(from January, 1999)

A note from the compiler ...

Subject:  HCDL: Authority
Date:   Tue, 29 Dec 1998 23:12:31 -0800
From:  John C.
To:  HCDL <>


So, I would like to ask for clarification and/or a more specific answer about how authority is
understood and lived out in our groups.  How do we deal with the topic of leadership?

How about the Canberra churches!  Many of you have been at this for awhile, how do you see this?

How do you deal with Scriptures that teach on authority?  For example:
"Obey spiritual leaders and do what they say.  Their work is to watch over your souls, and they
know they are accountable to God.  Give them reason to do this joyfully and not with sorrow.  That
would certainly not be for your benefit."  (Hebrews 13:17 NLT)
Note:  I think we can all agree right now that this has nothing to do with the institutional way of
ministry but much to do with Christianity as we know it here on HCDL.

What do you think about what Robert Banks has written on the subject?  For example:
"Significant persons are present in Paul's communities.  Their authority comes from the ministry
discharged by them in the community rather than from their status outside it or position within it, and
that is not an irrevocable position."  (Paul's Idea of Community.  Revised.  Hendrikson, 1994.  Page 148.)  Note:  It is clear that he is saying that there were people with authoritative functions.  In other words, the early church would not have understood the common belief that only Jesus is in authority.

What do you think about what Hal Miller has written on the subject?  For example:
"genuine leadership in the church is based on service, truth, and trust, not authority.  Leaders in the
church are called by the truth to lives which are worthy of imitation, and thus respectable, and to lives of service."  ("As He That Doth Serve."  Toward a House Church Theology.  Steve Atkerson, Ed. Atlanta, 1996.  Page 83.)  Note:  Ahhh, now we are getting closer!  See also Philippians 3:17 and 4:9.  Also a note to Hal - please feel free to elaborate or upgrade your thinking on this!

I really believe that if we smooth this over we are missing something.  Does anyone care to

It seems to me that those who were in authority in the Bible were actually
those who served others.  They didn't Lord their position but rather sought
to act on the best interest of others, through example and teaching.  In our
home fellowship there was one man who stood out to me as a leader.  His
stability, humility and genuine love for all of us is why I thought of him as a
leader. He did most of the teaching because that is a real gift he has.  Others
taught as well at times and no one felt they couldn't.  We all learned alot when
he taught, even the kids now that we have moved said they miss Jim's teaching.
This said, HE felt like he taught too much, like he lead too much.  I felt
like he was being used in the gifts God gave him.  Any thoughts on this?

KGJJ316 wrote [about a man she saw as a leader in her former

> This said, HE felt like he taught too much, like he lead too much.  I felt
> like he was being used in the gifts God gave him.  Any thoughts on this?

Yes -- you've given a great in-a-nutshell description of a good sort
of leadership.  I think that tension is a *good* thing, perhaps a
hallmark of real leaders who are also real servants.

In my experience, Karen, what you say seems to be a lot closer to the
real definition of "leadership" than what we see around us in the
social and traditional church structure.

Those who possess REAL leadership are those who put forth a good
example to follow.  Those who demonstrate that they have Godly wisdom,
desire to serve those around them, and pattern their lives after the
Lord's teachings.  True leaders will always be found among those who
are who are quietly serving any and all who have need. Anything else
called leadership is a terribly pitiful substitute at best.

The grabbing of power and exerting of oneself over others is not
leadership.  It's just another stale, warmed over version of

Having said that, I like what you said.  You have the insight to
recognize someone who is a Godly leader.  That means you won't be
fooled by someone who wears a "LEADER" name tag.

Hi John,

It's good that you brought this up again, because I for one, would not want
you to think that putting our collective 'head in the sand' is a good practice.

However, I really have got to tell you that I made the comment regarding
identity because I believe that it's a MAJOR reason that 'authority' is an
issue.  In no way did I mean it to be a 'pat' answer.  As I see it, often it
IS the ones who, either

1) have such a heart for the Lord that they want to GIVE THEIR WHOLE ENTIRE
LIFE to serving Him and don't know of any other way to do this but 'become'
a full-time minister (hence... they have 'the' authority in the church -- at
least the 'perceived' authority because of the title, training, and 'setting apart.')

