i don’t think i’m alone when i admit that i’ve had issues with power, probably for most of my life. and it’s strangely paradoxical that my struggle with power (as in, i want it, too much) has played a huge role in me being put in roles where i had power. that twisted reality is, i think, a reflection of our church culture buying into broader american power values. no need to harp too much on that — we see nasty abuse of power all around us in the church.
my current employment status (as in, self-employed) is the first time in about 20 years or so that i haven’t had employees who report to me. and i’m starting to see these questions of power and leadership in a new light. maybe it took a complete lack of power in order for me to learn something about this.
of course, i’m challenged by jesus. he’s certainly not powerless. dude had/has plenty o’ power. so the question shifts from quantity to quality; or, the question shifts from if one can exercise power to how one exercises power. and, what form that power takes. i’m sure there are a hundred more forms, but here’s a short list of power forms, good, bad and indifferent:
• Positional authority
• Official dispenser of rewards & punishment
• Paycheck signer
• Ability to control
• Truth telling
jim collins’ notion of ‘level 5 leadership’ (here’s a helpful harvard business review article on level 5 leadership, written by collins), developed first in his book good to great, has been messing with me for years. i’ve blogged about it many times (here’s one), actually, because it haunts me. the level 5 leader (a very, very rare leader, btw) possesses a “paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” and, at the end of the day, isn’t that a pretty good description of jesus’ leadership and use of power? it’s also, unfortunately, not the approach to power we see in most churches (or other places of leadership, to be fair).
let me dive in with this proposal: power-based leadership has no place in the church.
(and: power-based leadership is a culturally-waning paradigm in all contexts, because we live in a wiki, prosumer culture.)
sure, we can argue semantics and reframe power in positive ways (like the power of servant leadership). but, for our purposes here, let’s just stick with the more common understood (and exercised) concept of power — the ability and practice of exerting influence over others whether they want it or not. that’s the kind of power i’d like to see (mostly) excised from church leadership. (i concede with a little “mostly” there, because if i were the exec pastor or senior pastor of a church today, i’m sure there would be times when i would ‘exert influence over others when they didn’t want it’ — whether i’d be right or wrong is a separate conversation.)
here’s a paradigmatic shift idea: church leadership needs to move from a paradigm of control to one of facilitation.
in this context: facilitation = identifying and nurturing competencies
if you follow this blog at all, you’ll likely recognize that language. i picked it up in a conversation with dr. ropert epstein, while talking about how his parenting has shifted, in the midst of a broader conversation about infantilization and extended adolescence, and have mentioned it here more than once. but i’ve started to see that shift’s applicability in so many other contexts of my life. and, really, doesn’t it make great sense here?
where this post series is headed: i’ve come up with 9 new metaphors for ‘powerless leadership’. i hope they’ll stir your thinking and nudge you (and me) off balance a bit. i hope we can take them on a road trip together — test ’em out a bit. i’ll unpack one or two per post, and see where it takes us.