Leading with Authority, part 4: True Authority

Washing_of_the_FeetTrue authority, as hinted at in parts 2 and 3, is enacted when the one in authority acts as one authorized. That is, she is under the authority of another and not acting capriciously or arbitrarily.

How, then, does true authority behave? What’s the goal for those who wish to exercise godly authority and ultimately honor God’s authority?

As Charlotte Mason says, this authority is a trust. It’s not my own. It’s a stewardship. I will never forget pastor Andy Stanley’s classic leadership talk: Leadership is a stewardship. It’s temporary. And I’m accountable. 

In other words, folks, the buck doesn’t stop here. Autonomy is an illusion. To live as autonomous, or, as a law unto oneself, is to be a lunatic living in a fantasy land. To think there will never be an accounting for the measure of authority I, you, we exercise is foolish. Anyone in authority is accountable to a greater authority, always.

With that in mind, what does Christ-like authority look like?

1. It’s gentle. That is, it doesn’t seek to cause offense to someone. We refuse to be arbitrary or unreasonable.

2. It is alert and aware. This may seem odd but think about it. Good leaders know the tendencies of those in their care. You know when certain kids are more apt to misbehave and you prepare them for those moments.

  • For example: It’s time for an assembly, which is prime time for shenanigans. Good authorities would prepare people for that moment. “I know some of you are going to be tempted to talk and cut up. Remember, we want to give respect to the person talking. We want to cultivate the habit of attention. (I may even call on a few of you to narrate back what was said at times).”
    • How much better is this than a pre-scolding and then expecting the worst?
  • So we’re alert and aware of what we know will be difficult…that last moment of play-time. The final round of a game.
    • In our house, this is illustrated best at bedtime. We have to prepare for bedtime at our house because temptation abounds–to keep talking, to get out of bed, to
    • There are those things in the life of the school day as well. Prepare the students. Be proactive. Just as Jesus repeatedly tried to prepare the disciples for his departure…though they didn’t get it.

3. Authority is marked by timely clemency and timely yielding (Mason’s words). In layman’s terms, you know when to pull back a little and ease up…when to let grace have more of a place. And you know as well when to press in and let the waters of justice roll.  But, always with care, because if everything is a something, then your authority will mean nothing to the people around you. 

  • This is so important, I’ll say it a different way. If you make everything an issue, if everything is a battle that has to be fought, you’ll exasperate your students. Just like you would exasperate a spouse. And those spouses who live with an “everything is a something” spouse know exactly what I’m saying.

We should assess our motives for why we’re addressing something. Is it truly disruptive to the class? Is it disrespectful to someone? Is it detrimental to that child’s formation? Or, most likely, does it just sort of bother me, and I don’t really like it–so I’m going to now make a quick rule, and another rule, and another.

4. Authority pays careful attention to each person and situation to determine what’s required.

  • Ephesians 4.29 really speaks into this: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
    • Corrupting means rotten and worthless–like spoiled fruit
    • Building up (even in disciplinary moments)–am I highlighting and honoring the image of God in this student?
    • As fits the occasion means I am fully aware of when I should press in or pull back.
    • That it may give grace to the hearer… Like, that person should feel you have done something good for them, even if the correction or redirection was hard. They should be able to look back at that encounter and say, “I really appreciate the way Mr/Mrs. Smith spoke to me.”
      • If a young child cries because of an interaction with you, it cannot be because of an autocratic presence. It should be those moments where you’re so tender and the Spirit has room to move in their hearts that they can’t help but crumble and let the tears flow.
      • If an older student is made at you because you addressed an issue, it cannot be because you were snide or biting or shaming in any way. It should be because they’re embarrassed by their own behavior and feel the shame that should come with violating godly authority.

——————— And that brings us to the application side of things—————————

On the application side, here’s what you know about yourself: you lean towards applying authority the way you saw it applied growing up, especially in your anxious moments. (if you were raised under a more autocratic, harsh, impatient regime–that’s where you’ll lean in difficult moments).

The goal is for all of us to grow up and mature, by Christ’s power, into men and women who are able to govern well within our different offices of authority and to constantly ask ourselves, “Who gave me this authority?” Answer: God. And to Him I am accountable.

