the weblog of Alan Knox

Teaching and Positional Authority among the Church

Posted by on Feb 2, 2012 in blog links, discipleship | 4 comments

Teaching and Positional Authority among the Church

My last few posts about teaching – and especially teaching when the church gathers – flies in the face of common church tradition and practice. In the normal view, teaching is tied to authority which is tied to position. If you have the right position, then you teach with authority.

Of course, this leads to huge problems. The primary problem – at least from my perspective – is that teaching from a position of authority is not really teaching as we find it in Scripture. Instead, in Scripture, teaching is from a position of service as we share our lives together.

There is another problem though. You see, if we focus on teaching and authority associated with position, then what happens when someone comes along with a “higher” position.

Skye recognizes this problem in his post “The Platform Principle.” He writes:

This radio show had more authority in Stacy’s life than I did. What authority I possessed had been built through years of sound teaching and the vetting of denominational leaders. But it was no match for the authority granted by Stacy to a speaker she heard on the radio.

In marketing lingo it’s called platform. The logic is simple—the magnitude of your platform determines the scope of your authority. Someone with an audience of one million has more authority than someone with an audience of one hundred. The assumption: the larger platform is a result of the person’s competency, intelligence, or character. That, of course, is not always the case.

Today authority is granted to those who have simply proven they can build a platform.

From the quote (and from the remainder of the article), the author is concerned that someone who should be under his authority (because of his position) has decided to rely on another person’s authority based on their position (as demonstrated by their larger platform). In fact, the author’s practice of teaching from his own position of authority leads his audience to understand that authority and teaching come from positions… and, of course, the bigger the position (such as a radio personality with a huge audience) the bigger the authority.

But, what if our ability to impact another person’s life was not based on our position at all? What if our ability to teach someone else resulted from our shared life experiences – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and demonstrated ability to live the truths of God – not our ability to speak the truths of God?

I think things would be quite different… for everyone involved… even the “teacher.”


4 Comments

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  1. 2-2-2012

    “Life together” (to quote Bonhoeffer).

    Shared experiences and lives. Some people ARE more gifted in teaching, but that doesn’t deliver authority – we need to get closer to each other! (That is a muddled thought, but I hope you can see what I mean).

    The other thing with ‘radio’ – in many cases the programmning is paid – which means the larger platform brings in more donations which gives a larger platform. In the end the process is ‘self fulfilling’, and success in this medium (or reach, influence, authority) is nothing more than a measure of cost and timeslot.

    That probably does come across a touch critical – I do not mean it to be so, but that we all need to be discerning. Yes, there are gifted teachers all around us (for it is a gift of God), but which of those have been brought into our lives to teach? And even more revealing, in our ‘lives together’, what then will the teacher learn from the others, whose strengths lie in other gifts?

  2. 2-3-2012

    This idea of platform and marketing principles is so ingrained in the church at large that it requires a real step back to even see it. In a small church that is not growing they emphasis impact (since they can not emphasize numbers) in larger churches they emphasize numbers and the impact. These are measurements not of the kingdom of God (which can not be measured)but of platform. The culture warriors emphasize the influence of Christianity on the culture, Denominations discuss growing or shrinking loyalty to their tradition. Sermons are infected with the goals of increasing platform for the “church” which is directly or indirectly about the preacher. Lord Acton could not have anticipated the power of marketing techniques but he knew the human heart when he said “power corrupts..” It does not just corrupt the one holding the power but those that become followers of that power as well.

  3. 2-3-2012

    Drewe,

    You said, “Yes, there are gifted teachers all around us (for it is a gift of God), but which of those have been brought into our lives to teach?” That’s a good point. Just because someone is speaking (or writing) doesn’t mean that God intends for us to listen (or read), and it especially doesn’t mean that God intends for us to pay attention to these “teachers” and ignore the people who he has actually placed in our lives so that we can teach one another.

    Tom,

    You’re right… this idea is difficult to see. And, often, those employing these types of principles do so with good intentions. Of course, they’re surprised when someone decides to move on to another teacher with a greater platform/position. But, that is what is taught – if not directly, then indirectly.

    -Alan

  4. 2-3-2012

    yes! hence the huge – flying into a brick wall – moment I had in 2008 when I realized that God *really* did not need ME to market HIS Church! as good as I thought my marketing knowledge and ability were….

    and the journey began… :)

    yet I do see the hearts behind that ‘work’ and understand their ‘why’ and that they really do wholeheartedly believe ‘they’ are serving God with the best of their talents or abilities…. I just saw something different for what He wanted ME to do…