutenants, Captains and Majors etc, but we also have the leadership levels. Corps/social officer, DHQ officers, THQ officers, TCs, Zonal Officers, the Cheif of the Staff, and the General. Whatever way you look, you have that triangle.
Let me ask a question. Where does Jesus come on that model? Does he come above the General? Well, of course he comes above the General…he is the Lord. But what I means is ‘is he the next one up the leadership chain?’ Well, if he is, then it means that I have a lot of levels to go through before I can understand the will of God and know what he wants of me. Now, of course, we have direct access to Jesus…we are under his authority, aren’t we? If we claim that simple statement of Christian doctrine, ‘Jesus is Lord’, then it truly means that. Its a revolutionary statement. Now, many a time there is no conflict in that with our every day existence as officers. Yet, I dare to suggest that there may be occassions when there is conflict.
Could there ever be the case where the Lord commands me to do something that the Army won’t allow? When asking myself that question, I really have to explore my answer. Lets say I say ‘no, the Lord would never command me something the Army wouldn’t allow.’ I could say, if its the Lord’s will for me to be in the Army, he knows I’m in it and he know’s I will follow what the Army says, so the logical conclusion of that thinking is that no, the Lord wouldn’t command me to do something that the Army won’t allow because I’m in the Army. Sound plausible?
But what if I answer yes or even maybe? What if I say that answering ‘no’ to that key question automatically implies that because our leaders are Christians in authority ‘over me’ automatically implies that everything they say is directly down the chain (at whatever point the decision is made) is what the Lord would will? Friends, I believe that is wrong and in dangerous ground. We all recognise that men and women make mistakes, poor calls, misjudgements. In saying this, we are also making the assumption that leaders ‘above us’ are always in tune with the perfect will of God and that nothing could happen that God wouldn’t set in place. Hmm. Frankly, my experience of my own leadership decisions and sometimes the decisions of others lead me to believe that its not always the case.
I believe this issue most comes into play in the life of an officer when it comes to the appointments system. It is here, in this sphere, that the Army exercise the most authority over the life of the average officer. The decisions made at this level, albeit with a little bit more consultation these days, are decisions which are crucial ones. Sadly, my life in the Army so far has shown me that there are a fair amount of good, but also a fair amount of bad ‘moves’ made when it comes to this aspect. When they are right, they are great. When they are wrong, they can be devastating not only for the officers and their family, but for the corps.
I’d like to question whether it is right for officers to blindly offer The Army this right to have that kind of authority over the lives of men, women, and families. Even if it’s not offered blindly, an officer is still subject to it and there is an air arising certianly in the UK Territory where its still frowned upon to either a)refuse or b) suggest that the appointment made has not been the right one, for whatever reason. Alongside that, there is also the issue of how the Army responds to consultation processes. Its perfectly possible, having indicated a desire to go to an inner city appointment in a major Scottish city, that you’ll be sent to rural Oxfordshire. What then does the officers sense of calling to an area mean?
Let me give another example…different officer. This one is testing what he senses might be a call to another nation and is pondering whether to go offer to go. He mentions it to leaders locally, and to someone in that territory. A request is made to the TC of the home territory asking if the certain officer could be made available to go to the other territory and the TC says ‘sorry, but we need good officers here’ without so much as speaking to the officer considering the call. In that scenario, do we assume that the TC is right, even although he has never so much as spoken to the officer concerned? Certainly, if he had spoken to them he might find out that they were still exploring the possibility and not ready to go. Equally, he may have discovered that the Lord had so laid it on his heart that he was ready and willing to respond. The point is, our system allows for this decision to be made without consulting anyone about it. You’ll just have to trust me in assuring you this is a real and recent scenario.
Let me bring it home. Leaving aside everything I’ve said about how officership might/could function and just looking at the present system, how would I respond if the Army or someone in it was asking me to do something I really felt I couldn’t do? And what if I was so convinced that the Lord was leading me in a certain way and the Army said it couldn’t happen?
I realise these questions probably raise more questions than offer answers. But think about it this way….how did we get to the place where these things were an issue in the first place? I’ve already suggested that there is very little evidence and justification for this sort of hierarchical structure in the New Testament. When we look at, say, Peter and Paul….two ‘high ranking’ apostles we certainly notice that in their relationship there were times when you might have expected Peter to ‘pull rank’ on Paul where instead they simply go away with a difference of opinion. And there are many times where Paul alludes to his apostolic authority, but claims that he’d rather not use it…in fact he’s not really bothered too much about the title anyway…he’d rather lead by example, by persuading, conversing, even pleading and begging the folks around to his way of thinking. When Paul sends a person here or there, I doubt very much if it was ever rooted in simple positional authority as an apostle. Authentic spiritual authority is ‘from alongside.’ We get this from Jesus, who ‘being in the very nature God…’ – you know the rest.
You know, Paul said ‘follow me as I follow Jesus.’ There are some people in my life I’d follow wherever they went…I’d be content to follow them as they follow Jesus. There are many people I’d follow. I’ve also been priveleged to have some people follow me like that…certainly not something I take for granted, but something that is, actually, incredibly humbling and a real blessing.
Just maybe, following Jesus more closely involves sometimes cutting out a middle man here or there. Just maybe, there is something wise about following a Jesus who never really held an institutional position in his life, but yet who lead from the very core of who he was in direct link with the Father through the Spirit. Just maybe.