Everyone wants to talk about leadership in churches. You can find hundreds of books and seminars and magazines all dedicated to the subject. I have heard hardly anyone talking about power in churches. But the two are so intimately linked…
I’ve been thinking for a long time about issues of power in churches, and am starting to plan out what I would say if I was writing a longer piece about it. In a sense, it’s a natural outworking of my thinking about passivity, because passivity can be encouraged or discouraged by those who have the power.
The interesting thing is, I suspect if you asked pastors “Do you think you should have all the power in your church?” they would answer “no.” But if you watch the same pastor on a Sunday morning, you would very often find that they behave in a way shows a very different priority. The person with the power is the person who does the talking. How much do they run the whole show, and how much do they give access to others? I’ve started to analyse Sunday services by proportion of time; if you have an hour and a half service and the pastor is speaking for forty-five minutes, that’s 50% of the time taken up by one person. Because let’s remember the model that we’re aiming for:
When you come together, each one has a song, has a lesson, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation.
The picture painted here is not one where one person dominates proceedings. There needs to be someone in there to direct the traffic, sure, but to allow such participation and not to stifle it. Reducing the participation of others is a key way for pastors to reserve power to themselves.
Again, it’s not just the Sunday services. I’m sure that in midweek groups, you probably won’t see the dynamic you see in Japan where the pastor runs everything there too, but often you’ll see something like it: the pastor controls what is taught in the form of “helpful notes” for the group leaders. Contrast this with a church I heard of recently where a team of lay people decide on the church’s teaching for a season and prepare Bible studies together - power being shared, not concentrated.
I’ve seen other ways that pastors - and laity - have used and abused power. Most of the abuses have been unconscious; it’s just the way that people learn to do things, and because they’ve got the power, nobody corrects them. (I’m thinking, for instance, of the pastor who gave personal prophecies to people publically in front of the whole church. I’m sure he didn’t realise this was inappropriate, but the effect was to build himself up as a person of spiritual power in front of his audience.)
All kinds of unhealthy situations, from pastors acting without accountability through to toxic faith right up to Jim Jones-like scenarios, have their root in the exercise of leadership without appropriate concern for issues of power.
Power, like money, is not a bad thing so long as it is given away. It can be used to bless and uplift others. But concentration of power - especially for a generation that is suspicious of power - can and does harm. That’s why it something that we need to be talking about.
I wonder why nobody is?