What Do You Think?

With both Brad and Brother Maynard taking a look at the nature of toxic religious systems, I have been chewing on what contributes to systemic toxicity. These are just a few of the thoughts rattling around in my brain at the moment.
I would love your input and insight about these ideas.

Definition: Politics – maneuvering within a group to gain control or power

Is the following logic faulty?

  • A. Politics are endemic to institutions.
  • B. Power is endemic to politics.
  • C. Power is endemic to institutions.

Wherever one person has more power and particularly where they take steps of any kind to maintain this power, abuse is not only possible, but in some capacity, likely. (Brother Maynard)

Is toxicity inherent to church organizations? We might assume that it wouldn’t/couldn’t happen to us or our group. Having experienced the negative dynamics of groupthink, I have to wonder if abuse is an inevitable outcome of the politics that are inherent to organizations.

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46 thoughts on “What Do You Think?

  1. Grace,

    This is an interesting question.

    While, politics and power are endemic to institutions, I think power is endemic to relationships. It takes the transforming work of the Holy Spirit to re-create people to reflect the Trinity relationship in our own relations with each other.

  2. I can think of two main contributors to toxicity:

    The fuel is the Christian subculture largely insulated from the world at large and the match is the profesionalization of ministry. These two make a combustible and toxic combination.

    Most, if not all, high profile preachers and celebrities in the Evangelical subculture command respect only in the subculture. But once outside the church, unless you’re Billy Graham, nobody has heard of you, even though you may claim millions of minions around the world.

    The church becomes their playground on which they have to do what it takes to protect their vested interests and guard their turfs. Job security, ya know. Power and politics as you say.

  3. It seems to me the question is missing some key ingredients in order for the situation to become totally “abusive” or “toxic”. I would add two things to politics and power – and that would be false religious beliefs and money.

    I’ll throw out a few scattered thoughts on this – these may not be related at all.

    1. Politics is much more prevalent in a democracy than in a monarchy. Yet, seemingly, monarchies have a much greater potential at becoming abusive.

    2. What causes the “toxicity effect” is this false belief structure (in me) that says this religious leader (or system) has some kind of authority over me, and this foolish reaction to blindly follow that person. I’ve come to conclude that if a blind man follows a blind man, they will both fall into a pit.

    3. The churches financial system has to be a key ingredient in this whole mess. When a person’s livelihood is at stake – they will get real ugly in order to protect that. Confronting that is like trying to take a piece of meat away from a big dog.

    4. Political maneuvering isn’t just used to gain positions of power – but also to convince the “subjects of abuse” to remain in their position of “powerlessness”.

  4. No, I don’t think that’s faulty logic. And there’s a lot of good comments on here already.

    I think all of these issues (institutionalism, power and politics) in the church are symptomatic of a deeper problem: we don’t who we are. Or rather, we don’t know Whose we are. And just how deeply loved and accepted we are by Him, even if we never had anything to offer Him at all. (Which I would argue is true anyway, but a lot of people seem to believe God needs their gifting and their ministry, and even their institution in order to accomplish His purpose).

    I think ultimately, most of the 3 issues you mentioned boil down to either insecurity or pride (or the type of pride that attempts to make up for insecurity). We are driven to validate ourselves, in the eyes of each other and in the eyes of the world, by building institutions and by cultivating positions of power and influence.

    It reminds me of Babel – come let us build a tower to God. That “come LET US build” part is still motivating and capturing the hearts of many people, including many in the church. As if God is impressed with the institutions we build and the power bases we build for ourselves.

    Or at least, man is impressed. And so we feel validated, our insecurities are compensated for, and abuse is inevitable when spiritual formation of disciples is attempted by insecure leaders.

    Maybe I’m naive. But I think that the root behind a lot of abusive behavior is insecurity. Insecurity drives people to have to prove something, to seek power, to seek ‘success’ (even though their measure of success is a perversion, and God really isn’t impressed by those things).

    When we know who we are, and Whose we are, and how deeply we are loved – even with nothing to offer, then I believe that our propensity for abuse will be greatly diminished.

  5. Once again, great thoughts!!!

    Have started Rethinking the Wineskin, by F Viola, have been thinking about your thoughts myself for many months now.

    I tend to agree with David Cho and his thoughts. The two-caste system present with in many churchs has helped to create this toxicity, the clergy-caste using power and politics to influence the laity-caste.

