Power, Authority, and Abuse Among God’s People

The responsibility of a seminary is to train those in its care with both knowledge and skill to serve in the ministry of their calling. Too many seminaries fail at training their students in the use and navigation of power and authority, the foundational realities of leadership. I am pleased that Dr. Scott Whitson, a B. H. Carroll Theological Institute Ph.D. graduate and Teaching Fellow, has incorporated Dr. Diane Langberg’s book, Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church, as a text in the seminary’s Leadership in Ministry course. Understanding the nature, use, and abuse of authority and power which is inherent in a position of service and leadership, is essential to theological education training.

Words to Empower or Coerce?

 

Dr. Diane Langberg, the Frank and Pauline Patterson Lecturer for B. H. Carroll’s Fall Colloquy, exposes the true nature of power and authority and both its abusive and redemptive uses. For example, Dr. Langberg points out that the words we speak to others from positions of power can destroy or heal. Langberg writes,

In Christendom, we can use spiritual language to cloak selfish ambition, hide abuses of many kinds, and do incalculable damage in the name of God (Langberg, 53).

Persons in power in the church can use biblical and ecclesiastical vocabulary as weapons to exercise their power and authority to coerce followers to bend to their will. On the other hand, Jesus used words to heal and fight against the misuse of power and authority.

For example, Jesus called people to take on his “yoke,” his teachings and way of life, which was “easy to bear” and delivered “rest for your soul.” (Matthew 11:28-30) The yoke of the Roman Empire placed on the shoulders of Jesus’ fellow Israelites was just the opposite. It was hard to bear and damaged the soul. Both ways of life were the result of how either kingdom used the power and authority they possessed. Even Paul, who sometimes is portrayed as a misogynist, angry man, acknowledged the power and authority given him by the Risen Lord, but when he came to tell the news of Jesus, he…

…never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. (1 Thessalonians 2:5-7; ESV)

Langberg insists that “Our words are to be nothing less than the thoughts of our God. His thoughts and words became flesh so that we might see clearly who he is. He lived out before us what he spoke. We must be careful what thoughts of humankind we sanctify. And we must know that our words spoken, no matter how true, are not real unless they are incarnated” (Langberg, 57).

Power Redeemed

 

A second aspect of power and authority Langberg presses home is the heart of her message: we must redeem the use of power as followers of Jesus. The good doctor reminds us:

First, we need to reiterate that Christ is building his kingdom in the hearts of men and women, not in the externals we have come to love, protect, and praise (162).

Christ-centered leadership should see each person as created in the image of God, no matter how wounded or abusive he or she is. Relationship built upon a character of integrity is the “word-became-flesh” platform leaders serve in the kingdom of God. Langberg concludes:

To use our power rightly in this world, we must exercise it through love, as Christ does. To do this, we must first love the Lord our God with all our being (178).

And she added pointedly,

I have been struck recently by the fact that within Christendom we seem bent on prioritizing authority over love (179).

Langberg has boldly, honestly, and without shame called Christians and the Church to be whom Christ created them to become. Now more than any time in recent history does, the church have the opportunity to truly be the Body of Christ in a lost and abused world.

Conclusion

 

I have addressed the issue of power and authority in leadership before. Power and authority are the currency of leadership. A seminary should address this topic in its curriculum because every leader in any role has a wallet full of both, which he or she received given to him or her by virtue of position, persuasion, or personality. How the leader invests that currency is the difference between a leader who serves and a leader who is served. I am pleased that B. H. Carroll Theological Institute addresses these realities in our equipping of men and women called to serve Christ in the diverse and global ministries of his church.

 

Langberg, Diane. Redeeming Power. Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

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