Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Don’t Judge a Book by it’s “Topic”

Written by: on January 21, 2015

My initial thought when seeing the “title” for our next read in class was to think this would be a leadership book for the soul. Without reading it, I would have labeled it as probably a good book to go on a “soul journey” that would have some type of “restorative” affect on your personhood.   If you are sensing a slight, lack of interest within me from my description, you would be right. I was hoping, when I had heard that the “topic” was going to be on leadership and power, the book would take leadership and power on, head-on, like a bull-by-the-horns. After all, with all of the political, economic, social, and systemic corruption of our day being created by the evil abuse of power in leadership, surely this would have to be a radically complex book, something almost impossible to read, let alone understand.


Well, I must say, I would have to conclude I was right about the “title” … but wrong about the “topic” and the approach necessary to take on the issue of power and leadership head-on. I would label Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space, and Influence by MaryKate Morse, a profoundly simple book on power and leadership. I mean simple in two ways: 1. Power and its role in leadership is clearly defined and boiled down to its essence. 2. If the implications and applications of the clear definition and essence are applied, radical change will result. As Morse herself notes in her concluding chapter, implying simplicity and eluding to the great challenge of actual application and transformation, “It’s not hard to read something helpful or inspiring and to imagine how things could be different. It is very heard to integrate premises and ideas into real, everyday, have-your-coffee (or in my case, tea), go-to-work-then-go-to-bed life.”[1]


After reading Morse’s book I am really rethinking how I have framed power. I would have to say I have viewed power in leadership as more of an external decision making matter. It has to do with control, decisiveness, authority, even just plain raw horsepower.   Power that truly changes and creates a new way forward would have to be the exercise of this kind of external power.


Morse’s power is clearly defined as the inner and inter-personal dimensions of humanity. More than control, power is about human dignity. More than decisiveness, power is about human identity. More than authority, power is about worth and contribution and how we understand and exchange these values and virtues with others. Leadership aware of power, exercises their greatest efforts and energies of their influence to these ends if understood and realized. Power in leadership is a stewarded matter.


This personal realization and rethinking was produced through the situations and settings that Morse unearthed.  In her examples throughout the book, leadership was truly unfolding and the power dynamics were the greatest active agents in relationships, team and staff interactions, or in board and boardroom meetings.


Coincidentally, one of my greatest wounds in life came as a result of being dismissed from a job by two board members in a boardroom.  At the time, I was the Director of Next Generation Ministries, a newly created role for me in the midst of a large-church transition while we were between Senior Pastors. I was dismissed because the role I was in was creating too much change in the midst of the transition of the church as a whole. In short what took place was a 7:00pm meeting where I was asked to resign my new position, go back to being the Director of Student Ministries for six months, before I would go off to plant the church I was feeling called to plant at the end of December in that calendar year.


One of the craziest parts of this situation is there would have been one-hundred and one ways to make the moves the board thought needed to be made, but somehow they managed to do it in a way the ripped the heart out of my wife, Andrea, and I. Basically, I had to either sign the resignation or immediately go clean my desk out and be banned from stepping foot on the property. It was about a 15 minute meeting where they slid the piece of paper across the boardroom table after they went over it and I then had to decide, in the moment, whether to sign and resign or be fired.


I hope at this point I do not have to go into the absolute bizarre details of the blind side this was after 4 years of incredible ministry, being a part of an awesome staff and team that had been through a lot together while our church was going through this transition, not to mention having fantastic relationships with the body as a whole as they had watched me over the last four years go from being a high school teach to the Director of Student Ministries answering a full time call on my life, right? Needless then to say, the wounds were deep and ever since then, Andrea and I have been working through serious leadership trust issues.


Up until this week, I have always framed the power issues we came up against or abuses we felt were more closely related to control, decisiveness, and authority. But I really feel now after reading Morse’s book, I have some reprocessing to do to look at the overall culture I was affected by and how much of that was actually created out of many misunderstandings of power and the interpersonal relationships defined by power, space, and influence. I believe that the nuances of the poisonous leadership culture that existed at this church would so easily be detected to a trained eye watching for the power, space, and influence dynamics that had gone bad.


The church where this all took place is now going on its fifteenth year of being labeled as a church being run by a corporate board of business men who do not have any business running a church, or any organization involving human beings I might add, due to the neglect and actually gross abuse of power. From this experience what Morse says about the epicenter is given great evidence. “Only on the inside of a group or organization – only at the epicenter – can power and influence be observed in its raw form.”[2] While most people thought and perceived the church one way due to the staff and ministry leadership, the culture was definitely different at the core through the board of elders.


After reflecting on this experience I couldn’t agree more with one of Morse’s concluding thoughts. Morse writes, “I honestly believe that learning how to use power is a core competency, second only to an authentic walk with God, that will have a catalytic impact to how we lead.”[3] Seems like a good church board retreat topic … especially at the church where I came from.


[1] Morse, MaryKate. Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2008. P.196

[2] Ibid., p.63

[3] Ibid., p.206

About the Author

Phillip Struckmeyer

12 responses to “Don’t Judge a Book by it’s “Topic””

  1. Nick Martineau says:

    Great word Phil…Thanks for the personal story. All too often church boards are filled with men and women with a corporate mindset. Recently our church board was nominating some new members. One of the men nominated is a good man but he has the bulldog mentality. I prayed and prayed he wouldn’t get chosen to be on our board. Thankfully he wasn’t but it really came to mind for me while reading this week. It just takes one person to change the entire spirit of a meeting. As you have worked through your “leadership trust issues” what have you discovered about yourself or how you lead?

