By Andy Stanley
So exactly how can you exercise your instinct to challenge, yet stay out of trouble with your superiors and those that God has placed in authority over you? As a Christian leader committed to seeing the local church advance and make progress, what exactly should you do with all this?
1. When an instruction is given, follow through now; debrief later.
When the discussion’s over and somebody looks at you and they’re clearly the authority that God has placed over you and they say, “This is what we’re gonna do,” then you do it. Follow through first, and debrief later. Your words and actions need to express, “I am clearly and squarely on your team and under your authority.” It doesn’t mean you can’t ask, “Why?” But you do so in the clear context of serving the organization at large and observing the chain-of-command perpetually. And in your own style and your own way, you must learn to communicate both: “I am under your authority. Can we talk about it?”
2. Never verbalize your frustration with the process in front of other team members.
There’s an incredible principle behind this suggestion: “Loyalty publicly results in leverage privately.” If you want to have leverage one-on-one with your authorities, then show support for his or her ideas and strategies in front of the team – even if you think they’re absolutely off the wall. Likewise, if you want to lose leverage with your boss, then disrupt and ask challenging questions and foster division among the ranks publicly. Support publicly; challenge privately. Reverse those two things and you surrender your authority as a leader within your organization. Again, it’s okay to think different, and it’s okay to challenge. But the method you use, and the place you choose is critical. Everybody who has authority is also under authority.
3. Don’t confuse your insights with moral imperatives.
Even if you’re sure you’ve been given a superior view of the world, that doesn’t mean it’s a moral imperative that everyone executes your plan. In other words, if you don’t do it your way, you haven’t sinned. Believe it or not, there’s actually something more important than doing ministry the most relevant, cool, and effective way. All that is important too. But first, God is interested in seeing us learn to live and lead under the authority that God has placed over us. Your awesome ideas that you are sure will work are not moral imperatives. You have not sinned by doing ministry ineffectively. You have not sinned by simply taking the marching orders from somebody who’s not as smart as you and doing things that aren’t as effective as you would like to have done them.
Sometimes when leaders are geared up and passionate about an area of ministry, there’s a temptation to justify flat-out rebellion for the sake of the mission and the cause. God has you where He has you for a purpose. Because God is using you not only to do your current ministry, but also to prepare you for whatever else He has for you. Even if you never see your ideas implemented, you’ve had a good day as a leader when you’ve done everything you can to challenge while staying under the authority that God has placed over you.
4. If you don’t learn to lead under, you won’t have as many opportunities to lead over.
Your ability to lead others is directly related to your ability to follow others. Since God is the giver and the head of all authority, all people in an organization’s chain of command – leaders and followers – must ultimately answer to God. So when you sign up to participate in authority, you automatically ascribe to the concept of following. As a result, your ability to lead will never far exceed your ability to follow.
One of my favorite stories in the life of Jesus is His encounter with a Centurion whose servant was sick. The Centurion had been watching Jesus and seen Him perform miracles and heal people. So like many others who approached Jesus for help, he knew Jesus had the power to heal. However, as a member of the Roman army, he brought an amazing perspective to the situation. The Centurion didn’t approach Jesus saying, “Jesus, clearly You’re in charge, clearly You are an authority — therefore, would You come heal my servant who’s sick?” Instead, He notices that Jesus is, “A man under authority.” And based on that observation, He considers Jesus qualified to invoke healing power on His sick servant.
Every authority is under authority. As leaders, we must challenge the process; but we must also work with the authorities that God has placed over us. And we dare not upset His plan for us by rebelling against the ones God has placed over us – whether intentionally or unintentionally.