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Power and Christian Leadership

Power is part of every area of our lives. Whether it is romantic relationships, family interactions, work dynamics, or church connections, most of us spend our lives attempting to acquire and leverage power. 

We seek positions of authority in order to influence people, control resources, and direct information. We pursue decision-making positions to have some control over issues that affect our everyday living. There are experts who say that we all need power to live into our full potential.   

Power Comes with Responsibility

Effective leaders know and understand that with power comes responsibility. During these recent months of disruption and uncertainty, you continue to take on more responsibility than ever before. You are leading without the help of a roadmap. Your decisions are not only affecting the mission of the church but are impacting the safety and well-being of the people around you.  

On good days you understand the weight of this responsibility. But, there are days you want to use your power to put people in their place, or at least help them see the error of their ways.  So, as a leader, how do you use your power to assist people to live into their full potential? How do you empower them to become who God created them to be?

What is Power?

Some people would say that “power is your ability to control the activities of other individuals.” Although there is some truth in that statement, I believe Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. got closer to a healthy understanding of power when he said, “Power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose.”

Some people would say that good leadership is “the ability to inspire people to follow your instructions without exercising any form of force.” Again, there is some truth in that statement, but I believe Brené Brown gets closer to defining a good leader when she says,

“A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for recognizing the potential in people and ideas, and has the courage to develop that potential.”

-Brené Brown

However you might say it, you and I, as followers of Jesus, have the responsibility to use our power, authority, and influence to assist the people around us to live into their God-given potential. It is by sharing your power and influence that helps you become more who God created you to be. So, how are you using your power to lead? How are you developing the potential of family members, colleagues, and friends?

To answer these questions, there are a couple of things to remember:

You Have a Purpose & Power

You have been given a purpose and the power to live into that purpose.  

  •  In The Acts of the Apostles, in response to a question about power, Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you to be my witnesses… (1:8).
  •  As a Jesus follower, your purpose is to be who God created you to be, a witness to God’s love.
  • You live out your purpose in a relationship with the people entrusted to your care. You extend the love you have received with family and friends, colleagues and neighbors, those who need special care, to strangers and, yes, even to enemies.  
  • You are given power to live into your purpose and to assist others in living into their purpose. Even when you think you are not equipped to love as you have been loved, you have been given power to do so.
  • How are you using your power to develop God’s love in the people around you? 

Different Types of Power

There are different types of power in leadership. Keeping in mind your purpose, to witness to God’s love, there is:

Power over

This power can be seen in parenting or in the classroom, as well as in the workplace and in the church. There is a place for the parent or teacher to have authority. This power is used effectively when exercised in relationships grounded in love (trust and compassion). 

But when this power is seen in the workplace or in the church, it is usually because the person of authority feels threatened or is afraid of losing power. It is difficult to develop healthy relationships of trust when you feel you must control every situation, decision, or person you encounter.

When you focus on having and keeping power, you seek to protect it. You leverage fear and intimidation to keep it. There is little trust and lots of manipulation. Vulnerability and empathy are seen as weaknesses, disagreements are seen as negative, and being nice becomes the major mode of operation. At this point, you have lost sight of your purpose of loving as you have been loved.

To use this power might help you succeed in the short-term, but over the long run you become a detriment to your purpose and you lose any positive influence you could have with the people around you. You might feel you are courageous to face the resistance you receive, but there is little or no courageous leadership when you lead by exercising power over people.

Power With and Power To

This power can be seen in the workplace and in the church, as well as at home and at school. In each context, those in authority know that power is not theirs to keep, so they seek to share it with the people around them. 

Whether at work, in the church, as a parent, or a teacher, you come alongside others as a mentor and you learn and grow together. You model the characteristics of vulnerability and empathy. When fear and uncertainty are present, you lead with transparency and grace. You leverage love and connection as ways of bringing people together to accomplish your purpose.

When you focus upon others, whether it be your children, colleagues, or friends, you create a climate for discovering, learning, and developing. You focus upon the needs, desires, and values of the people entrusted to you. You love them as you have been loved. You seek to serve rather than be served. You empower people to live into their strengths and talents and you benefit from their exercise of power. You love people because the development of people is your purpose. 

To use this power helps you become a person of positive influence. Bob Goff says it this way, “God doesn’t give us influence so we can lead people better. He gives it so we can love people more.” Courageous leadership is rooted in your love and care for people as you share power with them and love them. 

Power Within

This power is about developing your own sense of agency, as well as instilling within others their sense of agency. In the words of Martin Luther King, “I can achieve purpose and effect change.” 

When you lead from within, you genuinely love people. Your care and concern are not about dominating them but loving them. You depend on empathy, rather than showing your strength. You choose respect over friendship and want truth and transparency. You work for the good of the people entrusted to you. 

Your power to influence comes from within. As you learn that the power is not about you, you begin to understand that your character is important. You learn that it is not only what you say, but how you say it that makes the difference. As you lead from within, you discover that courageous leadership is clear and direct in communication. Because you are centered upon the love of God deep within, you become more credible, competent, and persuasive as a leader. 

To use this power helps you empower others to live into their potential. So, you become more the leader you were created to be by “recognizing the potential in people and ideas,” and sharing your power, as you come alongside them to love them.  

Your Next Step 

So, how are you using your power to lead? How are you developing the potential of family members, colleagues, and friends? As you assess your leadership, what do you need to change? In what areas do you need to grow?    

To become the leader God has created you to be:

  • Think of two people who have been influential in you living into your potential. What did they do to assist you? Now, give God thanks for them and for their love and care for you.
  • Think of two or three persons who have been given to you to lead. How are you assisting them in developing their potential? What help do you need to assist them? Now, give God thanks for them. Ask God for the power to love them as God has loved you.
  • What step will you take to become the leader God has created you to be? You have been given the power and you have the courage, what step will you take?

Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help to you, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be. Don’t hesitate to call as we seek to assist you in deepening your relationship with Christ, the church, and your community. 

Remember, you have received power to be the leader needed at this time. Love as you have been loved.

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