Integrity or Control? Choose.

Lots of us have had to endure the control-freak pastor, the paranoid maniac who has to know WHO said his sermon went too long, and WHY that individual didn't OBEY MATTHEW 18 and come to him directly, and WHO ELSE that individual contaminated with his SLANDER. HOW LARGE is the FACTION of CRITICAL SPIRITS this week? And lots of us have had to endure the Meeting during which our motivations are impugned, our divisiveness is rebuked, and we are disinvited from leadership/attendance/Christianity.

So when I wrote last week that the first step away from populism is for evangelical leaders to rediscover the foundation of their authority, many readers probably said, "O callow youth, we think not. We've had enough of pastoral authority for one lifetime."

Hang in there with me.

Authority, to my way of thinking, is not control over people. (The leader gives orders and uses levers of power to make sure he is obeyed.) Rather, authority is an indirect result -- even a byproduct -- of something no one ever sees: the workings of the leader's own conscience.

My job as a pastor is not to compel others to do good, or even to entice them into doing good, but rather to subject my own will to the Bible's commands. As others interact with me, they are confronted with spiritual choices in the natural course of relationship.

For instance, when I preach, the ultimate issue on my conscience is whether my words serve the text of the Bible -- serve it both in expounding and in applying it to the people before me. If my conscience affirms that I enlightened my own ignorance, ducked no hard issue, and used excellent craft to teach a passage, then I have done my job as a pastor. The personal decisions people make come not so much from what I said, as from the time they spent interacting with my submission to scripture.

When I counsel, to take another example, I have to give biblical and Spirit-directed applications without shortcuts, gimmicks, or generalities. I also have to draw straight confession of sin out of people who would rather avoid it. Above all, I have to affirm what an individual has right, and withhold affirmation from what he has wrong. These are all issues on my own conscience, not anyone else's, and the only way I can act rightly is by obeying biblical principles. The counselee's decision to do good -- which I cannot control -- comes not so much from my direction, as from the time he spends interacting with my submission to scripture.

My conscience is the issue in every matter of daily life: prioritizing my weekly schedule, reacting to criticism, coaching others to resolve conflict, discipling my boys, loving my wife. My job as a pastor is to exhibit a submissive conscience. As people interact with me, they find themselves dealing with a way of life founded on different assumptions from theirs. The differences are what confront their souls with spiritual choices.

I am convinced that a leader earns a right to be heeded by orienting his or her conscience toward God's word. If he or she is submissive to the Bible, he or she will acquire authority, and the authority will not be hierarchical, but relational.

I have found that when I try to use the levers of power to control people's behavior, I splinter the integration of my conscience with the Bible. I have also found that the status-oriented fixations of populism involve leaders in catastrophic compromises of conscience, because populism boils down to what the Bible calls the fear of man.

I want to be able to say with Paul (2 Corinthians 1.12) that "our boast is this: the testimony of our conscience that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you."