They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Mark 1:21–22
Authority is influence. What does it mean to speak with authority, to be influential? Where does that authority or influence come from? Likely it is tied to one of four things:: position or title, technical expertise, relationship, or spiritual depth.
Positional Authority is seen in roles like parents, teacher, and bosses. They have the ability to tell someone to do something – they exercise authority. This is kind of the “because I said so” authority. It is the kind of authority that most people think of when they hear the word. While it can be effective, it is not very deep or long lasting. A wise friend of mine once said, “the more you rely on positional authority as a legitimate means of authority, the more illegitimate your influence will become in the eyes of those you serve.”
Technical authority is like positional authority in that it does not have deep roots. It flows from the reality that a person has subject matter knowledge and therefore has authority over those who need that knowledge.
Relational authority arises not because of a title or technical knowledge, but rather from the awareness that the person exercising authority cares about the other person and that person in turn trusts the person exercising authority. The roots of relational authority are deeper.
Spiritual authority, finally, comes from the content of a persons character, specifically the influence or permission we have to speak into people’s lives because of the intimacy of our relationship with God. Spiritual authority is the has the deepest roots. It flows out of a deep communion with God, and it is infectious. People want to know what the person who has spiritual authority has to say, people want to follow the person with spiritual authority.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to have influence in the world; we are called to be the voice of the voiceless, to be the hands and feet of Jesus as we enter into the broken places of the world with visible and tangible hope, always prepared to give a reason for that hope to the people who see it and ask. We are called to exercise authority, so it is important to ask where that authority comes from. We easily eliminate positional and technical authority from the discussion. I don’t think many people would argue that the Church no longer has positional authority in the world. Likewise, in a world that does not believe what we believe, technical authority (the Bible says so) no longer is authority at all.
That leaves relational and spiritual authority — the deepest and strongest kinds of authority — as means of influence in our world. Therein lies the foundation of our mission. As cooperative friends of Jesus, living lives of creative goodness for the sake of the world, we must pursue real relationships, friendships of trust and love with those who do not know Jesus — not with the ulterior motive of telling them about God, but simply because they are made in his image. At the same time, we must be continually and intentionally moving into deeper and deeper intimacy with Christ. If we commit to both of these, we will have the authority that is needed to speak light into the dark places that so desperately need the light that we have. Without them we will forever be frustrated and those whom we are called to serve will forever remain unserved.
Does this make sense to you? If so, how does it align with your life now, your practices and your priorities? If it aligns well, great, keep it up. If it does not, what might you do to change that? Who might you ask to come alongside you to help?
Let me know your thoughts and share them with others as well.
Peace, hope and love