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Stewarding Power Well – An Excerpt from The Emotionally Healthy Leader

Categories Ministry Book Excerpts

As Peter Scazzero argues in his recent book The Emotionally Healthy Leader, God has given everyone power and leadership in some area, and he calls us to wield them well. Engage in this extraction from the book to discover some of the reasons we don't lead well.

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Power and Wise Boundaries

The most painful lessons I’ve learned in thirty-five years of Christian leadership have involved the exercise of power and having wise boundaries. Navigating the issue of power is a true test of both character and leadership. We’re more than willing to talk about the abuse of power when news breaks about a scandal in someone else’s life, but the minefields surrounding the use of power are rarely acknowledged, much less openly discussed, in Christian circles. This silence leads to consequences and significant harm, with the potential not only to wipe out a lifetime of good work but to undermine our ministries for years to come. The good news is that no matter where we are in our leadership journey, we can learn to steward power well and to set wise boundaries…

What Is “Christian” Power?

The most elegantly simple description of power I know is this: power is the capacity to influence. As author Richard Gula writes:

[Power] is what enables us to make things happen or not. In this sense, everyone has power, but we do not all have it to the same degree. Power as influence is always relative to our resources. One of the most important self-examinations we can do is to name our sources of power, for we are most at risk of ethical misconduct when we minimize or ignore our power.

Part of what I find compelling about Gula’s statement is its implication that virtually everyone is a leader. To a greater or lesser degree, everyone has influence, which means that everyone is power-full. And we all use that power — well or poorly, for good or for ill.

The problem is that so few leaders have an awareness of, let alone reflect on, the nature of their God-given power. As a result, some carelessly wield their power with aggression, exploiting it to their own advantage. They function as the proverbial bull in the china shop, careless and self-serving with their power. They are unaware of, or perhaps worse, unconcerned about, the impact they have on others or how others perceive them. Scripture offers us plentiful examples of such leaders, including King Saul and King Solomon.

On the opposite extreme are the leaders who shrink back from exercising their power. Their reluctance to assert themselves leaves the door open to the wrong people stepping into the power vacuum — which causes all sorts of chaos. It is not uncommon for these ministries or churches with weak leaders to fit the following description of God’s people from the book of Judges: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit (Judges 21:25).

In my years of teaching and mentoring leaders, I’ve seen just as much damage result from this second group, the leaders who are ambivalent and uncomfortable with their power. Perhaps it’s because I identify with them. For these leaders, it somehow feels wrong and unbiblical to grab the reins and take charge because power implies privilege, a higher social status, being above others. The thought of having power as a leader sounds detached and cold. So they prefer to deny or minimize the very real power they have. Some may even feel unworthy or afraid to exercise power, especially in God’s name. As a result, they live in a fog, feeling powerless internally, yet responsible to exercise power to lead others.

So let me say it again. We all have power. Pastors, staff leaders, ministry directors, board members, small group leaders, long-term members, donors, parents, musicians in the worship band — we all have power. The problem is that we do not understand where that power comes from, nor do we understand how to exercise it responsibly. Our understanding of power is incomplete and narrow. This is true for leaders who are power hungry and for those who avoid exercising power…

We Carefully Steward Our Power So It Comes Under Others

While the world practices a “power over” strategy characterized by dominance and win-lose competitiveness, Jesus taught a “power under” strategy characterized by humility and sacrificial service. In the world, says Jesus, leaders throw their weight around, “[but it is] not so with you. . . . Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:42 – 43). While Jesus is the invisible God who holds all things together — Almighty, eternal, immortal, and infinite — he became human, temporal, mortal, and finite. Jesus demonstrated his power not by force or control, but by choosing to come under us, humbly washing feet and dying for our sins. He carefully stewarded his power: “[Christ Jesus,] who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:6 – 7).

The church is not a corporation. We are not corporate executives who make tough decisions to “get the job done.” We are not CEOs implementing best practices in order to expand our impact or market penetration. The church is not our family business. Instead, we are the body of Christ, the temple of God, the new family of Jesus, the bride of Christ. As leaders, we are stewards of delegated power gifted to us for a short time by God. The choice of the word steward is important. The church belongs to God, not to us. We must never forget that the power we exercise belongs to him. Our power is given to us to come under people for their good, for them to flourish, not so we will look good. (pgs 239-254)

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To continue reading what Scazzero says about leadership in The Emotionally Healthy Leader, order your copy today.

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