Using authority to keep people safe

Typically in a conventional church those in authority are in charge of planning events, managing the resources, directing policy and in some churches administering sacraments.  In organic churches events are usually (but not always) loosely planned and broadly participatory, there usually isn’t much in the way of resources to manage and policy is decided through community discernment.  Compared to conventional churches there is much less to be authoritative over than in an organic church.

There is much digital ink spilled on this issue.  I can’t write a comprehensive theological treatise on authority but I can comment on how it can be helpful in an organic church community.  I am convinced, like many other Anabaptist or congregationalist Christians that God’s ultimate direction is best understood and discerned in a community.  I’m not actually a particularly big fan of voting and elections because they are crude tools and can be easily manipulated.  I believe in a process of community discernment moving towards a consensus if attainable.

Normally the community will discern who will be responsible for fulfilling a leadership role in the group.  The leader guides and moderates the group discernment process.  If there is an issue that needs to be officially processed as a group then someone needs to research the relevant questions and start the discussion.  The leader can share their opinion but must make a genuine effort to draw out the wisdom that God has given everyone and talk it through.  There were times where I thought the group needed to respond to a member of the group that was acting insensitively and wounding others.  It was important that as a leader I provided what were the facts in the situation with as little bias as possible.  Then when the facts are out, move on to interpretation of the facts.  The next step would be a discussion of the best response.  If you start with a desired course of action and then back it up with facts you’ve just biased the group towards your own desires.  In order for the discernment process to function, people need to be free to process without being geared or driven towards a predetermined decision.  The leader should trust that God’s wisdom will come through God’s people.

In my example I wanted an intervention but there were some in the group that made a good case that it was too soon.  There was too much going on in the person’s life, and anything we could do to even gently challenge the person will end up pushing her away.  So we prayed and trusted that God would show us the next step.  It was the right decision for the time.

There are times however when a leader does have the right to act unilaterally and give an account for their actions after the fact.  There was an incident where a member of our group was caught inappropriately touching a young girl during our gathering.  I confronted the person a few days after the meeting and informed him that he needed to not come to the next one while the church discerned a response.  When people are under threat, the leaders should step in and ensure that people are safe.

We can be reluctant to intervene because you know it is going to hurt people.  Eventually we will face situations where our options are bad and worse and we have to pick bad over worse.  It is always important to remember that everyone in every situation is valued by God.  We must make every effort to reduce the damage done but make hard choices.  Some times people don’t react well but never say anything or do anything that closes the door on reconciliation.