As I read MaryKate Morse’s book Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence, one person kept coming to mind: Roy Weece. He was a man greatly respected and highly influential, who exuded personal warmth that made one feel special in his presence. I first met him thirty years ago during a time in my life when I was floundering in my attempts to discern God’s direction for my life. I had fought God concerning a calling to campus ministry for several years. But God was winning the battle. Then Roy appeared. He took the time to sit down and talk to me one-on-one. Understand, this man in my church circle was the godfather of campus ministries. He was looked up to for his groundbreaking work in ministry to university students some 60 years ago. At the time, he was widely sought after as a conference speaker because he was viewed as a powerful and successful leader and a great man of wisdom. I was in awe of this man. And here he was taking time to help and guide little old me. This man in so many ways illustrated for me the leadership that Morse skillful describes. Roy Weece was a man of great power, who used his power as Jesus did, as a wise steward, to empower and uplifting others by creating space where transformation could (and did) happen. And I was the beneficiary of this man’s empowerment that lead to 23 years of campus ministry.
Morse’s book opened up for me a whole new world of insights about power. Let me highlight just a few gems of wisdom I drew from this book. First, power is neutral. This insight might be for some a “no brainer.” For me, this is a revolutionary concept. In my life, there are few examples of people using power used for good purposes. I find it interesting that most of the examples the come to mind are found in fictional characters—mostly superheroes (Superman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman). Real people who used their power for good are much harder to find. However, it is far easier to list off those who abused or misused their power (from historical leaders like Hitler and Stalin to priests and politicians). During my work in campus ministry I heard countless stories of power misused through physical, verbal and emotional abuse in too many homes and often witnessed inappropriate use of influence by those in powerful positions in the church. With a world filled with warlords and dictators, corrupt politicians and terrorists, gang leaders and sex-traffickers, abusive parents and husbands, it is easy to think that all power is inherently evil. But Morse reminds us that this is simply not the case. Jesus is a prime example. Jesus possessed great power and used it wisely and for righteous purposes. His power was in fact used to lift and empower others. Further, she suggests that His followers have power. We have been given God’s power through the Holy Spirit, which—as a gift from God – would suggest that power is not inherently bad. It is obvious that power can be easily be used for evil, so this point alone requires that we must be sensitive to how power is used.
The second point ties in closely with this first: Power used wisely can subvert the status quo. Clearly, Jesus used power subversively. The picture we have is Jesus “invit(ing) the powerless, the outsider, the desperate into the sacred space around him. The individual was then given status and access to what Jesus had to offer.”[i] The very people that society said a holy man should not associate with or (even more shocking) touch (such as a hemorrhaging woman, a tax collector, a prostitute, etc.) Jesus welcomed into his very presence. In these radical, counter-cultural actions, Jesus empowered those whom society oppressed. There was no personal gain or self-promotional use of power, but rather power was used to bless and transform those who were without power and to break down social barriers. As Morse states, “It does not come through the divestment of power but through its use for redemptive purposes”[ii] that the powerless experience transformation. In Jesus, power is clearly extended to others, especially the most powerless. For much of my life, it was taught that following Jesus’ example of leadership meant being meek and mild, giving up any sense of strength or power. The weaker and meeker one was, the more like Jesus we would be. Such powerless leadership now seems of little help for influencing or lifting the powerless; it denies the Spirit’s empowerment; and does little to show the world a different and more righteous use power.
Finally, the use of power in close quarters best reflects one’s integrity. A real display of the wise use of power is found most clearly in intimate involvement with people. How often are those who seem shiny and bright on their pedestals seem very tarnished up close, especially with their closest relations.[iii] I do believe that our true self is found not on stage but when we are one-on-one, in un-rehearsed moments. Here is where others see how we use our influence most clearly. Therefore, it is a great starting place for us to examine how we exactly we use our power.
My hero Roy Weece was a prime example of Christ-like leadership. In Roy’s position of influence, I witnessed a positive use of power. Roy used his position to empowering and influencing others towards ministry and godliness; his wise stewardship of God’s gift of power was most clearly seen in close quarters where he made you feel like you the most important person in the world; and exhibited true humility (power under control). He has been and will always be my role model for the wise and uplifting leadership.
John F. Woodward