Authority is the Force of Presence

Authority is much more about our person than our position.

 

Leadership Corner office benjamin-child-17946
Photo by Benjamin Child at Unsplash.com

Those not in official or formal leadership positions tend to think that the power is in the position. That’s true only to a limited extent. It is true in the sense that a person “in power” can exercise certain rights and authority and claim the perquisites (“perks”) of privileges and benefits that come with that position. But there’s another dimension of leadership that is more significant to the health and well-being of the organization and the individuals leading it: integrity. I mean integrity in the fullest sense of the term: being integrated (inwardly unified) in values and behavior. Living a life congruent and consistent with your vision and calling.  That’s why I say authority is the force of presence not the presence of force.

I’ve noticed that a person’s credentials (their resume of degrees, positions and accomplishments) have a shelf-life of, perhaps, 60 seconds. I’ve been privileged to meet many people in leadership positions in government, in community life and in Christian ministry. They held what I thought were enviable positions of influence. Before meeting each one, I had formed an impression of them by reputation and exposure through books or other media and contacts. After my personal encounter with them, however, I had a strong sense of the difference between those who had true authority and those who just knew how to “work the system.” I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in just working the system. I want to be “the real deal” (with all my flaws and shortcomings) so that people value me and appreciate me for me.

In my book SoulShaping (Tyndale House Publishers) I wrote, “Our authority grows out of our integrity. Without integrity, we are never more than placeholders; with integrity, we can be life-shapers” (page 358). What I’m really talking about is character. It’s about the old-fashioned concept of virtue. And it’s about the credibility of having faced the real trials and tests of leadership in particular contexts. For instance, in sales, there is a credibility that comes only from years of perseverance in the face of rejection as well as with the demonstration of having made some “big deals.” Both are necessary for a leader. People are more ready to follow a person who demonstrates both genuine empathy for the difficulties we face as well as the vision, competencies and determination to triumph over them. That’s how leaders win hearts and minds.

We can force compliance—but that’s not our goal as leaders. We want to win commitment. Honest heartfelt commitment, not just grudging compliance, is our aim. And that means connecting at the level of personhood, not operating out of position.

Jesus was, indeed, the ultimate demonstration of the authority of presence. He shows us that God is not detached from the human situation. In Christ, God plunged into the human circumstance in a way that gives a credibility that is beyond question. The Book of Hebrews in the Bible says this so clearly:

14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death… 17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. 18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. Hebrews 2:14-18 (New Living Translation)

What’s the basis for your authority? Instead of relying on outward position and achievement, consider the development of “presence,” of your inner person. And think about those in which you see this reality.

Cool Guy?

How do you share your faith when it’s just not cool?

wire rim glasses_aaron-burden-88785
Photo by Aaron Burden from Unsplash.com

I don’t think I’ve ever been thought of as a “cool guy”—you know, the nonchalant, everybody-probably-wishes-they-were-me kind of guy. If you remember the TV show, Happy Days, I was never, ever like “The Fonz” (Henry Winkler). I’ve always been more like Richie (Ron Howard). In fact, when my senior class in high school was voting on senior class personalities—you know, “Most Likely to Succeed,” “Greatest Hair,” “Most Popular”—I was voted “Most Responsible.” I didn’t even know they had such a category. And believe me, it didn’t feel cool.

Danny was cool. Effortlessly cool. Like he didn’t need anybody, but was surrounded by people who wanted to be with him. Yeah—I found myself wondering what it would be like to be like Danny.

One evening a friend and I went to see Danny because he wasn’t coming to youth group and church activities any longer. Danny invited us in and took us to his back patio. Then he lit up a cigarette, took a deep draw on it, blew out the smoke and asked, “So what’s on your minds?”

It’s cool to be direct—not threatened by anything.

“Well, we’ve missed you at church and just wanted to reconnect.”

“That’s cool, but I’m not into church stuff anymore. It’s just not where I’m at. Too many hypocrites.” He knocked the ashes off his cigarette onto the knee of his jeans and rubbed them into the fabric. (I obviously would never make the shift from most responsible to cool if I had to act like Danny).

“You’re right,” I responded.

His eyebrows rose above his round, wire-rim glasses. “I am?” he said with surprise.

“Yeah, the church is all messed up. Too many people go just to be seen, or to try to be sure they are on God’s good side. That’s garbage. But what about Jesus? What do you think about Jesus?”

“Jesus….” Long, long pause, “Jesus. I guess he’s cool.”

That opened the door to a couple of hours of conversation. Danny smoked more than a few cigarettes as we discussed the Bible, science and evolution, Jesus’ humanity and divinity, death and resurrection, and I can’t remember what else. We covered a lot of ground. And it was not because we pushed, but because he kept asking.

“Hey, Danny, we should be going. Thanks for giving us this time. Before we go, do you want to pray with us?”

Up went the eyebrows!

“Pray with you?? Nah… I’m not into that.”

“Well, after all we’ve talked about, we just wondered if you wanted to take the next step and commit or recommit your life to Christ…”

He just shook his head, “Don’t take this wrong, guys, but I’m not ready for anything like that.”

“No problem. We really enjoyed getting connected again. See you sometime.”

When we got in the car, I couldn’t help myself, “I doubt if we’ll ever see Danny in church again.”

Fast forward 5 years. I had been married for over a year and was just getting ready to leave for seminary. Sarah and I were at my home church in the worship service. When we stood to sing, this guy I didn’t recognize glanced back our way. He did it several times during the service. Like he knew Sarah or me. After the service, he came directly up to us and looked right at me through his wire-rim glasses.

“Are you Doug Rumford?”

“Yes,” but I couldn’t place this clean-cut, suit-wearing guy.

“I’m Danny. Man, I’ve been praying I would see you!”

“Wait. What? You’re DANNY?? Smoking-on-your-porch, rubbing-cigarette-ashes-into-your-jeans Danny?”

He laughed, “Yeah—so you remember me? I gave you quite a hard time that day.”

“It’s a day I’ll never forget.”

“Me neither. That’s why I’ve been praying to see you. Six months ago I prayed to receive Jesus Christ into my life as Lord and Savior. After that prayer, the man who was sharing with me asked, ‘Danny, how many people helped you get to this place of commitment? Who was the first person you remember sharing with you?’ I told him it was you, Doug. He said, ‘Then start praying you can see Doug and tell him—and everyone else who shared with you, too. It will be a great encouragement and joy to them.’ So I’ve been praying—and here you are. Thank you!”

He gave me a huge hug. Tears were rolling down both our cheeks.

“I’m sorry I was such a jerk. That wasn’t cool,” Danny said. “But Doug, you were so cool to reach out to me.”

I was cool. I was cool?… So that’s what it really means! Now I get it!

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow (1 Corinthians 3:6-7 New International Version NIV).