Non-Authoritarian/High Control Leadership

The guy attacked me from the platform at a symposium.

“You’re not the laid-back leader you present to the public. You have to exercise authority to do what you’ve done.”

I responded with, “I’m not the domineering leader, you suppose, but I may be the most high-control leader you ever met! I teach people to think, and they make good decisions. That gives me control long afterward.”

So how do you control people without resorting to anger, domination or other authoritarian tactics? You teach people how to think.

Sadly, much of what we call disciplemaking is little more than education. Pump their heads full of enough Bible knowledge and call it a disciple. I disagree. We need to balance content with relationship.

How, you ask? I’ve always assigned reading, usually a book that we read in a group. We start by asking, “What did the Holy Spirit speak to you through this book? Doesn’t matter if we’re reading Romans or some secular biography, the Spirit does speak. We then mosey down whatever rabbit trails present themselves. As we do, we share what we know of life, especially life with the Lord. I have no problem with curricula, but think it is too often shallow.

You learn to think by learning how someone else does that. You can’t get that merely from a book. A disciple needs a disciplemaker to model after. Consider how children learn to walk, talk and view the world. Not much about learning changes as we mature to adulthood.

High Control Disciplemaking

Paul told the Corinthians, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” He wrote to Timothy, “You’ve been a good apprentice to me, a part of my teaching, my manner of life, direction, faith, steadiness, love, patience, troubles, sufferings — suffering along with me in all the grief I had to put up with in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. And you also well know that God rescued me!” (2 Timothy 3:10-11 THE MESSAGE). Paul shared life with Timothy, literally teaching him how to think. Because of that, he had input to decisions in Ephesus, though he wasn’t present.

Transormation vs Education

He instructed the church in Rome to “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2 NIV). This suggests a total mental makeover. It moves beyond education to transformation. Again, teach people how to think, and they will figure out God’s will in every situation.

Peter warned elders against authoritarian leadership when he instructed us to lead from pure hearts without “lording it over” those in our circles. Jesus said the greatest would be the servant. Yet, some believe you must dominate people to fulfill whatever vision you have for ministry.

Good Disciples Make Good Decisions

Paul could trust Timothy to lead well because he had discipled him well – Tim would discover God’s desire in any situation because he knew how to think. Titus could be trusted to pick up the pieces in Crete for the same reason.

My best days as a pastor were those when someone would start some new ministry without asking permission. Those were the times that best underscored our approach to making disciples.

One lady planted a church in a neighborhood she first visited to distribute groceries. The grocery thing led to a children’s ministry, which led to parents asking to join.

In the last church, I pastored a 15-year-old boy, in whom several adults had invested heavily, started a middle-school ministry without telling anyone. We applauded when we discovered what he’d done. Later, he discipled two people much older than himself to run it when he launched something for high schoolers. Good disciplemaking teaches people to discern God’s plans and act on them.

My confidence in disciples of disciples of disciples is that they will make right decisions because I shared life and knowledge with those I discipled. In other words, I believe in people I’ve never met because I think I did a good job as a non-authoritarian leader who is pretty good at teaching people how to think.

Right, wrong or off the wall? What do you think about what I wrote? We’d love to read your comments if you include them in the box below. I promise to read and respond to each one.



27 thoughts on “Non-Authoritarian/High Control Leadership”

  1. Ralph its a good word.I don’t think you can emphasize to strongly the part about relationship in the disciple making process.In leading our mens group we have read many good books together and had deep fellowship in our discussions about them .Still it seemed that developing meaningful relationships was still not really happening until we went to Panguitch Lake for our mens retreat.We did the video series and book ,”Fathered By God”,which was good .All the men agreed the real relationship builder was being out on the pontoon boats fishing together and eating together.Good solid teaching is what you modeled for us at Hope its key, but Christ centered community springs from Jesus centered activities that help men build develop daily relationships that bind us together in committed Christian community.This is what we learned from watching You and Ruby.Give RUBY A HUG FROM US.

    1. So right on!
      It takes more than study and discussion to make disciples. There must be time spent doing other things. I can’t imagine 13 men hanging around Galilee without discussing women or someone making a whistle out of a blade of grass. Living in relationship is necessary to effective disciplemaking.

