Tag Archives: power

Authority and vulnerability: 2 necessary ingredients for redemptive leadership

What is your natural, tempting go-to response when under pressure in a leadership position? Exert more power? Withdraw? Or suffer silently in self-pity?

What does biblical leadership look like when those under you aren’t following? How do you put together both Matthew 28:18-19 and Philippians 2:3-8—all authority and ultimate humility—in a single leader?

At last week’s Community of Practice Sherwood and Judith Lingenfelter presented on the topic of cultural systems and the abuse of power. You can watch their entire presentation below at the bottom of this post [start at 32:57].

Early in the presentation [at the 43:50 mark], Sherwood posts a graph discussing two aspects of biblical leadership: authority and vulnerability (he cites it from Andy Crouch’s book, Strong and Weak). [Graph below is my representation, Crouch has his illustration on page 13] Both of these facetsAuthority and Vulnerability of power must be present at the same time if leadership is to be biblical or redemptive. In this model, leadership without vulnerability leads to exploitation. Leadership without authority or vulnerability leads to withdrawal. Leadership that avoids authority but remains vulnerable will lead to paralysis and self-pity. True leadership that reflects Christ’s authority and vulnerability  looks like one who willingly goes to the cross.

What I liked about Sherwood’s part of the talk is that he describes a process he takes pastors through as they examine ministry failures. Which choice do they tend to make and why? Of the 129 he has taken through this process, 55% chose the path of power and control (exploitation), 29% chose to withdraw, and 16% chose to remain in ministry but disillusioned and wounded.

We cannot lead if we don’t understand that both [authority and suffering of Christ] are crucial to leadership.

Evaluate your leaders or your own leadership style? Do you or they embody both authority and vulnerability at the same time?


Filed under Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, Evangelicals, Relationships

The Power Behind Domestic and Political Dictatorships

The quote by Anjan Sundaram in Stringer continues to rattle in my head. I mentioned him here when I spoke about the power of small-time tyranny–that it lasts only when those close to the dictator look the other way.

Here’s the quote as he talks about being the victim of the dictator’s myth:

It startles me how steadfastly I believed, growing up, that our dictator was just, good and wise. I was never told anything to the contrary. … the indoctrination that holds up the dictator as a savior, a sage, as all-powerful. Until recently this myth usually invoked God, a divine right to power. These days dictators have less need for mysticism: they us the tools of liberty–elections, business, schools, art, the media. The successful dictator creates at once a terror of his presence and a fear of his loss. (p. 61-2)

Terror of presence, fear of absence. Sounds similar to the experience of victims of domestic abuse. Afraid of being hit, afraid of being abandoned. In order to have someone excuse violent and abusive behavior of a dictator, you have to believe that you need them, that what they do is necessary or acceptable in light of a worse outcome. While Sundaram may be right that dictators speak less of divine right, I suspect many religious abusive husbands use a variant on divine right to excuse lording it over their wives. And abusive wives can claim that their husband’s (supposed) failure to lead gives rights to engage in verbal abuse.

What is the power behind a dictator? Myth. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. 

True power does not grasp its right but willingly gives up power for the sake of others.  Philippians 2 gives us this clear picture.

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Filed under Abuse, Biblical Reflection, Uncategorized

Andy Crouch Coming to Biblical–FREE event

Andy Crouch will be here at Biblical Seminary on May 26 as our next speaker in our lecture series: Conversations on Christianity & Culture. His presentation is entitled: Playing God: Christian Reflections on the Use and Misuse of Power. I highly recommend you signing up  here for this free event. Andy is easy to listen to and careful in his presentations. The previous link will tell you more about him and about Biblical if you need more info.

The topic of power is very apropos whether you are thinking about church politics, abortion issues, healthcare reform or abuse of authority in the church.

Sign up for it since we have limited space. You will want to reserve your spot so you don’t have to watch a simulcast screen in an overflow room.

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Filed under Abuse, Biblical Seminary, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, Missional Church

Infidelity: personality or opportunity?

On the way to work today I heard a radio personality muse about the rampant sexual infidelity among politicians and sports figures. They talked about how people (i.e., men as the stereotype goes)  in power have much more opportunity for sexual acting out because they have more women offering themselves to them. Probably true…

But, is it that they have more opportunity (and thus more chance to give in to temptation) or is it because they have a personality that sets themselves up for infidelity? And would  you have a different answer if we were talking about bribe taking or other financial temptations instead of sexual indiscretion?

