Leading with Authority, part 4: True Authority

Washing_of_the_FeetTrue authority, as hinted at in parts 2 and 3, is enacted when the one in authority acts as one authorized. That is, she is under the authority of another and not acting capriciously or arbitrarily.

How, then, does true authority behave? What’s the goal for those who wish to exercise godly authority and ultimately honor God’s authority?

As Charlotte Mason says, this authority is a trust. It’s not my own. It’s a stewardship. I will never forget pastor Andy Stanley’s classic leadership talk: Leadership is a stewardship. It’s temporary. And I’m accountable. 

In other words, folks, the buck doesn’t stop here. Autonomy is an illusion. To live as autonomous, or, as a law unto oneself, is to be a lunatic living in a fantasy land. To think there will never be an accounting for the measure of authority I, you, we exercise is foolish. Anyone in authority is accountable to a greater authority, always.

With that in mind, what does Christ-like authority look like?

1. It’s gentle. That is, it doesn’t seek to cause offense to someone. We refuse to be arbitrary or unreasonable.

2. It is alert and aware. This may seem odd but think about it. Good leaders know the tendencies of those in their care. You know when certain kids are more apt to misbehave and you prepare them for those moments.

  • For example: It’s time for an assembly, which is prime time for shenanigans. Good authorities would prepare people for that moment. “I know some of you are going to be tempted to talk and cut up. Remember, we want to give respect to the person talking. We want to cultivate the habit of attention. (I may even call on a few of you to narrate back what was said at times).”
    • How much better is this than a pre-scolding and then expecting the worst?
  • So we’re alert and aware of what we know will be difficult…that last moment of play-time. The final round of a game.
    • In our house, this is illustrated best at bedtime. We have to prepare for bedtime at our house because temptation abounds–to keep talking, to get out of bed, to
    • There are those things in the life of the school day as well. Prepare the students. Be proactive. Just as Jesus repeatedly tried to prepare the disciples for his departure…though they didn’t get it.

3. Authority is marked by timely clemency and timely yielding (Mason’s words). In layman’s terms, you know when to pull back a little and ease up…when to let grace have more of a place. And you know as well when to press in and let the waters of justice roll.  But, always with care, because if everything is a something, then your authority will mean nothing to the people around you. 

  • This is so important, I’ll say it a different way. If you make everything an issue, if everything is a battle that has to be fought, you’ll exasperate your students. Just like you would exasperate a spouse. And those spouses who live with an “everything is a something” spouse know exactly what I’m saying.

We should assess our motives for why we’re addressing something. Is it truly disruptive to the class? Is it disrespectful to someone? Is it detrimental to that child’s formation? Or, most likely, does it just sort of bother me, and I don’t really like it–so I’m going to now make a quick rule, and another rule, and another.

4. Authority pays careful attention to each person and situation to determine what’s required.

  • Ephesians 4.29 really speaks into this: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
    • Corrupting means rotten and worthless–like spoiled fruit
    • Building up (even in disciplinary moments)–am I highlighting and honoring the image of God in this student?
    • As fits the occasion means I am fully aware of when I should press in or pull back.
    • That it may give grace to the hearer… Like, that person should feel you have done something good for them, even if the correction or redirection was hard. They should be able to look back at that encounter and say, “I really appreciate the way Mr/Mrs. Smith spoke to me.”
      • If a young child cries because of an interaction with you, it cannot be because of an autocratic presence. It should be those moments where you’re so tender and the Spirit has room to move in their hearts that they can’t help but crumble and let the tears flow.
      • If an older student is made at you because you addressed an issue, it cannot be because you were snide or biting or shaming in any way. It should be because they’re embarrassed by their own behavior and feel the shame that should come with violating godly authority.

——————— And that brings us to the application side of things—————————

On the application side, here’s what you know about yourself: you lean towards applying authority the way you saw it applied growing up, especially in your anxious moments. (if you were raised under a more autocratic, harsh, impatient regime–that’s where you’ll lean in difficult moments).

