three things about one word: power

three things about one word power

power is a hard thing to talk about.  as Christ-followers, it is even trickier because Jesus was so anti-typical-power that talking about it can be misconstrued. i feel this sometimes when i am advocating for women’s empowerment (and others, too, who are underrepresented) because it can be perceived as being contrary to humility.  some also falsely think i believe in shifting power only toward women. nothing can be further from the truth.

i am most passionate about diffused power--not minimized, not limited, not watered downbut rather shared and multiplied so more people have it.

especially for people who usually don’t. 

i think that’s what the kingdom of God here on earth is supposed to look like.

as much as it’s a difficult topic, we need to keep addressing power because it is the undergirding of every system or group, including the church. as children of God, we have great freedom and great responsibility, too.

to me, power is a combination of leadership, value, voice, and resource.

when it comes to “the church” i think we have a really jacked up system related to power.  we have adopted the ways of the world and the methods of businesses as our central practices instead of the beatitudes. and even though a lot of people with power are taking more and more about “kingdom living”, often, they are perpetuating the same old power structures, where sexism & racism & inequality & oppression prevail.

as part of this new series, three things about one word, here are three thoughts rolling around in my head related to power:

1. power attracts power.  what i mean by that is that on the whole people with power hang around other people with power.  so they keep becoming more powerful. it is an interesting phenomenon in the church world, seeing how much happens on the golf course, a place where most women and people without margin & money never tend to hang out.  this is one of many power places where deals are brokered, relationships are formed, and alliances are forged.  but guess who’s not usually in these kinds of conversations? people without power!  this affects who gets funded, who gets support, who gets backed, who gets launched.  think about how hard it is for somebody without power to ever break into the power structure.  it’s so rare, mainly because people with power rarely connect in deep & meaningful ways with people without it.  it’s an unspoken law with real & lasting consequences.

2. for the most part, the powerful like to be on the winning team.  it is a human phenomenon.  we like to be associated with the side that feels the strongest, the most energized, the most impactful, the most _____  (you fill in the blanks).in order to measure up to the expectations of the powerful, it becomes about numbers & seats & sizes because these are the the things that people equate with “success.” when the tide starts to turn downward in any kind of organization and system, very often, people with margin & money jump ship and find another team that’s measurably on the upswing. it’s why so many church plants fail.  there’s a lot of excitement at the start but when some don’t see results fast enough, they find a “better” team.  that better team is usually a group that is powerful!

3. to many, power = charisma & confidence & outward strength.  oh, what would a blog post about power be without mentioning charisma & fairy dust?  the leaders most people follow tend to have a strong sense of certainty, clarity, and confidence that is compelling. i don’t want to dismiss the importance of focused leaders who can inspire & encourage but want to highlight that when it comes to leadership, on the whole we are attracted to the confident-appearing & strong not the weak, broken &  humble. from what i read in the Bible, we’ve got it all mixed up. when people are looking for leaders, they often look for the strongest, the best, the brightest, the most influential and completely miss the beauty and deep strength of the marginalized, the quiet, the uncool, the humble, the unpowerful-on-the-outside. those are the people Jesus chose, but when it comes to leadership, churches & ministries rarely do.

my hope for our future is that those in power would take a good hard look around them and start asking questions like:

“why is so and so not here? who might be missing in this body of Christ?”

“what can i do about changing that, even though it will cost me/us, maybe dearly”

“why do we all look and sound the same? what do we really seem to care about underneath all our christian language?” 

“what can i do to empower someone else in small or big ways?” 

“how can we make this table bigger & more diverse & more reflective of the actual real world instead of our comfortable one?”

so what’s “the payoff”?  that’s the wrong question.  Jesus didn’t give us a business model.  what we’ll all have is life, and life more abundantly.

i know how unlikely this is to happen on a large scale right away.  i may be hopeful but i’m still a realist.

but i will hold out that a lot of change could indeed happen if a bunch of people with power would ask God how to think about it differently–and be willing to take the worldly hit for those kingdom decisions.    

* * * * *

a few other posts on power here:

 

 

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

23 Comments

  • you’re nailing it. keep talking. keep writing. I’m weary of *so* much of the “talk”, but this needs to keep being said. sharing.

    Reply
  • What I find most interesting here is that to me, I could tell absolutely no difference between the 3 elements you call out – and what rings true within Corporate America where I work. I think that goes back to your lead in comment of: “we have adopted the ways of the world and the methods of businesses as our central practices instead of the beatitudes.”

    Reply
    • yes, that is the essence, really. i don’t really mind it being part of corporate america because the truth is they need to make a profit to survive and that’s how it works. the saddest part is the church is not supposed to be a business. that was the very thing Jesus spoke against yet it’s what we have created in his name over and over again. thanks for taking time to share.

      Reply
  • love the questions you’re asking … such a refreshing change from the endless posturing and maneuvering that we’ve grown so weary of along the way …

    Reply
  • Kathy,

    What a wonderful example of how power subtly creeps in. Then of course those in positions of power use fear to manipulate and control Goerge Orwell 1984 style. I recall hearing about Martin Luther King who, in the midst of the civil rights movement facing death threats and harassing phone calls looked for a way to graciously retreat without being perceived to have lost courage. For as a leader if he was perceived as such, then others would lose courage. He expereinced in prayer what he described as a profound power with the words “stand up”. Three days later his house was bombed. But with that power he continued his campaign.

