The Powers That Be

by Chantelle Todman Moore, Intercultural Coach

In identifying and addressing how power plays out in our congregations across racial, gender, and class lines, we must first address our “intersectional” experiences of congregational life—that is, how race and gender bias combine to create multiple forms of exclusion.

As a black, formally-educated woman, our society grants me certain access points to power. I am also aware that others may have increased or decreased access to power, both in church settings and in our country, simply based on their social, biological, racial, and class identities.

Denying this influence increases the potential for harm and can create a barrier to being the “Beloved Community,” a term found in the gospels and held up by the Civil Rights movement. We all need to be aware of the power we hold and how we use it in harmful or helpful ways in congregational life.

I invite you to take a power inventory of your congregation. Engage this in an open, curious and prayerful approach:

  • Who has access to formal/informal power?
  • What are the racial, gender, and class identities of those who hold leadership/ministry positions?
  • Who makes decisions and shapes decision-making processes?
  • Who shapes the mission/vision of the congregation?
  • Who has become a member of the congregation, who has not, and why?

You might discover patterns that reveal how power operates in your congregation, which demographic is entrusted with power, and how that power falls across racial, gender, and class lines.

These questions can also be a catalyst for more courageous conversations within your congregation about how power is utilized and the ways it supports or impedes living in covenanted Beloved Community. Alongside of noticing and asking questions about how congregations engage power, we can also look to the life of Jesus to see how power is used.

Jesus, the most power-filled (divine) human, did not shy away from engaging power. He knew how to use power as a tool in service to building and sustaining the life of a covenanted community.

Jesus understood and owned the scope of his power as a child of God: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God” (John 13:3); in Luke 4, we see Jesus returning from enduring temptations in the wilderness, filled with the Spirit’s power, proclaiming in the temple that he was anointed and empowered to do the work of the Father.

As a people belonging to God, we must also understand and own the scope of our individual and collective power, for the work of God’s kingdom.

Jesus shared his power: Jesus sent out his disciples and shared his power to drive out demons and cure diseases (Luke 9:1); instead of hoarding or protecting power, we find a savior who treats power not with a scarcity mindset, but with a mindset of abundance. He shares power because there is more than enough power to go around—in fact, there is a limitless supply.

This is good news! As a church, we can invest in meaningful and creative ways to share our power (relational, financial, etc.), knowing that there is enough power for all of us to experience fruitful and abundant living.

Jesus used his power to address forms of oppression in contextual and meaningful ways: Jesus didn’t use his power as a form of control over others or a show of might; instead, he used his power to set the oppressed free, give sight to the blind, and right wrongs (Luke 4: 18-21).

Our invitation is to name and address the complex ways power is used in our congregations. The ongoing work is enabling a prophetic imagination for new equitable methods of sharing and using our power so that reconciliation and restoration, Beloved Community, can be a reality.

Adapted from “The Struggle is Real” in Leader magazine (Summer 2017).