Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Replacement Refs and Pastoral Authority

There was something really painful about watching the Monday Night Football debacle.  As I watched the final play and what appeared to be two woefully insecure refs make two different signals, I couldn’t help but think about pastoral ministry and loss of authority and respect. 

They kept showing the highlights where the back judge came running in, clearly seeing that Jennings had secured possession, then offering a quick glance to the other ref, who seemed like a little boy at his first day of Kindergarten, begin raising his hands.  So the back judge does the same—all the while thinking his in unison with the other dude—and raises his hands to signal touchback.  But the other dude wasn’t saying touchback he was saying touchdown. 

I do not envy these replacement refs.  Only three weeks of a young NFL season have passed and these cats have already lost every ounce of respect and authority that they had.  And respect and authority is huge when you are trying to pretend like you have control over an NFL game.  When authority is lost what you see is what happened on Monday Night Football.  And that’s what got me thinking about pastoral ministry.

My Story

My first ministry position was a disaster.  I was a young punk kid still in college that barely new Jesus much less how to do ministry.  I had good teachers but I was learning on my feet.  Add to this that I was somehow tricked into being a Baptist youth pastor (beginning to struggle with the issue of Calvinism) thrown into a pretty liberal Methodist church. 

I had a much different philosophy of ministry (and a pretty different theology) than the church that I was serving.  It was difficult.  Please do not misunderstand, there were some really great people there putting up with a really young and self-sure youth pastor.  I made things more difficult for myself than probably need be, but it was very painful. 

It did not take long for me to have less authority and respect than these NFL replacement refs.  So, I knew that feeling of insecurity and fear as these two guys ran up to the play to try to make a call.  “Oh, please Jesus let me get this right”. 

That’s no way to live and it’s no way to minister.  When you are questioning every decision you make every word you proclaim your heart is in the wrong place.  You feel the red-hot glares of a host of people that probably will not give you the benefit of the doubt.  You start trying to please them.  Or you go the other route, buck up, and do everything you can to show them that you are right and they are idiots.  Either way you aren’t doing ministry anymore.  That’s the problem with ministering with vested authority instead of borrowed ambassador-type authority.

Vested Authority vs. Borrowed Ambassador-Type Authority

If, as a pastor, my authority is pending on that which is vested to me then it is going to be shifty.  With every decision that goes against the status quo, with every word that cuts across the grain of the norm, I’ll be taking chunks out of my authority.  I’ll have to constantly monitor where I stand with the people.  Because if I don’t one of these business meetings we’re going to have a Monday Night Football debacle that makes those replacement refs feel pretty good. 

Borrowed Ambassador-Type Authority is different.  It’s an authority that is given not because I could park in a place that says “pastor” but because I am standing behind the unchanging word of God.  In as much as I am able to rightly say, “thus saith the Lord” I have all of the authority of the One that makes mountains move.  It may not be received, it may be rebelled against, and it might be rejoiced in.  But it’s a borrowed authority that nobody can take away and really one that I can’t even conjure up on my own.  Pastors need this type of authority. 

Stand behind the Word and that authority will always be yours.  People may gripe and complain (just as they did with the regular refs) but you’ll at least know that you made the right call and their chaffing is against the Book and they need to take it up with the author.  But when I move away from the Book and try to have authority on my own it’s deadly.  I might make a few calls here and there and make people happy.  But inevitably I will be exposed and on that day I’ll have nothing to stand on but my own blown call. 

Be the type of pastor whose authority comes from the risen Savior and not from a vest of merits. 

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