This isn’t a new topic at all for many of us. Many of us struggle in this area of trying to submit to people above us, especially when we believe that we are (supposedly) much better than the person who is in authority.
How much does authority mean in a community like ours? Is it relevant at all? Isn’t each one of us guided by the Holy Spirit? Can I not bank on the years of experience that I have serving God in different places to be able to take a call and challenge the call of the leader?
God’s place for Authority and Structure
The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1899 says
‘Every human community needs an authority to govern it. The foundation of such authority lies in human nature…’.
We require authority, it is how society is kept in order. CFCI being a community requires authority to govern it.
We belong to the Catholic Church, one of the most hierarchal and structured religions there can be, but this authority cannot be claimed to have been derived from humans. It has been ordered by Jesus himself who set his church upon the authority of St. Peter, the apostles and their successors as elaborated in CCC 874 – 875.
Similarly, every community within the Catholic Church has authority and structure. What does the bible say about authority? St. Paul in his letter to the Romans, chapter 13 verse 1 and 2 says –
‘Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.’
There is no authority except that which God has established. It is pretty clear that God has given a mandate to the people in authority while also giving a mandate to be subject to it. We surely don’t want to bring judgement upon ourselves by rebelling.
But what if the leader is too young or incompetent?
St. Paul to Timothy (First Letter 4:13)
‘Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.’
While St. Paul is trying to pacify Timothy’s fear that people may not accept him as a leader due to his youth, there is also a message for those who would chose to disrespect him – Let no one despise – those ‘no one’s‘ include you and me who shouldn’t despise a leader who is seemingly young or incapable.
Incapability is mostly what we see through our proud eyes. “I can do it better“. “It should have been done this way“. “He doesn’t understand how it should be done“. “She doesn’t have the qualities that the other one possess“. “Why can’t you be more like him? He’s a way better leader.” Or even of youth “She is the same age as us, how will she guide us?” “He is too young for people to respect him”
Here, more than focusing on the leader’s ability, we need to look within and see if we are being humble enough to accept leadership styles that our contrary to ours. If something is going contrary to the common good, are we approaching leadership in the right spirit of correction or are we looking at an opportunity to despise and depose the leader (so that we may take control and do it the right way)?
I, personally struggled with this in my early years in the community. I thought I knew it all – knew the heart of a youth, knew what attracts them best, knew what words to speak, what activities to conduct, what ways to convince. This pride puffed up further every time I saw someone do it slightly different from the way I envisioned it. Every session given by someone else was a reason for me to criticize and every correction given was a chance to make an ad hominem attack in my mind. I became vocal in dissent with others and stirred the crowd against formators and apparently won when I had them replaced. Looking back, it was nothing to be proud of, all it did was boost my ego for a while and hurt people who genuinely cared for me and others, though their way of expressing it was different from what I expected.
How was this attitude overcome – first by God convicting me of my wrongdoing, turning my head to His word, while turning the pages to the place where he talks about authority, submission and humility.
So does that mean I just sit back and listen?
As I just mentioned, we have to start with humility. What was Satan’s sin? Pride. He would not submit.
The humble man extinguishes pride, because a proud man can do no harm to a humble one;
(The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena). If we are humble we will explore the possibility to accept someone else’s leadership. If we are humble we understand that others are gifted in other ways, contrary to what we think, but gifted by God nonetheless.
Humility also helps to approach the leader with the right attitude when we want to give a suggestion. Rather than bickering with other people and complaining, we will be able to build up the leader in love if we approach them in humility and love and with intent to correct. The Catechism touches on our right and duty to correct (CCC 2238). This way we not only build our leaders but also build temperance within ourselves. How many relationships have soured because persons decided to go the egoistic way of putting down leaders before others and behind their backs? At the end of it we go against exactly what it means to be a Christian in the name of ‘doing the right thing, the right way‘ (which in reality is ‘our way‘)
Yes, there will be times when our words are not heeded and we may shake our heads in frustration. But we will still need to pray and submit. Pray that ultimately the greater good be done. From my experience, God takes care of everything in the long run. How patient we are to see it out, is our problem.
While we’re at humility, here are some verses from the scripture to reinforce the need for it:
Proverbs 11:2 When pride comes, then comes disgrace; but wisdom is with the humble.
Psalm 149:4 For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory.
Matthew 18:4 Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
1 Peter 5:6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.
How people in authority are called to be
Those who are in authority within the community are tasked with their respective roles after prayer and discussion by the elders. Some basic criteria that is used to identify servant leaders are understanding their walk with God, availability for the members they are entrusted with, and their ability to receive correction.
It goes without saying that these attributes have to be constants as long as they are servant leaders and indeed it is important as a disciple anyways. Clothed with humility that they are simply stewards who at the end of the day claim no glory or honor – giving these duly to God – and ending the day saying “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty”
We have extensive training programs for Household Servants and CLS training. Just attending the programs isn’t enough. Going back to the outlines time and again and make conscious efforts to live out the talk goes a long way in building authority that commands respect rather than demands it.
Love, care and consideration has to be lived, it cannot be learnt. As members in God’s body it is important as both servant leaders and faithful to respect and live out authority in the right way. Let us continue to ask God to make us humble and look at each other as equals, keeping aside worldly ideas of importance and competence. May God be our qualifier!