Romans 12 – moral authority

3 Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning… (NLT)

3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you… (NIV)

Two versions of the same verse cast slightly different light on the subject of authority. In my July post on authority, I named two kinds of non-positional authority. Paul refers to both here. There’s a reason Paul can speak into the lives of the Church in Rome — because he has spiritual and moral authority in their lives. I think it’s noteworthy that he doesn’t say, “Because of my position as apostle…” There are a couple of times when Paul took a lot of space in his epistles defending his role as an apostle. Apparently, there was some question as to his position since he did not spend any time with Jesus himself. But here he’s not referring to any positional kind of power.

Paul has authority because of two reasons. First, because of his investment in the Roman church, they have given him moral authority in their lives. Second, because God has given authority to him. It’s by God’s grace — what Christ did to pull him out of the life he was in — that he has the privilege and authority of influencing this group. He can therefore teach, encourage, cajole and rebuke the Church in the most powerful city in the world.

Mind you, Paul didn’t necessarily shy away from titles. He regularly identifed himself as “bond slave of Christ” and “chief of sinners.” A position of genuine humility can go a long way to building authority.

Earned authority

I’m reading a great new book by Jimmy Long, called The Leadership Jump. It’s an attempt to depict the leadership styles of the generations and then build bridges between the two. In other words, it’s the book I was going to write. There’s a great chapter on authority that got me thinking.

I’m sure you’ve heard the line from John Maxwell, “A leader without any followers is just taking a walk.” One of the best measures of whether a person-of-title is a leader is to ask whether anyone would be following them if they didn’t have the position. A leader will influence whether or not they have a title.

There are two types of nontraditional authority that mean everything to emerging leaders: moral authority and spiritual authority. These are the lenses ermerging leaders use to take the measure of established leaders.

My working definitions, inspired by a few web searches and conferences, are these:

Moral authority — the ability to influence others based on a leader’s character, wisdom or experience. Moral authority comes from such traits as integrity, vulnerability, consistency, persistence and willingness to guide and mentor others. Often we lend a huge amount of moral authority to someone who has personally gone to great lengths through great pain to accomplish something.

Spiritual authority — according to Steve Moore of The Mission Exchange, the right to influence given to a leader by his followers based on their perception of spirituality in the life of the leader. In churches and parachurch ministries, this power-base can be very powerful (consider Jim Jones, for instance). No wonder then that when a ministry leader is caught in duplicity or hypocrisy, the fall from power can be very sudden  and complete.

Neither involves the use of force, title or position. These are types of power given from below. They are accumulated slowly and lost quickly. That’s why Long calls them “earned authority.”