    As Jerry says, the laity-caste have reamined in their position of powerlessness. This caste system is not New Testament, toxicity is being created due to a malformed body we call the established church.

  6. Your post and comments above made me think of the Depeche Mode song “People are People” and a couple lines in particular state, “And I’m relying on your common decency. So far it hasn’t surfaced, but I’m sure it exists”. The lyricist has it wrong, common decency is not common, it comes by way of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. I think the world should be expected to function as you have noted. Jesus said that the church however, should not operate the way the world does. Apparently we do not obey too well. Also, we should remember that there are tares among the wheat and wolves in sheeps clothing and darkness masquerading as light. Pick any organization of people you want and these things can happen on some level of toxicity. A pastor Del Rossin used to say, “I don’t want the Holy Spirit to just be resident in my life, I want him to be president.” How many persons in the organization desire that?

  7. Great question, Grace. We are wrestling with some of these right now in YWAM. YWAM is committed to decentralized leadership, which has resulted in some amazingly creative expressions of missionality. However, it has also resulted in centres developing around bad and even abusive theology/practices.

    Here is my question: When such failures come, how do we in the organization respond adequately without the use of power? Frankly, those hurt by these systems have little appreciation for a “relational” approach that does not offer firm accountability and protection.

    I believe in community led movements. I believe that positional power comes with some serious challenges. However, in the face of toxicity, those who would at once resist the power model, cry out for the powers to do something. I would appreciate anyones input here.

    This is a question that has robbed me of many nights sleep, especially lately. Thanks!

    Peace,
    Jamie

  8. What Jerry said!

    Mark R,

    I didn’t put it in terms of “the two-caste system,” but you articulated it better than I could have. Thanks for crediting me with that thought anyway :).

    Along the same idea is the pastor centric model of the traditional church. It is not uncommon to hear people refer to high profile churches as Steve Piper’s church, Robert MacArthur’s church, John Warren’s church etc. (names altered).

    Often I ask people well versed in the New Testament. Who was the pastor of the Galatian Church? The Corinthian church? The Ephesian Church? The Philadelphia Church? The Roman Church? The Smyrna Church?

  9. traveller,
    Good point. Divesting oneself of power within relationships is an ongoing choice.

    david,
    Great thoughts!
    Point one – big fish in little ponds.
    Point two – professionalization of ministry can lead to clergy abuse. However, depending on the structure, sometimes the power is in the board and the pastors become the victims in political power struggles.
    As to your second comment, the celebrity role is especially dangerous and unhealthy for a spiritual leader.

    jerry,
    Interesting points. What I have observed in various organizations, groups, and boards, is that regardless of the $$ or relevance of what is going on, there is often a lot of jostling and elbowing for organizational influence and control. Sometimes the leader is the perpetrator, sometimes they become abused.

    From your points, I think that a good understanding of our role in relation to the system is very healthy.

    Sarah,
    Great thoughts getting below the surface issues to some of the underlying motivations, insecurity, validation.

    When we know who we are, and Whose we are, and how deeply we are loved – even with nothing to offer, then I believe that our propensity for abuse will be greatly diminished.

    Wow!

    Mark,
    I agree that there is a kind of blind obedience that the “laity” are trained into in almost all of our churches. This is one of the most important reasons for deconstructing the clergy/laity split and developing healthier models and examples of leadership among the church.

    inheritor,
    I almost included Mt. 20:25-26 in this post. We aren’t supposed to operate with the same methods of power that the world does. I’m just wondering if there isn’t something inherent in the social structure of an organization that influences people toward political maneuvering.

    Jamie,
    Without knowing the intricate details, the thought that comes to mind is that structures of power do not necessarily follow organizational patterns.

    In a situation like this, I would be asking a few questions…

    1. Who holds the power?
    2. In what way are they misusing their power?
    3. From where do they derive their permission or authority to operate in this power?

    I believe the answer to resolving their misuse of power deals with addressing the source of permission.

    It is likely that there are power structures that could be mapped out, even if they are unauthorized and unnamed.

  10. Jamie:

    If you have multiple witnesses against a practice or doctrine that you think is really harming people – you have to confront that in the context of your relationships – with those who see the abuse and those who are doing the abusing. It seems like you’re in a real Matt 18:15-17 type of situation there.

    I think you do that in the spirit of Gal 6:1-2. (as tenderly and non-argumentative and non-accusing as you can). Ask a whole lot of questions when you go in – but take a “team” of people in there to confront that – as many as you need witnesses.

