"permission to lead"?

In a recent discussion, someone spoke of leaders needing to be "given permission to lead" by the community. That so clearly points to the reality that such leaders derive their position and authority in the group from the people themselves (as do leaders in all other human organizations). It reminded me of something I wrote when similar discussions were going on over three years ago:

It seems to me that voting someone into office directly reflects the understanding that the power and authority of a leader derives from the strength of the people. In our church meeting, someone even said that: "The elders have authority because we have chosen them." This is the basis of every human authority and power (it's a little different if the leader is appointed by someone in a higher office, but even then the whole authority structure depends on the people accepting it, participating in it, submitting to it—if they don't, there's no power there). Jesus was not chosen, not "empowered," in this way. Neither was Paul. And the earliest church didn't have an official authority structure by which leaders were chosen and their leadership enforced. Paul had to keep writing and preaching and offering his strong example to keep the Christians in the various churches following his teaching; and it's clear from some of his letters that not everyone saw his word as authoritative. But, like Jesus, he didn't have an office to appeal to, he just had to keep speaking the truth to them. With both of them, it was always clear that God (not some group of people) had chosen and empowered them.

Because of the reality of God empowering those he chooses to lead his people, there doesn't seem to be the need for granting them any human authority or backing up their decisions with human force. As I said before, Jesus led without these. And he taught his disciples not to rule over each other, that they had one Father and they were all brothers and sisters. When someone has been given special abilities or wisdom from God, we naturally follow them as "authorities" because we see they have what is good, what is from God. There is no need of human force to make us obey. If we choose not to obey, then our efforts flounder or fail and we suffer the consequences of our foolishness. God backs up the authority of those who he has chosen.

So, in the church at least, it seems to me that we should set aside human authority, offices of power, and the enforcement of leadership decisions through force or threats of force (social ostracism being also a form of force, by cutting people off from the support they need to survive). Set aside the human power that causes resentments and dissension, and tempts leaders to abuses. From situation to situation, let each one lead according to their gifts and abilities from God. Seek out those gifts in ourselves in others, because we need them as a church.

If God calls us, we don't need anyone else's permission.