This week I’ve had several conversations with youth workers who are struggling with authority issues in their ministry settings. The conversations have been frustrating.
When I’m on the listening end of these stories, I typically default very quickly to a posture of challenge by asking accusatory youth workers to stop, take a deep breath, and look inward. “Is there anything you might be doing to provoke pushback? Are you seeing things clearly? If you were the authority figure sitting across from you and your concerns, would you think that you are being fair?” These are just some of the questions I push them to consider. Let’s be honest. . . we’ve all indulged our impatient youthful idealism in ways that aren’t necessarily well stated or remotely diplomatic. When we do that, I believe we dishonor our Lord.
But in the cases I’ve encountered this week my frustration has been directed not at the youth workers. Instead, it’s at the systems and subjects of their very legitimate complaints. I’m encountering this more and more. To be sure, each of these situations is multi-layered, nuanced, complex, and historied. But there’s something happening more frequently in church cultures that are built around leaders who emulate the Christian celebrities we’ve come to adore. We live and minister in a world where likes, allegiances, autonomy, and size are king. . . which leads to misplaced, idolatrous, and narcissistic aspirations.
I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that during a long drive last Monday, I listened to a fascinating and insightful interview with Dr. Diane Langberg. Over the course of the last few days I’ve been able to direct several youth workers to this video. . . on “The use and misuse of authority in church leadership.” It is filled with loads of wisdom. I want to encourage you to take the time to give it a careful look. It might be about the system in which you minister. It might work to prevent your involvement in the creation and propagation of unhealthy and destructive systems. It might even challenge you and how you are ministering.