“The question is not whether pastors have power, but what kind, how much, and how they use it”
Recently, David Mathis, pastor and executive editor for desiringGod.org authored “What Do Pastors Do with Power: Owning and Using the Uncomfortable Gift”. In it he describes “Power of Office”, “Power of Influence”, and “Power of Team” and then shares his thoughts on a pastor’s proper attitude toward his power.
His words on team power are relevant for Presbyterian readers who also relate to power in their churches through Sessions. He writes:
Still, one more dynamic to consider is the pooling (or consolidating) of power — what happens especially when men become friends and work together. This is particularly relevant to a plurality of pastor-elders, working as a team in a local church, which is the focus of Dave Harvey’s new book, The Plurality Principle. Harvey returns again and again to a central thesis: “The quality of your elder plurality determines the health of your church.”
“Good pastors know that God has given them power for serving the church, not self.”
Pastor-elder teams who know and teach the Scriptures well, and genuinely enjoy each other and get along, unavoidably become a formidable center of power in a local church. Not only do they have their office, and in theory are the church’s most able teachers, but their influence is compounded by their unity and industry as a team. That consolidation can be scary for those who feel weak and insecure and carry suspicion of the team’s motives.
The question, though, is not whether such pluralities have power, but what they will do with it. Will they use it to serve the good of the whole church, or use it to serve themselves? Will they give themselves to enrich the flock, or take selfishly for their own private gain? Will they be a force for good, or reinforce their own good?
These are powerful questions and underscore the importance of congregational rights in a Presbyterian system where members study and choose their leaders and pastors. Mathis also writes:
Good pastors, for good reason, do not gravitate toward talking much in public about their own power. Still, engaging the subject well, at least in private, can serve both them and their people. Harvey writes, “The wise leader acknowledges his power and leverages it wisely” (108). And here the New Testament prescription of a plurality of pastors — a team working together — shines with one of its many bright rays of glory. Wise pastors recognize their power in the context of the team, and remind each other about it. “Wise pluralities have power dynamics as a functional category for how their leadership affects the church” (110). In the team is both more power (to use for good), and simultaneously more safety for the congregation, as individual pastors are held accountable by fellow, mature Christian brothers are not yes-men but stand on their own two feet before God.
Doubtless, you can find some conceited elders and councils, swollen with pride and selfish motives, who think often about the power and influence they have in the church, their little kingdom. They savor it, guard it, and in the end, aren’t as powerful as they think.
If you are Midway-affiliated reader, consider your leadership. Study the men prayerfully that are put before you in elder elections.
Your church constitution prescribes this activity as the purpose of a pulpit committee, which is for the congregation to study pastoral candidates and determine their suitability to meet the spiritual needs of the church. Do you hear your pastors and elders affirming their own power and office often? Or do you see humble men who do not often speak about their power?
Mathis writes that acknowledgment of proper power of office in a church isn’t improper, but warns against the pride it may bring writing:
Humble pastors and councils don’t think often about their power, but at times they are real with each other about it. And from time to time, it can be good for one brother to look around the circle and remind the team, “You know, guys, as the elders and teachers of this church, we may have a lot more power and influence than we’re typically aware of.” That should not swell our pride. Rather, it should give us a holy fear, and lead us to regularly hit our knees and ask God to humble us, and keep us humble, that we steward the power we have on loan from him to make much of Christ and serve this church, not make much of ourselves and serve our own comforts and preferences.
You can read Mathis’s entire article here.