Should leaders run from power or wield it?

“How to be a good leader”

When you see a phrase like that, do you check out, move on, and think that’s not for me because I’m not a leader?  Leadership speaks of power, and especially abuse of power, and many of us have been negatively affected by leaders run amok.  But maybe, even if you think you’re not a leader, you should read on.  You probably work with leaders.  And you might be like me, somewhat afraid of leadership, especially the power part.

I sat in a meeting a few years ago where I was confronted about my fear of the use of power.  It affected me deeply.  A group from Faith Church was visiting our sister church, Kimball Avenue Church, in Chicago.  We were there for a week to learn from them what life and ministry is like in their city.  Our brothers and sisters at Kimball Avenue have a heart for God’s justice, and for the previous year or so, we were feeling like God was teaching us about this aspect of his heart as well.  We were having a bit of difficulty understanding it, though.  In suburban, rural, basically well off Lancaster County, it is hard to see injustice.  When you do see injustice, it is hard to know what to do.

We had joined with Kimball Avenue in a Lenten Compact, fasting for justice, but we sensed that we needed to learn a lot more.  So at their pastor, Bruce Ray’s, invitation, a group of 10 of us drove to Chicago to learn from and serve with them.  It was an eye-opening week.

I’ll never forget sitting in a meeting room of a local bank early in the week.  A bank?  Yes, a bank.  Bruce took us there because he wanted us to see how the finance industry impacts the housing industry.  If banks are super strict about lending money, it can be very hard for low-income families to own homes.  This particular bank had a great reputation for being willing to help people, despite the severe economic downturn that took place in 2008.

There we sat, listening to a lady who worked for a local community justice organization talk about power.  She was advocating for the appropriate use of power to enact change for justice.  In particular, she was talking about trying to sway politicians.  I became very uneasy when she talked about how we can exert power.  When I hear the word “politics” I want to run the other way fast.  Politics doesn’t change the heart of humans, only God can.  And so I expressed my hesitation, talking about how, at best, politics is ineffective, and at worst, abusive. Frankly it seems the abusive part is much more the norm, and I want to run away from that kind of power.

She looked at me and without hesitation said, “So you mean that you run away from the use of power as a pastor in your church?”

It set me back.  I thought I was right in wanting to run away from the use of power.  I didn’t see myself as a power-hungry pastor.

She made a very persuasive case for the righteous use of power, specifically in a community where injustice is being done.  And sometimes that means wielding political power.

Over the last few five years since I became pastor of the church, I have learned she was right; I’ve seen how I do have power.  I don’t say that arrogantly or lightly.  The power leaders of the church wield is very precious, very scary, and while it can do severe damage, it can also do amazing good.  If fact, it is such a mighty force, that it can be hard to contain, hard to control and use in a wise way. Pastors and leaders in the church have sometimes left behind a trail of brokenness.  But that shouldn’t cause people to run away from power. Instead we need to learn how to be better leaders, we need to learn how to use power for good.

So how should we use power?

Especially in the church, we need to think about this question.  In our society there are many ideas out there about the appropriate use of power; some good ideas and some really bad.  Steve Jobs famously used a “reality distortion field” (basically he was quite willing to bend the truth to get what he wanted) and is remembered as a somewhat brutal taskmaster.  But he achieved great results, so it is okay, right?  Should we bulldoze through a situation until we get our way?  We’re the boss, right?  If the church grows, does it matter how we get there?  If people become disciples of Christ, is it really so wrong to lie a bit, to manipulate, or exaggerate to get them to step out in faith?

In the middle of a long discussion about how the Corinthian disciples had fractured their church through celebrity preacher worship, Paul takes a moment to talk about those celebrity leaders, and any leaders for that matter, and how they should lead.  Join us on Sunday to hear what he has to say.  We’re going to be studying 1st Corinthians 3:5-17.  Check it out ahead of time!

Published by joelkime

I love my wife, Michelle, and our four kids and two daughters-in-law. I serve at Faith Church and love our church family. I teach a course online from time to time, and in my free time I love to read and exercise, especially running,

5 thoughts on “Should leaders run from power or wield it?

    1. I didn’t copy the quote correctly . The line in your blog I was referring to was: “Instead we need to learn how to be better leaders, we need to learn how to use power for good.”

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