Points to Ponder/The Authority of Love or the Love of Authority?

by Pastor Dennis Whitmore

An unknown author penned these wise words:

“Are you a leader? Look behind and see if anyone is following. He who thinks he is leading and no one is following is only taking a walk.”

(Stories From the Heart, Multnomah Press, 1966 p.225)

A leader derives his/her authority to lead from basically two sources. There is authority conferred and then authority granted. In ministry I have found this to true in a very simple, yet profound sense.

In our denomination, a bishop ordains men and women. With this they may bear the title “Reverend” or “Pastor.” The bishop confers authority upon the ordained person and assigns him/her to lead a church.

But, if the people in those churches or the community do not wish to grant him/her that authority in their own lives, then that leader has no authority. Even Jesus was limited in his healing power in a certain town because of the unbelief of the people. They did not grant him authority in their own lives, even though God had sent Him.

Authority conferred and authority granted must be equally combined in order for a leader to lead. But there are those arrogant ones who think that just because the title is in front of their names, people are going to (or least should) fall in line behind them.

In England, the 18th century evangelist/reformer John Wesley was barred from preaching in Anglican churches by those who refused to confer authority. He was too “enthusiastic” they said. His preaching of the pure Word of God annoyed many of his fellow priests. The powers that be shunned him.

However, the coal miners would listen to him preach to them at 5 a.m. before they went to their labors. Others came to him, asking for help in spiritual direction and discipleship. These lay persons granted him authority to enter their lives and lead their souls to a closer walk with the Lord.

There are certainly some in the clergy who are climbing some career ladder, bearing a title that’s been conferred to them, but lacking a vision from God. They treat the people in their “flock” more like a flock than persons, and they get the idea that the authority conferred through that title is a license “to lord it over the people as the Gentiles (the secular authorities) do.” (See Matthew 20:25-28)

I recall how thriving and alive our church was when I was a kid in South Baltimore. The pastor preached with authority from the scripture on Sunday, and during the week he cared for the people with a shepherd’s heart. He was a kind, loving man in whom my parents placed a lot of trust. He had authority in their lives. Why? Because the love of Christ was in him, and it was love for Christ and His people that inspired his leadership. People will grant authority to such a one, no matter how imperfect, because “love covers a multitude of sins” (both the people’s and the pastor’s).

When our pastor retired, a new pastor came who did not have that shepherd’s heart. He came bearing his title and expecting the officers and members to fall in line behind him. Over time and through tense encounters with the arrogant attitude of this pastor, they fell in line all right - and went elsewhere. Authority had been conferred on the man when he was assigned there, but people gradually withdrew their grant of authority. Why? Was it just personality differences? Sometimes that can be, and those things can be worked out. But it is more basic: it’s love.

In John 21, when the resurrected Jesus cooked breakfast on the beach for his astonished disciples who had been out fishing, he confronted Peter with a question. Three times he asked it, as if allowing Peter to repent of each of the three times he had denied knowing him.

“Simon, son of John, do you truly love Me more than these?” (John 21:5 NIV)

As a pastor, with a title conferred to me, I find myself in one way or another, facing that kind of question from Jesus.

What are the “these” Jesus is speaking of? Perhaps it was left to us in such a general, nonspecific way, so that it would cause us to look around at everything.

Do I love Jesus more than the title in front of my name and the honors and benefits that it can bring? If loving Jesus demanded that I walk away from “these” or put myself in a “politically incorrect” position with higher-ups (as Wesley had done) would I do it? Do I love Jesus more than the comfort zones I sometimes slide into? Do I love Him enough to allow Him to pull (or push) me out?

If we love Jesus more than the people we pastor and even the family God has given us, we will be able to love THEM more than we could otherwise. Imagine that. It makes sense and it is a good way to evaluate your own leadership whether you are a clergy or lay leader. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of perfect love. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”(John 15:13)

That means that Jesus loves them more than you do. Therefore, if you love Him more than you love “these”, He will enable you to love and to lead in a deeper more sacrificial way.

I wrote as a pastor because I am one; however, the principle applies to all who are in authority. In some sense each of us are leaders. But whom do you love? Do you love? Or are you full of yourself because you hold power or have some title in front of your name?

Authority conferred will get you some nice business cards, but authority granted will enable you to influence souls and love them as Jesus does. Do you love Him more than “these”?

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Dennis

Pastor Whitmore serves God at the First United Methodist Church in Laurel, MD.