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

Exploring the Forces of Leadership Power

Written by: on October 10, 2023

According to Dr. Jason Clark, 15,000 new books are published every year with the word leadership in the title. [1] Of these, many will not stand the test of time, yet it is clear that the world is obsessed with the topic of leadership.  It’s easy to imagine why, since we daily read articles of leaders who have failed and derailed. There’s no shortage of examples on how to NOT be a good leader, but getting to the core of effective leadership is as ever-changing as the world in which we live.  Thankfully, there are authors who aim to get underneath the topic of leadership and provide timeless insights for those leaders who want to make a positive impact.  One such author is Simon P. Walker, author of The Undefended Leader trilogy.  This post explores his second book in the Undefended leader series called Leading with Nothing to Lose, Training in the Exercise of Power. [2]

What is Power?

I have never encountered a text that dives into the concept of power like Walker does in Leading with Nothing to Lose. He explains that “power is simply the application of force in a human system,”[3] which might seem obvious, but he goes deep to differentiate these forces into three groups made up of opposing pairs 1) front stage and back stage force 2)strong and weak force 3) expanding and consolidating force. According to Walker, these forces are not applied individually, but in relation to each other. Moreover, an effective leader must make use of all of them depending on the situation, the people involved, and the context. For the remainder of this post, I explore each force by examining where I notice it in my recent leadership experiences.

Examples of the Forces in Real Life

Frontstage vs Backstage Force

Front stage force is power based on what is “explicit, visible, on the surface.”[4] Much of my front stage power has been on the back-burner these past few years as I covered a more behind-the-scenes role in worship production. With the impact of COVID on in-person worship, our church had to quickly figure out how to do “online church.” With no real expert in this area within our staff, the job quickly fell to me. Suddenly, I found myself learning about camera angles, production calls, and Youtube.  As someone used to being on the  front stage with a more public role, it was initially difficult for me to feel good about my new role “behind the booth.” However, I quickly realized that the power of backstage force is just as important as the front. Although my efforts may not have been visible to the average worshiper, the technology team allowed our church to survive and even thrive during the COVID era. My role has now shifted again to be more front stage-based and I actually find myself missing the ability to lead from the shadows.

Strong vs Weak Force

To be completely honest, I never considered weakness to be a source of power until I read this book.  I often felt that being a female (often considered the weaker of the sexes) to be a strike against me in the world of leadership, especially being a female leader in the church. Our denomination does not permit female pastors, and as my role has developed into a more pastoral role I have felt this limit in significant ways. However, I now have a new appreciation for how God has used my “weakness” as a force for good. For example, I will never be the lead pastor of my church. And because of that, people are more willing to share their honest thoughts, feelings and perspectives with me. Also, because I am not the top boss and have excellent listening and coaching skills, employees feel safe coming to me with issues that they would be afraid sharing with the senior leader. These soft skills allow me to exercise a great deal of influence in my role even if it’s not a direct and formal strong force. I have a new appreciation for how my “weakness” gives me a unique opportunity to understand and serve those around me.

Expansive vs Consolidating Force

The final pair of forces I explored from Walker’s work are those of expanding versus consolidating. It’s not always true that more is better. In church work, this can seem an anathema. After all, didn’t Jesus command us to go and make disciples of all nations?[5] Dr. Martin Percy explores this tension that many churches face to reach larger numbers of people at the cost of being able to serve and transform relationships at a deep level. He argues that sometimes decline and consolidation is necessary:

Indeed, the kenotic vocation of Jesus is also the calling of the Church. It is by leaving, falling, and being immersed in the earthiness of humanity – the womb of Mary, the “dark streets” of the little town of Bethlehem, and finally enclosed in the Easter tomb – that Jesus is raised. For there to be life, the kernel must fall, rot and be cracked open. There is no life without death; no growth without surrender; no spring without winter; and no possibility of being raised up unless we have first surrendered to gravity’s law.[6]

As I begin a new leadership role as the Director of Discipleship at our church, Percy’s thoughts are particularly timely as I think about our church’s goals for discipleship. Perhaps trying to reach everyone is not as impactful as trying to reach the ones that are ready.  If that is the case, the numbers may not show we are successful, but perhaps the fruit will.

[1] Per Dr. Clark’s morning lecture at the 2023 Oxford Advance for the Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives at Portland Seminary.

[2] Simon P. Walker, Leading with Nothing to Lose (Piquant Publishing, 2010).

[3] Walker, 9.

[4] Walker, 11.

[5] Matthew 28:  19-20

[6] Martin Percy, “What Three Words? ‘Go’, ‘Make’, ‘Disciples’: Some Expository Notes for Dissenting Preachers,” The Expository Times 134, no. 9 (2023): 391.

About the Author


Laura Fleetwood

Laura Fleetwood is a Christian creative, certified Enneagram Coach, doctoral student at Portland Seminary and Creative Director at her home church, Messiah St. Charles. As a published author, national faith speaker, podcaster and self-described anxiety warrior, Laura uses storytelling to teach you how to seek the S T I L L in the midst of your chaotic life. Find Laura at www.seekingthestill.com

4 responses to “Exploring the Forces of Leadership Power”

  1. Kristy Newport says:

    Thanks for sharing about your learnings:

    ” I quickly realized that the power of backstage force is just as important as the front.”

    You encourage me as you embrace this fully:
    “soft skills allow me to exercise a great deal of influence in my role even if it’s not a direct and formal strong force.”
    Have there been instances where not being permitted to be a pastor has impacted you/not allowed your gifts to be used?

    This is really good:
    “Perhaps trying to reach everyone is not as imactful as trying to reach the ones that are ready”
    How are you going about reaching those who are ready?

    Great post Laura
    I loved learning more about you and your role at your church!

  2. Michael O'Neill says:

    Great post, Laura. I especially resonate with your comment, “The kenotic vocation of Jesus is also the calling of the Church.” This is so true. I think we often get caught up with what other congregations are doing, or discipleship techniques that have been used in the past. Martyn Percy really rocked me that day we listened to him and it sounds like he had a huge impact on all of us. It wasn’t so much that we misinterpreted the Great Commission, although I was grateful for that lesson too. It was something about the overall bigger game. Less about Alpha programs, and more about the person. The relationships. The Sheppard and the Flock.

    The authors of RARE leadership touch on finding Joy and being relational in our leadership. I think Jesus was a great model for this and to go back to your quote, his self-emptying nature is so beautiful and real that I’ve been struggling with building or participating in these 1.2.3. step programs since Percy changed my perspective on it. Overall, I think we need to bring people to Jesus any way we can and there are a lot of great programs and ways to do it. I’m glad someone like you is in this role of overseeing discipleship. Churches (and the world) need more people like you who will see people for who they are, love them, and introduce them to Jesus.

    Great post. Thanks!

  3. mm Becca Hald says:

    Laura, great post. I love the way you talked about your own role of leadership in Walker’s opposing pairs. I was challenged by Percy’s discussion on discipleship. I love your perspective. “If that is the case, the numbers may not show we are successful, but perhaps the fruit will.” Your church is blessed to have you in that role and I look forward to hearing about the fruit that comes of it.

  4. Laura,
    Great post, I really appreciated your vulnerability and making this personable really made it impactful. Well done.

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