The apostles embarked on an intense program of training, education and discipleship before they were set loose to do what Jesus did. Chief among their acquired attributes as apostles was divine authority.
When I was ordained, I knelt down before Bishop Mary Ann Swenson. She laid her hands upon me, and said words I’ll never forget: “Take thou authority.” It didn’t take more than a year as a pastor before I realized that I hadn’t taken enough. As the years ticked by, I grew in my own sense of inner authority, but I also bumped up against circumstances, people and situations that called out my worst: people pleasing, fear of offending, and wanting to be liked. Self-doubt plagued me. Yet, Bishop Swenson’s words percolated in my soul: “Take thou authority.”
Like the apostles of old, we church leaders cannot function without appropriate authority. So why is it that we have de-authorized ourselves?
Over the years, I have gone back to the Source for more and more authority. This hasn’t been authority wielded over others as much as authority over my own inner storms, lack of faith, self-doubt, and negative self-talk. As a result, I have been able to speak, lead, decide, delegate, and envision with more authority. Miracles have ensued.
Miracles and authority go together. Mark’s Gospel tells us that “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed 12—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.” Later, “Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits…They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.”
What empowered these miracles? First, Jesus has equipped and empowered them, fully expecting them to do what he does: teach, preach and heal in the name of the Kingdom. But there’s something else going on here. Their faith has grown to the point where they can effectively cast out demons, heal the sick, and shake dust off their feet when they are not welcome. Can you imagine the kind of authority they wielded over their own lack of faith, self-doubt, bad attitudes, feelings, and wavering sense of purpose and calling? Together with their calling by Jesus, I believe that’s what is at the source of the miraculous.
As the disciples-turned-apostles in our ministry settings, now it is our turn. Over and over again in the scriptures, Jesus is clear that he wants us to have authority: authority to ask, claim, declare, preach, interpret, teach, set free, and forgive sins. If it’s true that “the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins,” then perhaps to be Christ-like is to claim our own authority.
When I came into the church, some 25 years ago, it seems like Jesus was the answer to every question. That’s bad theology. It’s certainly not the answer Jesus himself gave to every question. Instead, he generally pointed people to God, or to the realm of the Kingdom, to their own inner authority. You want to walk on water, Peter? Come on out. You want to make sure these people are fed, friend? You feed them. I’m paraphrasing here, but you get the point. Jesus constantly authorized the people around him to act. Yet, in the church, we’ve de-authorized ourselves. We feel we have little say over the culture, the people, the future of the church, or even the role we play in it. We are plagued with low self-esteem, high stress, and negative self-talk. We have let circumstances dictate our authority rather than Jesus himself.
While some of those dynamics are the function of a declining church, they are also part of the cause of decline. Many of us have lost our voice, our way, and our inner sense of authority. Yet, Jesus himself, let alone the Bishop, insists: Take thou authority!
You realize what this means, don’t you? We have agency, power, authority, autonomy, ability, and capacity that we did not know we had. We are co-creators with God, in the dance of leadership together. It all comes down to faith: “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matthew 21:21-22)
As you grow in apostleship, be sure to take thou authority. Then take some more. You’ll need it. Not only that, the Kingdom is depending on it.