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The Christian Leader's Use of Power and Influence

POWER. Volumes have been written on the subject, advising leaders how to use their power and influence properly.

Michael Korda, in his book, Power, captures the essence of popular attitudes about power: "All life is a game of power. The object of the game is simple enough: to know what you want and get it. The moves of the game, by contrast, are infinite and complex, although they usually involve the manipulation of people and situations to your advantage."

You might expect leaders in the marketplace to misappropriate power and influence, but it shouldn't happen among Christian leaders. Power is essential for effective leadership. The proper understanding of power----what the source of true power is and how to find and use power to honor and glorify God----is critical to godly leadership.

Power is neutral, capable of good or evil. It is evil when abused; it is good when properly used.

Power is a created gift of God. God created power, and it has great potential for good when it is used to accomplish God's purposes, not our own.

Power is capable of causing change. Power can make things happen.

Power is the ability to influence decisions in planning, either for good or evil. Power is a mighty force, especially in our churches during times of aggressive change and stress.

Power is the currency of leadership. Power and how leaders use it has greater influence on human relationships than any other factor in an organizational setting. A leader's use of power determines how all the physical and human resources are used.

Power is a basic drive of every human being. The drive for power is stronger in some individuals than in others and varied in its expressions. Some people seek power over circumstances, over their environment, over things, and over minds and ideas. Some seek power over others' behavior, feelings, and thinking.

Power can be either legitimate or illegitimate. It is a legitimate use of power when we use power to fulfill God's plan or His will. In Genesis 2:19 we see legitimate power. God brought the entire animal world to Adam and asked Adam to give each one a name. Notice that this event occurred before the fall. Power is not a result of sin. The abuse of power is the result of sin. Power is illegitimate when used to fulfill one's selfish goals and desires. Illegitimate power is the fallen world's way to accomplish selfish goals in life, whether it's in the church, the community, or the family.

Power often is the basis for people's sense of value and self-esteem. In human rationalization people believe they have value when they have power. Therefore, we should not be surprised when illegitimate uses of power surface in the church.

The strong drive for power is universal. The world's value system teaches us that using power to achieve one's own goals is acceptable behavior. In God's economy that is illegitimate power.

Power is the ability to get things done. The appropriate use of power is necessary to getting things done. Moses acted in God's power to lead the people of Israel out of slavery. Yet power has the ability to seduce people. Scripture tells us we are born with a tendency to sin (Psalms 51:5; 58:3), and in leaders this often expresses itself in the misuse of power.

In 1889 Lord Acton wrote, "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Source of Power

All power ultimately comes from God, the Creator and Sustainer of all power. Colossians 1:16 says, "For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him" (NIV). The Psalmist wrote, "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God" (Psalm 20:7, NIV).

The two primary sources of power in groups are God and the people. A person who is selected or appointed as leader often is granted much power by the people he is to serve. A person who is trusted with power should use it wisely and honestly. Leaders who believe they deserve power and know everything about using it bring destruction to an organization and, eventually, to themselves.

On the other hand, a leader who feels powerless tends to relinquish his leadership role to others who have or want the power. This too is destructive to the people and the leader. When persons placed in leadership positions feel powerless they become ineffective, but leaders who have too much power tend to abuse it.

The Christian Leader and Power

God desires to share power with us. He wants to give us all the power we need to accomplish His purposes. He desires for us to be part of His great mission. Our God can do great things through our lives. Like Moses, when God called him to lead Israel, we may doubt that God can use us. We may feel inadequate, not educated nor skilled enough. God's words to Moses were "I AM,"meaning the always sufficient One. The message applies to us. With God we can do all things.

The practice of spiritual discipline and obedience to God are the source of the leader's power. The practice of reading and meditating on the Word, prayer, solitude, fasting are all channels through which God's abundant grace and power flows to the leader. Peter and John's lives demonstrate this truth: "When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13, NIV). A danger in Christian ministry is for leaders to become so skilled that the ministry seems to succeed while they aren't maintaining their own spiritual walk with God. They can fail privately before they fail publicly.

True power is gained when it is given away. Power must not be judged by position, size of church, facilities, or budget. Status and prominence are not accurate indicators of godly power. Persons who grasp position, perks, promotion, and prominence are really clinging to the empty trappings of power.

Guidelines for Christian Leaders in Their Use of Power.

Christian leaders should seek to exercise power by using it to serve rather than to dominate.

Be a good, accountable follower. Good leaders are good followers who can work under accountability to others.

Humbly and responsibly use the power given. When given responsibility and power, godly leaders are courageous and bold, yet humble. They neither run from responsibility nor abuse their power.

Acknowledge the power you have been given. Powerful leaders who deny they have power or who do not recognize the power they have are dangerous.

Help those who have no power to gain power. Responsible leaders are always concerned about the people in their organizations. They try to help others exercise legitimate power, because they know that persons who feel powerless become passive and apathetic or angry and resentful.

Develop processes and structures that build openness and trust. Good leaders make decisions through debate and rationality rather than through manipulation, secretiveness, and political maneuvering. They help people learn how to work within the organization so all can participate in decisions that affect them.

View power as a function, not a status. Good leaders know power is a tool to accomplish goals. Having power does not make a person more important or more deserving of special favors.

Exercise self-control. The toughest job any leader faces in ministry, and in all of life, is the job of controlling the self. We are called to bring our spirits, intellects, wills, and emotions under the control of Christ. Solomon said it graphically: "Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit" (Proverbs 25:28). "Better is . . . he who rules his spirit than he who captures a city" (Proverbs 16:32, NASB).

Our ability to use power in our leadership position is proportional to our ability to control and manage our own lives.


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