Responsibility and Authority

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

Matthew 10:1, 5-9

When Jesus sent out His disciples to do the kind of ministry He had been doing, He first gave them His delegated authority. Once they had authority, He gave them the responsibility to “freely give” what they themselves had received. Jesus practices a leadership strategy here that is vitally important: Those who have taken the responsibility for something must be given the authority to accomplish their mission.

For a healthy leadership environment to exist, one’s authority must be proportional to one’s responsibility. Too often in our culture we are surrounded by Monday morning quarterbacking. Social media has given people the false notion that their opinion should count as much as everyone else’s and that they should have input on everything. The problem is that this leads to too many cooks in the kitchen. People who have sacrificed nothing, who have taken no responsibility, think their voice should be heard as much as the person who has carried the heavy weight of responsibility. In the words, they want authority without responsibility.

I see this happen in churches all the time. My friend was the pastor of a conservative church where his leadership team gave him all the responsibility but none of the authority. They wanted to reserve the right to pick apart his vision, ideas, and new projects, but they didn’t want to lift a hand to help him execute them.

They wanted him to come up with the plan and do all the work to execute the plan, but they wanted to reserve the right to sit on the sidelines and critique it all. They wanted the decision-making authority without taking any responsibility. If you want to lose your pastor, this is one of the quickest routes you can take. And they did. He has moved on.

The principle is this: authority must match responsibility. If someone has taken responsibility for coming up with the idea, putting a plan in place, and executing that plan, then they should have the authority to make decisions for that project. One’s opinion is only as weighty as the responsibility one is willing to assume. Your authority should never outweigh your responsibility.

We as a culture have to stop believing that our opinion should matter just as much as everyone else’s. It doesn’t. Social media is lying to us about this. My medical opinion should not and does not matter as much as a trained doctor. I can spout off about all kinds of medical things but that doesn’t mean my opinion should carry any weight.

The same is true if we haven’t taken any responsibility for executing a project or plan. If we haven’t lifted a finger to make it happen, our opinion should matter very little. We should not be given authority to make decisions. But, if we are willing to sacrificially take responsibility for something, then our voice should have weight. We should be given authority to make decisions for that thing. Authority should match responsibility. When one is greater than the other, an imbalance is formed that creates a toxic leadership environment.

How about you? Do you find yourself wanting to add your two cents, critiquing, and wanting a voice in things you’ve taken no responsibility for? Or, when you give someone a responsibility, do you also give them decision-making authority to match it?

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