Though the term power is fairly easy to define, “the capacity or the ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events,” it is much more complex and nuanced in application, especially in the local church. In the coming weeks I will be sharing comparisons and experiences with various approaches to power in the church: Personal Power, Polity Power, Power Over, Power With, Power Within, Power Without, Empowerment, Good Power and Bad Power.
Personal Power Versus Polity Power
Two important approaches to Power in church leadership I refer to as Personal Power, or ME Power, and Polity Power, or WE Power. The 9 sources of Personal/ME Power relate directly to a person, such as a person’s position or personality. The 11 sources of Polity/WE Power relate directly to the church as an organization or institution. Here the power emanates from the membership or congregation. Though each WE source is created by people within the church, they function as a structure, or polity, for the good of the church as a whole.
Personal Power/ ME Power: Influencing Through the Power of the Person
- Position – those in highest levels of leadership – deacons, elders, committee chairs
- Prominence – those with the most influence – professionals, long time members
- Pocketbook – those with the most money – and that threaten to withhold it
- Prowess – those with the most skill and talent – speaking, teaching, leading skills
- Persuasion – those who are most convincing – compelling communicators
- Pack – those who can gather the largest following – to bring pressure on the decision
- Pulpit – those with the biggest platform – Bible teachers, Ministry leaders, Pastors
- Personality – those who can get the angriest or can be the most charming
- Pride – those with the biggest ego – who can manipulate and control outcomes
Polity Power/ WE Power: Influencing Through the Power of the Organization
- Purpose – Mission that expresses why we exist
- Picture – Vision that clearly points to where we are going
- Practices – Values that reflect who we are
- Priorities – Objectives that reflect what is most important now for the church
- Plans – Strategies that support the Mission, Vision and Objectives
- Progress – Goals and Measures that define success
- Processes – Systems that undergird the Mission, Vision, Values, Objectives and Goals
- Passion – Everyone Serving in their areas of giftedness and calling
- Prayer – Together Seeking God
- Principles – Standards From God’s Word
- People – Listening and affirming through congregational meetings and votes
An effective church leader will use a combination of both Personal/ME Power and Polity/WE Power. But, few would argue that ME Power is probably more efficient, and can appear more effective because it gets things done quickly. But, at what cost?
Personal power carries a lot of negative baggage, especially with the present and emerging generations. Personal power is not inherently good or bad. It is just very dangerous for yourself, others and the church, if you have not done your spiritual work. If I fight my way up the ladder of personal power, others will be defeated and I will resort to control, as I will never feel secure. And, the killing of Jesus should be a reminder to us of how blind leaders can be when we are enjoying the perks, prestige and privileges of power.
Nor is WE Power, or organizational/institutional power, intrinsically good or bad. It just has to be aligned with God’s plans and purposes and defined as something different than domination or force.
Ultimately, healthy stewardship of both Personal/ME Power and Polity/WE Power always involves powerlessness. The crucifixion of Christ, a moment of apparent powerlessness, is actually his moment of greatest power. Whether the resource is money, love, time or power, God’s law of abundance is that if we trust its supply and pass it around, we generate more.
Polity/WE Power though has some considerable advantages over Personal/ME Power, if for no other reason than it is consensual, cooperative and communal and is the ultimate empowerment of the people of God. When building bridges engineers must start from one side or the other. When building bridges of trust in the church, you’re better off starting from the side of polity power rather than personal power. There are several pragmatic advantages as well.
Advantages of Polity/WE Power
- Depersonalizes Disagreement – the decision comes from a group rather than an individual
- Easier to Build – building personal power takes years while organizational power can be built in a matter of months
- Everyone Has Access To It – church staff, lay leaders and members all have equal access to organizational power sources
- Reduces Leadership Dependency – others are empowered to lead
- Increases Leadership Effectiveness – people and their gifts are aligned with the church’s mission, vision and goals
- Increases Leadership Efficiency – organizational power provides direction and expectations so leaders don’t have to be physically present as they do when using personal power
- Promotes Organizational Continuity – when leaders move on, organizational power remains in place and provides a template and guide for new leaders
Jesus redefines power for us, and is clearly the best example of good personal and polity power and the strongest critique of bad personal and polity power that we find in Scripture. Jesus consistently spoke to the problem of people and institutions misusing power. When he confronted Satan coming out of the wilderness he was told he could do the will of God with the instruments of power, but the price would be surrendering to Satan.
Church leaders should be forever mindful that we simply don’t have the ability to use Personal/ME or Polity/We Power appropriately except in and through union with God.
Posted on September 21, 2021