CHAPTER 16: A LEADER KNOWS HOW TO USE POWER
When the end came for Pastor Mark, it was met with part shock and part sadness by the Christian community. He was one of the most well-known mega-church pastors in America. He was the chief architect of the famous Mars Hill church for nearly twenty years, building it up to a 14,000 people congregation. Recently, an investigation by church elders concluded that “Pastor Mark has, at times, been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner.”
One of the most offending traits of a Christian leader is the abuse of power. Such an attitude is so against the message of the gospel. The Good News is all about the helplessness of humans in their salvation. God gets all the glory in the story of redemption. He is the Lead Actor in this play, and we are the mere supporting cast. Thus, it is very grating to see leaders who proclaim such a logos but act as if their prowess is the reason why people are being saved.
Since time immemorial, abuse of authority has been the plague of leaders. “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” Lord Acton famously wrote. Christian leaders must, therefore, be wary of how they use power. They should always bear in mind that Jesus’ followers aim to be servant leaders. Their model is Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve (see Mark 10:45).
Peter challenged his fellow church elders to be “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). This exhortation implies that even in those early church groups, there were leaders who succumbed to the temptation of abusing their authority.
How should a ministry leader view and use power? First, bear in mind that power or authority is not evil in itself. It is God Himself who appoints people to lead whether in the church or the secular context. A vital part of being a leader is the wise use of power. Paul urged the Christians in Romans in this way, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). All authorities in this world ultimately emanate from God. Thus, God commanded Christians to submit to state officials because He has appointed them. This submission is, of course, true as well for church leaders.
Second, use your authority as a leader for the good of others. This is what servant leadership is all about. You are given power so that you can pursue the well-being of the people you lead. Unlike in the non-Christian world, you are not to use power to advance your agenda. In the Old Testament, the prophet Ezekiel condemned the leaders of the nation in this manner: “The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.” (Ezekiel 34:4). In contrast, Paul personifies the servant leader when he told the Corinthian church, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.” (2 Corinthians 12:15a). Paul was no power-hungry leader. He used power to serve others, spending his energy and resources to build them up in the faith.
Third, ensure that there are checks and balances in your organization. Abuse of power flourishes in a situation where the leader is not accountable to somebody else. There are several ways this can be done. In the church context, a plurality of elders forms a natural buffer against one person lording it over God’s flock. As mentioned above, in small churches, the pastor or leader can make himself accountable to other members of the church.
The way a leader uses power tells a lot about how committed he is to the logos he proclaims. A leader whose aim is to serve points to the Savior who gave His life that people may be freed from the bondage of sin. In contrast, a ministry leader who is intoxicated with power negates the very words that come out of his mouth.
1. Reflect on how you have been using the authority you have in various contexts of your life e.g. family, church, office.
2. Ask a close friend, colleague, or family member to tell you how they perceive your use of authority.
3. Identify and implement ways to improve your use of authority.