Power & Status in Spiritual Leadership


Yesterday, I read an interesting piece on the CNN web site entitled, “Study: Power without status can lead to rudeness, even abuse”.  It was a report on a new study conducted by three different universities citing that “people holding positions of power with low status tend to demean others.”  The study used Abu Ghraib as an example of this kind of behavior.  They noted that those with high power and high status tended to manage their authority much better.  They offered up as a possible solution that upper management tell people with high power, but low status, how important their role really is.  Here is a link to the CNN article: http://tinyurl.com/3gcb2fc

This brief article got me thinking about the nature of leadership in relation to power and authority.  According to this study, the critical component is the perception of status.  Status is defined as position or rank in relation to others-or it can be defined as a relative rank in a hierarchy of prestige.  According to the study, someone who has a fair amount of actual power, but actually has little or no perceived or real position or rank, will often end up abusing that power and demean others.  I guess these people have a keen sense of who they are ruling over-but lose all sight of who is ruling over them.  The solution being offered up is to help these people see the importance of their role.  It seems to me it would be better to help them see their actual status in relation to their power.  Rank does not seem to be the problem to me-rather it seems to be the sense of autonomy.  To use the Abu Ghraib illustration, if you give a corporal certain powers and couple that with a lot of autonomy, then it sets up for abuse.  The possible combination of power that does not match the actual status responsibility plus too much autonomy, could be a troubling one.

This is equally true for the spiritual leader.  All leadership comes with a measure of power and authority.  That is the very nature of any leadership position.  The issue is not if you have certain powers, but how you choose to use them.  Jesus taught well on this very issue.  In Matthew 20 he reminded his disciples how the secular rulers in their society tended to abuse power just to show them that they had the power.  In John 13 Jesus talked of and demonstrated God’s view of power by washing the disciple’s feet.  Jesus is even an incredible example of one who gave up the highest status to become a man and live among us.  He did so that he might perform the ultimate act of service by dying on the cross for our sins.  I believe that it was Jesus’ knowledge of his actual status that allowed him to lay it down and serve.  In John 14 he tells the disciples that he clearly understands where he had come from and where he was going.  He had a clear sense of who he was and that allowed him to use his power and authority to serve.  As followers of Christ and as leaders we should never forget our actual status.  As those who have chosen to follow Christ, we are called children of God.  As leaders, Peter reminds us that we always have a Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5).   Therefore we have been afforded an unbelievable privilege as an adopted child of the King of kings.  And as leaders we daily submit our high status to Jesus as our Chief Shepherd.  We are never fully autonomous.  We always serve as one under authority.  We have granted power and authority to serve.  Our positions and roles really do matter as we point people to Christ-and never demean them.

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