I have not always understood what spiritual authority is…nor did I probably even care for a long time. Nor am I claiming to understand it completely now, but I’m definitely farther along than I was.
And to understand where I am now, you have to understand where I was and how I got here. It could take a while, but this is what that journey looked like:
In 1982, I was born into a Southern Baptist pastors home. I was raised under that roof from the time I was born until I left for college at the age of 19 in 2001. But my father was not the only Baptist minister in my family. My grandfather (my mother’s father) was one as well and so were (and still are) his sons (my uncles).
This is not intended to be a slight on the SBC (again, I’ve got family in that denomination), but based on my experience, there is a deep misunderstanding of spiritual authority within the SBC that I had no idea I was being groomed under.
In most (but not all) SBC churches, the pastor is viewed as an employee of the church and subject to the authority of the deacon board. They aren’t really viewed as anything other than the one who preaches, and maybe teaches a Sunday school class, visits everyone when they are sick, and does weddings and funerals. But they aren’t viewed as the spiritual authority of that local body, and they certainly aren’t viewed as vision casters for the church (much less the voice and representation of God to that local body).
Again, most (but not all) are this way, and I would say it’s largely due to the governmental structure of the SBC (usually deacon led) as well as their views of autonomy.
But that was my foundation. That was what I spent almost 2/3’s of my life being raised under. And it definitely took its toll on my understanding of spiritual authority.
In high school, I quickly became the disrespectful teenager every parent fears their child will turn out to be. I had no respect for my teachers, my parents, or the people in my church. I was going to do things my way, and no one was going to tell me otherwise.
Sure…typical teenage rebellion…but unfortunately neither my family nor my church took the time to really address my spiritual condition. No one helped me understand that I was standing in opposition to the authorities that God had placed into my life.
After some years of rebellion, and by the time I was 20, I was called into the ministry.
Youth ministry to be exact. (I REALLY shouldn’t have jumped right in…but I did)
Unfortunately, for me and others in and under my ministry, my lack of understanding and practice of spiritual authority followed me into my ministry. And there were many victims.
Not the least of which were my pastors, my workers, the senior adults in my church, the teenagers in the program, and my wife.
Everyone was impacted.
No one was correcting me.
I was still a lost stooge walking around in perceived authority while rebelling against spiritual authorities God had placed in my life. All while wearing the badge of “pastor”.
After a number of “church hops” as a “pastor” starting as a worship leader and youth pastor in an Episcopal church, moving to a baptist church, then to a couple of non-denominational churches, back to the baptist church, and finally…I landed in a charismatic church where I currently serve.
Through all of those churches, denominations, theological differences…not a single one until my current church…actually took the time to confront and help me understand what spiritual authority is. And to be honest, I don’t fully blame them. Mostly because I don’t think any of them actually understood it, to begin with. They couldn’t lead me to where they had not already been.
But I’m thankful I ended up at Legacy Church in 2011. Because it was here that I finally began to learn some things about spiritual authority. It was here that I encountered a pastor who actually understood these things and began to immediately challenge me on these things. Never before had I been faced with what I have learned here.
In short order I found myself running back to many of the authorities in my life I had rebelled against (including former bosses, pastors, etc.) and apologizing profusely for my behavior when I was with them. Talk about a seriously humbling moment. It’s not fun to walk up to people who likely no longer even think about you, dredging up the past, and then apologizing for it.
But you know what? God provided them with grace for that moment and I was met with kindness and forgiveness from them all that I did not expect.
What freedom I had found, though, when I learned of my rebellion and sought to rectify it in the lives of people I had impacted.
Six (6) years later I’m still at Legacy Church. I’m still learning about my failures in this area, and being challenged by God to correct this in my life. I’m much further along now than I was 6 years ago…and I’ve got a long way to go yet.
Recently, my pastor passed a book on to me to read…Spiritual Authority by Watchman Nee. What an eye opener! And a book that absolutely terrified me.
One quote from the book that was repeated several times throughout was this, “Those who are not under authority are not fit for authority.”
How had God allowed me to serve in the positions I held with such rebellion in my heart? I can only suspect it was because He would use those moments to eventually teach me about His authority and His delegated authority. He allowed those moments to happen to humble me and to teach me.
I’m thankful He did not choose to destroy me instead. I certainly deserved it.
But what a God we serve?
Truly, as His word says, He works things for good for those who love Him.
If you aren’t sure what this whole spiritual authority thing looks like, I would highly recommend picking up a copy of Spiritual Authority by Watchman Nee. It changed my entire perspective on the matter (along with the solid teaching and input into my life from my pastor), and I think it will change yours too.