“When a person’s sense of self-worth is blunted, he will deflect towards power to find fulfilment… That person will look to power over people to lift his own self-worth.”
— Viktor Frankl (1905–1997)
ABUSE is not always the outcome of a leader’s power, but that is how many of us have come to experience leadership. (That is not to say that that type of leadership is leadership — it is dead opposite to true leadership, which is first servant-hearted.) And when I refer to ‘leadership’ I’m denoting church leadership — spiritual abuse.
There are many inwardly weak people who present themselves before others parading a curated image (a term I’ve only just come to appreciate) in order to win favour for election into positions of power. They use their apparent personal charm to win their way into power, and only then resort to positional and coercive powers once they’re established.
The desire for power is the desire for control over people, and churches will be rife with that type of leader, because churches are full of people who wish to be healed of their past abuses. The tragedy is many people fall foul of an unsafe or an unhealthy leader.
The irony of leadership, for my mind, is that the best leaders don’t want the power, but they’re prepared to accept responsibility for the authority placed into their hands to serve people. All leadership is service — whether it’s in the church, parachurch, or in secular life.
The best training I ever did on leadership was over twenty years ago, and that was a systems model for team leadership and team membership. The leader was not the boss who lorded it over their subordinates. They just had a different role, central of which was to gather data, make information out of it, and then decide out of the gathered consensuses of the team what form of action was required.
It’s dichotomous that leadership would seek or crave power. Leaders just don’t do that.
A leader is likely to feel called to lead because they have long considered and prayed over their preparedness to take responsibility and accountability, to encourage, equip and empower people, and to be least whilst others can have a turn at being most.
The best thing to do in the presence of unsafe and unhealthy leadership is to work on a viable exit strategy. A sure sign of an unsafe leader is their avoidance of accountability, and an unhealthy leader will not have the capacity for true leadership responsibility.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.
Acknowledgement: Blue, K. Healing Spiritual Abuse: How to Break Free From Bad Church Experiences. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993. pp. 102-116.
Image: Mike Myatt.