In her role as pastor of a small congregation, my wife had a conversation yesterday with a young man trying to sort out differences between churches. One of his concerns is with authority, meaning who makes the decisions in a church. He had been taught that in Baptist churches, authority resides with the pastor. As a Baptist pastor, I was surprised by that comment for two reasons. First, I understand the congregation to be where decision-making authority resides in a Baptist church. And second, because I don’t think authority means who has the final say, who can tell everyone else what to do – which seemed to be this man’s point.
The practice of assertiveness provides a good balance to this view of authority. As a church consultant, I have often seen conflict escalate around the question of who is in charge, who gets to make the decision, who has the right to tell the church how something will be done. We need to be able to speak with confidence, even boldness, from our perspective on any concern. We need to also listen with respect and empathy to the perspectives of other people involved. Rather than one person or group in the church exercising authority over the rest, perhaps iff we speak assertively while listening empathetically, we can together imagine a different way through this conflict than any of us had seen before.