The goal is for all of us to grow up and mature, by Christ’s power, into men and women who are able to govern well within our different offices of authority and to constantly ask ourselves, “Who gave me this authority?” Answer: God. And to Him I am accountable.

And when you think about all of this at a very practical level, here’s what we know about kids of all ages (as well as ourselves)–and it’s something Charlotte Mason highlights: We must be content to lead by slow degrees.

  • What she means is we have to be okay with a little progress here and a little progress there. Because we know that human souls are not shaped in leaps and bounds. Human minds aren’t shaped in leaps and bounds.

Every little step, no matter how tiny, is an arrival.

Thus, the way in which we express authority is an act of love, because ultimately, how do we express authority if not in love? Self-denial. Self-repression. Self-sacrifice.

Lindsey and I talk often about how our worst parenting practices arise out of selfishness. When we just turn a video on for the kids rather than getting down on the floor and playing–it’s selfish. It isn’t self-denial….we call it survival. Or when we’re outside WHILE the kids are playing, but we aren’t engaged. When it’s bedtime and rather than reading, singing, and praying, we’re dictating and threatening.

A word of caution from Mason in closing. We will never govern well if we desire the favor of our subjects. If we’re easily distracted. Or if we love the easy life.

  • If any of those are a sticking point for you, it may be that God is inviting you into a different calling.

In just three weeks of school, you have already had all more contact with kids than their pastors will have with them in a calendar year. That’s crazy! We have an inescapable responsibility to steward the authority God has given us. To point these kids to Jesus in good times and bad.

So, dear brother. Beloved sister. If you don’t have a set apart time with Jesus in the morning, I’d go ahead and just call in for a sub that day. Because you cannot fulfill the calling that we’ve been given without abiding in Jesus Christ. In that John 15 sense of abiding in Christ and remaining attached to the vine, knowing that apart from him there is NO nourishment.

That abiding is also our saving grace. In it, we’re reminded that God’s grace is upon us. He knows our weaknesses and has called us still to play this particular role for such a time as this.

Solia deo gloria

Leading With Authority, part 3: How to Be an Autocrat

Part One in this series introduced the weighty reality that children are image bearers of God and, as such, educators and persons in authority over children must treat them as image bearers. This means there is no such thing as an ordinary day at school.

Part Two laid out a key distinction regarding the location of authority. Simply put, authority rests not with a particular person, but with the office that person occupies. A principal, for example, has no authority in herself, but the office of principal holds the authority. Once a person begins operating according to her own impulse and not as one authorized, she forfeits true authority and become an autocrat.

This post addresses how autocracy behaves. So, if you want to be an autocrat, just follow these simple steps!

As a reminder, autocracy is defined as independent or self-derived power.

Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Kim Jong Un—a person operating according to his own impulse is an autocrat.

To bring it into the classroom and make it a little more real–that impulse may even be as simple as yelling, belittling, or doling out some arbitrary punishment in order to bring oneself back to a place of calm (at the expense of the child, to be clear).

Charlotte Mason speaks of the distinction between authority and autocracy in relation to the Centurion who interacts with Jesus in Matthew 8. Jesus possessed all the authority in and under heaven. But he did not leverage against or lord it over people.

The Centurion in Matthew 8 remarked that he too was a man under authority. In other words, he recognized that Jesus did not operate according to his own agenda, enacting seemingly arbitrary regulations and harsh repercussions for disobedience.

If Jesus had been an autocrat, how might he have behaved?

  • Impatient
  • Resentful (mainly because someone isn’t giving me the respect I–not my office–deserve)
  • On the watch for transgressions
    • If you work for someone who makes you feel like he’s watching and waiting for you to fail in some way, you are probably working for an autocrat.
    • If you as a teacher are watching or waiting for a child to fail in some way, you are probably being an autocrat.
  • Swift to take offense
    • Are you easily offended?
      • As a parent, as a teacher, as a coach, as a school employee—you and I are the adults in the room. And when the kids see us not behaving like adults (which is synonymous with being autocratic and arbitrary) then we are leading them where we don’t want to take them.
      • If as an adult you’re easily offended and resort to childishness, you may be an autocrat.