    I too have expereinced such power. As someone serving in the Air Force at the time of the first Gulf War, I becam disheartened. There was honour in serving the country however, Iraq posed no threat to the UK or any other NATO country at the time. I had the srong conviction that the death of civilians with the result of the war was out of political greed and the desire for control over the natural resources rather than the defense of the country. I didn’t sign up for that! I prayed and expereinced the most powerful thing in my life. It was as if a lightning bolt had gone throught my body. My boss at the time said he had seen a 100% improvement in my work the following day.

    As I have shared before I have been on the receiving end of opression by women. So where I understand you coming from with a mirror of that with patriarchal opression I would also say that whateer “side” we find ourselves on, sometimes it is difficult to appreciate the other perspective when we are fighting our own corner so to speak. Only when we submit to each other and edify each other are we resting in and chanelling the God given power available to us with strength in Christ. Ths comes with vulnerability and the willingness to suffer for a greater principle than winning – love.

    You highlighted the plight of women Kathy. Are women as willing to submit as to campaign for what they want with equality agains patriarchal opression. Are men as willing to serve as to have authorirty and come against the rampant extremes of feminist rhetoric? Are you willing to submit and edify? Am I willing to sbmit and edify? Or do we insist on being right and others wrong where we disagree?

    Reply
    • thanks, adam. mutual submission requires a level of relationship and love that so many of us have never been taught. power structures help us never have to get there and so that’s why we have so few examples of what the body of Christ can really be. all of the ways we separate and put ourselves over and under each other is so nuts. to me, i think it points to the reality that the ways of Jesus are always so much harder than the ways of man and not for the faint hearted. i always appreciate you taking time to share. thank you.

      Reply
  • I’m so grateful for this post because I think it answers (a little bit) some of the questions that have been rolling around in my head, mostly, why are certain churches (that I often fundamentally disagree with) growing at astounding rates, while churches like the little one I go to doesn’t seem attractive to others? Because people are attracted to power and they want to be on the “winning team.”
    I think all of your points are so insightful.

    Reply
    • I think it’s also a reality that people don’t like being challenged. They just don’t. They want to hear things that affirm what they already think. Those of us who are drawn to the challenging, the stretching and the changing seem to be the exception to the rule, I’m afraid.

      Reply
    • thanks erin, yeah, that is the story of our lives here at the refuge. it’s so wild, and freaky-in-not-a-good-way, how drawn to power people are. thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  • Yes, yes, and yes! This may be one of my all time favorite posts of yours. I’ve had versions of this discussion numerous different times with many people, but I don’t think I’ve seen it laid out so clearly before.

    “How can we make the Table bigger and more diverse and more reflective of the actual real world instead of our comfortable one?” Yes! May all our Tables include the broken and weary as well as the weirdos, the annoying, the outrageous, the differently abled, the fringe, the little ones, and the beautiful elderly ones.

    Reply
  • I can think of two other ways that the church structure is a problem. The first is education. If you haven’t been to seminary or studied theology, you can’t get in the door. Period. Of course seminary takes money and time that many people simply don’t have. I know that education is an easy sorting mechanism for those who are trying to avoid the crackpots, but it seems to me that mentorship and invitation ought to be the paths by which people enter into places of influence.

    The issue is that a lot of people in power see themselves as having the answers and refused to allow themselves to be influenced by people who are not like themselves. I have heard fairly often of people of color being invited to the table and then finding themselves unable to have any affect on the conversations taking place. Their job is to join in and affirm everyone’s existing assumptions, not challenge anyone. I think that those in power need to purposefully cultivate a mindset which says, “this person is coming from a different place than I am. That means they probably know and have seen things that I don’t know and am not aware of. My job is to learn from them.”

    Reply
    • so good. thank you for sharing. that education part is so real and separates so many from feeling valued or important enough. i have this theory that if we shut down all the seminaries for an entire generation, that we might be surprised how much would emerge in the body of Christ that can’t now because of the structures that we have created that guide far more than we think (yeah, not a popular thought, ha ha). a spirit of learning vs. telling is so big, too. it’s the giving & receiving and not just giving, the “with” vs. the “to” and “for”, and the embracing of the “there’s no us and them, only us and us”. alas, almost everything we have built has been centered on us and them, which is the protection fo power, so it will take a big crazy movement to topple it but i believe it’s possible but will have to happen in smaller ways first. unfortunately, even so many of the smaller structures still reflect the old instead of the new and we keep thinking we can put new wine in old wineskins. okay, there’s my sunday morning ramble! thanks for sharing, love your thoughts!

      Reply
  • kathy, thank you for writing this and writing it again and singing these freedom songs. we need you, and i wish i could brew a pot of coffee and sit across from you in person. you encourage a weary heart.

    Reply
    • oh, me, too! i hope that day comes for sure. glad to know you out here and thank you for your post this week, too. i saw it briefly and am it says so many important things, i need to go back to it.

      Reply
  • Really thought-provoking post! I am just now writing some about Jesus in the last week of his life, and how he emptied himself so often of the things we would grasp at, like the upper hand in an argument he would and could, of course, win. And be right. Great things to consider.

    Reply
    • thanks kirsten, for taking time to share. that’s one of my favorite parts about Jesus–how upside down and total contrary-to-how-our-minds-work he was.

      Reply
  • Pingback: Pidgey » pastores abusivos y la locura $ (& * @ #%! se salen con

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *