Servant leadership is the goal for those who serve in Christian organizations and churches. We believe that serving the least of these is the way of Jesus. We desire to have less of ourselves and more of God working in and through us. It’s a narrow way and a difficult way to live.
The difficulty increases when a person has obvious, strong and charismatic gifts of leadership. Those who are created to lead others (from the front) can end up thinking their gifts are less desirable, and attempt to downplay their abilities so that they can stay out of sight. The problem is that their God-given influence is negated from being a positive contribution to the kingdom of God.
Enter MaryKate Morse, professor at George Fox Seminary, who has written, “Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence.” In this relatively short book, Morse contends that power can be used for God’s glory and, in fact, should be. The social and physical influences of your position, gifts and presence are seen, by Morse, as gifts from God and can be used for His glory.
Much of the criticism of large and charismatic leaders comes from their up-front ways and strong influence being seen as overpowering and pushing out the Spirit. To be sure, some of the criticism of major Christian pastors comes from insecure pastors of smaller churches and since 60% of churches in USAmerica are under 100 people, that’s a large and noisy group. The claim most often heard is that they will not be able to handle the temptation that comes with fame and so they should avoid it at all costs. For me, this reasoning is faulty. Would we similarly say all people should avoid any success because success only sets us up for more failure (cue Latrell Sprewell)? Of course not – but in Christian leadership circles it’s acceptable to give a negative assessment of a person who is a dynamic and even famous leader/pastor just because of their success and influence.
Morse’s book actually takes a biblical and social look at power and it’s use in our lives. She considers Jesus’ own use of presence and power in his ministry and describes a way forward for gifted Christian leaders. There is even a couple practical chapters for emerging leaders navigating large meetings that include ways of speaking and even strategic places to sit around a board room table.
In her own words, here’s what you need to know:
- p.17, “When I felt powerless, I wondered if that was how to be a servant. Then when I felt powerful, I struggled with the impact I had on playing the game and whether or not that impact was Christlike.// I couldn’t find the balance between being myself while holding Christ at the center and taking up space to accomplish God’s purposes.”
- p.26, “[People in the organization] were comfortable with his [domineering] style because it created a sense of security among them.”
- p.55, (about Luke 7) “A true prophet would not contaminate himself by allowing a woman to touch him in public. Simon’s inward attitude about Jesus might suggest his uncertainty on how to proceed with the meal because of the embarrassing event occurring in his house.”
- p.58, “Power is a gift. Powerlessness is not a virtue; rather, using power to help the powerless is.”
- p.85, “charismatic leaders influence through emotional appeals based in self-confidence that stems from an unshakable conviction in the rightness, even righteousness, of their beliefs… Charismatic leaders create meaning for others.”
- p.125, “Even thought we value servant leadership, which has a lot to do with the use of power, we usually aren’t mindful of the stewardship of power. We tend to equate servant leadership with spiritual, internal character qualities manifested in the leader’s public behaviors… Everything about the leader, from the first hellow to the final decision, is a reflection of his or her stewardship of power – either for service or personal gain.”