Monday, November 08, 2010

Leadership and Authority

This is Part four of a series on Godly Leadership.

In the last article I pointed out how our motives are flawed. Even the best of us suffer, to some degree, the struggle of desiring our purposes where they do not match God’s. Even when we follow God’s purpose toward the decision to make some action, that action is still polluted with sinful motives (Romans 7:15ff).

Every sin has at its root the desire to usurp the authority of God. This often plays out in the covering of expenditures. Wealth to the wealthy is not generally an end in itself, but the means to gain power. In every way, we like to have some measure of freedom to do what we want, especially where we might influence others.

Now, this influence is handy when it comes to organizing a fellowship of believers. As long as there is considerable humility behind influence, then any sinful desire to control other people can be nullified. Manipulation becomes encouragement with a couple of factors: One is transparency in leadership. The other is willing submission to a leader. Manipulation builds distrust and resentment as one person tears down another. Encouragement builds trust and fellowship as leaders build up the people who follow them in faith to God. But the tools of manipulation and encouragement are the same.

Therefore, leaders may be both manipulative and encouraging at the same time.

There is a difference between manipulation and encouragement as I use those terms here. Manipulation is when a leader seeks to influence people to some degree against their will otherwise. This grows out of a lack of trust in that others won’t do what the leader wants them to do. Therefore, manipulation uses various psychological and sociological tools in order to control the information available to people so that they will make the decisions to act according to your purposes. Governments all over the world do this. Even here in the United States, the popular media controls the information it dispenses according to its particular political bent. The ever mysterious mentalists use subliminal cues to manipulate people for entertaining effect. Criminal interrogators use similar techniques for manipulating suspects to willingly give up information they may have. Children who do not receive the emotional care they need often end up manipulating in an effort to get the attention they need. Militant atheists often accuse religious leaders of using religious trappings and truth claims to manipulate their followers. Manipulation can be overt or insidiously deceptive.

When we often think of encouragement, we might think of nice things we say to someone to positively nudge them in a helpful direction, whether to boost their self esteem or make them think about some area of work or ministry that they should think about doing more of. The definition of encouragement I use here is a little broader than this. Even this level of encouragement is a bit of transparent manipulation. Everything we say to someone else changes them a little bit. If a leader appears to be confident and clear in the direction he gives followers, then they are encouraged to follow him. So encouragement may mean giving hard directions with a certain confident demeanor that might put some followers off initially. But if the bulk of people follow gladly, then malcontented followers will generally learn to do the same for a time.

But it’s this matter of confidence that I have issues with. As someone who is not gifted with natural leadership abilities, I imagine that people might tell me (and some have) that I need to have more confidence. My issue with confidence is what confidence actually is. The word has its root in Latin and comes to us through French influences: “con fide” literally means “with faith”. To pursue confidence, one must define the object of our confidence. If we place confidence in ourselves, then we have entered a most un-Christianlike place. To have confidence in myself is to assume a power that belongs to God. Rather, our confidence must be in God.

Too often, I’ve noticed that the confidence that many leaders exhibit is a false confidence in the weight of their own opinion. I’ve seen salesmen make promises they didn’t know if they could actually keep and make them with such apparent certitude that they were believable enough to make a sale. I’ve also noticed that this is useful for accomplishing goals.

If I fail in leadership, it’s that I know how uncertain things really are and I’m simply too honest to pretend otherwise. I have all confidence in the promises of God, but I know that my motives are never fully pure. I also know that the motives of people I depend on are never fully pure. So I can’t confidently make promises I can’t keep. I can’t be cock sure that my opinions are right.

Additionally, I know how to manipulate people. I also have a strong distaste for it. If I fail in leadership, it’s because I intentionally err on the side of not manipulating enough. I know that I can push proverbial buttons and pull emotional strings and make things happen. I choose not to do so. If God wants me to lead, He will send followers motivated by the Holy Spirit or an appointment to lead by someone in authority. (And I would silently question their wisdom in asking me to lead anything.)

But I am on rare occasion asked to lead. And when the time comes, I generally lead well because I have no authority other than what is given to me. I have heard others talk about how they are “take charge” kind of people. That begs the question: From whom do they take it? There are certainly times when no one is in charge. However, sometimes people “take charge” when someone else is already in charge. In a Christian setting, I believe this to be a violation of Paul’s admonition to be in subjection to governing authorities (Romans 13:1). God has already placed someone in charge and judging them to be weak in leadership is judging God’s appointment of them. God is the One from Whom comes the authority to lead.

And that is the tie that binds the rambling nature of this article together: God perfectly appoints imperfect leaders to accomplish His purposes.

Next article: Leadership and Submission

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