Authority and the Heart of Submission

In the first post on this topic, Authority and the test of submission, I shared the story of a friend who recalled to me one of many encounters his pastor has had with disgruntled church members. After describing the situation he partly asked and partly stated,

“I don’t get it. Why are people so unwilling to submit to and respect
the authority of a godly pastor?
Why do people say things to their pastor that
they would never say to any other person in authority over them?”

Simple, in every other sphere of life people are “required” to submit to the authorities over them. In most cases people submit because a boss, the government, a parent, a teacher, etc. has leverage over them. A boss can fire an employee who refuses to do his job or curses him out.  So, in most of the areas of life people, even believers sometimes, reluctantly submit to authorities.

However, the heart of all true, God-honoring, Spirit produced submission is voluntary.

In most cases because submission is voluntary in the body of Christ, the church is the one place where the heart can be exposed as to whether or not a person has a true heart of submission and this demonstrates whether or not one understands what it means to honor and respect those in authority.

So, Why do people say things to their pastor that they would never say to any other person in authority over them?

1. One conclusion is that people already feel powerless over their lives.

The Church then becomes the one place where people can flex their muscles so to speak speaking to those in authority over them without fearing reprisal. It is the one place where they can assume control of, have influence over, speak their minds often without impunity, expressing all their underlying anger with the other authorities in the life. Unfortunately and often the Pastor becomes their preferred target since he is, according to God’s Word, the leader of the church, since he in their minds should just take it because that what he’s there for.

 There are the few exceptions where church leaders abuse their authority and
coerce and manipulate people into submission, however those are truly few and far between. Most emotionally healthy people can identify that culture very quickly.

2. Another possibility is the feeling of entitlement that predominates the church. Since, one gives money to the church, he is entitled to address anything he doesn’t like directly with the pastor in whatever spirit he so desires. 

When you think about it there are really few entities that exist that gives people such direct access to those in authority over them. Often, angry, disgruntled people use their money to control the pastor and justify sinful, venomous accusations. It’s the old, “I’ll take my money and go somewhere else if you don’t respond the way I want you to” scenario. (“my” is bold because a person who talks like that demonstrates he is not submitted to the Lord, because someone who is doesn’t see the tithe as “mine” but “HIS”.) So, the color of the carpet, salaries, the nursery, the music, etc. all become reasons for people to challenge the authorities over them and make a fuss about…well just about everything.

Hopefully, you see how quickly a Pastor can become overwhelmed and with all the possible scenarios and people he is bound to make a mistake, let someone down, respond in anger, or just grow tired of the constant inquisition. No man is able to endure that
without failing at some point. 

3. The amount of churches to choose from allows for church hopping and church

Options embolden people. “I can say what I want when I want, act however I want then go down the street if I don’t get the right response.” And, most likely the behavior will be repeated at the next church because no one can hold or has the right to hold them accountable. If the leaders try they will leave the church moving on to the next one on the list.

No wonder a culture of discord and dissension permeates churches.
There is no incentive and less willingness to work things out. 

4. It is because many do not have a heart of true, God-honoring, Spirit produced

The way they would treat a godly pastor who cares for them, serves them and shepherds them exposes the spiritual reality that they are not truly submitted to Christ as their Lord and Savior. Again, this is true even when the pastor lets you down or is not performing in a manner that you agree with or has made a decision that you don’t understand.

Some people are submitted to tradition, their preferences, peers, denominations, clics, etc. but are not submitted to Christ. The evidence is their unwillingness to voluntary submit to those God has placed in authority over them trusting God to hold him accountable.

Every good pastor will voluntarily submit to some form of peer accountability.

Again, the principle emerges. Submit unto ________________ as unto the Lord.

Let me close this series with a few suggestions that I believe demonstrates a heart of submission.

