The Billy Graham Center hosted a conversation in December 2018 at the GC2 Summit about sexual assault and abuse, harassment, legal issues, consent, responses to abuse, the important role of governmental authorities, the rule of law, and additional topics vital and urgent to discuss in today’s culture. Church leaders — women in particular — are gaining a prophetic platform to call out injustices and abuses, both inside and outside the church. For too long these have been ignored, covered up, and even accepted.
During the conversation, I had the opportunity to address the summit about the proper use and the abuse of power in the church. Now, I want to take a deeper dive into the concept of power. In this first article, I want to help church leaders recover a biblical understanding of power by discussing the subtlety, scope, and stewardship of power.
The Subtlety of Power
Power is all around us, and in fact, it is within us. Yet, when it comes to the public, both inside and outside the church, people don’t typically think of power as something they possess. People tend to think of power as holding a particular position (politically or organizationally), standing on a certain platform, having prosperity, or being popular.
In To Change the World, James Hunter notes that the concept of power is closely associated with the roles of elites in society. Power, therefore, is more associated with who a person is or what he or she has acquired — especially in relation to others.
However, according to Andy Crouch, power — in its simplest definition — is, “The ability to make something of the world.”
Couple this definition with the theology of the imago Dei and the creation mandate, and you arrive at the conclusion that every human being possesses power. God delegated power to humanity by commanding us to be fruitful, multiply, fill, subdue, and have dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:28).
The Bible also talks about spiritual power: Jesus promised power through the Spirit to witness (Acts 1:8). Paul prayed for the Ephesian church to be “strengthened with power through his Spirit” (Ephesians 3:16). But the purpose of that power was so that a) Christ would dwell in their hearts through faith, b) they would be rooted and grounded in love, and c) they would be able to comprehend the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:17-19). We received power in the form of dominion over creation, and spiritual power for the glory of God.
In short, power lies in every person. And believers possess spiritual power.
This may come as a shock for many — especially those in the church — given our misconception of power.
We tend to think of power more culturally than theologically.