2) gets saved and projects the world's view of 'success' or 'power' into
 the Kingdom of God. They 'mix' realms and come up with "pastor" (authority
figure, yada yada yada), never really moving into the purity of bodylife
(equal priesthood). This, of course, if affirmed, confirmed, signed, sealed,
delivered by modern Christianity. (This is compounded by the need to
'identify' with having one's 'whole heart and life set a part for the Lord's purposes)

To answer your question about my view of genuine authority, I must tell you
that  it completely concurs with Joann H.'s post today, along with the following
statement you quoted from Hal.

<<"genuine leadership in the church is based on service, truth, and trust,
 not authority.  Leaders in the church are called by the truth to lives
 which are worthy of imitation, and thus respectable, and to lives of
 service."  ("As He That Doth Serve."  Toward a House Church Theology.
 Steve Atkerson, Ed.  Atlanta, 1996.  Page 83.)>>

John C. has asked some good and acceptable questions about
the "authority" thang.

This is a charged subject and I have charged in too hard on it in
the past and caused some unnecessary offense at times, so please
everyone forgive me for any unnecessary offense I have brought
about or might seem to ignite this go round.  Please believe me
when I say I am not angry at anyone. But I am passionate, and passion
always seems to serve or betray those who are given to it.  May God be
the judge as to this case.

 Before I go on to my personal take and exegesis, I first want to
briefly explain where I am coming from.

 I wholeheartly beleive and am under the conviction that the church
 is an organism and not an organization.  Organisms operate organically
 and don't require governing; they simply do what they are created to do.

 Organizations however, require government, organization and control.

 Organisms are created, organizations are man-made.

 God created the church, man made religion.

 If this is true, and most hc'ers I know say they believe this way.
 Then why do so many hc folk, including "leaders", talk organic;
 but then practice agriculture?  And instead of allowing things to
 grow up naturally (ok, supernaturally) organic; they impose structure
 and man made tools to the soil.

 I also, as part of my organic belief, view the church as being a family.
 In my nuclear family I am not a father (nor Lori a mother) by title,
 positon or government.  We simply are because we are due to what happened
 organically.  We also do not govern in our family.  We relate!  Because
 each member of this family is important.

 Sure leadership and authority, in a family as well as the church, must
 and does take place.  But no one has to be a leader (in the traditional
 sense) to do this.  This is done through prayer and loving undergirding
 and support. And we take turns as God annoints each one of us to take the
 lead at times according to our gifting.  The baton gets passed frequently.
 Only way to win a race without tiring out you know.  Sometimes
 we have to corporately discern who has this baton/annointing, and then
 go with the results. (Acts 15?)

 So I say provide leadership - YESSSS!  Be a LEADER - NO!
 And yes some folks tend by the nature of their gifting to carry the torch
 more often than others.  But they do not hold a governmental position
 of leadership.  They simply do that thing God has them do.  When it is
 their turn and they are supposed to do it.  And if the rest of the body
 weren't so clergy whipped and timid they wouldn'y have to do it so often.
 Yes, that is a cry for help.  The torch gets too heavy for all of us at
 times because none of us were ever meant to lug it arround the track
 too many times in row.

 Now on to my Greek trained but hopefully Spirit led look at the Word:

 REMEMBER, alot of these are IFs.  Scripture can be translated many, many
 ways.  So please at least consider these as possibilites.  And stop
 beleiving that all the current translations and lexical aids are
 innerrant.  Remember, they were brought to you and financed by
 heirarchical system that just might not want you (conciuosly or
 unconciuosly) to know the whole truth.  Because if you did you
 might not need them or send them any more money.

 Hebrews 13:17 -  speaks of obeying those that have rule over us in
 the King James.  However, in the greek the word Hegomai is used.
 It means to lead, guide, think, consider, or regard.  It is not a
 positonal word but rather describes relationship or function.  The
 passage could read:

 Be persuaded by those among you who lead and help guide you. Because they
 think about, consider and regard the truth.

 See it is not because they have a governmental position.  It is simply
 because these are the type of folks you should naturally listen to.

 This is too long so I am not going to go blow by blow, scripture by
 scripture unless asked a specific question.  But here a a few
 observations about NT in general:

 The church is the ekklesia - the called out ones.  Called out by who?
 God Himself of course.  He don't need no help.  THE AUTHOR it (is) HE.

 Some scripture seems to speak of people being "over" others in the Lord.
 The greek word "Epi" can mean over/under among or even beside.  Why the
 translators always chose "over" in these cases is unknown, but gee -
 could it be that it is because a King (James a heirarchical ruler)
 commissioned the first deal and could have your head if he wanted?
 Also, never forget the religious powers that be have always been the
 religious powers that be.  (See Jesus' crucufixion)

 Imagine, - Honor those who are among you in the Lord and undergird and
 support you.............Hmmmm, sure a different flavor than over you and
 rule your butt.  Excuse me.

