The Problem of Leadership: Exercising Authority Exercising Grace

In early July of this year I gave a public lecture at Regent College – one of their evening summer public lectures – on the theme:   Catechesis in a Secular Age:   The Wisdom of 1 Peter.   I suggested that 1 Peter is a letter to a Christian community in exile and that as such it is a very relevant letter to the church in our day and might be a useful guide to what catechesis might look like in our day. 

I spoke about the importance of the Jesus story:   that this is the narrative that needs to define our lives.  And I spoke about the importance of Scripture and that catechesis needs to include an orientation to the sacred text.   And I spoke to catechesis as also how catechesis necessarily includes incorporation into an authoritative community.  And I demonstrated how Peter speaks to this:   speaking to elders asking them to lead not by “lording it over” and to those who are younger and followers, to defer with grace.  And both are called to humility. 

What impressed me in the question/answer time following the lecture was that overwhelmingly the questions raised were about the question of authority:  how can we expect to defer to constituted authority when the exercise of authority is happening in a way that is inconsistent with the Gospel, with the character of leadership as described in 1 Peter? 

This applies to the local church, of course.   How do we live in Christian community when the exercise of leadership violates due process or when leaders only function in terms of their own personal agendas and their own egos and the elevation of their own reputations?   Do we defer?  And if so, when and where and how do we call leadership to account?  Surely we are not merely compliant; surely there is a place for accountability?

And it applies on the national stage as well.  One of those present for the lecture wrote me and noted: 

And, I’m glad the question of authority came up – that in itself would be worth the focus of a book-length treatise. Too much ill has been done in the name of ‘submitting to authority’. What does it look like, for instance, for us to interact with our present government (in the U.S.) in a way that honors the Lord, but also calls the government to account to govern justly, as well as actively working to extend the work of mercy to those who suffer at the hands of the government? Many Christians in the U.S. seem content to live with “pray for your leaders,” which seems a callous response when there will be many who will suffer as a result of our current executive branch.   

What does it mean to respect and honour leaders when one is not confident that leadership is two things:   accountable and transparent? 

Leadership necessarily means that there is genuine executive authority, for the sake of the community.   A president – nationally or for a university, such as where I serve – has to have the power, the capacity, to do what is necessary for the sake of the constituency that she/he is called to serve.  But when there is no genuine accountability and transparency, there is no true leadership.  Further, when the vision is one of ego and reputation and not genuine service, then how does one respond? 

Surely this is one of the dilemmas of our day.  And my point here is that it needs to be brought into the open and discussed.   We need a forum for debating and discussing what it means to have and believe in and defer to genuine leadership.

Institutional Intelligence is the capacity to work effectively within organizations.