Those of us in leadership today must not only explain and teach the way as we ourselves walk in it, but we must also remain totally relaxed at being examined, both in our characters as well as in all the leads we are offering. It is imperative we grasp this. Jesus taught that allowing this examination is a distinguishing feature of godly behaviour:

“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who practises the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen as having been done in God.”1

Unfortunately, many leaders are insecure and allow that insecurity to dominate them, thinking that any questioning of them or what they are saying is a personal attack or an undermining of their position as leader. In some instances that will be true but refusing the examination will only add fuel to that fire.

In speaking of leadership then, we must consider, what are we really trying to establish or clarify? The status and position of leaders? Or the way of God? Ironically, if leaders do establish or clarify the way of God for their people, their own ability to lead is actually demonstrated and so needs very little establishing or clarifying. Since the way is the means of assessing or discerning all leadership, leaders can never claim an ultimate autonomy – their leadership is only effective and valid when it is seen to be “on the way”.

Why is this so important? Let me give an personal example. In 1982, I was in a church meeting where three leaders, the pastor and two elders, were looking to see if the people would follow them. They had allowed some wrong and divisive teaching to come into the church and many had already left, including three of the original five elders and seven of the twelve house-group leaders, so it was a shaky situation. In an attempt to reestablish their leadership of the church, the remaining two elders and the pastor were asking for statements of loyalty to them.

They were, all three, very good men with proven character, loving and upright, and I personally was happy to affirm my loyalty to them, having known them for years as brothers, leaders and elders. Now however, those of us still in the church were unsure of where they were going to lead us. Were they going to continue down the road of the teaching that was causing the trouble? (This teaching was particularly hard to deal with since it taught that any examination of it was ‘rebellion’). This night, when asked where they as leaders intended to go, one of the elders countered by saying that wasn’t for us to know; our loyalty was to be to their leadership regardless of where they were going.

I asked them to reconsider their requirement of us, since it would mean us being disobedient to the Scriptures. They wouldn’t reconsider, and it eventually led to a parting of the ways for us and sadly, all three men later left their leadership of that church anyway. To me, at a time when I was just beginning to understand and apply these things, this incident illustrated how even the best of men, so good in so many areas of their lives and leadership, may not understand the limits of all leadership in the Kingdom.

Thus far we have looked at how the way defines the outer limits but within the way, there are also clearly defined ways of leading. 

We will examine later how leaders are to lead but first we need to clear away a major misconception by looking at how leaders are not to lead. This misconception is clearly revealed by Jesus although, as we will see, for a time even His closest disciples didn’t understand His words. Since they didn’t, we can be sure we too may take a while. The misconception is also clearly revealed in an event in the national life of Israel over three thousand years ago, when they were seeking a new kind of leader than God had already given them. We are specifically warned that: 

These things happened to them [Israel] as an example, and they were written for our instruction… [since] no temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man.2

We are not today inherently better or cleverer people than Israel of old; we all face the same basic issues. As believers today we have got the advantage of learning from their failures but only if we bother to find out exactly what went wrong. We will see when we look at that time in Israel’s history that their misconception then is actually still ours.

We too are usually looking to and following the same role model as ancient Israel – the world around them, rather the God who called them to be different. Thus we find in the words of Jesus to the leaders of His disciples in the first century that He challenges their accepted role models:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.”3

What is this particular misconception they had learned from the world? That leaders lead by exercising authority. In these words of Jesus Himself, leaders in His kingdom are not to “lord it over” the rest, nor to “exercise authority” over them, but what does He mean exactly? We will examine both of these phrases but, because this is always going to be a contentious issue, let’s begin by defining the term ‘authority’.

As well as being a contentious issue, this is always going to be a confusing issue until we realise that ‘authority’ has two distinct meanings. Unfortunately many fine leaders and teachers are today not taking this ambiguity into account and so are sowing seeds of confusion. They are often quoting verses to justify one kind of authority when the other kind is clearly intended in the context, as we will see. We need to be ‘diligent… [in] handling accurately the word of truth’.4

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines authority as:

(i)  the power or right to enforce obedience; delegated power; hence a person or (especially in the plural) a body having authority (e.g. “the authorities”).

(ii) personal influence, especially over opinion; book or quotation considered as settling a question (e.g. “on the authority of Plato”); hence a person whose opinion is accepted, especially an expert in a subject (e.g. an authority on bees).

This second definition recognises that expertise in a given subject establishes our credibility. Is Jesus saying that leaders shouldn’t use or exercise a ‘personal influence’, even if it is based on expertise? No, because He unashamedly exercised a personal influence:

“For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.”5

What is the work of a witness? All witnesses exercise a personal influence on the outcome of a trial in giving their testimony, and that influence is in direct proportion to their personal knowledge of and legitimate opinion on the subject. Jesus is a witness and He sent out all the disciples of the early church to “be My witnesses… even to the remotest part of the earth”.6 In sending them, and us, to every nation, He clearly was looking for them exercise whatever ‘personal influence’ they could over their hearers.

