Last week in our post, Approaches To Power In Church Leadership, we unpacked two sources of leadership power in the local church, Personal Power (Me Power) and Polity Power (We Power). But there are other ways to view power that deserve attention as well, specifically Power Over, Power With, Power Within, and Empowerment.
First, we want to make a distinction between Power Over and Power With. Simply put, when one person or party makes a choice and it affects someone else, that is power over. When a group of people make a choice that affects them all, that is power with. In this article we will address the characteristics of Power Over.
Power Over Values and Behaviors
Most of what we think of as power today is Power Over, because our culture has been defined by a Power Over mindset. Power Over is a traditional hierarchal relationship in which one person or persons has Power Over another person or persons. But, it can also be Power Over an organization, a group, or nation. It is a traditional hierarchal relationship in the sense that dominance and coercion are typically used before other alternatives are sought. One side vies for Power Over another, at best trying to influence the other to concede its position, at worst using brute force to have its way. Power Over is a relationship of polarity where opposite views create a posture of suspicion, if not veiled or outright contempt. It is also a traditional win-lose approach found in many if not most Christian denominations, churches and ecclesiastical wars.
Power Over relationships values:
- Orthodoxy over wisdom
- Servitude over independent thinking and expression
- Conformity over freedom and creativity
- Uniformity over diversity
- Rational thinking over intuition
- Exploitation over collaboration
- Violence over non-violence
Classic behaviors found in leaders who practice Power Over include:
- Knowing what is best for others
- Telling people what is wrong with them
- Telling people what to do and how to do it
- Blaming, labelling and classifying people
- Deliberately excluding people from decision-making or limiting their participation
- Giving advice and imposing personal views
- Treating people as incapable by Isolating and marginalizing them
Hierarchal Power Over, in and of itself is not inherently bad, and can in fact be helpful and necessary. Parents need to have the power to tell their children when curfew will be; police to tell drivers when to pull over; judges to tell people what the fine or sentence will be. But, it needs to be redefined as something other than domination, control or force. Further, the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, provides a critique of the abuses of hierarchal Power Over relationships. And regretfully, history shows that hierarchal Power Over leadership structures in the church can be very dangerous for ourselves and others if we have not done the necessary inner spiritual work.
Posted on September 28, 2021