Having Influence without Positional Authority

One of the challenges in the act of providing shepherd care is influencing change without wielding great or any organizational, positional line-authority. Many times I am in a situation where there are clearly systemic or personnel dynamics at play that ought to be addressed clearly and sooner rather than later. But I have no organizational authority or place to make such changes. What does one do? Can any influence for change and health be administered? If so, how does one do that?

It is a fallacy to think the only way we can influence is through organizational or positional authority. That might be one of the more “easy” or efficient ways to influence, however that does not mean it is either the wisest or healthiest way to bring influence. People respond to other forms of influence more readily than that which is “top-down.” The organization I am in services over 150 other organizations annually. In none of these scenarios are any of our staff in any position of line-authority. Yet, we can have wonderful, life-giving influence.

What are some of the ways shepherd care givers can influence well without using an organizational trump card?

Knowledge and Competency
One can be called into a situation based on a certain skill set or knowledge base. A simple illustration could be team conflict. When a team is deeply struggling with a break down in trust over relational hurts to the point that they are at an impasse, someone with skills in guiding a group of people toward resolution and trust-rebuilding can be brought in to provide that sort of professional care. In this instance, the influence one has is a skill set or knowledge base that is brought to bear on a situation. What makes way for the influence is another’s need. When shepherds scratch where people itch, the people are eager to respond. Thus influence toward life and health can be wielded well in a non-manipulative and servicing manner.  There are multitudes of skills in the shepherding arena such as debriefing, crisis response, family/TCK/MK skills, team building, leadership coaching, spiritual directing, etc. It behooves us as shepherd care providers to master, as much as humanly appropriate, a handful of professional competencies that we can provide others. This is a tremendous means of service and influence that need not have line-authority. This area of knowledge and competency is likely the easiest to draw upon because it is the easiest to acquire and manage.

Anyone with a certain level of determination and resources can read books, attend trainings, and work hard at mastering skills and knowledge. But this level of influence only goes so far. The next means of influence is even more significant, yet more demanding to grow in.

Spiritual, or Personal Authority
Who have you been with lately that impressed you as a person of substance? There is something about this person that carries a “weight” or “depth”. We speak of such persons as having character, spiritual depth, and a presence that alone bears impact. This sort of influence is the most significant, the most demanding to attain, and the one we all ought to strive for, again, in the human sense of the word.

Let’s reflect on authority for a moment. What is authority? When a police office commands a fleeing person to “stop in the name of the law”, what dynamic is at play here? The police officer has no authority in and of themselves. They are merely another member of society. But they have delegated authority from a governmental branch that grants them a level of authority. And the police officer is appropriately leveraging and implementing that influence in such a situation. The key principle here is that the authority is granted by one entity to another person. This is delegated authority.

With that image in mind, let’s consider spiritual authority. What is spiritual authority? First,  it is not something we conger up ourselves. We receive authority from God. He grants authority.  Authority is his alone to delegate as he deems wisest and best. Second, it is not meant to serve ourselves but others – particularly God’s purposes. Authority of any type – positional, title, line-authority or especially spiritual authority is never to be used for one’s own gain. It is granted as a platform from which to serve and enrich others. That is where corporate, social, political, educational, and church authority gets off base – when such positions are used for personal gain rather than community benefit. Third, authority is influence.  As a shepherd, my greatest means of influence is my own personal self  – my walk with God and how that is manifested in relationship. Let me state that again: my greatest influence is not a title, or a degree, or a skill set, or knowledge, it is who I am. Or said better; it is who God is in and through this frail vessel. The authority is his – his Person and his Presence in my life.

Spiritual authority is the manifestation of the Person and Presence of God in my life, regardless of any organizational line-authority or public recognition. And that type of authority is bestowed by God upon whom he will, when he will, and always comes about in the context of communion. It cannot be coerced or manipulated from God. It is not a commodity to be gathered and stored up, yet one can grow in it. Authority is a corollary, it is not what is to be sought. It is an overflow of relationship. What is to be sought is intimacy with God and that is always initiated by God. I am always the responder. He invites me into deeper communion with him. As I respond to him, as I spend time with him, I become like him. I grow into reflecting him in every situation in life. How that comes across is the “weight” and “depth” mentioned earlier. Respond to God in communion and he will grant “influence” as he sees best. Seek God, not authority. Do not worry about how others are impressed or impacted by you, be concerned with abiding in Christ. The rest will come as God deems best. In fact, we might not even discern what he is up to in the moment as we humble ourselves to simply walk as his servant towards others.

As a shepherd we need not demand on organizational or positional authority. In fact,  those titles attached to ourselves can undermine the very influence we really want to have. We need not have lots of fancy powerpoints and degrees to flash around. What we have before us is the opportunity to wield tremendous influence for redemptive purposes merely by walking well with God and bringing his Presence and Person into every situation we find ourselves in.

Growing in Influence
We must be reminded that we cannot manipulate this dynamic. It’s not like we plug into a power source or go to a filling station and then go out on our own to do with the power source as we please. No, this is all about relationship. God is ever inviting us to commune with him, learn of him, be immersed in his word, spend leisurely time with him and allow him to have his influence on our lives. This is a life-long process. The desire is that the older we get, the more mature in Christ we become reflected in wisdom, joy, truth, and love in all we do. Humanly speaking this means we take seriously our need to grow in self-knowledge, relational maturity, knowledge of the Word, spiritual practices, and professional mastery. Yes, there is much we can “do” to grow in our influence through our person. However, we must keep first things first – the source is always in our intimate communion with God. As we abide in Christ, he pours his life into us. For without him we can do nothing. With him, he can, through us, wield tremendous influence for life, peace, and truth.

Reflection: How is God inviting you to grow in your communion with him? How are you responding? What type of a person would you desire to be in 5, 10 or 20 years? Let that be the motivation for your decisions today. How is God drawing you to follow him down that path of maturation? How are you stewarding influence you have been granted in your family, friendships, job, and community? Is there anything you need to repent of? Spend some time reflecting on this significant topic, it is the opportunity each of us have to bring God’s influence to bear in all of our life.

Next week we will look at this subject from the point of bringing spiritual or personal “authority” to bear in any given situation. And as always, I’d love to hear from you on how you have experienced this dynamic of personal over positional influence.

This entry was posted in Living Wisely, Shepherding Well, Thinking Well and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Having Influence without Positional Authority

  1. Nairy says:

    Thank you Scott for summarizing, clarifying, articulating so well, what many of us do in providing pastoral,member care but cannot really put into words. This dynamic of influence and authority is much clearer and allows us to be more aware and intentional about ourselves as we seek to minister, transform and point servants back onto Christ.


    • Scott S says:

      Thanks Nairy. Yes, ours is a delicate posture and position in seeking to bring life-changing without authority. But it sure is encouraging when we see that take place before our eyes.


  2. Judy says:

    Thank you for writing so clearly and thoughtfully about this important aspect of shepherding, Scott. I appreciated your emphasis on the fact that our spiritual authority must be a natural overflow of the relationship we have with the Father and our personal walk with Him. It was good, too, to be encouraged to be intentional in developing our competency in areas that best fit the giftings and personality God has entrusted to us.


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