And when you think about all of this at a very practical level, here’s what we know about kids of all ages (as well as ourselves)–and it’s something Charlotte Mason highlights: We must be content to lead by slow degrees.

  • What she means is we have to be okay with a little progress here and a little progress there. Because we know that human souls are not shaped in leaps and bounds. Human minds aren’t shaped in leaps and bounds.

Every little step, no matter how tiny, is an arrival.

Thus, the way in which we express authority is an act of love, because ultimately, how do we express authority if not in love? Self-denial. Self-repression. Self-sacrifice.

Lindsey and I talk often about how our worst parenting practices arise out of selfishness. When we just turn a video on for the kids rather than getting down on the floor and playing–it’s selfish. It isn’t self-denial….we call it survival. Or when we’re outside WHILE the kids are playing, but we aren’t engaged. When it’s bedtime and rather than reading, singing, and praying, we’re dictating and threatening.

A word of caution from Mason in closing. We will never govern well if we desire the favor of our subjects. If we’re easily distracted. Or if we love the easy life.

  • If any of those are a sticking point for you, it may be that God is inviting you into a different calling.

In just three weeks of school, you have already had all more contact with kids than their pastors will have with them in a calendar year. That’s crazy! We have an inescapable responsibility to steward the authority God has given us. To point these kids to Jesus in good times and bad.

So, dear brother. Beloved sister. If you don’t have a set apart time with Jesus in the morning, I’d go ahead and just call in for a sub that day. Because you cannot fulfill the calling that we’ve been given without abiding in Jesus Christ. In that John 15 sense of abiding in Christ and remaining attached to the vine, knowing that apart from him there is NO nourishment.

That abiding is also our saving grace. In it, we’re reminded that God’s grace is upon us. He knows our weaknesses and has called us still to play this particular role for such a time as this.

Solia deo gloria

Advertisements

Leading With Authority, part 3: How to Be an Autocrat

Part One in this series introduced the weighty reality that children are image bearers of God and, as such, educators and persons in authority over children must treat them as image bearers. This means there is no such thing as an ordinary day at school.

Part Two laid out a key distinction regarding the location of authority. Simply put, authority rests not with a particular person, but with the office that person occupies. A principal, for example, has no authority in herself, but the office of principal holds the authority. Once a person begins operating according to her own impulse and not as one authorized, she forfeits true authority and become an autocrat.

This post addresses how autocracy behaves. So, if you want to be an autocrat, just follow these simple steps!

As a reminder, autocracy is defined as independent or self-derived power.

Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Kim Jong Un—a person operating according to his own impulse is an autocrat.

To bring it into the classroom and make it a little more real–that impulse may even be as simple as yelling, belittling, or doling out some arbitrary punishment in order to bring oneself back to a place of calm (at the expense of the child, to be clear).

Charlotte Mason speaks of the distinction between authority and autocracy in relation to the Centurion who interacts with Jesus in Matthew 8. Jesus possessed all the authority in and under heaven. But he did not leverage against or lord it over people.

The Centurion in Matthew 8 remarked that he too was a man under authority. In other words, he recognized that Jesus did not operate according to his own agenda, enacting seemingly arbitrary regulations and harsh repercussions for disobedience.

If Jesus had been an autocrat, how might he have behaved?

  • Impatient
  • Resentful (mainly because someone isn’t giving me the respect I–not my office–deserve)
  • On the watch for transgressions
    • If you work for someone who makes you feel like he’s watching and waiting for you to fail in some way, you are probably working for an autocrat.
    • If you as a teacher are watching or waiting for a child to fail in some way, you are probably being an autocrat.
  • Swift to take offense
    • Are you easily offended?
      • As a parent, as a teacher, as a coach, as a school employee—you and I are the adults in the room. And when the kids see us not behaving like adults (which is synonymous with being autocratic and arbitrary) then we are leading them where we don’t want to take them.
      • If as an adult you’re easily offended and resort to childishness, you may be an autocrat.

Another significant behavior of autocracy is the implementation of extensive regulations. A drastic penal code, Mason suggests, is necessary because an autocrat needs everyone else to know where they stand in my presence. And I’ll do whatever is necessary to keep myself in a place of calm and feeling in control.