Paul too wrote that if a man or woman serves well as a minister, they ‘obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith’,7 as noted in the study on Deacons8 That is, their expertise in the area of preaching, teaching, or counselling ensures their credibility. So ‘authority’ in this use of the word is clearly not what Jesus forbade to His leaders.

The other meaning ‘authority’ is the ‘power or right to enforce obedience’ and it is this meaning that the Bible invariably uses. The Greek word so translated, exousia, comes ‘from the impersonal verb, exesti – it is lawful. From the meaning of permission, …it passed to… that of the power of authority, the right to exercise power’ (W.E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary). Take for example, Paul’s injunction:

Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities…  for [the authority] does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practises evil.9

In other words, the government, in the administering of justice, has ‘the power or right to enforce obedience’, if necessary by using ‘the sword’ or weapons, even to the taking of life. When Paul was writing this, the ‘governing authorities’ were, obviously, the Romans who used that power to crucify Jesus, imprison Peter, John, and Paul himself, and to kill James and many other believers. Despite abuse of this power, God knows we need a physical agency for justice within our society so He continues to leave that power in the hands of our governing authorities. Our modern-day equivalent lethal weapon of enforcement is the gun, so our N.Z. Police Force and Armed Offenders’ Squad have sound Scriptural justification to bear arms. Our part today is to be subject to this authority and to encourage the rightful use of it. We as Christians have many opportunities here to be “salt and light”.

Again, consider the kind of authority God has given to parents, where they are to ‘enforce obedience’ in their children. In Biblical days, this included using a rod, if necessary:

The rod and reproof give wisdom, but the child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.10

In 2007, our NZ government forbade parents using corporal punishment to bring correction but nevertheless acknowledged ‘a parent of the child is justified in using force’ to control dangerous or harmful behaviour.

It is this second meaning of ‘authority’ that the Scriptures use, ‘the right to enforce obedience’. We see then that Jesus expressly forbids spiritual leaders exercising the very power or right to enforce obedience that God has given to natural leaders. But, the question is always asked, if leaders can’t exercise authority, how can they lead? The question itself reveals the confusion in our thinking. We assume leadership and authority are the same, yet they must be kept separate if we as leaders are to be obedient to Jesus. Let me illustrate the difference.

Imagine a troop of cavalry hopelessly lost in the badlands of Navajo country. The troop consists of a lieutenant, a sergeant, two corporals, and twenty troopers and has a very precise command structure – the lieutenant is the authority and his right to enforce obedience to his commands extends to the court-martialling and execution of any disobedient soldier.

Unfortunately, for all his power and authority, the lieutenant is new to the area and just as lost as the rest of them. Fortunately, the troop has riding with them two civilians, Buffalo Bill and Kit Carsonwho are scouts by trade. They, being civilians, have no authority over the troop at all but they have the advantage of local knowledge, so the lieutenant sends them out to scout around and find the way home. When they return to say they’ve regained their bearings, they’re told, “Lead on!” and the whole troop, including the lieutenant, happily accepts their leadership.

A simple story, but let’s analyse it for a moment. Bill and Kit were given the leadership of the group, not on the basis of their power or right to enforce obedience, because they had none at any time. They were at all times only civilians. They were followed only because they knew where to go. On the other hand, the lieutenant who held the authority at all times was unable to lead because of his lack of local knowledge.

So we see then, there is a clear distinction between leadership and authority. Unhappily in the kingdom of God, leaders have often confused the two, so we have the unedifying spectacle of ‘lieutenants’ concerned for their authority and clinging to all leadership, regardless of where the ‘troops’ end up. In the kingdom of God, where none of us are to “exercise authority” over the others, none of us can validly be ‘lieutenants’ so we don’t have to worry about holding on to anything. All leaders in the kingdom are to function like the scouts and, renouncing authority, can concentrate on knowing the terrain, walking in it and communicating their lead to others.

We have come into the realm of truth and reality and no amount of authority can alter that.  Reality simply is, and truth, which is the communication of that, must be found or encountered, never forced or coerced.


Another illustration of this comes from Albert Speer’s Inside The Third Reich. Speer describes an extraordinary conversation between Reich Marshall Hermann Goering, second only to Hitler and commander of the German air force, and General Adolf Galland who commanded his fighter planes:

Galland had reported to Hitler that day that several American fighter planes accompanying the bomber squadrons had been shot down over Aachen. He had added the warning that we were in grave peril if American fighter planes, thanks to improved fuel capacity, should soon be able to provide escort protection to the fleets of bombers on flights even deeper into Germany. Hitler had just relayed these points to Goering. Goering was embarking for Romintern Heath on his special train when Galland came along to bid him goodbye.

“What’s the idea of telling the Fuehrer that American fighters have penetrated into the territory of the Reich?” Goering snapped at him. “Herr Reichmarschall,” Galland replied with imperturbable calm, ‘they will soon be flying even deeper.” Goering spoke even more vehemently: “That’s nonsense, Galland! What gives you such fantasies? That’s pure bluff!”

Galland shook his head. “Those are the facts, Herr Reischmarschall!” As he spoke he deliberately remained in a casual posture, his cap somewhat askew, a long cigar clamped between his teeth. “American fighters have been shot down over Aachen. There is no doubt about it!”