    • Phillip Struckmeyer says:

      Nick, My main learning is that I have trust issues that I didn’t think I had. I am very protective of Andrea and her proximity to leadership and have noticed we have many patterns of keeping our distance from leadership and operate pretty autonomously in ministry. Most of this is not good and we are working with several mentors and trying to build intentional relationships with some key leaders to help restore our trust with institutional and organizational leadership.

      • Nick Martineau says:

        Sounds like you’re moving from a very difficult situation in a healthy way. It’s one thing to hurt me but it’s another thing to hurt my wife. Liz and I have not found a good rhythm to navigate this power yet but surrounding yourselves with good people sounds like a good step. Thanks Phil.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      You said, “All too often church boards are filled with men and women with a corporate mindset. Recently our church board was nominating some new members. One of the men nominated is a good man but he has the bulldog mentality.”

      Coming from the corporate world, I have a totally different perspective on this. I’ve actually had a very good experience in the corporate world with leaders who wouldn’t act and behave as horribly as what I’ve seen in the church. I’ve seen good and bad leaders in both the church and corporate America. But, I’ve seen that corporate America is more likely to get rid of those who are on a power trip. The church, unfortunately, seems to keep these people around.

      I’m not sure the reason, but it seems that the church has a bad image of corporate America and doesn’t want to see themselves as a business. On the same note, many businesses don’t want to be associated with the church due to the stereotype that “churches waste money and operate poorly”. I have to be honest…I have a corporate mindset.:) Unfortunately, there have been bad leaders in both the church and corporate America that have set the tone for how we perceive one another. Leaders from both organizations have abused power. Lately, there seems to be more abuse of power in the church due to less accountability than there is in corporate America. There are times that I’m astounded at what goes on in the church. My experience has been that the church avoids the check and balance systems and that pastors often stack the board in their favor. And, I’ve seen many church boards with members that lack adequate skills to fulfill the roles in which they serve. Often, they get into those roles because they’ve misused their power to politic within the church membership. Because of what I’ve seen and experienced (both good and bad), the Lord has given me a passion to speak up on this issue…hence my dissertation:) There are too many Christian organizations that exploit their workers and too many Christian leaders abusing power. For example, just look at the number of church denominations that have leaders making high salaries while pastors at the local level can barely afford to eat and feed their families. Why do you think that the church allows leaders to misuse their power without addressing the situation? Mars Hill is a great example…

  2. Travis Biglow says:

    Sorry to hear about that experience brother Phil. I have had serious hurts in the church years ago but God has bought me to a place to know that what people do to you cant affect what God is going to do for you. Some people have an agenda and if you don’t fit in to it the way they want they will label you a trouble maker. At this point in my life I am learning to be a “A Tempered Radical” (an article I am reading give to me by Dr. Ramsey). We are responsible for what we know. And if we just fit into an organization or church and we know that they are not focused on the things of Christ we too are guilty. I pray that this book and your experience will produce a grace in you more that heals and leads with compassion. Blessings

  3. Jon Spellman says:

    Ok, so Phil, now tell us how you REALLY feel! Thanks for the unvarnished narrative my friend. Do you get the sense that God has caused you to walk through these abuses of power first-hand so that you have built up within your core such an distaste for it, that when you are placed in positions of high power, you will never treat others the way you were treated? I get that sense for you… Not trying to go all Pentecostal on you and prophesy or anything! But I know that when you are exercising the power that God has entrusted to you, you will never knowingly use it to do violence against another such as what was done to you.


  4. Brian Yost says:

    “there would have been one-hundred and one ways to make the moves the board thought needed to be made, but somehow they managed to do it in a way the ripped the heart out of my wife, Andrea, and I.”
    Why is it that church leadership is allowed to treat people in a way that is not permitted in many secular settings? I am not naive enough to think that these things and worse do not happen in the secular world, but I also know that many HR departments and unions will stand up for employee rights better than many churches. When I was a youth pastor, I met regularly with a group of youth pastors and we often joked about starting a youth pastor’s union to protect the rights and dignity of the lowly youth pastor. The fact is, the Church must be better than that. If the love of Christ is not displayed in the board room, what is that point in preaching it from the pulpit?

  5. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Brian, Sign me up for the union!!! That is such a funny thought.

  6. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Jon, That experience has definitely become a defining moment. I have “vowed” to “never be like that.” The short of it, I believe, was putting the process before the person. The devaluing that we experienced was the wound. I would love to say I have never committed that same error because of the experience I went through, but sadly in life and ministry my rearview mirror reflects some litter along the roadside. It is funny how this topic/issue has suddenly resurfaced after about 12 years in multiple conversations I have been having. Interesting timing, I think???

  7. Dave Young says:

    Phil, thanks for the candid sharing. I appreciate that reflection on the pain you and your wife went through as a result of the abuse of power. Likewise after five years of ministry in an Thailand I was put in a forced resignation position and it was so traumatic that my wife and I still are suffering from the woundedness. It was a culture of success, of affluence, of pride. There was little room for spiritual formation that includes humility, brokenness, contrition. It’s scary, and a real warning, don’t allow men or women into church leadership based largely on their successes but largely upon their spirit. We should ask: “Does their spirit remind us of Jesus?” or not.

  8. Mary says:

    I notice in nearly all of our experiences, and right now for Jon (I imagine), the power plays that nearly destroy us have made us more aware of our own power plays. While it’s the not the way I’d like those experiences to occur, I do marvel at how God takes that which is the anathema, and make it a golden thread of humility that can impact those around us. I wonder how many of us ended up choosing to do a doctorate, in part, because we wanted a “third way” of using power? Thanks for opening up the conversation in your vulnerability, Phil.

  9. Jon spellman says:

    Mary, so true. Power plays usually end up in injustice. Injustice is hard to get over.

Leave a Reply