    Try not go conclude anything until you get a whole lot of questions answered. The more questions that are answered – the more chance you’ll have to see the disconnect -if there is one – and where you need to focus.

    The conversation can start out like “we are really concerned” – and “here is why…” and “we’d really like to discuss….

    Love will carry the day in that situation – not anger or frustration. It is very, very tough. There is nothing easy about it.

    You cannot turn your back and run away from a mean dog – you have to turn and face that dog and confront that dog. If you run, that dog will maul you.

    I’m not calling your leaders “dogs” – just telling you there’s a time to run – and there’s a time to confront. Some situations are indeed serious and need real attention. You have to figure out if this is one of those – and I’m guessing there are wonderful people around you who want to do the right thing – and that together – you will.

    I’m also guessing that quite a few people reading this blog will pray that you react correctly too!!

  11. David Cho, I love your questions! The reason we do not know the names of the pastors of the churches you mention is because “pastor” is a gift to be exercised among the body, not an authority or power to be used to dominate. There may have been more than one person so gifted in any of these churches. Of course, a “pastor” would be neither more important, nor less than anyone else provided with a different gift from the Spirit. Each one so gifted would be using their gift to build up the body. In so doing those outside would see the loving way in which the body developed and come to understand what it means to follow Jesus.

    Jamie, I would suggest for your consideration that power exercised within the ekklesia even for a “good” reason is still power. As messy, complex and often incomplete as it is I believe we must exercise love, not power. Love is patient, love is kind……This means that others may not respond appropriately or as we would expect but it is the only real “power” we can exercise as followers of Jesus. Of course, this presents problems for most “institutions” which have human power structures that are intended to be exercised and in many situations people within those organizations expect it to be exercised.

    I know this is likely to be a very unsatisfactory response to your question……

  12. Grace, to clarify my point about power is ultimately about relationships, not institutions. Institutions merely give the structure or framework for the exercise of power within relationships. Even as I read the comments to your post it is clear it is about the power between people not so much the institution itself. The institution merely facilitates the exercise of power within relationships.

    Having been a part of a much more organic situation for some time power can still be exercised because even without an institution the relationships exist.

    I do agree that institutions can be a significant part of the problem since they do provide a way for power to be exercised more efficiently and effectively……not a good thing.

  13. Grace, you host some of the best dialogues.

    Once the church moved from a movement of the converted to a movement of disciples, trouble started. And yet, the early apostles went around purposely creating communities of believers and even later establishing order for the inevitable choas that ensued. We’ve been searching for Utopia ever since.

    People are political.
    People are powerful.
    Power and politics are exercised within the context of relationship (I’m in agreement).
    No one is exempt from either.

    Jesus didn’t teach that these were inherently evil characteristics. He took power and politic from the static practice of the 1st century and reformed it, redeemed it. The main thrust of his instruction was “learn to do it differently.” I love how Peterson paraphrases MT 11:28-30 “Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”

    I spend alot of time thinking about what that looks like today. The discussion in this thread dominates the communication between ministers that I speak to everyday. How do we reform power and politic in 21st century? No one seems to be happy with the way power interacts with the church and yet power is necessary within it. How can the power of God transform how we experience leadership and how we lead? How can leaders structure our methods around 1 Cor 13 (as mentioned above)?

    We know that the present model is bankrupt. How can we kick start a new economy in Christian leadership?

    Um…thanks for the platform. I think I’ll continue this on my blog.

  14. I believe that In Western Christendom ‘correct knowledge’ has become the toxicity of power. Those who are reputed to have the most ‘correct knowledge’ become the prestigious and esteemed voices and faces of the various factions of Christendom. “Follow me!” they cry.

    Phew!!! Just a ‘Christianized’ form of Phariseeism. Jesus constantly attacked and ‘deconstructed’ this hierarchial system, and introduced the Kingdom construct “the greatest is the least and the least the greatest”. The church still doesn’t seem to be able to get their collective mind around this because they are stuck in a bureaucratic church/state paradigm. Sometimes I think the biblical reality of the Kingdom of God represents as big a threat to Western Christendom as it did to the sects of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Teachers of the Law in the first century.

  15. Grace, I’ve been trying to figure out what a German Shepherd has to do with the topic of power. I settled on the theme of marking territory though I have never ever seen an institutional leader doing it in this way. They usually ignore the inanimate objects and go straight for anything that’s still breathing. The results are the same though: a big brown dead patch of vegetation.

