In Philippians 2, we read that Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage. Instead, he took on the very nature of a servant, using his power for the salvation and thriving of others.
All of us who are united to Christ are called to use our power in a similar way, to serve and to love our neighbors. We have this call from Christ, and we have the Holy Spirit to help us live out using our power in a Christ-like way. Unfortunately, we don’t always look like Jesus in the way we use power. Abuse of power occurs when people use their power to harm and/or influence another for personal gain at another’s expense. And it happens, even in our churches.
Power comes from various sources:
- Personal Power: the power we each have as human beings, our ability to have an effect or influence.
- Role Power: the power (and responsibility and opportunity) that accompanies a positional role.
- Status Power: the power that society bestows as a result of belonging to a certain group (for example being white, or being male gives one more power in our society).
- Collective Power: the power gained when those who are marginalized gather together to increase their voice (for example the #MeToo Movement or Black Lives Matter).
We all move up and down into different levels of power in different contexts and in different relationships. The key is to be aware of the power we have. At any given moment, we may find ourselves in either a Down-Power or an Up-Power position.
We all carry responsibility for how we use power in relationships. However, those in an Up-Power position carry a greater responsibility than those in the more vulnerable Down-Power position. The 150% principle states that though all of us may be considered 100% responsible for rightly using our power, those in the Up-Power position carry 150% responsibility.* Understanding this power differential and its impacts is the core of ethical awareness.
In addition, research has revealed a power paradox, showing that our natural neurological connections for empathy and altruism diminish as our power grows. Therefore, we need to make conscious efforts, combined with a love for the Lord and love for our neighbor, in order to ensure we use power in a Christ-like way.
Our denomination has done a lot of work over the last few years about use of power. New resources and training materials are being developed. Watch for more information on this topic. In the meantime, the CRC is not the only organization considering this topic. There are many others. Below are some resources that can help us think about relational power and how we use it in ministry contexts in a Christ-like way.
- Healthy Boundaries in Ministry Relationships (webinar with handouts) - An oldie, yet still valuable. The webinar is almost an hour long.
- Power and the Christian (A Bible Study Resource) - This excellent resource from the Baylor School of Social Work arises out of their study of clergy misconduct; perfect for church councils and small groups to study together.
- What is Power? (two very short videos) - These videos talk about four kinds of power and “up-power” versus “down-power.” These videos can accompany the following articles: The Power Paradox and the 150% Principle. These articles come from an organization called Right Use of Power Institute. They are doing excellent work around the issue of power. Though not specifically Christian, they promote a Christ-like use of power.
- Power, Deception, and the Church (34 minute video) - Diane Langberg is a brilliant speaker, author, and theologian. This is definitely worth a listen for anyone in ministry.
- The Caring Well Conference (20 minute video) - In this video, Boz Tchividjian explains why the church needs to listen to those who have suffered abuse. (See also GRACE - Godly Response to Abuse in Christian Environments)
May the Lord bless our efforts to seek and follow him in the way we use his gifts of power.
*Adapted from the Right Use of Power Institute