 Also strange the Greek word for rule with governmental authority
 "arche'" is not used in regards to the church in passages John
 listed.  More relational , functional terms like hegomai are used.

 Oh yeah, the word bishop or overseer, actually means overseer.
 It means look things over and turn them to God.  So bishops of hcdl
 what do you do?  "Uh, we just watch, look things
 over, pray alot and participate according to our gifts."
 Simulated quote - excuse me.

 Another catcher, the "appoint elders" like in Titus 1:5.  Doesn't mean that
 a governing man gives an edict.  It simply means dispose, determine,
 or recognise.  Like hey, recognize and determine who God has disposed
 to be elders in this place.  It means agree with God, not use your power
 to make it or fake it.

 Oh, what else?  What else?

 Almost forgot a biggee.   When places like Romans 12:8 are translated
 to say stuff like Gift of leadership, leadership' leadership' leadership'
 leadership' ect.  Guess what?  No greek work there to derive "leader"
 from.  It means care or give aid.  Wow service, not leadership.
 What a concept!  Hey, Jesus should of thought of this one.  Wait a
 minute.  Oh yeah, HE did, He did.  Thanks for reminding us Karen from
 Buffalo and others!

 What does all this mean?  Could it possibly be - be who you are in
 Jesus without the need of any credentials.  And if God surely dwells in
 you and what you speak is His love and truth His purposes will be
 accomplished.  You mean His word won't come back void even if
 you don't have the right badge, certificate, license, or recognition.
 You mean we really don't need any letters of recconmendation, but
 could ALL be living epistles known and read by all.

 Like Paul and Popeye said, "I am, what I am."

 Let the chips fall where they may.  God is great at picking up the pieces
 and putting us together.

 The thethehte the that's all folks.

 Be happy to converse more.

 God's got a million of them!

While the church's preoccupation with leadership and authority is
something we have all become used to, this familiarity does not make it
a worthwhile pursuit.  The whole thing began with the grab for power and
authority in the Garden of Eden and has been depressingly familiar

I think it constructive to find ways of structuring the church in such a
way that it reflects the ego-massaging models of leadership in the world
around us as little as possible.  It is Jesus' upside down kingdom that
I like to think we seek to model.  Our home churches, not hidebound by
authoritarian traditions of denominational leadership that come from
past ages when these were more fashionable, are free to concentrate
their energies on empowering the fearful, the reluctant and the weak
rather than headhunting church executives.  We can safely leave the
business of raising up those for special tasks to the Godhead, where any
glory can then clearly reside.

My home church experience has been that by structuring our church so
that consensus is the method of decision-making, direction on particular
occasions can come from unexpected sources in unexpected ways - and this
can be a cause of wonder and gratitude to a God who can be seen to
perform miracles in the lives of the most retiring and least confident
of us.  This, too, has its problems - we have few models, so we make
mistakes and it is slow and inefficient - but I believe it to be our
struggling attempt to try the gospel model.

Dear HCDL,

>>> Concerning authority, John C. wrote:
Also a note to Hal - please feel free to elaborate or upgrade your
thinking on this!

I really believe that if we smooth this over we are missing something.
Does anyone care to comment?

Upgrade my thinking? Upgrade? Please wait while InstallShield(tm)
prepares my system to install the new version. . . .

The funny thing is: leadership and authority is one area where things
have seemed to get much simpler as we've gone on. Here is one
disembodied new year's day observations to try to provoke discussion
on the topic that's a bit deeper.

Ken Goodlet's (now we have two Ken G.'s!) description of how his
home church works makes it sound quite similar to ours. We have found
little need for defined authority in either of the two areas many people
claim it is essential:
* teaching, and
* direction.

*** Teaching ***
The children of God are remarkably discerning when they function as a
group. I believe one reason Christians feel the "need" for some kind of
authoritative teaching is that we have forgotten how to be discerning
together. We live our Christian lives as isolated consumers of "teaching"
and then act surprised when people are blown here and there by winds
of doctrine.

We have discovered that we have little need to recognize some authority
or other for teaching because God is entirely capable of teaching us well
if we will sit and listen together. When we meet, we take turns (not all of
us, but many of us) bringing insight and focus to a time dedicated to

Once a five-year-old "brought the teaching" (on David and Goliath, and
how God can help you win . . .).  I still remember it clearly years later.
How many adults have brought teachings to you that you remember
years later?