  16. David,

    Wow. You think in parables! I thought the German Shepherd was just introducing his own toxicity into the natural world. You took it to a whole other level. Kudos!

  17. David Cho – agreed with your thoughts about the professionalization of the ministry and therefore leaving an unprofessional ministry or as you say the minons. Clergy-caste/laity-caste.

  18. When you walked into your High school for the first time, it probably took about half the day to find ‘your place’.

    The pot heads occupy the grassy area at the back of the foot-ball field…the popular girls can be found gaggling in the best kept, most recently renovated girls washroom. The jocks…they’re on the field…the poets, well, they could be anywhere and they often prefer the old washroom where no one else wants to go because it’s quiet. The ‘smart’ kids are in the library. The ‘dumb’ kids are in shop.

    Rule #1; during lunch, in the cafeteria, it matters where you sit.
    Trespassers will be persecuted.

    A few people I know who have had the opportunity to work in our education systems have told me that school is where we get ‘sorted’ for later use
    One friend has stated it’s about 80% socialization and 20% academic.

    In other words, it’s not about what it’s about.
    In many ways it’s a training ground to let people know where they will be ‘allowed’/ ‘able’ to function in the world.

    Some of our churches operate as a training ground to let people know where they will be ‘allowed’/ ‘able’ to function in ‘the body’
    I say this because most of what I hear preached is not about God at all, it’s about us; our gifts, callings, destiny… spiritual success, how to get there, why we’re not there…etc.

    In other words, it’s not about what it’s about.

    Performance is the key. The ones who perform get support and praise, the rest of us either compete for the best seat in the cafeteria, or we hide in the old washroom until the bell rings

    People are people and we don’t have it all together. There are no perfect churches. But if we find our church functions like High school where social hierarchies are given more of a voice than the Creator of the Universe, eventually we may have to skip school and go find the Teacher:)

  19. Ken nailed it. Knowledge is used as power (in our western culture as a result of the Enlightenment) and our ‘Christendom’ institutions (church as we know it) reflects the same colonial mindset that is so entrenched in our culture.

    And 7cats, I share your weariness with it being ‘all about us’ and identify with ‘skipping school to go find the Teacher.’ Exactly!

  20. I totally agree with the knowledge=power mindset.

    Problem is – many of the churches have stressed Bible study and Bible reading and many people now have a very strong understanding of scripture. This puts the professional “authority on the Bible” in a quandary.

    Case in point – my father-in-law has been a Christian for about 10 years. He’s been thru Bible Study Fellowship for a couple of years – and read thru the Bible in a year – each year for the last 6 years. He asked me to start accompanying him to a men’s breakfast thing on Wed mornings – where a guy gets up and teaches for about 45 minutes while we eat breakfast. (I think Grandpa’s been concerned that maybe I’m slipping away because we’re not really “in church” anymore)

    Anyway – when the guy’s done speaking Grandpa will turn to me and say – that wasn’t quite right what he said about this was it? And how about that?

    So what do the pro’s do when the amateurs start questioning their teachings and start raising legitimate rebuttals? My experience with questioning a pro is – they get mad.

    The Apostle Paul called it ‘noble’ to check it out for yourself. I’ve been called a lot of things for questioning authority and using scriptures to counter something they’ve said – but ‘noble’ wasn’t one of the words used.

  21. Jamie:

    I thought about this some more – but I may have assumed something that wasn’t quite right – and that is this person or persons has been confronted privately (individually) by multiple people (you included).

    The order of Matt 18:15-20 is
    v15. Go PRIVATELY

    If that doesn’t work

    v16. Take witnesses (Go as a team)

    If that doesn’t work

    v17. Take the whole discussion to YWAM

  22. I really appreciate everyones advice and prayer in respect to my question. Most of what has been suggested as been tried or is being tried. Perhaps the fact that I cannot share details makes the question difficult to ask. We have a process for responding to these situation that is based on Scriptural understanding. We have not done it perfectly, but we are working on it.

    My underlying question has more to do with the recent and popular ideal of “powerless” leaders and/or leaderless communities. I affirm the values behind these ideals, but functionally believe that Scripture does require the use of power in leadership when consistent abuse happens, even in the face of repeated intervention.

