Under Authority Before In Authority

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2014 will mark twenty one years of serving in a local church as a volunteer or vocational minister. I have been privileged to be under the authority of some of the greatest men in the world. Although every place of ministry had challenges, combined with the fact I made more than my share of immature leadership decisions, I am grateful for every experience. As one of my pastoral hero's plainly stated, "You will never be in authority, until you are under authority". Authority is God's idea and how we respond to authority is a reflection of gospel in our life. 

Submission to authority is absolutely a biblical idea that impacts everyone at some level. Everyone is called submit to worldly institutions (I Peter 2:13-17). Household servants are called to submit to the authority of their masters (I Peter 2:18-20). Wives are commanded to submit to the authority of their husbands (I Peter 3:1-6). Husbands are called to live in a understanding way with their wives which is the fruit of his submission to Christ (Ephesians 5:21-33). Christians are to submit to biblical leadership and to each other (Hebrews 13:7,17). It is a distinctly biblical concept to submit to authority. God's will of decree has established authority for our good and His glory, and as christians we are called to proclaim the gospel through voluntary submission. 

A person who understands submission to authority is someone who is humble, teachable, and personally responsible. Someone who does not understand submission to authority is a person who is prideful, full of criticism, and the victim of someone else's failure. We all to different degrees and at different times struggle with authority. Rejecting authority started in the garden and is our sinful inclination. Only the transforming power of the gospel can bring joyful submission to authority. The gospel reminds us that submission to authority is actually and act of worship that glorifies God. 

Currently as I serve as a Missionary for the North American Mission Board, I have two supervisors and I am under their authority. I have a job description, responsibilities, and evaluations. There is an expectation that I carry out the directives and vision my supervisors have given. I am not only grateful for this opportunity to be under authority, I am excited! Here are some principles that I have found helpful for being under authority:

1. You manifest the gospel when you are under authority. 

Each year when I teach at the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem, I am overwhelmed with the example of Jesus as he submits to authority,  “saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42, ESV) When we submit to authority we manifest the very character of Jesus. As Jesus is an example of submission to authority, Satan is an example of subversion to authority. Satan rebelled against the idea of being under authority. When we reject being under authority we become tools of Satan undermining what God has established. Submission manifests the message of the gospel. How can we truly proclaim the gospel and call people to submit to Christ, if we cannot model what this looks like in our own life? 

2. You should embrace the vision when you are under authority. 

The North American Mission Board has a vision to mobilize churches to plant churches, I did not come up with it and I had no input in its creation.  Are there things I would do differently? Maybe. But part of being under authority is running with the vision that has been given to me. My responsibility is to embrace the vision and carry out the directives and responsibilities that will fulfill the vision. That means I am in agreement with my authorities and work with a positive winsome attitude. Complaining, constant critiquing, and waiting for the failure of others, diminishes the vision and undermines authority. After high school I worked for five years at the shipping giant Fed Ex. Their motto then, "Federal Express: When it absolutely positively has to be there overnightI"  I could sum up my time there in one sentence: "Those who embraced the vision did well,  those who rejected the vision were miserable." Many people are miserable in life, because they cannot submit to authority. 

If I trust in a sovereign God, I can trust the leadership and embrace the vision of whomever's authority I am under. At the end of the day we will do well to model the example of the unworthy servant, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty. ” (Luke 17:10, ESV)

3. You should be under authority, because if you are not, you are disqualified to be in authority. 

Are there times when you should question authority? Absolutely. Authority that is illegal, unethical, abusive, or immoral should always be questioned and confronted. Being under authority does not mean you should not voice your opinions and thought, any competent leader values discussion and the input of others. However, if a prejudice, personality, or preference are your reasons to resist authority, they have no merit. I had dinner with one of my supervisors a few weeks ago to give an update and get directives for a meeting I was facilitating. Arriving a few minutes early and thinking about my responsibilities, I wrote this down in my notes, "Your inability to be under authority, disqualifies you from leadership."  Sadly, many who desperately desire to be in authority, are disqualified because they refuse to be under authority. Those who are in authority usually have a track record of being under authority. In contrast those who have trouble being under authority usually have a track record of resisting authority.  It has been my experience that the more I embrace submission to authority, the greater my authority becomes. Be humble, teachable and take personal responsibility as you are under authority for the glory of God and the advancement of His Kingdom. 

Those who rebel against authority and scorn self-discipline—who shirk the rigors and turn from the sacrifices—do not qualify to lead.
— Oswald Sanders