August 15, 2018

Authority and Influence

I'm currently discerning with the Church whether I am called to be a priest. This isn't breaking news–I've shared this in my newsletter, and on my Instagram story more than anywhere else. In our tradition, the priest and lay leadership (what we call a vestry) of the congregation one is a member of, have to affirm that an individual is called to be a priest before their process moves forward to discerning with a diocese (a regional organization of congregations and leadership). Because I spend so many Sundays in various churches due to my job, I'm not in our church on Sunday mornings. Therefore, I don't actually know a lot of the vestry members in our church very well, which is a fairly large church. This last weekend, my wife and I were invited to attend a casual gathering with the vestry so that we could get to know each other a little better before they decide what to do with me.

More than once, comments akin to "This discernment process is different" were made by those in attendance. As we drove home that night, Brooke and I were pondering on these comments. Why does this seem untypical to others? The answer to this question may be as simple as the fact that I've been in some form of Christian leadership for 20 years. But let's reflect on that for a moment. Why is that significant?

I don't actually think that the length of time is what matters but the fact that I have experience does matter. At a young age, I started trying to create space for Christian community for people without an interest in traditional churches. I didn't have a title. I wasn't ordained. I simply had a desire to influence the people and culture around me for Christ's kingdom.

There is a difference between authority and influence. Too many are convinced that positional authority is required to have an influence. Granted, because I am a white, cisgender, male it is easier in our culture for me but I don't think this takes away from this truism. You do not require positional authority in order to make an influence. Get out there, be an influencer and you will find yourself prepared for positional authority.

When we try to have an influence, from wherever we sit or stand, we gain experience. That may be running a campaign, leading a new community, building an app ... whatever! Through doing this we get experience that cannot be gained by sitting in classrooms to gain titles. Possibly more important, you learn to understand who you are on a deeper level. Your own sense of what your strengths and weaknesses are become clearer.

I may or may not be called to be priest. This is yet to be discerned completely. Yet, when I come to the table to meet with those discerning with me, I am clear what kind of priest I have the capacity to be. I know where I will be strong and where I will be weak ... there is a strange sense of confidence and humility wrapped up in your own self-awareness when you've stepped up and tried and through doing so gained experience.

If you have convinced yourself that you need a certain kind of authority to have the influence you desire, you're likely unprepared for that authority. Specifically, if you are discerning a call to Christian leadership of some kind the first thing you should do–in my opinion, is to go plant a missional community. You will learn more about yourself and who God has called you to be than anything else might show you. Whatever field you are in, go influence things for good and let authority worry about itself!

Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash

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