    I guess it comes down to the challenge as a local and regional leader in district that has committed itself deeply to not wield power, serve and influence in love. Repeated private interventions have been had, yet the problem re-emerges. Those suffering from or witnessing the abuse, who do not see the interventions in their fullness (because they are private), feel ignored and forgotten. There is a certain tension when authoritarian leadership is being used abusively on the local level and the solution called for is authoritarian leadership from above.

    I honestly didn’t meant to hi-jack the blog post, so I apologize. Thanks again to everyone. Keep praying for us.

    Peace,
    Jamie

  23. Sorry, that sentence should read:

    “I guess it comes down to the challenge as a local and regional leader in district that has committed itself deeply to not wield power, but rather to serve and influence in love.”

  24. Jamie, I’m not sure that Scripture requires the use of power in leadership. I think (at least for this moment) that the power Scripture requires is from the Spirit through the body. I think the process is short circuited when one person appoints herself as the point man for the group and takes action. Sometimes I see an attempt at group process but it usually seems to be a puppet show with the leader pulling the strings. Now if we’ve set up our organization so that the power is vested in a few individuals but we try to function as if we are a body, we’ve got a dysfunctional system. We’re just pretending. Its broken and needs an overhaul. Its the new wine in old skins issue.

    There are a lot organizations and churches in North America that are doing great things in spite of their structures. Wherever you find sincere believers involved in structures, the Spirit will work in spite of the confinement. Its just not ideal and people get pinched along the way.

  25. Jamie,

    What you are raising is the crutch of the issue with institutions and organizations. The fact that love may have been the “power” that was used and no result occurred is not surprising. Organazitions and institutions are designed to control people. Sometimes that may be “good” as well as bad but it is control. In my view, control is always not a good thing.

    As I mentioned in my earlier comment the person to whom the love is expressed may not respond in a way that honors God and the other individuals involved nor in the way the organization/institution desire.

    Just as God has given us the freedom to accept his life, in all its meanings, or not, we can do no less to others. If this person does not immediately respond to our love, then we must continue to love, pray and dialogue with that person. It also may be appropriate to have a loving conversation with those being impacted by this person’s actions and words in order to help them sort through all the issues and make some decisions of their own.

    This is sincerely why I believe that organizations/institutions are not the best way to express the body of Christ in the world. By their very nature they require positions of authority that can be abused through the exercise of power that God never intended to exist. Organic expressions that actually avoid positions of authority are less susceptible to this problem. It can still arise but if the others are allowing the Spirit to express the gifts through those people the person has limited impact and does not need to be removed from any position of authority since it does not exist.

    I will continue to pray for you and all those involved in this situation that a transforming work of the Holy Spirit will occur in each of your lives.

  26. Jamie, David already beat me to the punch on this, but I wanted to affirm some of what he said.

    You wrote: …Scripture does require the use of power in leadership when consistent abuse happens

    I do not see this in scripture at all. What I see is the entire body being called upon to address consistent abuse. Jesus said to “take it to the church”, and inherent in the definition of that word “church”, I don’t think he could possibly have been saying to take it to the leaders. He said to take it to the whole congregation or assembly (when private attempts individually and with witnesses have failed).

    When Paul addressed dealing with ongoing issues, he did not write his letter to the “leaders” in Corinth. He addressed it, again, to “the church”.

    So, I would gently and lovingly challenge your thinking about leadership needing to ultimately use power.

    As this thread has shown in several comments, Jesus did not give leadership “power”. He has the power and authority, and his spirit works through every member of the body to work out that power.

  27. Grace, to actually respond to your post, I think that the system ultimately leads to control and toxicity.

    It may take a long time, and it may have moments of reprieve when a more gentle pastor occupies the pulpit, but I still find the system itself to be inherently flawed and inconsistent with what Jesus proclaimed.

    No one here has mentioned this, but a common defense of the system is that “God still works in the institutional church”. I happen to believe this is more to God’s credit as God than it is a statement of endorsement by God on the institutional church.

    I think that no matter how good the intentions of any particular leader are, the system itself will ultimately disrupt those intentions, and power will rear its ugly head.

    Anecdotally, I have been in a number of institutional churches (of all stripes and styles), both as lay and as clergy. And I have observed toxicity and power abuse in every single one of those organizations. I am left to conclude that either I have a serious problem, or that the system does.