  2. Ralph, the impact of today’s writing and also last weeks writing (as always) was perfectly timed and spirit centered for exactly whats going on in my life. You were my first teacher and discipled me in Kaneohe some 35 years ago. Through hills,valleys and on mountain tops I walk the life of a Christian sharing with others along the way. I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher for my personality than you were. You gave me so many logical,impactful reasons that were 100% biblical for following Christ. I have shared your teachings method with hundreds along the way and made many friends and other than maybe once or twice Gods word never came back empty and was right on time.
    One of the classes I took from you in the beginning of my walk was Roman’s. It’s still one of my favorites, you not only taught the word of God you taught me to look,hear and ask what others need to help them on their journey. You were instrumental in me using my gifts which are inspiration, teaching and loving the lost.
    Could you please advise on this question? I have many friends that are asking what is going on in the world and how can they navigate what’s being put on their hearts. I feel the spirit leading me to talk about prophecy and what the Bible says about it and the times were living in. We’ve decided to start a Bible study on the book of Revelation, are there any books,material or writings that you would recommend, that I can better prepare to teach the class. And is there a prepared class that you can recommend for the teaching of that book.
    I’m planning to reach out and further take advantage of the coaching and meterial you’ve prepared for those that want to go deeper still.
    Ralph,from the bottom of my heart and I know from thousands of other hearts Thank you for serving us all these years by leading us to our Lord Jesus and for contenting to walk beside and teach.
    All my best to Ruby. Most sincerely in Christ. Lori Ann Stone, Reno Nevada

    1. Lori Ann,
      Thanks for the encouragement.
      Does seem like another look at end times prophecies is in order. There is nothing I can recommend as so many authors get wrapped up in tying daily news to the Bible. That is what we need to do, but when they follow with predictions and absolute statements future history always proves them wrong. Best to study scripture and discuss it with those in your group, always remembering the words, “Occupy until I return.” To occupy means to love God, love our neighbor and make disciples – teaching them to do the same.

  3. Bingo. People need to be taught “how” to think vs. “what” to think. Which leads us to the bible and getting people to read and learn that and having that become the primary source that shapes there thinking. We use relationships to that end.

  4. Absolutely right on point, Ralph. You are one of the best Biblical teachers I have ever met! I, personally, have such respect for you and your Biblically grounded teaching, that, if I did not have time to research something myself, I would go with “Ralph’s views”. =)

    1. Thanks Tweedy,
      Got an email today asking how I could limit sermon prep time to less than 4 hours. The answer is pretty simple, stick to the scripture while researching history and context. Over time you build a repository of knowlege.

  5. Amen. Since I am still working, in the world they call this mentoring. Watch, listen, understand, and apply. The big difference in mentoring, the mentee should give something back to the mentor, in order for the relationship to satisfying to both. The disciple watches, listens, understands and shares, giving to the next disciple.
    I carry a Chinese proverb with me:
    An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break.
    Your thread to me Pastor Ralph is your discipleship, “control”, it inspires me, speaks to me, encourages me, and sometimes when it pushes me to what I feel is an uncomfortable circumstance, still teaches me.

    1. Wow, Jean, I love the Chinese proverb. One thing, though, is that I think disciples also give to disciplemakers. It seems that when we move beyond content into relationships, Jesus disciples us both. “If two or more gather…”

  6. Richard L Thompson

    Pastor Ralph,
    Thanks for your comments about eternal wisdom. Your clear explanations helped set this lost soul on a transformative journey that rewards me daily. Good health, happiness and hope be yours.
    Rich Thompson
    Portland OR

  7. Great article and spot on! I am an indirect disciple of Ralph’s in that I learned how to plant churches at his first plant just as he was leaving. That being the case, what I know I learned from Zac Nazarian who learned directly from him. I learned that taking risks and empowering people was a part of the Hope Chapel ethos established by Ralph. The result of that has been that the churches I have started named Hope Chapel were not replicas or duplicates of the sending church, and each were different from the other. Yet as long as we were pointing people to God, Ralph has been supportive of each endeavor irrespective of style and emphasis. That has led to Ralph being a discipler of disciples because I have passed on that model of trust the Spirit, and think for yourself, that has shaped my ministry.

