“I used to hear a lot: ‘I’m learning to submit.’
This often troubled me because it too often sounds like the words of a slave who has no say and is allowed no opinion about what they are supposed to be doing…”
Back in my Job Corp training days I was running a big rubber tired scraper on a road project in the mountains North of Butte MT. We were making a cut into a mountainside for the new road bed and hauling the dirt to a lower spot farther on. There was an instructor close by, Ol’ Will, we called him. He was giving me signals as I came in for the cut, I dropped the can and just as the blade started to bite into the dirt the push cat came in behind to push me as the can filled with dirt—a perfect maneuver by my good friend Ted, an Oglala Lakota Sioux from Porcupine Ridge S. Dakota. He hit me at just the right speed just before I bogged down and lost momentum, and not so hard that I got whiplash.
I looked at Will and he was motioning me closer to the downhill edge, so I moved a little closer, he motioned me to go closer still, I went a little closer still, apparently is wasn’t close enough and his signals were getting more pronounced, but I hesitated because my bubble (the instructors had told us that “all good operators have a bubble in their ass”) was telling me that if I got any closer to the edge I was going over. Will was determined to override my bubble and I could see he was getting angry as he started motioning quite dramatically, (Submit Dang it!) I thought, “Fine, have it your way!” I went over where he wanted me and sure enough, I started going over– the right front wheel breaking through the fragile edge of the ledge we had been cutting.
Fortunately, all the times I had had it drilled into my head by the instructors, that if you ever got in trouble on whatever you are running “drop the bucket or the blade as hard and as fast as you can.” was now instinct and I did just that. I shoved that can control lever forward as hard as I could. About this time, Will started waving at Ted who was still pushing me with the fill cat, he hadn’t seen the front half of the articulated scraper going over because he was focused on the tail of that scraper (the stinger) where his blade was doing its work. When he saw Will waving at him and pointing down—meaning ‘drop your blade and stop!’— he thought Will was trying to get him to look down at his gauges, so in the meantime he just kept pushing me right over the edge.
But this actually worked in my favor, by the time he realized he needed to stop, the front half of the scraper—the part where I was sitting—was completely sideways hanging off the mountain side, but the can was buried so deep that I wasn’t going anywhere, I was firmly anchored.
Ted sat there on that old Euclid cat wide eyed and scared for me, I unbuckled my seat belt, climbed up on the left tire, which was now way up in the air, and jumped to the soft ground. I waved at Ted to let him know I was okay and then I sauntered down the slope to Will and said, “Well I got over, looks like we might need to go get the D-8 Cat to pull us out.” Will, who wasn’t shy about expressing his opinion especially if he thought you messed up, just said, “Yeah- you’re probably right” So, none of us having a vehicle around and having both pieces of equipment in somewhat precarious positions, I walked a mile or two to the other end of the job to where the big Cat was working.
There are times to submit, and there are times that maybe, it’s just not the best idea.
I’m pretty sure that little episode was one that was on the minds of these old union hands months later when they explained to me why I was declined for the I.U.O.E. apprenticeship program offered to some Job Corps graduates. It was decided that “I was too aggressive to be an apprentice” and that “I should go out as a journeyman.” I guess my inner barbarian was showing. I was surprised to hear this because I usually thought of myself as shy and submissive so I took this as a huge compliment. It meant that I had proven my mettle, earned their trust and respect and was ready to go to work doing what I loved. I got there by listening, submitting to those in authority over me, and by listening to my own instincts—trusting the bubble in my rear. I had earned respect by giving it. I had learned to submit without being a door mat.
We don’t always get respect from those who demand it of us though do we? That’s especially troublesome in the church. I hear people in the church all the time say to me—actually, not so much anymore since I have started encouraging people in my church to be disciples of Jesus rather than disciples of pastors—but I used to hear a lot: “I’m learning to submit.” This often troubled me because it too often sounds like the words of a slave who has no say and is allowed no opinion about what they are supposed to be doing—a door mat—and that’s just not right.
But we can’t ignore or discount the whole notion of submitting to spiritual leaders. Learning to submit is important and Biblically you can’t get away from the fact that we are supposed to.
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority…Heb 13:17
You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, to submit to such people… 1 Cor 16:15,16
So I guess the real question here is, to whom? To whom, in the family of God, are we supposed to submit, when, and for how long? A casual reading of the verses we just looked at would suggest that we do a lot of submitting to a lot of people and it becomes a blanket we throw over the entire leadership structure of the church that covers all situations and all aspects of our lives in Christ. I think this is a gross misunderstanding and it has crippled the average Christian and put undue pressure on the leadership.
A closer look at the context of these verses in the chapters they are in, and at the scriptures as a whole, reveal that the submission of believers to those given authority is a very tricky, and actually quite limited, proposition.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to this: Legitimate authority is God given and must be kept in balance by the Spirit of God, any abuse or misuse will have to be answered for by both the one leading and the one who allowed himself, or herself, to be misled.
We all have the same Holy Spirit (our spiritual bubble to guide us) and access to the same Holy Scriptures. And no matter who we are asked to submit to, we all will have to answer to God, now, and in the end. We must get past the tradition of blind submission and take an honest look at the heart of the scriptures concerning this issue. Submission is biblical so I am not here to tell you to rebel but we need to keep this concept in a healthy perspective.
If these verses are being used to beat down and hamstring the people chosen and called by God, then they are being abused. Leaders who will not allow people to use the gifts the Spirit gave them to pursue the passions God has given them to make an impact on the Kingdom of God, are doing the Kingdom and its warriors a huge disservice. Every church leader as a responsibility to protect their ministry and prayerfully select that which will enhance it; but they do not have the right to hamper another from following the Lord outside of that area—that’s not a submission issue, that’s a control issue— that is overstepping the authority granted to them by God.
At some point a soldier in the Lord’s army needs to be trusted, to be released to engage the battle in the arena of the war God has prepared them for. Submission does play an important part in that preparation but the drill sergeant then must relinquish his authority to the general who determines where and how you will engage the enemy, or serve your fellow troops. Jesus is that general—the King of kings and the Lord of Lords.
—Taken from Barbarians in the Kingdom by Dan Swaningson