Though a variety of people bring the teaching, however, the _learning_
belongs to us all. It is our responsibility as a group to take what one of
brought and make it our learning. This is the move that is often missing
when people rely on "authoritative teaching."

The important thing is that we do it together. We discuss what was
brought, disagreeing, redirecting, going off on tangents, and applying.
This is where learning happens for us: we make the "teaching" our own,
often in ways the teacher never dreamed of.

I've often said that Christians should stop worrying about teaching and
pay some attention to learning. The more we go on, the more true that
seems to be.

And, if you care about "heresy," "false teaching," and the like, go read
the sad history of the church and ask yourself: Where is the danger
here? Is it from Christians trying to be learners? Or is it from fools
posturing themselves as "authoritative" teachers?

My opinion is pretty obvious.

*** Direction ***
People also commonly assert that authority is necessary to provide
direction. You know, it's the "without a vision the people perish" sermon,
and it's pretty routinely some authoritative leader's vision that we're all
perishing without.

Again, as we've gone on, we've found this completely unnecessary.
What we've discovered is that when you take the "authoritative leaders"
out of the way, God's people are overflowing with leadership gifts.

One or another of us leads in various times, ways, and places. We don't
have to have a leader because we have learned that, when we're
willing to function together as a body, people very naturally lead where
they need to.

The Spirit of God gives people (various of us) the graces to "go first"
(that _is_ what leadership means, by the way), and the rest of us have
learned, over time, how to follow.

Following, it seems, is the tough part, not leading. To well follow, you
have to be supporting and discerning. You have to be able to try out
what someone other than you thinks is a good way to go. But it's hardly
a blind follower-ship. It's highly interactive and dynamic.

Ken called this "consensus" and we do, too. It's really much more
complicated than that, but that's another discussion. Leadership, you
see, is a critical part of consensus working for a group. It's just that
leadership you need to operate by consensus has very little to do with
the leadership models that are touted by the authority-mongers who
chew up so much Christian air-time.

My point is that you have to learn leadership (and follower-ship) as a
group, just like you have to learn learning (and teaching) as a group.
These skills belong to the body of Christ, not to one isolated
"authoritative" individual or another.

I realize that this all may sound ridiculous or simplistic to those who
their lives in church worlds preoccupied with individual claims to
authority. It would have had that sound to me not that many years ago.

I think what groups need to do to get started is to be willing to grow
toward the truth of these things. In Salem, 20 years ago, we started with
a strong leader model of elders and a serious orientation to authority. We
also started with a desire to work by consensus.

Over the years, we have been willing to grow toward the way we deal
with authority and leadership now. We didn't magically arrive one day;
we _learned_ our way here. It took time and lots of false starts and
tangents. And I'm certain that it's not over yet. We'll most likely be
upgrading our thinking for the foreseeable future.

So, to people like John C. who have "lots of questions," I say: "Bravo!
Those are the beginning of wisdom."

Oooooops. I know the bible says that's the fear of God. I guess,
technically, lots of questions must be the next-to-the-beginning of
wisdom. I leave that to the people who feel obliged to keep track of such

What can I say about Hal's post?

Yes, yes, yes and a thousand more of them!

Churchlife and everything else is a journey
and not a destination.  Embrace each step together.

In a message dated 1/1/99 6:16:08 AM Eastern Standard Time,
hmiller@TASC.Com writes:

 My point is that you have to learn leadership (and follower-ship) as a
 group, just like you have to learn learning (and teaching) as a group.
 These skills belong to the body of Christ, not to one isolated
 "authoritative" individual or another. >>

Hi Hal and HCDL,

Happy new year, etc........bla, bla, bla......

It has been while since my last HCDL confession.

Hal, your post is right on the money!  Authority is not as complicated as
many would make it seem.  The Church can be lead by the HEAD (Jesus Christ) if
all of the local body are willing to allow him to show up and lead THROUGH the
CHURCH.  Yes, he uses many of us [parts of the Body] to speak words of LIFE
to the body.  NOTE the key word is MANY.