Another significant behavior of autocracy is the implementation of extensive regulations. A drastic penal code, Mason suggests, is necessary because an autocrat needs everyone else to know where they stand in my presence. And I’ll do whatever is necessary to keep myself in a place of calm and feeling in control.

To wrap it up, if you want to be an autocrat…

  1. Be impatient with people (think of them more as problems to be fixed or projects to be completed)
  2. Be resentful (have this thought a lot-“don’t they know who I am”)
  3. Be on the watch for someone to mess up (see #5)
  4. Be easily offended (usually a sign of immense insecurity)
  5. Be heavy on regulations, rules, commandments, and repercussions (because how else can you judge if someone measures up?)

Make these five behaviors the foundation of your leadership and you too can be an A-level Autocrat!

Accomplish more and attempt less

large_charles-spurgeon-preaching-through-adversity

Photo credit:  DesiringGod.org

I want to share a quote from a sermon delivered by Charles Spurgeon in 1871. Is it a coincidence that if you flip 71 it becomes 17, as in 2017?? Yes, it is. Nothing supernatural there.

Charles Spurgeon has been dubbed the Prince of Preachers. (If you’re interested in his writings or life, Midwestern Seminary has done a service to us all here.) Being the Prince of Preachers means Spurgeon brought the Word of God to life in a way you and I, well, don’t. Not because we aren’t filled with the same Spirit, but because God uses different people in different ways. You’re not the next Spurgeon any more than I am the next anyone else. You’re you. I’m me.

If you aren’t a pastor, preacher, teacher but happen to read this, the point is just as applicable. It holds true for moms who find food in the strangest of places and executives who are prepping that $300,000,000 deal. There’s no difference in God’s eyes, by the way. Don’t be fooled on either side, whether rolling in dollars or diapers.

Preaching on prayer, Spurgeon made the audacious claim that

The more we do, the more we should pray…it should be the life-blood of every action, and saturate our entire life…I fear that some of us would do far more if we attempted less and prayed more about it.

  • What if, as pastors, we devoted less time to strategic planning and more to praying strategically?
  • What if, as teachers, we thought less about making points and more about pointing to the Maker?
  • What if, as parents, we resolved to be less busied with activity and more active in the business of prayer?

Is it possible that we would accomplish far more if we attempted far less but saturated all that we did do in prayer?

 

God forbid you catch the rabbit

Image result for greyhound chasing rabbit track

Idealism and life don’t mesh very well. Not because you can’t have a great life, but because that target of greatness, when idealized or idolized, turns you into the greyhound chasing the rabbit around the track.

I’ve heard if a dog ever catches the rabbit they won’t race again because apparently the psychological ramifications of such an experience are insurmountable–dog days, right?

This makes me wonder, though, how many pastors, professionals, parents, and other p-words are on their fourth lap around the track thinking the next season or service or strategy or selfie is FINALLY going to satisfy.

Pretty much every one of our endeavors has a rabbit of its own.

For tennis players the ultimate rabbit is Wimbledon. Kids imagine diving across the All England sod and hitting a winning volley before raising the cup overhead and winking at the queen.

Boris Becker did that. I don’t know about the winking part, but the other stuff. Yet with two Wimbledon championships to his name, he was popping pills, throwing whiskey down into his belly, and contemplating how he would kill himself.

That’s why I said, God forbid you catch the rabbit and find out it’s a stupid stuffed animal that was never meant to fulfill you.

See, the target always changes.

The rabbit is often an ideal in our minds.

And what ends up happening–that is, what happened to me–is your vision of the perfect ministry (or life) becomes the enemy of your present one. What you’ve imagined in your mind can never measure up to reality.

