Over the last week or so, the Lord has been showing me a lot about the difference between position and authority. I have seen a lot of samples in the world around me – the ambition of NYC, observing parents of our youth ministry, and trying to make sense of the state of our government.
The sad truth in modern culture is that we are a people of position, but very little authority. We strive to be strongest, loudest, most obeyed; the leader, the boss, the guru, the celebrity. Our pursuit is one of power. We want the fame, we want the prestige. And we believe that with position comes a certain entitled following.
On the other hand, authority is something bestowed upon us by another. Authority is given with trust and wielded with service, sacrifice, and the betterment of the individual being served.
The best way I can think to explain the debacle that is American politics today is this: we bestow authority on these individuals but they execute out of a position of title rather than out of influence. This is not a problem exclusive to politics. In fact, politics are what they are because we have elected a system that mirrors our everyday way of doing things.
I really think it is our inadequacy and our insecurity that makes us so addicted to position. We believe the lie of the world that says that the people in positions of power are the people that matter. We do not have a firm acceptance of our identity and are relying on position to achieve that end. We view leadership as a pyramid and the higher up we can get, the more lofty people will think of us, and the better off we will be.
The irony is that we cannot exercise authority in the lives of others until we hand over authority of our own lives.
Think of Jesus. By any worldly standard, he avoided positional power. He resisted Satan’s temptings toward title and recognition. He submitted to the authority of His Father, cycling all praise into Him. Jesus waits with baited breath for the invitation of authority over our lives. He is ready and prepared and capable.
The disciples squabbled over who would sit in the position of power (we sometimes mask our sinful pursuit by calling it ‘honor’ or ‘blessing’ or even ‘authority’); the popes throughout the generations struggled to resist the temptations of power and often failed insatiably; pastors and leaders in churches today compromise the gospel in order to stay ‘relevant’ or likable so that they do not lose their position of power.
We run around our world trying to collect power points like we are playing a game on our phones (this is actually why those games are so addictive; our psyche is already doing this). We spend our days trying to reinforce and affirm our identity, our thoughts, our way of life. We are living toward worth instead of out of it. And we are never satisfied. The result is not only a tainting of our own lives, but a failure to properly influence the lives around us. As people of community, our choices have consequences not only for each of us individually, but for the community as a whole, and for other individuals in the community.
Maybe the biggest difference is this: people of position are afraid to let others succeed because it is a threat to their own title; people of authority are desperate to see others succeed because they have developed a true partnership, a deep investment, with those around them.
Are you pursuing position? You can’t pursue authority. Someone else has to come and invite you into it. Maybe this is why we gravitate toward titles – it is more in our control, more about us. Are you using your identity to influence others or are you trying to manipulate others to reinforce what God has already said about you?
Our world needs more people of authority. We need people who are not so addicted to affirmation and applause that they lose sight of everything else. People who want to serve so badly that they lead instead of people who want to lead so badly that they pretend to serve. We need to die to this archaic competitiveness that demands that the loudest, richest, most recognizable among us is the best. And we need to figure out how to, always and in all things, cycle praise back toward the Father.