  1. The next time you see a church member getting testy with the Pastor step in, intervene, and help the person express his concerns in a way that honors the Lord. Refuse to allow your pastor to be publicly disparaged.
  2. The next time a decision is made that you don’t fully understand or agree with trust that the Pastor knows things you don’t know and can’t fully explain why the decision was made or why the action was taken.
  3. Don’t hate just because something is changed. Change is necessary and good.
  4. The next time you hear gossip, slander, ridicule or a person mocking the pastor stand up for him. No gossip, slander or ridicule is to be tolerated in the body because it fuels discord and distrust. It gives Satan a foothold. Remember, Satan will always attempt to remove the authorities over you especially your pastor. He will always strike the shepherd to scatter the sheep and unfortunately it is the sheep whom Satan uses to strike the shepherd.
  5. If you assume that your pastor is himself not submitted to Christ it is not your personal right or role to put him in his place. Pray for him, offer him help, and provide resources he may need if it does come out he has an issue. Even in cases where there is failure on his part he should be met with grace. Of course, if his failure is a crime he should be reported. If it is something else it doesn’t mean he is no longer in authority over you. (see previous post) He is to be submitted to because God has placed him there. God will deal with him, God will remove him, God will hold him accountable. (Use common sense and discernment too to know how to respond!)
  6. Finally, if you cannot in good conscious submit to his leadership, after it is proven that the pastor has failed and refuses to repent then quietly leave the church but before you make a final decision graciously, lovingly, humbly speak with the pastor or another leader. Let him know why you are thinking of leaving, but be open to changing your mind because there may be something going on that you are not aware of. Again, trusting God even when you are unsure that you can follow your pastor is the heart of submission.




Authority and the blessedness of submission

Now before I share the next part of the principle of authority and submission there is something I have to acknowledge. I must acknowledge my own tendency to reject authority. I feel rebelliousness course through my veins like white blood cells attempting to fight off a virus or like the Dark Side of the Force channeling through a Sith Lord.

Authority is a threat to my personal autonomy and individuality – so I think, therefore there is the tendency to resist and reject it. The nature of this is subtle and most of the time it is unintentional, but at other times it is acted out with stubborn, defiant intent.

I think back to when I was a child. I remember being alone – a lot. I remember not really answering to anyone. This at a time when learning about authority and submission were essential to my relational development. My parents weren’t bad, they just weren’t present which was typical for many GenX’ers. I wasn’t necessarily a straight up rebellious child, however I wouldn’t describe myself as submissive either. The more appropriate word would be compliant. There is an ocean of difference between the two. Submission and compliance may look the same on the surface but the motives behind these responses are categorically juxtaposed.

Compliance is submitting to an authority against your will until you can either remove that authority, remove yourself from that authority, justify your actions to defy that authority, or defame that authority so that in your mind the authority is no longer worthy of your compliance.

The motive of compliance is selfishness.

“What can I get out of this?”
“What’s in it for me?”

Maybe it is acceptance, love, or some other emotional reward or relational need being met in an unhealthy way. Maybe it is a promotion at work. (Just think of the people who comply until they become the boss and then become intolerable.) Compliance is how many people have learned to respond to authority because many have not had enough positive, healthy, trusting relationships with authority.

Submission, on the other hand, is voluntary and is based on the virtues of love, honor and respect. It is unselfish, however there are wonderful personal benefits. But submission absolutely goes against every grain of our rebellious nature, especially when we feel the authority doesn’t deserve our honor or respect. Remember Paul’s command to the Roman Christians to submit to the Roman leaders mentioned in part 1? Romans 13 He didn’t tell them to conform or compromise but to honor and respect them whether or not Christians felt the Roman leaders deserved it.

It seems that submission is not our natural response to authority. Submission is a learned response and our introduction to the principle of authority  and submission begins in the home, with our parents or at least it should and according to my own experience if it is not learned at home you will have a lifetime of hurt until you finally learn how to relate to authority. I would even go so far as to posit that submission is part of God’s design and He has our good in mind. Now, take a moment think about the broad implications of this principle.

Did a light bulb come on? Let me help.

