Sources of Power for Leadership


In many management texts they supply an analysis of the power bases that people work from in management. One such is:

(Quoted from Lloyd S. Baird, James E. Post & John F. Mahon Management - Functions and Responsibilities Harper & Row 1990)

Legitimate Power: i.e. authority from a position - supervisor, boss etc

· Referent Power: power from a compelling personality - the secular charisma

· Coercive Power: power from a threat or the barrel of a gun

· Reward Power: If you do something I will give you something e.g. a bonus, pay rise etc

· Expert Power: you believe someone and do as they say because they are an expert.

To these we add:

Spiritual Power: power from the gifts of leadership

· Relationship Power: You do something because of the relationship

The question that has to be asked is what power bases are legitimate for Christian ministry? Which power bases are you comfortable with being used in the church? Why?

a) Coercive Power: This base has little place in the context of Christian ethos or ethics. It is hard to see the use of threats as a legitimate leadership tool. However this is heavily used in some churches to control paid ministry and also in general church politics.

b) Referent Power: Again this base has little place in the context of Christian ethos or ethics. Christian leadership is not about achieving an end by projecting personal charisma or personality.

c) Reward Power: This base has very little place in Christian ministry. It may be used on occasion in relationship based ministry such as mentoring or counseling but mainly as an adjunct to other bases.

d) Legitimate Power: This base has been heavily used in the Christian church through the ages. I would suggest that it should be rarely if ever used. The issue is not whether it is ethical but its use demonstrates the failure of the leader to achieve their purpose. A situation where legitimate power is the solution indicates serious issues with the protagonists of that situation. There is a lack of relationship, maturity or righteousness on one side or both for fiat to be the only option to achieve an end. However in some relationship based ministries as a teaching or healing tool it can be very effective as one of a range of tools.

e) Expert power: We use this base heavily week by week as the preacher preaches for example. For christian use though the expert needs to leaven the base with a modicum of humility.

f) Relationship Power: This is central to the Christian ethos. Serving one another, expressing love to one another. In fact the christian ethos goes beyond this to extending love and care to those outside relationship. As with all bases this one too can be abused in the kind of manipulation that we can all identify.

g) Spiritual Power: Obviously legitimate but the temptation is to rely on another power base rather than this one. In addition it can't be faked.

Stepping beyond the power bases there is another observation that can be made. There is a sense in which having to push to achieve ends by Christian leadership is false. The attempt to push to achieve ends - a real temptation - tends to lead us back to the illegitimate power bases. Instead Christian leadership is about having a part in, enabling or facilitating God achieving his ends. As such there is a sense of rest, effortlessness - although from personal experience when I have hit close to this ideal it has been very hard work in other senses.

The following passages give some examples of the various powerbases in use:

a) 1Kings 18:7-20

There are three characters in this passage: Elijah, Obadiah and Ahab. Both Obadiah and Ahab respond to Elijah in interesting ways. Obadiah shows awe and Ahab shows hatred. However in both cases they end up doing exactly what Elijah wants despite having good reasons for ignoring him: Obadiah  - fear for his life, Ahab - hatred. Elijah is outside the structure and so can only be operating out of spiritual power.

b) Acts 5:40-42

The council or Sanhedrin was the Jewish government. Their approach to the Apostles was to threaten. Thus they were operating out of legitimate power and out of coercive power.

c) Acts 5:1-10

It is fascinating to observe that Peter in his dealing with Annanias and Sapphira is almost gentle and yet the results are spectacular. My vote would be spiritual power

d) Acts 5:33-40

Gamaliel cut across the argument and the desires of the Sanhedrin or council because he was a respected scholar. An expert in the Law and one who lived it. He was operating out of expert power.

e) 1Cor 5:1-5, 2Cor 2:1-8

The first passage has Paul, the founder of the Corinthian church and the top leader passing judgement by using legitimate power. The second passage has the same Paul appealing to the church to act on the basis of relationship power.

f) Philemon 10-19

In this short epistle, Paul pleads for the run away slave Onesimus on the basis of his relationship with the master Philemon.

g) 1Pet 5:1-5

Peter appeals to the elders on the basis of his relationship with them thus using realtionship power.