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!

When “one day” is today but was actually every other day

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Headline news—-It’s raining. In Savannah. Again.


Actual blog post:

For the last 10 years or so I’ve said one day countless times.

One day, when I’m not in school and working, I’ll …

One day, when I’m not working and waking up in the middle of the night to change diapers and help with baby feedings I’ll…

One day, when I’m not working two jobs I’ll…

One day, when I’m not working two jobs and finishing another degree I’ll…

And back again to: one day, when I’m not working two jobs I’ll…

Well lah-di-dah, it would appear that “one day” has arrived. “One day” has come. One day has become today.

I have one job. I’m not working at a school and a church. Just a school. A great school. The Habersham School (with a fine new website).

While there is much work to do and plenty to keep me busy, it’s still one day. And that means I have written pages upon pages of a book, right? I’ve researched and taken notes on topics about which I plant to write, right? I’m blogging multiple times a week, right?

Nah. I’ve blogged a couple times in as many months. No pages for a book. Not even a sentence.

I’m writing a blog about how I haven’t written anything, so this should count for something.

It turns out that “one day” isn’t as situational or circumstantial as I thought. One day is about discipline. It’s habit. Which means that one day has been every other day prior to today.

Crap. I wasted a lot of todays waiting on one day.

How, then, do I work, spend quality time with my kids, date my wife, workout, cultivate spiritual health, AND write. Your AND may be something else–dance, create art, start a business, travel, lose 10lbs–mine has always been write (and lose 10lbs).

There has to be something to do to-day that will demystify your one day and make it more achievable. There’s a discipline or habit or practice to start, or, to stop. It’s one less meal…another practice session…500 more words…another page…two more sets…something.

Here’s to your efforts at bringing one day into today!

The inevitable loneliness of leadership

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The really hard thing

Sorry, let me start again…

One of the really hard things about being in Christian leadership (and maybe any leadership) is the unspoken expectation that you have it figured out.

As someone serving on two sides of the aisle in Christian ministry, both in education and the church, the following are representative of the unspoken–

  • You believe all the right things about all the right things, especially those things that other people really hang their theological (or ideological) hats on
  • You uphold tradition because tradition is, well, tradition, and to question it means you’re a troublemaker
  • And you don’t change things, at least not too quickly, because someone might be offended. Someone’s feelings could possibly, perhaps at some time, be hurt…in fact, please don’t change things

It’s a lonely place.

For those in leadership, being in process on matters remains private, just like your obsession with CrossFit should be kept to yourself. I can’t even tell you what I mean…that’s how private it has to be, because to raise a question in voice or print is to signal to the congregation or constituency it’s open season on you.

What’s the point?

When dealing with educators, administrators, elders, pastors, and other Christian leaders, bear in mind that it can be/is lonely, more lonely than you realize.

  • Words are scrutinized and decisions are scandalized…

Usually in the most passive aggressive manner possible, though sometimes by a boisterous, victimized minority. And in the south it’s even portrayed politely at times, which just means the knife is pushed in at a slower rate.

I get it. I’ve played armchair preacher critic, teacher critic, and so on. But how much more do these folks–me, folks–need your prayers and grace?

We need a lot. We’ll make mistakes. We’ll have regrets–so many regrets. We’ll be judged by God more harshly for how we have stewarded these opportunities. We really don’t need other gods.

We need grace-filled, prayer-saturated, meal-sharing, cheer-leading men and women who will help us finish well.

Does that mean never ask questions? Of course not. But what are the motives? Speech should be seasoned with salt that it might give grace to the hearer…that’s how the apostle Paul put it.

I’m working on all of this myself. I’m extending more grace towards leaders. I’m slashing my suspicion quotient and choosing to trust.

That’s hard.

 

“Get to the Chopper!” -Helicopter Parent

Helicopter parenting is a thing. There are books about it, spoofs of it, and it’s a wildly popular practice.

The long and short of it is that helicopter parents hover over their children in most every venue of life–school, sports, social, spiritual–in such a way that the child or teen (or young adult) is never really left to herself to survive or figure it out. Especially if that means stumbling or someone tripping them up.

Be childlike again and imagine this: a mom hovering over her son, keeping  a close watch over the grade book, seeing he didn’t do as well as he could have on an assignment. She lands the chopper at school, strides (somewhat passive aggressively–though you don’t know it right away) into the teacher’s work space, and proceeds to explain why Jimmy deserves a higher grade…any of the following arguments may ensue.

  • WE have been struggling over the last unit–and so have lots of other students. (Because hover parents usually stay connected with one another)
  • WE just aren’t getting the concepts.
  • WE were at a Circus Olay performance very late, and WE didn’t get enough sleep.

Notice the use of We. That’s mom acting as if she and her son are one. It’s a tell tale sign. In any case, the thrust of each argument is the same: my child is a victim. Of what? Not getting the grade I want him to have.

Are there legitimate reasons why Jimmy may have blown a test? Sure. Was he ill? Did someone in the family pass? Does he just flat out not get it? Those things are possible and do happen. Communication is key, of course.

This scene is playing out on every level, though. From kindergarten through college. Yes, college. I have heard professors speak of parents calling to argue about their kid’s grade, even on single assignments.

Whether it’s grades or a disagreement with another students, the helicopter parent is always alert and ready to intervene.

Smothering is a hard way for kids to grow, kind of like a fire. “We need this fire to get bigger and warmer and more beautiful.” “Smother it!” “Oh, okay.”

I have helicoptered over our oldest. Especially in public play scenarios–playground, soft play (AKA, Bring your kid here if you want sickness to spread through your household Play), etc.

I would keep a close eye on Ben (now 5). Waiting for someone to look at him the wrong way, run past him too fast and thus need my scolding (you’re welcome other parent staring at your phone), or in the event that he might fall, trip, stub his toe, get a hangnail, or look constipated.

I’ll admit it. I hovered. And it’s been hard to stop. To stop making sure he never gets scraped or has to struggle. To stop making excuses for why he colored outside of the lines more than other preschoolers (weak hands….mine are small, too….it’s the economy??).

And thankfully we have friends around us trying to prevent doing the same, so we can laugh about our neurosis together. There are things kids can’t fully do or think through themselves; that’s why parents matter. But some struggle is good.

Not letting them struggle when they’re safe in your care could lead to some silly and socially devastating experiences later. And to illustrate…

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Let your baby boy or sweet little princess feel some of the tension they will face evermore. In other words, coach them. Don’t take their place on the court.

They will eventually work alongside that difficult kid in class you’re trying to keep them away from. The coach who doesn’t always say something encouraging will be their boss. The players may be different, but the game will look pretty much the same.

God’s grace be to all of us trying to prepare kids for this world. It’s hard and vulnerable and tiring. And it’s so worth it.