    And trust me, I’ve been told many times that it is I who have (or am) the problem!! ;)

  28. I’ve been thinking more about your question, Grace. (And then Steve beat me to the punch! But said it a little differently). Here’s what I’ve been thinking:

    The only “power” we should respect and fear is the power of God. The “power” of man should not impress us or intimidate us.

    Institutions major on the power of man, and minor on the power of God. Institutions are inherently designed to protect the power of those who hold “leadership” offices conferred on them by the institutional system (clergy), not to empower those who “follow”(laity) in the institution. Not that this is always the intention of those inside institutions, but it is inherent to institutionalism.

    Our ‘church’ institutions are modelled on our university institutions (which in turn are modelled on a Greek paradigm of learning and development – which is about linear mastery of knowledge which leads to a know-it-all and we’ve-seen-it-all-before kind of arrogance. This attitude is especially evident in a local seminary). This is a faulty foundation, and does not produce disciples of Jesus (who are taught to obey all that He has commanded us, and taught how to hear Him and follow Him). Instead, our institutions primarily teach people how to follow other men, and how to follow the institution. So the power of man is respected and feared more than the power of God. Or rather, the power of man (and institutions) is confused with the power/authority of God. I’ve actually heard people recount their ‘testimony’ and it was all about how they had stopped going to church, but now they are back in church. There was no mention of their relationship to Jesus, only talk of their relationship to the institution. Grieved my heart!

  29. Great post and interesting discussion. Not sure i have much to add. It seems we must always keep remembering that God is God and we are not. If our gatherings include people who want to be god, then we will have political and power struggles. If all will be filled with the Spirit and submit to the Father, then we will be governed by God and operate fully as a part of the Kingdom. Because on this side of the mirror we will more than likely always have nearly as many gods as we have people in our gatherings, we will struggle to have perfection in the Body. At the same time, God will continue to redeem this, drawing us back to Him.

    Jamie, I’m interested in what’s behind the scenes. God bless you in your work.

  30. Been reading the Early Church by Chadwick – power, politics and intrigue always been there, have a peak in the Upper Room on THAT night.

    I agree with Sarah about what the church is modeled on – but then is there any wonder to this, as the Church Fathers primarily came from a Sophist tradition where the homily played an important part.

  31. Jerry wrote;

    You cannot turn your back and run away from a mean dog – you have to turn and face that dog and confront that dog. If you run, that dog will maul you.

    Wasn’t it Thoreau who said that if a dog threatens whistle to it?

    If we’re just talking about dogs, then my suggestion based upon experience is…if that dog is coming for me with “intent”, then I will do my best to get to the dog before he gets to me.

    Been around a few dogs.

    Tom

  32. Sorry Grace – I was just wanting to post a long blog offline – but I created a pingback with a reference to your page :)

    This is my scriptural support to Jamie for why personally I feel I cannot use a position of authority (in the church) to trump someone.

  33. Jamie,
    Relational issues are complex, even when all of the parties are sitting in the same room. Hopefully you can feel free to take any suggestions or encouragement that were useful and leave the rest. Obviously we can’t address the complexities of the issues involved here in the comments to a post.

    One of the things from your earlier comment that I have been thinking about is that I have probably used the word power too generally. Power itself isn’t bad. The things I have trouble with in institutional situations are the misuse of power, manipulation, and striving for power.

    Sometimes the word authority would be more specific and accurate. In that case, the question would be whether we are dealing with legitimate or false authority.

    I was thinking about the different kinds of power involved in relationships, organizations, and conflict. There is positional power of course, but there is also the power of tradition, the power of the majority, the power of aggressiveness, the power of influence – both good and bad, the power of manipulation. Looking behind the scenes, one can usually reveal what powers are driving the conflict.

    On the other hand, in reconciliation, we have the power of forgiveness, the power of love, the power of humility, gentleness, kindness, the power of truth, and the power of openness and inclusion. There is greater potential for healing when everyone involved is included in the reconciliation process.

    I don’t present any of this as a solution, but I wanted to clarify that I wasn’t setting up a thesis that all power is always bad. We are commanded not to “rule over” one another, that is clear. However, I believe we will always find ourselves in situations of choosing how we will use our power.

    “May the force be with you.” ;)

  34. traveller,
    Thanks for your thoughts. Power is a tricky word because it has a negative stigma. It is helpful for us to be aware of the power we have in our relationships so that we are wise stewards of it.