To wrap it up, if you want to be an autocrat…

  1. Be impatient with people (think of them more as problems to be fixed or projects to be completed)
  2. Be resentful (have this thought a lot-“don’t they know who I am”)
  3. Be on the watch for someone to mess up (see #5)
  4. Be easily offended (usually a sign of immense insecurity)
  5. Be heavy on regulations, rules, commandments, and repercussions (because how else can you judge if someone measures up?)

Make these five behaviors the foundation of your leadership and you too can be an A-level Autocrat!

Leading with Authority, part 2: A Key Distinction Regarding the Locus of Authority (Because who wants another Hitler?)

Yes, I used the word locus. Me, 1 – The World, 0.

This is part 2 in a series on what true authority really looks like, or, how it behaves.

After reading Charlotte Mason’s writings on this matter, I was both convinced and convicted.

  • I became convinced that how we treat a student is more important than what we teach a student. For those cynics in the crowd, don’t run off into the weeds with that statement. I’m not talking about teaching falsehood or garbage.
    • What I am saying is that how we relate to these young Persons is paramount if we want them to love learning, let alone love our schools. Of that, I am convinced. 
  • I am also convicted. After reading Charlotte Mason, I am staggered by the thought of how often I resort to autocracy with my own children, rather than functioning faithfully within the office of authority God has bestowed upon me as a father.
    • That distinction between authority and autocracy should be clearer by the end of this series. 

So what I want to do is begin with a key distinction regarding the locus of authority–that is, where is authority actually located. From there I will move to what autocracy is and how it behaves and finish up with how authority behaves.

All along, though, we must bear in mind that this conversation has woven through it the principle of docility, which speaks to someone being easy to handle or one easily taught

  • Neuroscience has shown that babies are born wanting to know. That is to say, they’re hardwired for knowledge. They instinctively react to different situations and people, all with the aim of connecting. Synapses are forming left and right based on how they’re learning to relate and draw connections. 

In other words, kids have a natural curiosity–which is what drives us all so crazy at times. It’s what leads them to shove crayons into the DVD player and ask 1,000 questions per hour and walk up to you, their loving mother, and proceed to smack you across your face…just to see what you’ll do!

But Charlotte Mason’s aim was to represent authority in a God-honoring fashion so that this docility was cultivated and cared for and grew up with the child, noting that when authority is violated, children shut down, as well as resent and bemoan the educational process.

So first up, a distinction regarding the locus of authority.

Where is authority vested?

There were centuries in which authority was believed to be vested in a person. Mason writes about “the divine right” of kings and of parents back in the day–whose view of God as some arbitrary, autocratic Being ultimately shaped their own forms of governing.

  • This is the kind of thinking that led to the absolute rule of Czars in Russia; as well as the likes of Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini. Kim Jong-un would fit the description as well.Adolf-Hitler-tijdens-een-speech
  • Some of you were raised under what felt like an autocratic regime depending on your age.

But, Mason, writes…

“…we have been taught better; we know now that authority is vested in the office and not in the person; that the moment it [authority] is treated as a personal attribute it is forfeited. We know that a person in authority is a person authorized; and that he who is authorized is under authority.” (School Education, 1989. 11-12)

  • So, authority is vested in the office. The office of parent, for example. The office of teacher. The office of administrator. The office of President of the United States.

Accordingly, when someone asserts himself in an independent fashion or governs upon the impulse of his own will, that person, according to Mason, “Ceases to be authoritative and authorized, and becomes arbitrary and autocratic.”

We have a prime, modern illustration of this. Those who know me well know that I am one of the least politically charged people east of the Mississippi. What I’m about to say, then, only serves the agenda of illustrating the larger principle.  

Policies and party politics aside, at the very core, why is it that some people on every side of the political spectrum take issue with Donald Trump?

It’s not just that he’s a womanizer. It’s that from his Twitter feed to his taped conversations, people know deep down that he is not acting as one under authority. It’s why personalities on CNN AND Fox News comment that he’s acting in unpresidential fashion.