In order to understand God’s wisdom in this you have to entreat yourself to the truth found in one of the 10 Commandments. In the sixth commandment submission is stated as a basic life principle that brings life and protection.

 Honor your father and your mother so that you may
have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
(Exodus 20:12, HCSB)

Let me make a few observations.

  1. You can’t honor without submission.
  2. Honor earthly authority you honor God’s authority and channel God’s blessings your direction.
  3. Through submission you get the most out of your relationships.
  4. Submission isn’t conditional.
  5. Submission prepares a person for a lifetime of living under whatever authority he finds himself.

How many people do you know who have a hard time submitting to and relating with authority? How many of those people move from job to job? How many of those have difficulty with the law? How many of those people have difficulty in their marriage or have had multiple marriages? How many of those are fired over and over again? How many smart off to teachers, parents, police, pastors and employers? How many of them are now raising children of their own? Scary isn’t it!

You see learning to submit to/honor authority is a vitally important characteristic that must be learned. The principle is inherent to life in God’s design. So, you will either learn the easy way or the hard way.

 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling
against what God has instituted, and those who
do so will bring judgment on themselves. (Romans 13:2, HCSB)

This is true for every area of our lives.

On a personal note, I can think of many times in my life when I rejected authority, good positive, healthy authority, which caused me to miss some amazing opportunities. I am also guilty of complying for selfish reasons then removing myself from under an authority of which God had established and because of that I missed God’s blessings and protection that would have come from that authority. Doh!

Can you think of times when you have done that?

Now the reality is not all who are in positions of authority are good. Let me stress that I am not talking about being a doormat. But as much as possible you should strive to follow the principle to respect and honor the authority. Trust me, I have counseled enough students in my time to know that some of them have terrible parents. You may have a terrible boss or an unloving husband. How can you submit to a disreputable person?

Submit unto ______________ as to the Lord.
Until God removes you, removes him, he repents, circumstances change
or your conscious lets you move on, submit.

This principle grants peace to your conscience, which is a blessing in and of itself when dealing with a difficult person.

Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities,
not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
(Romans 13:5, HCSB)

In other words do not needlessly dishonor or disrepute those in authority. By taking this approach your conscience will remain clear. God can deal with those in authority so much more completely than you can and your submission will heap coals on their heads, it puts them under conviction.

The imminent benefit: living by this principle allows you to have a healthy relationship with the authorities over you which can open all kinds of doors for you for the rest of your life. It can even make you a better leader when its your time to be in charge.

You may be under a terrible boss now but honoring him or her may catch the attention of the person you really want to work for. Personally, I have had a few terrible supervisors in my time and this principle brought favor to me. I have witnessed a wife submit to an unloving husband giving him the honor and respect he didn’t deserve which radically changed him into a man who was loving and respectable. The movie War Room acknowledges this principle when one of the characters humorously stated, “Submission means that the wife ducks so God can hit her husband.” It’s funny but that is how God has designed it to work. We trust God as we submit to those in authority over us and we trust that God will judge, discipline, remove, or bring to repentance those authorities who mistreat and misuse us.

My wonderful, amazing wife has used this unfair tactic many times over our 22 years of marriage. It’s why we are still married, why I love her and why I am a much better husband, father, pastor, etc.

Have you had to learn this principle the hard way? You can change, but it will take intentional effort and …… repentance. The tendency to reject authority is part of the sin nature. I required a powerful, personal revelation of Christ through the Good News. It was only then that I voluntarily submitted to God. This voluntary submission was partly due to a revelation of his “wrath against sin” but primarily His love, grace and mercy. Those attributes are why I can now honor and respect the One I once hated and despised. My repentance opened up a whole world to me that was not accessible before. Once I humbled myself before THE AUTHORITY, began to learn His commands I learned the value of honoring other authorities and although I haven’t been perfect, missed my share of opportunities I can tell you that I have also experienced many awesome opportunities that I would never have had if I had not put this part of my life in order.