This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series The Use and Abuse of Power in Ministry

It’s why you get nervous when you’ve messed up at work and are afraid your boss will find out. It’s what helps attractive people get treated better than normal looking people. It’s what helps the rich have their concerns addressed, while those who are poorer are often ignored. What is it?

It’s power, and we interact with it everyday.

“Power is simply the “ability to cause or prevent change.”1 It’s neither a positive or negative, but simply a fact of life. Everything we do is within the context of social power. In every human interaction, power is unequally distributed among the participants.

The following chart, taken from Making Room for Leadership by MaryKate Morse2 shows the qualities that are likely to give someone more power in a U.S. social setting.3

More Power Less Power
Male Female
Majority Culture Minority Culture
Extroverted Introverted
Middle Age (men), Youth (women) Old Age
Good looks; attractiveness Ordinary Physical Features
Wealth; fame Poor or Middle Class; Unknown
Well-dressed Unexceptionally Dressed
Higher education Little Education
Married Single
Role authority; corner office Under authority; cubicle

While each specific situation has it’s own dynamics, in general what this chart is describing is that in a group meeting, an older white male will tend to have more social power than a young, inexperienced ethnic minority female. He will be more likely to be able to cause or prevent change than she will be.

However, power is not static. That same, young, inexperienced ethnic minority female in a different setting might find herself being the person in the room with the most power. In a group of women from lower socio-economic status or with less education in their background, she would be the person most likely to be able to create or prevent change.

In the following video4, Andy Crouch speaks about a situation that helped him come to a realization of the power that he had.

Over the coming posts in this series we’ll talk more about power and how God causes us to steward it in ministry. Power dynamics in ministry are often just below the surface, rarely acknowledged but having considerable sway over how an organization functions. My desire is that by having a conversation about power and ministry we’ll be able to move towards a better future where those of us in leadership in ministry live out God’s desire for the power He has given us.

It starts with the recognition that power exists. Then we have to learn to talk about it.

photo courtesy: Jonathan Kos-Read

Series NavigationWhy Don’t We Talk About Power? >>
  1. MaryKate Morse. Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence, Kindle Location 342 []
  2. Kindle Location 860 []
  3. The qualities listed in the chart are obviously culturally influenced and would differ as you traveled around the world. The chart is also meant to be descriptive of U.S. majority culture dominated society, not prescriptive of who should or should not receive power in any given situation. []
  4. Special thanks to Brian Virtue and my wife, @yosoykristy, for introducing me both to this video and the concept of power in general. []