There is great authority and honor in the office of President of the United States. But when anyone, man or woman, abuses that office and operates from the impulse of his own will, he ceases to be authoritative and authorized.

Let’s shift focus from the Donald to me. This is exactly what happens when I get tired and worn down by having four kids, ages 7, 6, 4, and 2 in my house, and I shift from governing as one governed to absolute, arbitrary rule. It sounds like, “No! You can’t do that!” “You’re going to get spanked!” “One more time and I’m throwing the toy in the trash after I burn it in front of your eyes!” 

               No training. No discipling. No teaching. Thus, no authority. Only autocracy.

Authority rests, not in a person, but in the office. The question for us to ponder is whether we are behaving as authorized persons or as our own lesser versions of tyrannical autocrats whose names are emboldened in History texts.

To be continued…

Are You Leading with Authority, Really? part 1

Elementary school kids and teacher sit cross legged on floor

This is the first post in a series on educational leadership, particularly as it pertains to the difference between true, godly authority and its alternative, autocracy. The primary tenets I am writing about can be found in the work of Charlotte Mason, a mid-19th to early 20th-century British educator. Her philosophy of education is what undergirds the pedagogy (the method and practice of teaching) of The Habersham School, where I am privileged to serve as Academic Dean.

Just this week I gave a talk to our wonderful staff on this principle of Authority versus Autocracy. This series is an adaptation of that talk.


Charlotte Mason codified several divine laws of education, the first being:

  • A child is a Person with the spiritual requirements and capabilities of a person.

In other words, every single child we encounter–whether on the street, at the mall, or in a classroom–every single child bears the image of your heavenly Father and mine and is thus deserving of the dignity inherent to them.

It is educational and spiritual malpractice, then, for us to treat a child as anything less than an image bearer of God, as anything less than a fully capable and rational person who is being shaped and discipled (for better or worse) by what we do and how we do it.

To be as clear as possible – it is a sin to cause a little one to stumble, whether that little one is 5 or 15. The Lord knows that we as educators and parent have all sinned in this manner, whether with our own kids or standing in loco parentis (in the place of the parents) with others’ kids.

Ultimately, what I hope to accomplish in this series is to help Christian educators feel the weight of what we are called to do (and be). For those tempted to navigate elsewhere at this point, let me add that this has as much bearing on what you do as a parent, coach, office staff, Sunday school teacher, etc., as it does a teacher. If you are in an authoritative position around children with any regularity, in the presence of these heavenly wrought human beings, you will be held accountable for your interactions with them.

We must feel the weight of that, not in some sense of guilt-based obedience, but recognizing that only by God’s grace and only as we abide in Christ and are attuned to the Holy Spirit will we be able to carry out the high calling of being educators (regardless of location or title).

The series will carry on from here…

BUT, for more reading on this matter and others, I highly recommend you visit Ambleside Schools International. Bill and Maryellen St. Cyr are lovely people who care deeply about God’s kingdom and the role that Christian education plays in bringing that kingdom to earth.

When “one day” is today but was actually every other day

antique-black-and-white-classic-163116

Headline news—-It’s raining. In Savannah. Again.


Actual blog post:

For the last 10 years or so I’ve said one day countless times.

One day, when I’m not in school and working, I’ll …

One day, when I’m not working and waking up in the middle of the night to change diapers and help with baby feedings I’ll…

One day, when I’m not working two jobs I’ll…

One day, when I’m not working two jobs and finishing another degree I’ll…

And back again to: one day, when I’m not working two jobs I’ll…

Well lah-di-dah, it would appear that “one day” has arrived. “One day” has come. One day has become today.

I have one job. I’m not working at a school and a church. Just a school. A great school. The Habersham School (with a fine new website).

While there is much work to do and plenty to keep me busy, it’s still one day. And that means I have written pages upon pages of a book, right? I’ve researched and taken notes on topics about which I plant to write, right? I’m blogging multiple times a week, right?

Nah. I’ve blogged a couple times in as many months. No pages for a book. Not even a sentence.

I’m writing a blog about how I haven’t written anything, so this should count for something.

It turns out that “one day” isn’t as situational or circumstantial as I thought. One day is about discipline. It’s habit. Which means that one day has been every other day prior to today.

