Like an Umbrella. Why We're Given Authority.

The last time I wrote about authority (see the posting Flashing Lights!) my main point was rather simple. True authority is always given, never taken. It’s a pretty straightforward concept but I’ve seen it neglected by many people. Take a moment and read that post, I’ll still be here when you get back.

Today I want to peer into another facet of authority that I learned in a very poignant way this summer. It's a rather simple concept – even a no-brainer perhaps – but not embraced as broadly as we’d like to think. When you hear it you may not agree, but hang with me. Most of the authority that we see is wielded for much different purposes. A quick survey of our political system and governments will reveal that authority is brandished for the benefit of a few. But this is not how it’s supposed to be, especially when it comes to our spiritual faith. In fact, Jesus pointedly warned against this when He spoke to His disciples.

A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
— Luke 22:24-27

Because all authority is given, there should be great humility on the part of the recipient who holds it and great care taken to exercise it appropriately. Just because you’re the founder of a company or ministry, doesn’t mean that the authority you hold wasn’t given to you or you can do with it as you please. Humility should rule as king, especially at the leadership level, because authority isn’t given for your sole benefit. So, when exercising your authority, here's what I want you to keep in mind. Authority is given to you for the protection of others! You’re not the point in the bestowing authority

A little hidden cafe on Shelter Island. An appropriate name for what I was about to experience and learn as the storm blew in from the West.

A little hidden cafe on Shelter Island. An appropriate name for what I was about to experience and learn as the storm blew in from the West.

I took a ride to Long Island this summer on my motorcycle. I was scheduled to leave a few days earlier, but as I’ve learned with most of my V-twin wanderings, schedules are for dreams. So, by the time I reached my first stopping point, my aunt’s home in Islip, NY, a strong storm loomed in from the West. Being a bit trapped on an island, I watched the radar and calculated my journey and adventures. At one point, I actually wound up in the middle of the Peconic River, but that’s another story. Anyway, by the second evening I was in need of a place to hunker down. I asked a waitress at a really cool waterside restaurant where I might find lodging on the north shore. I called ahead and made my way to the hotel, bracing for the imminent deluge. I had hoped to be heading back home by that time of the day, but the incoming storm had other plans for me. Having found shelter for myself, I asked the hotel clerk if could pull my bike on to the sidewalk outside of my room, beneath the overhang. Due to the many laws in the state of New York regarding combustible liquids, I could not. She then informed me that I couldn’t park my bike in the room. Apparently, some had managed to squeeze their bikes into the suite they were occupying. I assured them that my “hog” would stay penned up outside. After a few phone calls, they allowed me to park my bike under an awning at the far end of the building. Not being a fan of parking my ride far away from where I sleep while in a strange area, I weighed the options. I opted to navigate the single step-up and maneuver my Victory 8-Ball under a spacious outcropping of canvas.

Well, the rain came down and it poured hard that evening. Roads west of me on the island were closed completely. Where I’d come from received 13 inches of rain in one hour! Had I started home as planned, I most likely would’ve been stranded out in the open. Having had a similar experience on my trip home from Florida this year, I was thrilled that I had hunkered down.

The next morning, with the rain still coming down but tapering off, I ventured out to check on my bike. Although it was dry for the most part, the water had found it’s way through several holes and slits in the canvas top. My bike was still wet, but not soaked. Not as dry as I’d hoped but better than it could’ve been. And that’s when I started to see the connection between authority and coverings.

Not the most ideal place to park, but it was better than nothing. Sometimes authority looks better than it really is, until you're under it! Only then do all the holes start showing!

Just like an umbrella or awning, authority is designed to take the brunt of the storm for the benefit of others. Fold up an umbrella and apart from it being a mediocre jousting tool or walking stick, it’s pretty useless. In fact, it fails to fulfill that which it was designed for! The same is true for authority. Collapsed authority is of no benefit to anyone. It fails to fulfill the purpose for which it was given.

Let’s face it, we’re all flawed and have room for improvement. No amount of activity that you conjure up will make up for the lacking in your authority. Poor authority is horrendous. Do the best you can to sharpen and hone your authoritative skills so that those around you will be provided with the best possible protection. Attend seminars, find a mentor, read several of the many books on leadership all for the purpose of serving those around you. Do whatever needs to be done to find out where the holes are in your authority and be eager to sew them up! I recently gave my volunteers an evaluation form with all sorts of personal and organizational questions. One section asked them about how I lead and if it’s adequate. Some of the answers were painful to read. However, I’m being blessed to know where my weaknesses are that need patching up and I'm taking the steps to improve.

So, in your exercising of the authority that’s been given to you, whether a CEO, a pastor or parent, do you wield authority as a club, even in the slightest manner or are you very careful to provide the best possible covering for those around you? The quality of your authority is more important than it’s span! Just like an umbrella or awning, size doesn’t matter if it’s filled with holes!