I think they are the same AND I think every has opportunity (some more than others). What matters is one’s perceptions of self and others. While personality plays a part of our self awareness, the drive to win, be the best, to get the prize, listening only to one’s fans, the sense that you are better than others also is formed from self-talk. Thus, opportunity makes it possible but failure to be self-critical is the key feature that makes opportunity become reality.


Filed under Cognitive biases, ethics, personality, Psychology, Sex

On political and marital fights

Recently presented on the matter of marital conflict. On the way home I had a vigorous (and fun!) political debate with a colleague. I came to the realization that there are many similarities between both conflicts. Conflict is almost always about power with the particular issues (or the content of the conflict) a very distant second. We take positions because we see the dangerousness of the other person’s position or direction (and our loss of power). For example, if we follow our spouse’s financial behaviors, we’ll end up in the poor house. If we allow Obama to make decisions, he’ll ruin America. And just like in marital conflicts, we ascribe intent–he WANTS to destroy us all.

What I notice is that while we barely admit our own failings, we love to play out the failings of our opponent/spouse. Obama is taking advantage of a financial crisis to get some of his interests cared for (which of course fails to acknowledge that Bush got the Patriot Act because of a crisis). We could easily say the same in reverse.

My colleague and I most definitely agree on some things–that most politicians are narcissists, that they are more interested in winning than cooperating for the greater good. Truth be told, marital conflict has some similarities. Being heard, getting the other to acknowledge our points may be more important to us than finding a common bond.

It should surprise us that these similarities exist. Since Eden, we’ve been fighting for position and power.

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Filed under christian counseling, conflicts, marriage, News and politics, Relationships

The two sides of Power

In staff meeting today we listened to a Tim Keller sermon on political power (I wonder how many private practice psychology staff meetings do something neat like this!) from the text of Jesus conversations with Pilate. In talking about political power, Keller quoted Vaclav Havel on the topic. You can find Havel’s quote herewithin a speech he made after receiving the Sonning Prize in 1991. This speech was designed to answer these two questions:

“Why is it that people long for political power, and why, when they have achieved it, are they so reluctant to give it up?” 

I don’t have it exactly as either Keller or Havel said it, but both were making this point:

1. We want to use power in the service of all that is true, good, and right. We want to use power to better the world. While some may use power from the get-go for evil purposes, most do not.

2. But we also wan to use power in the service of self. Havel talks about use of power for self-affirmation. Self-affirmation, Havel says, is not “essentially reprehensible” but human. But without suspicious self-examination, a slippage happens–something like this, it makes sense that my important work means I get special privileges in order to do my work well. But then I begin to lose the difference between being enabled to do my job better and the self-affirmation that I so desperately crave.”

Regardless of how pure his intentions may originally have been, it takes a high degree of self-awareness and critical distance for someone in power–however well-meaning at the start–to recognize that moment [when we stop caring about the state and start only caring about self-affirmation]

I see similarities outside of power. When I counsel someone long silenced through abuse and neglect, I see someone who is readily aware of the impact of abuse of power. When that person develops their voice, they begin to exert power for the sake of truth, goodness, and all that is right. They say no to further abuse; they raise their voice so as to be heard. They learn to use power to draw proper boundaries. But like all, it is easy to use the power for self-affirmation and self-protection. It is easy to argue for its goodness and rightness and to become blind to the demanding side of self-affirmation.

Power is good, but humans with power must be vigilant to avoid the corruption. Vaclav Havel recognizes the need to stay vigilant. John Adams recognized the inherent corruption of power as he designed the separation of powers for the USA. And we look to Jesus who willingly gives up his right to power but uses his power to sacrifice himself for our sake.

Good to think about in this season of elections. Pray we have leaders who will question their tendency to self-affirmation. And pray that each of us uses power for justice and not for self alone.


Filed under Abuse, Cultural Anthropology, Great Quotes, News and politics, self-deception

Who is the most dangerous person the the world?

Okay, what I’m about to say isn’t completely true, but hyperbole aside, I think my point is still valid…

Who is most dangerous? The one who believes him or herself to be powerless but want just a little power to be seen, known, heard, etc. When we feel powerless we do not believe our reactions to others to be anything but a trifle. So, we do not see our impact on others. And so we excuse our rantings as nothing more than a cry to be heard. 

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