If you are reading this, chances are you have been taken advantage of by a leader who abused their authority.  You are not alone. I recently had a boss who used his position to make all kinds of promises—promises he never intended to keep.  He used the illusion of ‘career advancement’ to manipulate employees into doing their jobs and, in the process, hurt both his reputation and the reputation of the company.  Carl F.H. Henry has observed the pervasive and destructive tendencies of modern leadership.

“The problem of authority is one of the most deeply distressing concerns of contemporary civilization. Anyone who thinks that this problem specially or exclusively embarrasses Bible believers has not listened to the wild winds of defiance now sweeping over much of modern life. Respect for authority is being challenged on almost every front and in almost every form…  How to justify any human authority becomes an increasingly acute problem. Not only religious authority, but political, parental, and academic authority as well come under debate (Carl Ferdinand Howard Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1999), 4:7).”

Bad leadership is not the “other guys” problem.  Leaders who abuse authority diminish the ability of everyone else to succeed as leaders.  Effective leaders, on the other hand, know how to succeed while using their authority to inspire others—not keep them down. So how can you become a leader who rightly handles authority?  History is full of great teachers.

Two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul was a leader in the early Christian Church and he was also in a battle for the hearts and minds of the Corinthian saints. Although you may lead a different kind of organization, you can probably empathize with some of Paul’s leadership troubles.  The people were being misled and deceived by “strong” leaders who were eloquent speakers but abusive in practice. Paul was being painted as an inferior Apostle, in part because he was not a great speaker, and also because he did not have a strong charismatic presence. Paul was criticized as a physically ill-person who could not heal himself, and consequently his credentials as a true Apostle of Jesus were questioned. Paul spoke strong words in his letters, but in person he lacked that same boldness. Paul’s detractors spun the facts to diminish Paul as a respected leader.

In response, Paul attempted to refine the Corinthian’s thinking so they could discern biblical authority from abusive authority; good leaders from bad leaders.  In reading chapter ten of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian Church, I see six keys to help leaders properly handle authority.

1. Biblical Authority Is Not Exclusive.

Abusive leaders are always looking to create a “second-in-command” who will make them look better and do their bidding. In stark contrast, good leaders recognize and share authority.  In Paul’s context, he never claimed to be “THE” only Apostle of Jesus.  He tried to show the people how those who claimed to have exclusive authority over the church were hurting unity.  (2 Corinthians 10:7)

2. Biblical Authority Builds Up

The right use of authority builds up others and is not used to tear them down.  Leaders—confident in their authority—do not fear “competition.”  They encourage respect for the authority of others and teach people how to become strong leaders. (2 Corinthians 10:8)

3. Biblical Authority Is Built On “People” Accomplishment

Abusive leaders are always giving you their resume because they fear you won’t otherwise obey their authority.  They feel the need to diminish the accomplishments of others so their successes look bigger.  Bad leadership is built on a resume of “personal” accomplishments.  These leaders seek out followers who are humble and giving so they can take more. The leader who boasts in their own successes as a reason to trust their authority will usually end up abusing it. In contrast, the biblical leader builds on “people” accomplishment. That is, his success is measured in the lives of others and their faithfulness to Jesus Christ.  (2 Corinthians 10:12)

4. Biblical Authority Rejoices In The Success Of Others.

A bad leader will point to how big their church is, how much money they made, how many academic degrees they have earned, or how many books they have published as their source of authority.  In stark contrast, a good leader points to the lives of people they have encouraged, strengthened, and propelled to success as the demonstration of their right use of authority. (2 Corinthians 10:13)

5. Biblical Authority Comes From God

Finally, a good leader does abuse their authority by taking the credit for the work others have done.  A good leader celebrates every individual for their accomplishment and builds strong teams that can do great things.  Good leadership is not afraid that others may gain authority from their good work. On the contrary, he or she shares the credit so that others can succeed. (2 Corinthians 10:15–18)

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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