The relationship between power and pastors is often a tenuous one. In Handbook of Leadership and Theory and Practice, Joseph S. Nye writes about the connection of leadership and power.
Nye breaks down power into two main categories. Many pastors have elements of both in their ministries. The first is hard power. It centers on a physical action (or threat thereof) that forces people to act a certain way. Bosses often hold elements of that kind of power. He or she evaluates job performance and can recommend either benefits or penalties based on that performance. The second kind of power, soft power, is the one most commonly used inside the church. It’s the ability to inspire and attract people into following and acting a certain way. It’s an inspirational combination of being and doing.
I refer to the relationship between power and pastors as tenuous because power is alluring and can easily corrupt, but yet it naturally comes with a ministry position. As much as some (including myself) might want to deny it, the truth is, as the great theological rap group Snap says, “I’ve got the Power.’ Unfortunately we frequently hear of ministers who abuse both kinds of power. This happens when a pastor misuses his or her authority. It might be an affair with a parishioner or it might be unfairly manipulating a process to achieve a desired outcome. The possibilities of the misuse of power are endless. Power has to be wielded, but few seem able to wield it well.
As I look at the life of Jesus I see the example of one who used power perfectly. People loved Jesus. They were devoted to Jesus. They followed Jesus. There was something about Jesus that enabled people to live a life they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to live. One can also argue that Jesus used hard power while confronting the moneychangers in the temple. But, more often then not, Jesus confronted hard power with soft power. The Roman leadership of Jesus’ day manipulated and threated people into acting in a manor that protected their own power. Whereas Caesar ruled, killed, dominated and maimed, Jesus loved, inspired and died. Jesus could have used the ultimate hard power and called angles to his side to accomplish his will. He didn’t. Even in his dying moments he chose soft power to love and inspire those around him.
Here are some thoughts this post has left me thinking about:
1.) Whether I like it or not, because of my position I have power. How do I keep it from corrupting me and how do i use it well?
2.) Am I a leader who points people to Jesus or to myself?
3.) Who are those wielding hard power that I need to stand up against using soft power? And, do I have the courage to do that?