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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Why to (Not) Trust Authority

One thing about preaching -- and presenting in general -- that is tending to put people off more and more is the idea that the preacher is in the position of power and the whole audience must listen to this person in authority. Most young people aren't huge fans of positional authority figures. Those are the people that have authority because of their position: the principal or the boss or the preacher.

I live in this weird space between the millennial distrust of authority and earlier generations' inherent trust in authority. I like being able to bridge the gap, but I don't fully understand either side.

The trust of authority is a trust in the system that gave that authority. Essentially it says that the system that made someone a boss or a teacher or a preacher must have sufficient checks and balances to prevent bad or unqualified people from getting into authority and promoting good and qualified people into the best positions for them. While there are exceptions to the rule, in general, that rule tends to hold (or so authority-trusters think).

The distrust of authority is the distrust of the system. The exceptions that litter the landscape prove that the checks and balances are not working and that the organization has failed to promote the right people into positions of authority. At its furthest extent, this distrust of authority assumes that if a person has been put into authority by the broken system then they are deserving of distrust until proven otherwise.

So what options exist? How can those who distrust positional authority and those who trust positional authority come together on anything?

At this point it's incumbent on the person in authority to show that the position isn't the source of their authority -- to both those that offer and withhold trust. One can't simply take the position of teacher or boss or even preacher and assume that everyone will accept that authority. Established or relational authority requires both submission and connection.

First the person in authority needs to demonstrate that they are submissive to an authority that is other than themselves. That is to say that they need to align with those under their authority as one who is also under authority. The boss is responsible to corporate just like her employees are. The teacher is responsible to the principal, just like his students are. The preacher is responsible to a higher authority as well.

Preachers must submit to scripture and to the community. Everyone in the church is in it together. They all must be obedient to the bible, they all must learn to be disciples and they all must make disciples. If the preacher -- or any other member in the church -- decides that they aren't under that authority, then they lose all credibility.

Second the person in authority needs to show a connection to those who are supposed to follow. The distrust of positional authority is rooted in the idea that organizations will abuse people to achieve their own ends. The only way to overcome this mistrust is through personal relationship, personal connection, and over time.

Are you in a position of authority? How do you facilitate connection and submission?

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