Here’s a true story: People who were very influential in a church and had the pastor’s ear more than anyone, left shortly after a new pastor arrived. Some weeks later a member of the church paid them a friendly visit, and innocently reported back to the new pastor on the conversation he’d had. “They asked me,” he said, “who has the say there now?”
Doesn’t that question reveal a lot!
I believe there are three deadly P’s in any church – Pride, Prejudice, Power
If three is too many, one will do – Power. At the heart of most conflicts in church, someone or a group of people are trying to get their own way, trying to exercise power and control. Almost invariably they see themselves as having good intentions – eg “This is the best course of action for church.” Sometimes they will do just about anything to see it happen, as if the end justifies the means.
So can a church function without Power and Control?
The answer is an emphatic NO
Power and Control are very important in the Christian life, and in church life.
Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and will be my witnesses.”
Paul wrote, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”
When Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy he said: “God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power, of love and of self discipline.” In the same letter Paul warned Timothy to have nothing to do with thinking which has a form of godliness but denies its power.
The Gospel pulsates with power
God is power personified
The Christian life is a life of power
“Send your power O Lord”
But a leader’s role is not to exert power. It is not license to get your own way.
Jesus says to his followers, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.” We are to follow in his footsteps: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.”
The love of power is replaced with the power of love.
“There is no command or instruction in the New Testament for any Christian to exercise authority over another. But there are strict orders for all the Christians, including leaders, to act as servants within their communities”. Gilbert Bilezekian
The way I see it, the power that matters is God’s power, the power of the Spirit, not my attempts to use power. The role of a Christian leader is to facilitate and encourage the power of God at work among us and in the world.
It is a similar story. Control is very important, a church needs to be under control; organised, disciplined, focused, effective, and fruitful.
How does this happen? When I take control or we take control? NO!
There are two dimensions to Control
First, there’s the Spirit’s control of our lives.
“You are controlled by the Spirit if the Spirit lives in you.”
“Those who are led (controlled) by the Spirit are children of God so a leader’s role is to make sure the Spirit is in control.”
Second there is self control
Paul told Timothy, “God gives us …a spirit of power, of love, and of self control.”
Self control is a fruit of the Spirit. Yes, it’s number nine but last does not mean least.
You can never be a servant leader if don’t have self control. If we control people we rob them of the opportunity to learn and grow in self control.
All believers are to help and encourage one another to live in the power of the Spirit, to live lives controlled by the Spirit. Normal church life should be the experience of a healthy functioning body, every part playing its part. The church is united by common vision and trust, and its leaders are not having a dominating, controlling influence.
However, sadly things sometimes go wrong, and then someone needs to step in, exercise pretty obvious power and control, enabling the church to as quickly as possible, to get back on track. When Paul wrote to Timothy and to Titus, he was preparing them both for the task of sorting out a troubled church.
In these situations the leadership structure needed to be well defined and prominent. But when Paul wrote to a church like the one in Ephesus (at an earlier time before the heresy crisis), there is no mention of elders because their role is much more in the background. At that time the church was functioning as a healthy community, the variety of gifts were being exercised for the good of the body, and a strong dominant structure was not required.
Here is a diagram from Gilbert Bilezekian, in his book, Community 101
Remedial phase Normative model
Dysfunctional Church Functional Church
is characterised by is characterised by
Self destructive behaviours Joy
Wrong teaching Hope
Variety of ministries
Control freaks take churches in the wrong direction.
If you as a leader are into control, you don’t trust the Holy Spirit and you are saying your church is dysfunctional.
I believe it’s useful for leaders to ask themselves:
What are we doing to see more of the Spirit’s power and control in our situation?
Where is our church on the diagram?
How are we as leaders helping it move toward the Normative situation?
Trust, in the Holy Spirit, and in each other, is vital if we are going to move toward the normative.
So what are you doing to foster and develop trust in your church?
Key tasks for a Leader
- Trust the Holy Spirit
- Lead – in the right way, never on your own
- Engage, equip and build a team
- Encourage, guide, correct
- Release – trust the Holy Spirit