I was with church leaders a few weekends ago, coaching them (with my friend Stephen Johnson) in processes of communal, spiritual discernment. It’s big on listening and on letting wisdom emerge. It requires patience and a confidence that God really is at work in the lives of people in the congregation.
At one point, one of the leaders stopped the presentation and asked if we knew how strange all of this was sounding. This didn’t conform to his understandings of leadership. He was sure that his dad and brothers and the guys at work (his list) wouldn’t recognize this as leadership at all. He said it seemed weak and “gay.” What passed for leadership in his world was announcing a direction and controlling the outcomes.
I’ll tell you my response to him in another post. I tell the story here to surface the issue of power in congregations. We are almost hopelessly confused about issues of power in our churches.
Let me start by saying that I think power is a good word. Paul says, after all, that the Kingdom of God is not about talk, but about power. And in one of the theme verses for my life (1 Cor 1:18), he says that “the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those of us who are being saved it is the power of God.” I think its interesting that Paul contrasts foolishness, not with wisdom, but with power. Whatever the cross means for Paul, it falls into the category of the practical, of accomplishing something, of getting things done, or of realizing a new reality.
But I also want to point out here that it is the word, or logic, of the cross that constitutes this power. This simply doesn’t look like power. The rulers and powers of this world certainly don’t recognize it as such. It might even seem weak or gay. This is because they equate power with control, and the cross is a story of trusting submission.
But this lack of concern with control doesn’t make the cross a story of powerlessness. It is a different kind of power, and if you believe the gospel, a more effective form of power.
I want to skip a few links in the argument here and just say that I think the fruit of the Spirit is one place where the way, or practice, of the cross is articulated. And here’s what I want to say about that: humility is power. Patience is power. Kindness is power. That is, these things produce something. They create a reality. They are not simply the things we do so that God can be powerful (read controlling). They are his power. They produce things that tactics of control won’t and can’t. And the church, of all places, should be the place where this kind of power is put to full use.
Because we have tended to define leadership in terms of direction and control, we have very little experience and wisdom related to other notions of leading. We see the fruit of the Spirit, for instance, only as a set of personal qualities. But these things can also produce processes for deciding and acting. We simply lack the imaginative capacity to hope in this kind of power. We don’t trust our own story.