Had Paul and Jas over at Bec’s house last night and got involved into a really interesting chat (as tends to happen when little Paulie is around), surrounding the practicalities of what it means to submit to leadership. Now as it turned out we eventually reached a point of working out that the specific situation Paul was describing might not have been about submission, but nevertheless it’s an interesting area to be exploring.
Basically Paul presented a fairly straight down the line, authoritarian perspective on what it means to submit to leadership: Leader states the decision/direction/whatever that the ministry is heading in and submitee goes along with that direction. Which at a very basic level has to be an accurate description of submission. Under an especially strict interpretation though: you don’t ask questions, you don’t offer suggestion. And the places that model takes you to seem to me to be deeply frightening: you end up “venting” about leaders because feelings of discontent need to get out somewhere. You end up putting on the “sure, no worries” face while you stew inside. And we create a self-perpetuating cycle of dishonesty and inauthenticity. And we end up leaving leaders feeling like they need to be making all the decisions, regardless of whether or not they are the people best equipped to make the call.
So here’s the model we/I proposed. Submission doesn’t mean pretending that you always agree, nor does it mean storming off because you disagree with decisions. I think that submission needs to be about communicating the areas you disagree with: both in terms of ideology and theology as well as in purely emotional and personal matters. Then trusting your leader with how you really feel: not dressing it up with grand reasons why you’re right when the real issue is just that you’ve been hurt. Having done this, you trust your leader with everything you’ve communicated: letting them hear and consider your beliefs and emotional attachment and believing that they will balance that against everything else in the situation and pushing forward with the direction the leader opts for: regardless of whether or not that’s the choice you’d have made.
I realise this is an exercise in idealism, and there are big costs: time spent communicating being a really big one. And some issues or problems with decision making are going to be so small that just a shrug and a chuckle are the best response, but it helps to remove the insidious pattern of whispering and undermining that seems to happen around any leaders. And it does require that you have leadership who are willing to listen, hear what your saying and make genuine evaluations taking into consideration your point of view without being a doormat. But I really feel that the centrality of honesty in this model gives it a really good shot of making the deliberate decision to submit to authority a helpful and productive part of life in the church rather than a burden that needs to be worn.
So – rather than this be an exercise in me making myself feel holy and theological, interact. What’s wrong with this model? Does this pay enough respect to the position of leaders? I’d love to hear what strikes you about this thinking because I know that it’s in no way complete.