I have seen many believers get trapped by following one man's vision and
teaching . . . day in and day out.  I have actually experienced this and I
know the action can become a form of weekly idol worship.  The type of
worship that says [to us believers] God can't use me because ... [insert title
here] So&So is so gifted, spiritual, called, anointed, led by God, leads a holier
life, has been given the responsibility of shepherding, leading, teaching,

This why the NT tell us that Christ established the CHURCH to live, feed,
and work by HIS leading and by our [the CHURCH's] dependence on EACH OTHER.
The world will see Christ when they SEE our LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER!  A Church
living in Christ without an established "Leader" is an incredible testimony to the
world.  IMHO it is a much greater "witness" than 1,000,000 gospel tracks
being handed out, 1000 CCM concerts, or 1,000,000,000 evangelical sermons!

Has an HCDL buddy of mine says, "Don't go to Church, BE the CHURCH!"

It is our right to BE the CHURCH.  I say let us walk in the Priesthood of
the Believers daily.

AMEN, Hal you shared a great teaching today.

My take on this Authority stuff.  ( John this does not define it or even
attempt to explain it using proof texts in any way. )

Every time a leader,  or someone exercising true leadership, has come to me
I've submitted. Every time.    I am not known in the IC that I try not to
attend as someone who submits to authority though because this true
leadership rarely occurs there.

I'll say it another way. Every time someone has come and washed my feet (
spiritually and physically) I've submitted to them and they have lead me
into a greater fellowship and understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven.

That's how I see it.    IMHO this behavior  rings true  with the sayings of
Christ and the teachings of the New Testament.

Anyone wana wash my feet?

I suppose our opinions of leadership depends in part on the sorts of
analogies we use to describe it.  (I've written something like this before,
I think.)  One analogy that's often used is the family.  There are parents,
children, brothers, sisters - all sorts of relationships.  But even with
family model, there are two different ways of comparing it to the church.

Some people compare the Church to a complete nuclear family, made up of
parents and children.  Naturally, there are times in every family in which
the parents must exercise authority, especially when the children are
Parents shoulder the responsibility for raising, training, and protecting
their children and sometimes they have to be "dictators" in order to do an
effective job.  As the children grow older, that sort of authority becomes
both less necessary and less advisable, but parents always fill a mentor
role.  In the same way, the Church is complete family, where some people
parents and others are children.  The parental types have authority over
children types.

Others would say that the church is not made up of parents and children,
merely a bunch of siblings.  *God* is the Father, and we are all his
children and brothers and sisters of one another.  In most families, no
sibling has any sort of concrete authority over another.  Even when the age
difference between the oldest and the youngest sibling is quite large, most
parents don't choose to give the oldest sibling direct parental authority
over the younger ones.  While the eldest may have quite a lot of
responsibility to care for the younger ones, any serious disputes or
critical decisions are left up to the parents.

If you closely watch a group of children at play, you'll be amazed at the
"coordination" they're capable of carrying out.  They can invent intricate
games of make-believe, which each child filling a unique role and having
complicated interactions with the other children.  Who organizes this?  No
one with any direct authority over the others.  Sure, there's leadership,
the game would never get started.  But it's relational leadership, not
authoritarian leadership.  There's a crucial difference!

Some churches and denominations call their clergy "father".  They obviously
subscribe to the full-family model.  Other churches and denominations call
their clergy "pastors".  They claim to subscribe to the siblings-only
but there's no real difference between them and the first group, in
practice.  Most people who get into home or relational churching are trying
a great experiment - to find out if a *true* siblings-only model is
workable.  So far, the reports are encouraging.

>>> Eric L. wrote:
If you closely watch a group of children at play, you'll be amazed at the
"coordination" they're capable of carrying out.  They can invent intricate
games of make-believe, which each child filling a unique role and having
complicated interactions with the other children.  Who organizes this?
No one with any direct authority over the others.  Sure, there's
leadership, or the game would never get started.  But it's relational
leadership, not authoritarian leadership.  There's a crucial difference!

Another in the long list of things we adults need to learn from our
children! Well observed, Eric.

Perhaps one of the reasons children are free to behave this way is that
they don't share our adult biases about what "just won't work." They
spontaneously and easily use relational leadership styles that many
"knowledgeable" adults (including some we've seen quoted here
recently) "know" are impossible or godless.

Clearly, the children have their own problems (bullies, spoil-sports) just
as we do, but you're right--they do remarkably well organizing and
managing their work (which is play).

One classic of theirs worth emulating is the way many children conduct
leadership. They say, "Hey, I know! Why don't we . . . ." It recognizes the
importance of innovation and "going first" that are at the core of
leadership. And yet it has the collegiality ("why don't we . . .")
necessary to put that "going first" at the service of the group.