The Scope of Power
Words offer an example of power. Words are part of our everyday life. Whether spoken, written, emailed, or texted, words are pervasive; yet words are neutral until used. To phrase it another way: words, in and of themselves, sit in a neutral state until they are used for communicative purposes.
Once exercised words become a powerful force for good or for bad. Money is very similar. Money gathered into a stack or pile lies in a neutral state. However, once that money is used to purchase or invest in something, it then transitions from its neutral state to a powerful force for good (as in investing in a nonprofit) or bad (such as creating a gambling addiction).
The exercise or use of words and money exemplify the use of power. Power can be both pervasive and neutral. However, power is only neutral until it is used. Once used, power becomes effective for doing either good or bad.
To put it in the context of Crouch’s definition, the scope of power is either being used to make something of the world better or make something of the world worse.
Pastors and church leaders need to realize that leadership is the exercise of power in real life; it is the skill of using power effectively. Therefore, we must be sensitive to the scope of power, however subtle our power may be.
When we use the power we possess for the good of others, for their growth, and for the kingdom, we are leading. But when we use power for our own personal goals and gain, we are manipulating.
As you expend power, whether through teaching, preaching, counseling, advising, serving, or equipping, ask yourself, “Am I using this power God has given me for the good of others and the cause of Christ? Whose cause am I ultimately promoting?”
The Stewardship of Power
Andy Crouch provides an exceptionally helpful article about pastors and power in, “It’s Time to Talk About Power.” I’ve come back to it several times and relied on it in this article. In it, he asks what a new conversation about power would include:
It would acknowledge, indeed insist, that power is a gift — the gift of a Giver who is the supreme model of power used to bless and serve. Power is not given to benefit those who hold it. It is given for the flourishing of individuals, peoples, and the cosmos itself. Power’s right use is especially important for the flourishing of the vulnerable, the members of the human family who most need others to use power well to survive and thrive: the young, the aged, the sick, and the dispossessed. Power is not the opposite of servanthood. Rather, servanthood, ensuring the flourishing of others, is the very purpose of power.
When people misunderstand where power comes from, they will misappropriate the use of power. If people think they are the ones who earn or work for power according to who they are and what they did, they will use power for their own benefit — regardless of its effect on others.