Goering obstinately held his ground: “That is simply not true, Galland. It’s impossible.” Galland reacted with a hint of mockery: “You might go and check it yourself, sir;  the downed planes are there at Aachen.”

Goering tried to smooth matters over: “Come now, Galland, let me tell you something. I’m an experienced fighter pilot myself. I know what is possible, but I know what isn’t, too. Admit you made a mistake.” Galland only shook his head, until Goering finally declared: “What must have happened is that they were shot down much farther to the west. I mean, if they were very high when they were shot down they could have glided quite a  distance farther before they crashed.” Not a muscle moved in Galland’s face. “Glided to the east [i.e. the wrong direction home], sir? If my plane were shot up… “

“Now then, Herr Galland,” Goering fulminated, trying to put an end to the debate, “I officially assert that the American fighters did not reach Aachen.” The general ventured a last statement: “But, sir, they were there!”

At this point Goering’s self-control gave way.  “I herewith give you an official order that they weren’t there! Do you understand? The American fighters were not there! Get that! I intend to report that to the Fuehrer.” Goering simply let General Galland stand there. But as he stalked off, he turned once more and called out threateningly: “You have my official order!” With an unforgettable smile the general replied: “Orders are orders, sir!”

Goering had the authority but Galland had the truth. Notice too that Goering at one stage even ‘tried to smooth things over’ by appealing to his own expertise as fighter pilot, the first meaning of ‘authority’, but then reverted to the second meaning of ‘authority’ as Reich Marshall and enforced Galland’s obedience. Of course, Goering’s avoidance of the truth at that time did their cause no good. As Paul says:

We can do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth.11

Speer explains further that ‘Goering was not actually blind to reality…  Rather, he acted like a bankrupt who up to the last moment wants to deceive himself along with his creditors’.

Unfortunately, church history has not been much different. We cannot consider here more than the simplest of overviews but the last two thousand years are replete with examples as first the Roman Catholic Church took up the sword against those who questioned her (such as Hus and Luther) and then was faithfully followed by the Protestant Reformers who believed they now had the same authority over the Anabaptists.

Actually, they both assumed twin authorities: in the spiritual realm, to be like Goering as the ultimate deciders of the truth regardless of reality; in the natural realm, to give the rights of citizenship of their nations to only those who believed their ideas and to reject, torture or kill those who disbelieved. The religious wars were a natural outworking of this disagreement among the disciples as to who was the greatest.

This marriage of church and state was seen so clearly as a terrible error by the first European settlers of the USA that the division of church and state was an essential part of their Constitution. Many of them with Anabaptist roots, such as the Mennonites, the Amish, the Hutterites and the Quakers, rejected ‘the sword’ in the natural realm. As pacifists, they refused to bear arms even to enforce obedience to justice.

However, most denominations have continued to argue that the church, or theirs in particular, has ‘spiritual authority’. For example, in Watchman Nee’s book of that title, Spiritual Authority:

We must know how to obey within the church. There is no authority within the church which does not require obedience.12

People will perhaps argue, ‘What if the authority is wrong?’ The answer is, if God dares to entrust His authority to men, then we can dare to obey. Whether the one in authority is right or wrong does not concern us, since he has to be responsible directly to God. The obedient needs only to obey….  Insubordination, however, is rebellion, and for this the one under authority must answer to God.”13

Since that book was compiled from notes made by Watchman Nee’s students from lectures in 1948, it is possible he was misunderstood or misquoted. The book however continues to be widely referred to as definitive and is based entirely on the principle of ‘delegated authority’:

… all authorities (in the world, in the family, in the church) are delegated by Him and represent His authority.14

Notice the two premises of this required obedience: ‘if God dares to entrust His authority to men’, and since this delegation is to national and family leaders in the natural realm, He must have also delegated it to church leaders in the spiritual realm. But what if He didn’t dare? What if Jesus forbade His leaders to not use authority, as the Scriptures record? What if He knew that none of us can be trusted with such authority over each other in His kingdom?

Leadership in the Kingdom  – Pt 3 Jesus’ Explanation
The Scriptures refer six times to two occasions, at least, when Jesus tried to explain to the Twelve the difference between authority and leadership. Read more>>

Buffalo Bill: http://Public Domain,
NZ Police Flag:By File:Flag_of_New_Zealand.svg:derivative work: Fry1989 eh? 21:52, 8 March 2012 (UTC) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Armed offenders Squad: By 111 Emergency from New Zealand – Wellington Armed Offenders Squad (AOS), CC BY 2.0,

  1. John 3:20-21
  2. 1 Cor 10:11-13
  3. Matt 20:25-26
  4. 2 Tim 2:15
  5. John 18:37
  6. Acts 1:8
  7. 1 Tim 3:13
  8. Also to be uploaded asap.
  9. Rom 13:1-4
  10. Prov 29:15. See also Heb 12:5-11 
  11. 2 Cor 13:8
  12. Spiritual Authority, p. 59
  13. Ibid. p. 71, emphasis added
  14. Ibid. p. 61