    As far as institutional structure, I think that people serve better without the structure of organizational positions which tend to create a pecking order. Yes, it’s still about relationships, but they sometimes become distorted by organizational roles.

    chris,
    We’ve had some great discussions thanks to the people who share their thoughts here.

    For some reason the church didn’t learn to do it differently, but basically adopted the leadership and organizational structures of the world.

    I think the change begins with teaching. It is still most common that people believe that traditional hierarchical structures are biblical. It’s encouraging to hear about those who want reform, but it seems we have a long ways to go.

    ken,
    I believe that many of the individuals involved in institutions want to serve the kingdom. However, as a whole, organizations tend to be extremely self serving and territorial.

    david,
    I wondered if anyone would mention the picture. It was for my husband. When he observes the posturing and politicking that sometimes occurs in church situations, he says, “the dogs are marking the trees.” When you know some of the things that go on behind the scenes, it is pretty easy to recognize territorial behaviors.

    7catz,
    Exactly! And the social hierarchies created by the organizational structure contribute to political behavior which often results in toxic relationships.

    jerry,
    Very true. An openness to questions and dialog is an important trait of a healthy system.

    steve,
    Alan Knox did a couple of great posts about the organization. His emphasis was that the people should always be the focus, not the organization, but the tendency is usually to prioritize the organization at the expense of relationships. Ideally organizations would serve the body rather than the other way around.

    Is it possible to have a church organization without the toxicity and social maneuvering? You would think so, but it seems to be more rare than common. Power, influence, and position don’t seem to bring out the best in human nature.

    Sarah,
    I agree that those things are inherent to institutionalism. It is interesting how, as members of the Church, we strongly identify ourselves organizationally rather than organically.

    Bryan,
    Good thoughts. I think because we have been passively led, we are not very well trained in mutual submission. That would be a good first step toward living in a way that we don’t lord over one another.

    Mark,
    It would be naive to think that we wouldn’t have to deal with the negative aspects of our human nature. Instead of representing an alternative way of relating to one another, our models have contributed to politics and power.

    Tom,
    Thanks for the link. Like Michael, I enjoyed the thoughts about hierarchy and institution that were presented in The Shack.

    Nathan,
    It is always good to see so many different perspectives and nuances to an issue.

    jerry,
    No problem. I have to figure out how to do a pingback one of these days.

    I liked the point in your post that an open presentation of truth is the best solution to dealing with situations of false teaching, error, and conflict.

  35. Thanks, Grace, I appreciate that. I think there is often an ideal that suggests that all power corrupts, but I disagree. I also believe that positional leadership and authority can be used Biblically (and must be). I can promise you that the victims of this specific situation are more concerned with our failure to respond more decisively.

    Peace,
    Jamie

  36. Jamie…reminds me of dealing with my three sons when someone comes tattling! Rather than owning and dealing with the relationship that has been injured when they are unkind to each other, they come to me to “mete out justice.”

    It is “a long and winding road” — teaching them to love each other and forgive each other and look out for what is best for each other rather than “marking their territory” and defending it from all encroachment.

    When I can get them to see that they are all doing the same things to each other, I will have made a major breakthrough … may that day arrive sooner than later, please Lord!

    In all cases, however, when I have chosen to get sucked into “meting out justice” rather than requiring them to each consider their part in the problem, it turns into a tangle of power and “neiner, neiner” (however you spell that!) and it is aweful.

    Sigh…the perils of parenting parallel this topic! Authority rests with the parent, yes. But power must be wielded relationally FOR — fostering maturity and responsibility with loving influence, rather than positionally OVER — fostering dependence and immaturity from controlling coercion.

    With God’s continued grace, we will get there step by step. I will pray for you and your circumstance, Jamie….

  37. Wise words Peggy, both for parenting and applicable to other situations.

    I believe the correct spelling is neener, neener.

    (neiner, neiner would be the German spelling) :)

  38. Actually, in German, the second vowel gets pronounced, so it would have to be “niener, niener”… ;)

    Ironically, however, I had the exact same thought when I saw it the first time, Grace! hehe

    When I’m coaching the vocal students I accompany, this subject of German vowel pronunciation often comes up (especially with common German words like “die” that look like English words, yet get the other vowel pronounced…i.e., it’s pronounced “dee” instead of our English “die”). I usually try to remind them, in a lousy imitation of a German accent:

    Ven two vowels go a-valking, ze SECOND one does ze talking ;)

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