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I believe this is a special temptation in many churches, where pastors often have an extraordinary amount of formal and informal authority. Pastors can pull rank in almost every area of church life, and they often do. They'll do this in the name of efficiency, or church growth, or the parish mission, or faithfulness to the Bible, or defending truth, or whatever. And every time they exercise this authority, even though they may have won a particular political struggle in their church, they will have lost something as well. But no matter our calling, the less we play this card, the better.

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Another temptation will be to ground your authority in expertise. You have taken two classes in church growth, and so naturally your evangelism committee should submit to you! You have a degree in accounting or a Ph.D. in political science or lots of experience as a father, so of course people should listen to you!

This does not mean that we do not have or should not exercise our expertise in our callings. Of course we should. But our expertise—whether it comes from education or experience—is not where our authority is ultimately grounded. Our efficiency, our ability to solve problems or gain insight may be grounded there. But not our authority.

And psychological manipulation will be a constant companion, always whispering in our ears. We'll be tempted time and again to threaten that we'll be hurt or angry if we don't get our way. This is so common I hardly need to illustrate here.

So, the temptations to ground our authority in anything but love will be with us always. But sooner or later, God's good grace will knock us up the side of the head. We'll discover that disconcerting but liberating news that we have no power to ground our authority in the first place. It is something grounded in us, and grounded by another. And that other grounds it in love—more particularly, his love for us. In the same way that we are called to listen to Jesus because the Father loves him, so people in our charge are called to listen to us only because the Father loves us.

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It's just at this point that we feel the ground shifting under our feet. This doesn't feel like a very secure foundation for authority. We are tempted to say, "What type of authority is that? If I don't start using my gifts [note the appeal to expertise!] or throwing my weight around [my office!], nothing's going to get done! Who cares if I'm loved? What does that have to do with anything?"

Well, it has a great deal to do with authority.

 In the movie Unforgiven, the character played by Clint Eastwood shoots a man who then crawls out of rifle range. As he bleeds to death, the victim calls out to one of his companions hiding within earshot, "I'm thirsty, Slim, Jesus, I'm thirsty. Bring me a drink won't you, Slim? One drink, Slim … I'm dyin', Slim."

That's the situation for all of us when it comes to love—we're desperately thirsty for love, dying for love, the blood draining from our lives while we desperately yearn for love. And when we're in the presence of love, why, we'll do anything asked of us. We listen for love more than we listen for anything.

SoulWork
In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
Mark Galli
Galli is editor of Christianity Today and author of God Wins, Chaos and Grace, A Great and Terrible Love, Jesus Mean and Wild, Francis of Assisi and His World, and other books.
Previous SoulWork Columns:
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