20 April, 2009

Submitting Ourselves to Authority

A much neglected topic in the body of Christ is that of submitting ourselves to those who are over us in the Lord as well as in the world. The concept of freedom and liberty in Christ does not mean that we are not to be submissive, but it seems more and more, that there is a tremendous lack of submission. As a pastor now for some 20 years, I have to say that while there have been a few that have submitted themselves to their pastor, by and large, it just does not happen. I try not to be the type pastor who pushes his weight around, for I believe that to be abusive and a sin in itself. But there are times when, as leader, I have to set my foot down and say, "this needs to be done" or "this is what I expect." More times than not when this happens, I get attitude, anger and rebellion. Hey, I know that NO ONE likes being told what to do, but there must be a head to the body, and there are times the head has to give direction to it's members. I often am just stunned at the reaction that I receive. While the exact words are not spoken, the reaction to the direction I give basically says, "I will NOT do what you say!" I've had people yell at me, not because I was wrong, but because they did not like my direction. I've had people do what I suggest but the flames shooting from their eyes and the stiffness of their posture and the immediate return to the previous way of doing things says, "I will NOT do what you say!" I've talked with various pastors and this problem is huge in our churches. People just refuse to submit themselves to the leadership of the pastor. In fact, they are down right rebellious in their attitude, and the Bible clearly equates rebellion with witchcraft. How can we expect God's blessings in our church and our homes when we are walking with a haughty, prideful, rebellious attitude? It just is not going to happen. I have come to understand that how we respond to authority in our life is the proof of to what degree we have submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Will we respond as the world does?? Or as Christ would - following His example; doing what He wants us to do - which is completely opposite from how our sinful, selfish hearts would respond on their own.

I often think about a story that a friend of mine who now serves as a State Youth and Christian Education Director for the Church of God relates about when he was first starting out in the ministry. He was working on staff of a growing church as a Minister of Music. One Sunday not long after he started working in this church his Pastor came to him and told him that he wanted him to develop an orchestra for the church to play in the worship services and he wanted it to begin the next Sunday. My friend began trying to put this together, but was only able to find a couple of people in the church who played instruments and were willing to play in the orchestra, and the type instruments he found were not going to blend very well, and honestly, the people were not very talented, so he did not have them play the next week. After the service his pastor called him into the office and fairly well chewed him out, saying something to the effect of, "I told you I want an orchestra starting this week, where are they?" A lot more was said than that, and my friend related that he was angry at his pastor for talking to him this way and making these unfair demands, so he determined he was going to show his pastor just how ridiculous he was being. The next week he put the "orchestra" that he was able to find on the platform and had them play during service. He says that they were absolutely horrible and he figured that this was his last day of working for this church. When the worship service was over, the pastor came running over to him and he figured, "this is it, I'm fired." But to his surprise his pastor said, "Well done!" He just looked at the pastor, stunned. The pastor said to him, "I did not tell you to put together a great symphony, I told you to put together an orchestra, and you followed my direction. What I really wanted from you is to learn to submit yourself to my direction and you have done it well. Now we can work together as a team."

There is a powerful lesson in that story. In so many of our churches there is a struggle between the Women's Ministries and the pastor... or the Minister of Music and the pastor... or the Youth Pastor and the Pastor... and to be brutally honest, the problem is that people refuse to submit themselves to the direction of the pastor. That is rebellion, and it will undermine everything in the church and hinder the flow of the Holy Spirit in our churches. I'm not saying that the Pastor should be an iron fisted dictator, but there must be submission to leadership. It doesn't end there, because Pastor's also need to submit themselves to those who are over them too. It is something that has to be worked at. I will be honest enough to say that over the years I have had Overseers that I did not like and at times I found myself rebelling against them, ignoring State programs and just doing my own thing. But I have learned (the hard way) that when I sew those seeds of rebellion, I reap rebellion in my own church. Even if I don't like my Overseer, he is over me in the Lord and I am called to submit myself to him and his leadership. One of the things that I have found interesting is that when I began to submit to their authority, I began to see things differently and I developed better relationships with them too.

I wonder how thing would be different if we would begin to submit ourselves, not begrudgingly and with anger, but with humility and respect. I wonder how that practice might open up a flow of the Holy Spirit in our churches and in our homes. I am convinced that when people sew that rebellious attitude toward their pastor (or even their bosses at work) they reap a harvest of rebellion in their lives as their kids and spouses begin warring in the same manner in their homes. I learned long ago, if my Overseer tells me to do something and I disagree, I may need to discuss it with him (that does not mean with anger) but if the directive comes down, I submit to his authority. That is what the Bible commands of me. There have been times after I submitted that the Overseer has called and told me that he was wrong and changed the directive. One Overseer even said to me that it was my willingness to be submissive that caused him to recognize that he was wrong. We just might be surprised at how the dynamics would change if we would begin to practice Biblical submission, without the closed door gossip and tear down sessions. God will begin to bless and his presence will be manifest in our lives, homes and churches.

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