J. David Newman is an executive editor of Ministry.
Power. This word conjures up many images: strength, explosion, force, energy, authority, vigor, persuasion. Power is neutral; it can be exercised for good or evil. Pilate asked Jesus, " 'Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?' " (John 19:10, N.I.V.). This was the display of "position" power. The source of this power comes from the title--the position held--and is given to us by others, usually by some formal decision.

Jesus demonstrated another form of power, "personal" power. "When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law" (Matt. 7:28, 29, N.I.V.). The source of this power lies in the individual's ability and character. Jesus' power came not so much from the fact that He was the Son of God but from living what He preached. The obvious goodness of His life, His purity and trustworthiness, set Him apart from all others.

The soldiers of Pilate obeyed out of fear, the disciples of Jesus obeyed out of love. Pilate commanded, Jesus requested. As a leader in the church, what is your power base? Do you rely on the power inherent in your position as pastor, president, chairman of the board, or on the power built upon your own personal integrity?

The exercise of the two forms of power depends on the maturity of the group being led. A father disciplining a 1-year-old will be forced to use coercion more than reason. The right to use coercion comes from his position as parent. By the time that child becomes a teenager the father, to be effective, needs to rely on personal power, the relationship he has built with that child. If coercion is still his style, it means his personal power is bankrupt.

The same principles apply in the church today. The wise leader does not rely on rewards and threats, subtle as they may be, but on the genuine relationships he has built with his followers. When people sense that the leader considers their good first and his own second, they will go to extraordinary lengths to follow him. But if they feel that they are being manipulated, fed partial information, or ignored, they will find many subtle ways to sabotage the plans of the leader. People react in negative ways if they feel that they must rubber-stamp decisions already made by a small elite. Some leaders seem to be arbitrary in selecting personnel to fill church offices. In dealing with pastors, a leader may be tempted to use the power inherent in the position to further his future rather than the future of the church.

Something within human nature wants to use position power. But that is not wise rule in the church. Jesus said: " 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.' " Instead, Jesus taught that we must lead with the personal power that comes from being a servant. " 'Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant' " (Matt. 20:25, 26, N.I.V.). Evaluate your leadership today and ask yourself whether you approach others with a servant or kingly attitude. Servant power is based only on personal integrity and unselfishness. --J.D.N.


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J. David Newman is an executive editor of Ministry.

June 1985

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