Trouble with Authority

You're bound to be tested
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It didn't take long to face opposition once I started a career in ministry. Of course, I had a lot of strikes against me from the start. First of all, I was young, fresh out of college, and in my first-ever paid ministry role. On top of that, I was a woman, the only woman serving with the pastoral staff. And, probably most significant, I was hired to launch a brand new ministry–church-wide adult small groups, a ministry most in the church knew nothing about and had no interest in.

After working at the church for a few years, our team decided on a new approach for small groups. I began training new leaders for small groups so that I, then, could serve as their "coach" in the fall instead of leading groups myself. I spent the summer meeting with a group of potential leaders–training them, laying out expectations, and modeling how to lead a small group.

As fall approached, I met with each of the potential leaders to get a feel for whether or not they wanted to lead a group. Most of the meetings over coffee went smoothly–some individuals expressed a desire to move into leadership, while others felt they weren't quite suited for the position. All, though, affirmed their trust in me and were grateful for the time and effort I had put forth that summer. All, that is, except one.

Although she expressed excitement about leading a small group for our church, one woman said she didn't want to follow our church's plan for small groups.It became apparent that she wanted to have complete control over her group and didn't want to answer to anyone, even me, her coach. At first I was shocked. What does she mean she wants to do her own thing? I just spent nearly three months training her! After processing my anger and uncertainty over how to handle the situation, I finally decided to stick to my guns: the only way she could lead a group was if she was willing to follow our church's plan.

Then the bomb fell. "Why should I follow you? I've been in small groups longer than you've been alive." Ouch. It hurt most because it was true. She was at least 30 years my senior, and she did have quite a bit of experience in small groups at a different church. The trouble was that they ran their small groups much differently than ours.

Our interaction left me reeling, and it prompted a lot of questions and doubts. Why should she follow me? Do I really know what I'm doing? Do I have the authority to lead other leaders, even if they're older than me? Faster than I knew possible, I turned from a confident woman, rarely afraid of conflict or confrontation, to a scared girl, afraid to make my case at all.

July20, 2011 at 4:55 PM

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