Once upon a time, we were working through the possibility of selling a country house to suburbanites. These potential buyers had received advice from a city mortgage lender about suburban houses with suburban building codes. Our 75-year-old country house had 60-amp electrical service. Upgrading to 200-amp service was seen by this big-time lender as the lowest acceptable option, while some new construction was going with even more amperage in their area. Fact is, our electrical power had proven quite sufficient in the country setting. There was no need for more power. (OK, there were some interesting tan-outs, but that was an internal wiring issue.)
Last week I witnessed a couple of attempted power plays in church contexts. One came in the form of attempting to hold on to the church building more than to the church itself. There were harsh words and hard feelings. Most of the emotion seemed historically based, and the one speaking seemed unable to separate the offense of past actions and situations from the situation at hand. She spoke with hostility in her voice, and as though she were not about to let anyone take her power away. She has some wonderful qualities but is known as a controlling individual — and has pushed many others away through the years through power plays. It sometimes seems as if you can’t win if you don’t agree with this person, and some of her actions and words do emanate from positions of power — whether real or imagined power.
All manner of relationships and organizations and institutions get in trouble when power and grabs for power are causal factors for words and actions. Churches — and I have more experience in churches than in schools or business environments, which is saying a good deal — ought to hear this. Decisions based in power and hierarchy are not ultimately helpful.
I’ve just re-read some words written by someone I don’t know well but who is part of a dedicated group that trusts each other. These words were written in context of an online discussion of “community,” and they speak well.
I see a major threat to community as POWER. Most structures or organizations are established along hierarchical lines. This is often true for our churches as well. I see church leadership operating in this way. I have served for more than 40 years in church leadership positions with 20 of them as an elder. . . . I served with wonderful men but as I reflect back on this time, I am amazed at how many times decisions were made and implemented from a position of power. I am no longer in a church leadership position because I want to act out of a different mindset. I don’t think my experience in church leadership was unique. I believe it to be typical. Even in our churches where the leadership does not operate with a heavy hand, I think you will find members of the fellowship who perceive that leadership operates from power. I don’t want to give the impression that I think church leaders set out to “rule” but I think this happens in subtle ways and often we don’t recognize it being there. Conflicts within the community often bring it to the forefront. Conflicts are often settled in favor of the group who has the power to prevail.
Didn’t Paul recognize this problem in his letter to the Philippian church? Before he addressed the conflict between two women that was threatening community, he told them to have the mind of Christ which was not leadership by power but by servanthood.
I hope this does not come across as a rant by a person who has an ax to grind. I love the church and want it to be the community that God intended. . . . I believe power, even when exercised in very subtle ways, degrades community. – Mike Parker (used here with permission)
Whether in private houses or church operations, more power is rarely better. Maybe we need to reduce the need for power instead.