    1. So cool to hear back from you Jimi. The amazing things you’ve done in California, Belize, England and now Austin, TX are different, yet the same as we did back in Hermosa in those early days. You are testimony to what I was trying to say in this blog. Thank you for the comment!

  8. Thank you, Ralph. This is definitely a keeper. One can only practice this by 1. knowing enough to teach/demonstrate wisdom to disciples, and 2. be able to trust the Holy Spirit to work in disciples. In my experience, too many “leaders” don’t really trust the Holy Spirit to do his work, thus, they become authoritarian leaders.

    1. Thanks Noah,
      Aside from my book called, Making Disciples, there is another which may do a better job with this. It’s called, “How to Hire, How to Fire and How to Manage in Between.” It teaches how to uncover hidden talent, disciplemaking around a core, succession management and even how to fire someone without destroying a church. You can find it on Amazon.

    2. Thanks Noah,

      The best resources are “Making Disciples,” and perhaps even better, “How to Hire, How to Fire & How to Manage in Between.” Both are available on Amazon. The Hire/Fire book is probably the better of the two. It deals with how to uncover hidden talent in your church, the concept of succession management linked with disciplemaking, managing a team around disciplemaking principles and core values, and even how to fire a person without losing a friend or destroying a church.
      Thanks for asking!

  9. Excellent Ralph! I agree wholeheartedly. My favorite mentors, the ones who have sown into my life and ministry the most, were the ones who challenged me to think and discover for myself. I remember as an Azusa Pacific graduate student, one of my instructors (John Hartley) told the class, “You can interpret the Bible.” It was so liberating to hear that we were not going to be spoon fed theological truths, but were on a personal adventure to know God.

    1. Sean,
      So nice to hear of a college challenging people to think for themselves. It is what we all should be doing while teaching people how to think. A high school teacher (a hundred years ago???) pressed me to the place where I could never truly align with any political party. When she did that I was super suspicious of her motives as I thought she was supposed to teach me what to think. How to think proved to be the wiser choice.

  10. Delia Anne Gallagher

    Hi Ralph,
    I tell my High School students all the time that my job is not to teach them what to think, it’s to teach them how to think for themselves based on the most reliable information available.

    When I was coming to church in Kahala Mall, you always nailed everything I needed right on the head. I really miss your leadership in faith and hope you and Miss Ruby are healthy and well in California!


    1. Thanks Delia,
      We miss you and all our friends in Hawaii. Most people think its a special place because of the beauty and climate. The truth is the people and Aloha Spirit are what sets it apart.
      Thank you for the reinforcement I recieved from you about the history lessons I’d bring into my preaching. So nice to have a history teacher as a congregation member and friend!

  11. Benjamin Sandell

    Great stuff Ralph! That is my perception as well that if you teach people how to think you don’t need to be micro-managing everything. Don’t know if you’ve I have happened to pick up N.T. Wrights book “Paul” which is a more biographical take on Paul. But it struck me that as he N.T. Wrights reflects on Pauls ministry he keeps coming back to the very same phrase: “He didn’t teach them what to think but how to think”. So we’re in good company! 😉

  12. Ralph,
    It is impressive and I really agree with you! I have seen many pastors who try to control people in an domineering, authoritarian way. But that is not the way Jesus did it at all.

    Jesus often taught the crowds that followed him but actually he chose 12 disciples and trained them through his life and relationship with them. And by the Holy Spirit, disciples were born from those disciples and this is how the gospel reached us and is still moving our lives.
    I think what you’re saying and what you’ve been doing is exactly following Jesus’model.

    I want to teach people how to think in Jesus without resorting to authoritarian way and help them to make the right decision through the Holy Spirit .

    Thank you for your teaching!

    1. Thank you Fumiyo,
      I think it begins with loving people. After that, we need to take the role of a servant like Jesus did. Some pastors see the role as a position of self-importance in contrast to the heart of the gospel.
      Teaching people to think from a servant’s heart is easy. If we take on too much authority we end up only teaching them how to behave.

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