Growing in Authority, Relinquishing Control

Celia Hahn, 1994, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Hahn’s book is 20+ years old but this reflection on the kinds of leadership required in the church was useful to me halfway through a 20-year pastoral assignment and now at the end of a part-time interim pastorate that called for an initial two months and has now extended to over ten years. While Hahn reflects biblical, theological and psychological perspectives, her major contribution lies in her reliance on concrete experiences and parish interview responses.

        Hahn identifies four sources of authority (authority: ‘the permission and/or obligation to act/, p 7): authority is given and therefore received; authority is an inner awareness of calling; authority is a personal assertion; authority comes from many sources integrated, and from G-d (pp 8-10). She names this ‘integrated authority’: a meeting of person, context, initiative and the transcendent’ (p 10).

        Authority is not a control mechanism; it is a gift for the community, not a personal possession to be employed for personal benefit. Integrated authority is ‘integration’, the mediation of expectations; it belongs to G-d; it doesn’t depend on control; it does not practise hierarchy; it honours the freedom of others. Integrated leaders invite others’ authority to be exercised: start with the people where they are; refuse to be others’ authority (during a real game the coach retreats to the sidelines); people are equal; others’ gifts, partnership and authority are invited. (The early church by the fourth century had forsaken Jesus’ vision of integrated authority and slipped back under control mechanisms: authority evolved into a bureaucracy.

        Hahn points out the contributions of metaphors (eg the church as a colony of heaven, the body of Christ, servanthood).

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.