“Learn to…” Series, Part three: Learn to Submit to Authority
You will always be under someone’s authority. Always.
Even if you plant the next megachurch, lead a staff of hundreds, and have tens of thousands flocking to hear you preach every weekend, you will still be under authority.
And I don’t mean just the authority of God; I mean the authority of other people.
God’s authority is expressed most definitively through His Word, but also by the Holy Spirit through the community of faith.
God’s authority in our lives, then, will generally have a human face. Paul got it right when he commanded that we submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Eph 5:21) We must be prepared to listen to and obey the people in our lives who represent God’s authority.
Young ministers are pretty bad at this. I certainly was. We come fresh from seminary, our heads flush with knowledge, and all its attendant pride. We bear with urgency the confidence that we know EXACTLY how things ought to be. The revolution so needed in local church life awaits only our arrival. The kingdom of God is at hand.
Until the first meeting where we find people unresponsive to our strongly held beliefs about how the church ought to be ordered… (Insert here whatever flag you’re waving: expository preaching, long prayer meetings, use of sign gifts in public worship, restoration of biblical church discipline, restoration of an elder-led polity, etc.) Then comes the test. Are you going to value the older, wiser voices God has put in that church and in your life, or does your knowledge and wisdom place you above correction?
Even leaders must be willing to be led. If you think leading the church means giving the orders and not receiving them… you are in for a rude awakening.
Youth pastors can be the worst. Youth ministry is a great hiding place for young leaders with a rebellious streak in them. They often clash with their senior pastors because they don’t respect his authority.
Many seminarians and recent grads are in second staff positions under senior pastors: the perfect place to practice submission.
Fair warning: Submission is a discipline, which must be learned. Unfortunately, it can only be learned when you disagree with what you’re asked to do. Submitting is easy when you agree. It’s like submitting to yourself.
Real submission can’t happen until you’re asked to do something you don’t agree with.
Here are a few practical suggestions for learning submission:
1. Take inventory. Who is in authority in your life now? A senior pastor? A boss at work? A board of elders or deacons? An accountability relationship with an older believer or a peer? How do you feel about their authority over you? Are you confident in it, or resentful of it? Why?
2. Reach out relationally to them. The moment we see the people in authority as enemies, we’ve lost. Scores of churches have suffered much harm because of antagonism along these lines. These relationships are strategic and valuable. Have lunch or coffee with them, and get to know them on a personal level.
3. Ask their input on the job you’re doing now. Don’t wait for them to offer it. Listen attentively, and assume that they know better than you.
4. Do what they suggest, even if you totally disagree with it. Do this, even as an experiment. “But,” you protest, “if I do that, I know it won’t work. It will destroy my ministry.” I would suggest that learning joyful submission to authority early in your ministry is far more valuable than any temporary disruption to your current vision.
5. Finally, remember the example of the Lord Jesus, who, “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8) We need to learn obedience, too.
How does this strike you? What could we add to this discussion of authority and submission?
For further reading:
See the excellent chapter on this subject in Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.