Life has a way about sorting through our bogus visions and plans. If you’re chasing rabbits, hit the brakes and ask, “What if I catch it?”

  • What if my kids stay healthy and get into the best college? So what?
  • What if my church grows past 200, 400, 4000….so what? What then?
  • What if my business hits the $1 million mark? Woohoo! More taxes. Then what?
  • What if my boss recognizes my brilliance and gives me the promotion? What’s next?

You get the rabbit. Then what?

It’s a question worth asking. Maybe there’s a better goal, vision, or target. Maybe not. You may be exactly on the path you need to be on. But it’s still healthy to turn a few rocks over every now and then.

 

Here’s what may be sabotaging your satisfaction

Don’t worry, I’m a pastor.

That’s my new line for ensuring anyone and everyone that I’m trustworthy, and also poorer than them.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about how you’re sabotaging satisfaction in life!

  • Your job isn’t fulfilling.
  • Getting that degree was supposed to make all the difference.
  • That relationship should’ve been the one.
  • The new car smell wore off, but the payment continues on.

I can speak to this phenomenon of dissatisfaction from any number of angles, both anecdotally and personally. I’m an expert. I’ve maintained adequate levels of dissatisfaction my entire adult life.

I’m especially qualified to speak as a pastor and parent, and a little less so as an educator. But when have qualifications ever stopped anyone? Look at the presidential race! (Too soon?)

Here’s a little nugget from a pastor for pastors by a guy who’s no stranger to the blog he doesn’t know exists, pastor Eugene Peterson:

“Unrealistic expectations about what church is like will kill you…”

I imagine when Eugene typed that one out for his memoir (required reading for pastors) he did so with a curled upper lip…veiled ever so slightly by his bearded awesomeness.

Here is my shot at boiling this whole thing down to a single phrase: Expectations affect the way we evaluate our experiences.

For instance, if I expect parenting to allow the same time and energy to do everything I did prior to having children, then I would be frustrated with my situation constantly, not to mention bitter towards my children upon realizing how misguided my expectations were.

  • When they interrupt Downton Abbey or New Girl for the umpteenth time or 
  • color in my books or
  • dip their fingers in their milk or
  • “help” wash the side of the car with tire cleaner that I’m pretty sure is also used to clean oil vats        

What right do I have to be frustrated towards toddlers acting like toddlers? EVERY RIGHT if I expect them to act otherwise.

In a similar way, if I expect pastoring to be what I think it’s going to be based on minimal experience and an ill-informed 24 or 25-year-old mind, then my conflicting experiences will inevitably leave me bitter, cynical, critical, and looking for the greener grass.

And would you guess what happened? No really, guess………You didn’t guess. I’ll just tell you. I became bitter, cynical, critical, and looked for greener grass.

As it turned out, my unrealistic expectations were akin to Round Up. I killed whatever grass I found under my feet.

My expectations have been the problem, regardless of the job.

It makes sense, then, that changing expectations is one of the quickest and most effective means for enjoying experiences.

Where is there joylessness in your life? Where is there discontent?

Now, what adjustments–however small–can you make to your expectations in these areas? Give it a shot. Let me know how it goes.

 

My public #DaddyGame is strong

I shall not tell you a lie.

imagesyour-words-have-powerI’ve embarrassed myself as a parent. Mostly it in the privacy of my home.

After all, I’m a B.O.S.S. daddy in public. Ladies see me and be like, “Oooh, isn’t he the best daddy?” I can get backtalked in the grocery store and give the, “Now little honey sugar boo, it sounds like you have an unhappy heart. Would you like to try that again?” spiel. #DaddyGame

But inside the walls of our home, I can do exactly what Wendy Speake describes in chapter 2 of her collaborative book, Triggers:

When we exchange angry words for angry words, nasty face for nasty face, slamming door for slamming door, and tear them down with our words because they tore us down with theirs, they will never feel remorse for their own actions (p.28).

