Power in the church
Where two or three gather in churches there is power. Surveys tell us most clergy enjoy preaching more than anything else. (Here, said one, ‘I’m not at the mercy of petty bureaucrats!’).
Lay leaders may exercise power: even becoming ‘permission-withholders’ (Lyle Schaller). I asked some Anglican clergy about the most powerful group in their church (it was the women’s guild: when they don’t like the vicar they withhold their fete-moneys!).
Church renewal is the process whereby church people, systems and structures receive new life, meaning and power.
Ministry renewal happens when pastors and leaders move from an organisational/maintenance mode of leadership to one of empowering the whole church for ministry.
The church-as-institution may resist such empowerment. Religious institutions tend over time to domesticate (Freire, , 1972) and routinise faith-traditions. Marx may have had a point when he suggested that institutional religion is the enemy of social transformation because it sacralises the forms and structures of society.
Christians bring a mix of altruism and a ‘what’s in it for me’ agenda to church meetings. Roy Oswald () says every person in an organisation has banked an amount of ‘power currency’ through personal (knowledge, position, verbal skills etc.) and corporate attributes (role, reputation, influence with group/s, access to communication channels). The pastor-leader had better identify formal and informal power-holders, groups and factions, and trace those communication channels if he or she is to influence people. Then, says Oswald, the more I empower others, the more powerful everyone in my system is, the more powerful I become. In the words of the title of a 1970 book by David Dunn
So a renewed church will take seriously the role of the laity in ministry. As the Whiteheads put it  (5) J.D and E.E Whitehead, , 1983:5): ‘A contemporary shift in ecclesiology, our understanding of the nature and structure of the church, has significantly influenced the shape of theological reflection in ministry. Previously we have been familiar with a church in which an individual authority (whether Catholic pope, Episcopal bishop, or Methodist pastor) reflected on and made decisions for the believing community. The emphasis today moves toward understanding the community of faith as the locus of theological and pastoral reflection. Pastoral insight and decision are not just received in the community but are generated there as well… This shift requires new pastoral skills – group reflection, conflict resolution, and decision making – for the community and for its ministers.’
Although the church comprises human beings, it is not a human institution. The church’s ministry is Christ’s (John chapter 20 verse 21), carrying out in the world his ministry both extensively and intensively. Its mandate coincides with Jesus’ own definition of his calling (Luke chapter 4 verses 18-19). The style of Christ’s ‘headship’ was exemplified in washing his friends’ feet. His badge of office was not a sceptre, but a towel.
He models ‘servant leadership’, an authority to be found not in titles or status but in empowering others (cf. Mark chapter 10 verses 42-44). That is to be our model too. The ministry belongs to the whole church, not just trained clergy (Ephesians chapter 4 verses 11-12,25). So we will have to abolish the ‘clergy’ – or the ‘laity’. Every Christian is a minister; the whole church are the , the people of God. Our terminology should catch up with our theology at this point: let us drop the term ‘minister, singular.
‘Why is it’ asks George Goyder  (6) (, 1977:33) ‘that the church today will not trust its members? Why does the church so often decline to recognise and to accept the activity of the Spirit among unregulated groups of Christians? Why is all initiative in the church expected and presumed to derive from the clergy? It is because we have substituted for the biblical doctrine of the Holy Spirit as ruler in the church a doctrine of our own, unknown to scripture, the authority of professionalism’.
Ethology is the study of the comparison between human and animal behaviour. An important concept in ethology is the notion of territoriality: the practice of marking a piece of ground and defending it against intruders. Animals as diverse as fish, worms, gazelles, and lizards stake out particular areas and put up fierce resistance when intruders encroach on their area. Many species use odorous secretions to mark the boundaries of their territory. For example the wolf marks its domain by urinating around the perimeter.
Some scholars argue that people are territorial animals: humans’ genetic endowment drives them to gain and defend territory, much as the animals do. ‘The dog barking at you from behind his master’s fence acts for a motive indistinguishable from that of his master when the fence was built’  (7) Ardrey, , 1966:5)
The list of territorial behaviours is endless: in a library you protect your space with a book, coat, or note-book; you ‘save a place’ in the theatre or at the beach – reserving a spot that is ‘mine’ or ‘ours’; juvenile gangs fight to protect their turf (remember David Wilkerson’s vivid descriptions of New York youth gangs in The Cross and the Switchblade?); neighbours of similar ethnic backgrounds join forces to keep other groups out; nations war over contested territory; pastors accuse others of ‘sheep-stealing’  (8) Lyle Schaller, , 1979:65ff.).
‘Turfism’ is rife in churches. The roster lady quits because someone didn’t consult her about flowers left from the Saturday wedding; the organist won’t play anything composed after the 1900s; the women’s fellowship won’t give the pastor – or anyone else – the key to their new room; the board chairman is angry because they met when he was away; an elder complains that the youth director took some kids to a Christian rock concert; the cleaner resigns because young people left chairs in disarray; the pastor is miffed when a Bible study group starts up without his knowledge.
As a result of our fallenness, this planet and its inhabitants have substituted ‘territoriality’ (‘my space – keep out’) for ‘hospitality’ (‘my space – you’re welcome!’).
The Bible has many stories and injunctions about reversing this effect of the Fall. Now pastors and leaders in the church are invited to be ‘hospitable’ rather than ‘territorial’, and it’s something they generally do very poorly.
The biblical models are clear. Moses was told by his father-in-law: ‘You’re killing yourself!’ (Exodus chapter 18 verse 18). His advice: Pray for the people, teach them God’s laws, and appoint co-leaders. When Jesus was recruiting disciples to lead his church he had the same three priorities: prayer, teaching (by modelling and instruction), and training for ministry.
It’s amazing how much Jesus delegated, very early, to his disciples. Then when these apostles messed up the early Church’s social welfare system, they had an ‘aha’ experience: ‘Oh, we should have remembered; our task is to give our full time to prayer and teaching the Word, so let’s delegate other ministries to people full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom’ (Acts chapter 6 verses 1-4). It would be wonderful if more pastors had this kind of ‘aha’ experience.
Part 3 is next from Rev Dr Rowland Croucher the Pastor’s Pastor for well over 40 years, founded John Mark Ministries.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand. Dr Mark Tronson’s Press Service International in 2019 was awarded the Australasian Religious Press Association’s premier award, The Gutenberg.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at