Pastor's Pastor

The many faces of power

It is important for us to understand the proper use of power and to learn to avoid its abuse.

James A. Cress is the secretary for the General Conference Ministerial Association.

"All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth" (Matt. 28:18).

Since Jesus first uttered those words, His followers have tried to appropriate some of this power for themselves. Jesus' own disciples constantly bickered about who would be the greatest and who would achieve the most prominent positions in the kingdom they were convinced He was about to establish.

Today we are no less fascinated than they were by the attainment and use of power. It is important for us, as pastors called to lead God's people, to understand the proper use of power, as well as to learn to avoid its abuse.

Ted Engstrom, in the introduction to his book The Making of a Christian Leader, says, "Solid, dependable, loyal, strong leadership is one of the most desperate needs in America and in our world today. We see the tragedy of weak men in important places little men in big jobs. . . . When we decry the scarcity of leadership talent in our society, we are not talking about a lack of people to fill administrative or executive positions. . . . What we are deeply concerned about is a scar city of those people who are willing to assume significant leadership roles in our society to get the job done effectively. The effective leader doesn't wait for things to happen, he helps make things happen. He takes the initiative." 1

Engstrom goes on to define a leader as "one who guides and develops the activities of others and seeks to provide continual training and direction."2 By so defining, Engstrom gets directly to the issue of power and pastoral leadership. Pastoral power must be focused on the objective of discerning and developing the ministry of the laity in a non-manipulative way.

This process involves recruitment and training and releases those trained to utilize their training in real-life situations. Pastors should be accountable both to those who supervise their work and to those whom they serve for duplicating their capabilities in the lives of their members. Leaders must train other leaders. In short, the work of the pastor is to work the members.

Sometimes clergy misunderstand and misappropriate power. Usually this is not done from a malevolent motive, but from an insufficient comprehension of the various sources of power and the responsible use of power. What are some of these faces of power?

Position power comes by virtue of the position or office held. By being elected or appointed, the leader receives designated power from the job itself. This power immediately transfers to the individual who is next elected.

Information power comes by virtue of knowledge or skills that the leader possesses. This power is retained as long as the information is necessary to the continuing well-being of the group.

Reward power comes by virtue of rewards or perks that the leader can grant or withhold. Often reward power, like all carrot-and-stick motivation, tends to be viewed as either paternalistic or manipulative even when the rewarder does not intend to utilize it wrongfully.

Relational power comes to individuals by association with those who hold power. Such individuals may be referred to as the "inner circle." Such power tends to evaporate quickly fol lowing a change in association or the removal of the leader. Relational power is most stable when it involves a good working relationship between team members.

Personal power is derived by the confidence which others place in a leader's moral integrity, skills, reputation, and past accomplishments. Stronger than other power sources, personal power does not evaporate with a change in status or circumstances. Instead, such changes usually enhance personal power as the individual responds creatively and appropriately to the new situation.

Jesus is history's most outstanding example of one who held the highest of all positions, who was omniscient, who enjoyed the most intimate association with the heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit. Yet, despite all of that, He willingly emptied Himself of all these sources of power and came to this earth as a servant-leader whose ministry was the essence of personal power.

As we strive more to exercise His power in our ministry than to appropriate His power for our own use, the Holy Spirit can grant us an abundance of that which Jesus promised: "Ye shall receive power" (Acts 1:8).

1 Ted W. Engstrom, The Making of a Christian
Leader (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub
lishing House, 1976), introduction.

2 Ibid.

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James A. Cress is the secretary for the General Conference Ministerial Association.

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