I have a glare that has made my children cry. Yep. Not everyone who wears cardigans is a pushover. I’ve forcibly placed my books on the table (read, slammed). I have yelled from one end of the house to the other.

As Speak points out, though, how are kids to know they should be doing anything different if mom or dad mirror the exact same behavior the kids are generating?

Answer: They don’t.

They have to be discipled. And we are always discipling them, no matter our responses. Those little ladies and gents are being discipled to live a particular way. But you know this. The reason you do those things your parents did that you said you didn’t want to do, is because you were their disciple.

Christian parents show kids an alternative and more attractive way of living, an in this world but not of this world way of life. This includes responding to conflict, asking for things, apologizing, expressing dissatisfaction, and all the other learned responses/actions/attitudes.

So it’s Monday. Could this week look different in your home? Does it require a change in tone? Perhaps a knee bend to get down at eye level with the little one? Maybe a quick prayer before answering?

Let’s show them something different. Something better. Something out of this world.

May we all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.

 

 

Weary Mama, Jesus has been there

jesus-feeds-5000

Moms, the struggle is real. I’m not a mom, but I am married to one. We have four kids, the oldest of which is five, three of which are girls, which means there’s more drama in my house than on all of daytime television.

And when I find myself taking care of all of them solo, I wonder how my wife does it the other six days of the week. But what’s that have to do with Jesus, you ask?

Jesus performed two separate feedings of thousands of people with minimal resources.

In Mark 6, there are 5000 men and who knows how many women and children. The disciples have just returned from their maiden missionary voyage to report all they’ve done in Jesus’ name. But Jesus says, “Shhhhh….you need to rest.”

Out on the boat they go for some rest and relaxation. After all, you can only pour so much of your cup out before the thing is empty. Time to refill.

BUUUUUUUUUUT here come all those needy people. It’s like no matter where Jesus and the boys go, the crowds find them.

Jesus has compassion. “They’re like a sheep without a shepherd,” lost, wandering aimlessly without a clue of how life is supposed to look. After instructing them even more, Jesus feeds them. Actually, he makes the disciples feed them after miraculously multiplying the fishes and loaves.

So I’m reading this in preparation for Sunday’s sermon, and I think, hold on one daggum minute. I’ve seen this happen. In fact, I see it almost everyday.

Lindsey has 2 or 3 kids with her depending on the weekday. Inevitably I get a call or text about 2pm. That’s supposed to be nap time for the kids, which would mean mommy time, which would mean rest or something productive for her own sake.

But that 2pm text usually reads something like, “Addie sabotaged nap time today” or “Caroline is still awake and asking where you are” or “Why do my kids hate me?”

I try to reassure her it’s only a season…that’s going to last another 5 YEARS!

And before you do the whole, “Cherish it because it goes by so fast and you’ll miss it” thing, I hear you. But I’d be better off slapping a lion in the face and trying to outrun it than telling that to my bride.

There will be times, dear mommies–maybe every single day of the week–when you’re at the end of your proverbial rope.

  • Physically exhausted.
  • Mentally shot…like you just found the milk in the pantry that you thought you put in the fridge mentally shot.
  • Emotionally worn.
  • Spiritually sapped.

Because you pour yourself out and out and o..u…..t.

And still, here come those needy people. They’re hungry, tired, scared. They have a belly ache or need a drink of water for the fourth time in 14 minutes. They have no idea what life is supposed to look like. That is, no idea except what you show them.

You’re poured out for them. You resemble the disciples, called by Jesus to shepherd and feed and love those who can’t seem to fend for themselves.

So you have compassion. You shepherd those little hearts (sometimes with the spanking spoon), but always with love. Even when it doesn’t feel like love, it’s love. You’d roll yourself across burning coals for those little punks.

Jesus was literally broken and poured out that we might be blessed and filled. You are figuratively broken and poured out that they might be blessed and filled. But what a calling that is. What a season.