Almost thirty years ago I was sitting around a table with five other young and inexperienced pastors. We were in a small meeting room at Montana State University in Billings, Montana. Seated with us was Jerry Cook, the author of the tremendous book, "Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness." Jerry was the guest speaker that week at Faith Chapel in Billings and he was also scheduled for this time with the pastors.
As Jerry spoke I could see that he had a powerful command of words and body language. He spoke with great humility and he also had a wonderful way to get into your face and make you like it!
I can't remember all that Jerry said that day except for one profound sentence that has stuck with me all these years. Jerry said, "Your authority will never be established until it is challenged." That sentence seemed to freeze-dry itself in midair. I really didn't know what it meant because I was so young in leadership at the time. I was smart enough to write it down and commit it to memory.
Over the years that statement has proved to be so true, but not for the obvious reasons. Challenged authority is not so much a chance for followers to be told to "get back in line" behind a leader, rather, it is an opportunity for a leader to evaluate their personal response to the challenge and hopefully move into new dimensions of his or her calling.
When our authority is challenged we have a chance to learn a few things:
1. We can learn what our perceived authority is really based on. If it is a God-given authority it will still be there after all the messes are cleaned up that resulted from the challenge.
2. We can learn that our God-given authority does not need defending. God-given authority is established by God and empowered by His Spirit. A smart leader simply walks in authority and holds it with an opened hand. God does the establishing part. We never have to grasp onto our authority to make it secure.
3. We can learn that how we respond to the challenge of our authority carries a far greater impact on those who watch our response than the challenge itself. When leaders get insecure we say and do very foolish and regretful things. People can get hurt by insecure leaders.
4. We can learn that sometimes we are dead wrong in how we have moved in our God-given authority and we needed to be challenged. It is never comfortable to be challenged. Each time this happens a wise leader will ask God, "What in this challenge is You - what are You wanting to say to me?" You will always have something to take away that will make you a better leader.
If you lead in the business world, a ministry in the church or are simply baby-sitting some kids, somewhere in that process a challenge will come. Expect it, but don't live in fear of it. God uses authority, and the challenge to it, as one of many tools to advance His Kingdom. He also uses the challenge to a leader's authority to advance the leader. If you are in a season where you are being challenged God has good things planned for you. Rest in Him. Trust Him. Love the challenger and then watch your authority become established for a new season that could not have come without the challenge.