Reclaiming the Beauty of Authority & Submission

The following is an essay that I wrote for my application to Union PSCE. It covers what I feel is a pressing issue with today’s Church.

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            The words “authority” and “submission” normally make people uneasy, especially when it comes to the local church. In many churches, the authorities either abuse their position or abdicate the responsibilities. These negative trends have affected every aspect of church life and have kept Christians from enacting change in their community. Honor and submission seem like dirty words in this culture where everyone seems to think they know what is best.

            As a youth worker, I see this attitude play out in how students relate to parents, teachers and others in authority. Today, everyone seems to celebrate the individual. The concept of setting your wishes aside for the needs of others is not a popular lifestyle.      Sin and rebellion is as old as mankind. But there does appear to be a shift in values as postmodernism has led everyone to become their own moral compass in a sea of various beliefs.

            The Church could have been a positive agent to bring life to the sad reality described above. Unfortunately, it has been more influenced by these trends than it has worked to reverse them. From scandals to church politics, many Christians don’t really trust their church leadership.

            Some might say this seems like an extreme statement. But it bears out everyday as people leave churches never to return.

            Leaders have moral failures, church splits happen, dedicated volunteers get burnt out. There are millions of Christians who are disillusioned with church as usual. And most of them fault pastors and other church leaders for much of their baggage. While this is probably not fair in some cases, it may very well be in others.  

            Statistics from Barna Research and Gallup show that most Christians don’t score much better on moral and family issues than a typical non-Christian. Pastors preach on issues and call the local fellowship to act. Many listen and go right out the door and do the exact opposite. Church leaders call people to join small groups, yet the vast majority remain isolated.

            I have seen churches go to extensive efforts to get people to back a particular mission or concept and still many members refuse to change or do what is asked.  Pastors call people to pray and only 1% of the congregation shows up for the prayer vigil. How many men in most churches are in an active discipleship relationship with a pastor, leader or older mentor?

            I am a member and lay leader at one of the top 20 largest churches in the
Richmond area. We are grappling with these issues and would honestly say that most men have few people who truly know their struggles and are helping them find victory in Christ. The same too can be said for many women although they tend to be better at discipleship than most men.   

            We live in a world where people are suspicious of authority. This seems to be true no matter who is in the White House or the pulpit. Failure to honor authorities causes a chain reaction that affects every member of a congregation. It trickles down to the families and eventually to the community. I am reminded of the time spoken about in the Hebrew Scriptures when every man did what was right in his own eyes and there was no king (Judges 21:25).

            There are no quick fixes for the issues that I have described. But there is a sure path to recovery. Any real problem can only be corrected by true repentance. This is a response that leads individuals to make a firm decision to live a different way. Churches must recognize people’s tendency to run from authority. Leaders must work to earn the trust of the congregation and help them see that submission can be a good thing.  

            The concept of Biblical authority should be taught and modeled out in churches. Avoiding the topic is no longer an option. Elders, bishops, boards, district presbyters and others who provide oversight for a fellowship should develop a systematic approach to ensure that pastors and other leaders are encouraged and held accountable at the same time.

            Christian leaders must first model out authority and submission well before the congregation will ever get the message. Men’s and women’s ministry should seek to encourage and empower older people to disciple and care for those who are younger.

            The only way to restore the beauty of submission is for each person to embrace their story and let God help them see that they can trust Him. All authority exists because God has allowed it to be there. When you get to the heart of the matter, failure to trust and submit to authority shows as much what we believe about God as the authorities that we reject.

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