This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series The Use and Abuse of Power in Ministry

Throughout Scripture God is consistently on the side of the powerless. His care and concern for them reverberates across the pages of Scripture.

“Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” – James 1:27

The Latin American Catholic Church thought theologically about this and codified it into the language of preference: God has a preferential option for the poor.1

This is a fundamental character quality of God to see that His heart beats for those who are powerless, who get lost in the system, who are abused by those with more power. But it’s not just enough to stop here and admire God’s character. As people who are created in His image, this has direct consequences for how we are to behave.

God expects us to be on the side of the powerless.

Some of His harshest rebukes are when His people act just like the world and begin to favor those in power. His righteous anger is rekindled towards those of us who should know better, who should be biased towards the powerless:

“God calls the judges into His courtroom…”Enough! You’ve corrupted justice long enough…You’re here to defend the defenseless, to make sure that underdogs get a fair break; Your job is to stand up for the powerless, and prosecute all those who exploit them.“ – Psalm 82

”Oh! Can you believe it? The chaste city has become a whore! She once was all justice, everyone living as good neighbors, And now they’re all at one another’s throats…They never stand up for the homeless, never stick up for the defenseless.” – Isaiah 1:21–23

For those of us seeking to advance God’s mission in the world, we must never be so distracted by the message we are communicating that we forget to behave as God would behave. If we cross oceans to share the good news but forget that our job is to stand up for the powerless, are we really advancing God’s agenda?

This call to live with the character of the God we are ambassadors for has direct impact on us as image-bearers. The very way we go about fulfilling His Great Commission must be done in a way that protects those among us who are without power. Bias towards the powerful is the way of the world, not the way of the Kingdom.

Practical Preference for the Powerless

Redesigning mission to protect the powerless will have numerous effects on our structures and processes. Here are a few examples of how we could become more God-like in serving God’s mission:

  • HR and Dispute Resolution Processes – What might it look like to include intentional language to protect the less powerful in disputes? Could each situation start with the practice of explicitly describing the power dynamics at play? With a recognition of who has more or less power, could processes be followed that protected both the powerless and the powerful? (Many times I have experiences large organizations subconsciously protecting the powerful, or the image of the organization. Hardly what God would be calling us to.)
  • Education on Power – Could we develop training sessions so that every leader begins to have a framework for power and how that affects their team and ministry? Could leaders in “judging positions” (HR, application reviewers, leadership selectors) have it be an automatic part of their development?
  • Power Audit – What if we did a top-to-bottom examination of the organization to see how we were doing at our job, standing up for the powerless? For those typically with less social power, like women and ethnic minorities, would they give our systems and structures a job promotion? Or would they join God in His rebuke of our job evaluation?

God is tilted towards the powerless – and expects us to be as well. May the very structures we’ve created to advance His mission reflect this expectation.

The fulfillment of the Great Commission may be riding on it.

image credit: Alex

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  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Option_for_the_poor []