Crap. I wasted a lot of todays waiting on one day.

How, then, do I work, spend quality time with my kids, date my wife, workout, cultivate spiritual health, AND write. Your AND may be something else–dance, create art, start a business, travel, lose 10lbs–mine has always been write (and lose 10lbs).

There has to be something to do to-day that will demystify your one day and make it more achievable. There’s a discipline or habit or practice to start, or, to stop. It’s one less meal…another practice session…500 more words…another page…two more sets…something.

Here’s to your efforts at bringing one day into today!

Accomplish more and attempt less

large_charles-spurgeon-preaching-through-adversity

Photo credit:  DesiringGod.org

I want to share a quote from a sermon delivered by Charles Spurgeon in 1871. Is it a coincidence that if you flip 71 it becomes 17, as in 2017?? Yes, it is. Nothing supernatural there.

Charles Spurgeon has been dubbed the Prince of Preachers. (If you’re interested in his writings or life, Midwestern Seminary has done a service to us all here.) Being the Prince of Preachers means Spurgeon brought the Word of God to life in a way you and I, well, don’t. Not because we aren’t filled with the same Spirit, but because God uses different people in different ways. You’re not the next Spurgeon any more than I am the next anyone else. You’re you. I’m me.

If you aren’t a pastor, preacher, teacher but happen to read this, the point is just as applicable. It holds true for moms who find food in the strangest of places and executives who are prepping that $300,000,000 deal. There’s no difference in God’s eyes, by the way. Don’t be fooled on either side, whether rolling in dollars or diapers.

Preaching on prayer, Spurgeon made the audacious claim that

The more we do, the more we should pray…it should be the life-blood of every action, and saturate our entire life…I fear that some of us would do far more if we attempted less and prayed more about it.

  • What if, as pastors, we devoted less time to strategic planning and more to praying strategically?
  • What if, as teachers, we thought less about making points and more about pointing to the Maker?
  • What if, as parents, we resolved to be less busied with activity and more active in the business of prayer?

Is it possible that we would accomplish far more if we attempted far less but saturated all that we did do in prayer?

 

The inevitable loneliness of leadership

crossing-crossroad-businessman-fashion

The really hard thing

Sorry, let me start again…

One of the really hard things about being in Christian leadership (and maybe any leadership) is the unspoken expectation that you have it figured out.

As someone serving on two sides of the aisle in Christian ministry, both in education and the church, the following are representative of the unspoken–

  • You believe all the right things about all the right things, especially those things that other people really hang their theological (or ideological) hats on
  • You uphold tradition because tradition is, well, tradition, and to question it means you’re a troublemaker
  • And you don’t change things, at least not too quickly, because someone might be offended. Someone’s feelings could possibly, perhaps at some time, be hurt…in fact, please don’t change things

It’s a lonely place.

For those in leadership, being in process on matters remains private, just like your obsession with CrossFit should be kept to yourself. I can’t even tell you what I mean…that’s how private it has to be, because to raise a question in voice or print is to signal to the congregation or constituency it’s open season on you.

What’s the point?

When dealing with educators, administrators, elders, pastors, and other Christian leaders, bear in mind that it can be/is lonely, more lonely than you realize.

  • Words are scrutinized and decisions are scandalized…

Usually in the most passive aggressive manner possible, though sometimes by a boisterous, victimized minority. And in the south it’s even portrayed politely at times, which just means the knife is pushed in at a slower rate.

I get it. I’ve played armchair preacher critic, teacher critic, and so on. But how much more do these folks–me, folks–need your prayers and grace?

We need a lot. We’ll make mistakes. We’ll have regrets–so many regrets. We’ll be judged by God more harshly for how we have stewarded these opportunities. We really don’t need other gods.

We need grace-filled, prayer-saturated, meal-sharing, cheer-leading men and women who will help us finish well.

Does that mean never ask questions? Of course not. But what are the motives? Speech should be seasoned with salt that it might give grace to the hearer…that’s how the apostle Paul put it.

I’m working on all of this myself. I’m extending more grace towards leaders. I’m slashing my suspicion quotient and choosing to trust.

That’s hard.