Power Without Accountability, Part 3.

My suggestion in the previous two posts is that the church has brought in the Power structures of history and surrounding social structures. Yet the church is meant to be unique in many ways. Among those, we are supposed to turn power upside down.

accountability-jokeWe have trouble with this. I have a(n) FB friend who has been challenging a guy named Creflo Dollar (a religious TV personality… heard of him… haven’t heard him). It seems this guy is trying to get people to send him money so he can buy an airplane (as a missionary struggling financially in ministry, and knowing many worthy missionaries in an even worse state than myself… this, rightly I believe, offends me.) Curiously, apparently the wife of this Mr. Dollar is saying that people that challenge her husband are under God’s curse. I don’t know the story first hand (repeating what I was told). But if that is true, that seems to be a serious unwillingness to have use of (or perhaps abuse of) power challenged.

But the church should really be different.

1.  It is to be countercultural. In other words, the church is not supposed to fail in the direction of mimicking local culture, but neither is it to gainsay the local culture. The surrounding culture typically supports a certain structure that defines the esteemed and the ignored. The church should empower the ignored, and honor the disgraced. It should also humble the esteemed and the powerful.

2.  It is to be mutual. The church is made up of members where the power relationships are multiplex and even. That is, church members are supposed to honor one another, bear one another’s burdens, exhort on another, receive one another, and submit to one another. Jesus modeled it, and we are to practice it.

3.  It is to be accountable. We all need people who hold us accountable. One reason I like the congregational structure in churches is that the power is shared by congregation, and is dispensed to spiritual leaders while holding them accountable. But for those that don’t have that structure, or where this accountability doesn’t work, there needs to be outside accountability. We once were part of a church without a good accountability structure.  The accountability structure ended up being police tacking a tax lien on the house of the pastor. While this may work, it is ideal that a better structure was in place. My wife was part of an NGO where the head began to wield power in a manner that was not healthy for its members. Fortunately, there was a board of directors who were able to hold the leader accountable.

EVERYONE needs to be held accountable. The greater the power, the greater the temptation to abuse, and thus the greater the need for mutuality, and accountability. Only God is not accountable to anyone else, and even for God, based on the prophets in the Bible, it appears He does not mind being questioned or challenged.

Power Without Accountability, Part 2

The People Don’t Know Their True Power (and Responsibility to Hold Others, and Themselves, Accountable)

We see all of the problems with power in an ecclesiastical (church) setting so a good question would not only be “Why do we have problems with power in the church?” but also “Why do we actively perpetuate power that leads to problems in the church?”  Acknowledging lack of extensive expertise in this? I think there are some groups of reasons.

1.  Sociological. We are designed as (flawed) social beings. We are made finite with the need of social interaction and support from a broader community. This, in itself, would not be that much of a problem.  Bees and Ants work socially fairly well. Each have one system and hierarchy and each plug into that role naturally. Among social mammals… things don’t happen quite so easily, because different roles are not so clearly differentiated physically. So there is competition and power struggle. But even here, there is an instinctive process for determining hierarchy… not perfect, but relatively efficient.

With humans, we have the in-built need for community and social order but without the in-built mechanism for doing so harmoniously. As such, cultures develop to deal with these.. We are also flawed because our drive to organize is not strictly for the common good, but for collecting honor and things.

This would not be a problem, except that we tend to bring those same solutions in the outside world for establishing the church.

  • A metaphor for the church is the BODY. But we often use the social metaphor of BUSINESS.
  • A metaphor for the church is the FAMILY. But we often use the social metaphor of the MILITARY. (Although having been in the military, I can say that the church has no real understanding of that system, and will often come up with horrible mess justified on “military efficiency.”)

2.  Philosophical. Our relationships come out of our training in many ways. Much of our training regarding relationships comes out of philosophy. Philosophy is a good thing, but one has to identify what is true for the church and what is untrue and unhelpful for the church. Many of the teachings on social order that we accept without a lot of due consideration have more to do with the thoughts of Aristotle, Macchiavelli, and Confucius… not Christ. (Not that social disorder is desirable… a nihilistic or anarchistic structure. But community in the church needs to be built on a stronger foundation that power hierarchy).

3.  Psychological. We all seem to have a sense of our own unworthiness and weakness . At least most of us do. These, within the church structure, tend to mean that we seek the security of a place that is well defined by limitations on role and responsibility. Freedom is scary and vagueness of such roles and responsibility in mutual relationships is hard for many to get used to. Those who work with and in an organization of unpaid volunteers know the challenges of this. How do we work together as a team of equals, collaborating, in a common vision without money and employment as motivators? Many can’t embrace such a setting. Many ultimately seek to be led because it is more comfortable, while others seek power because of a felt “need” for that power.

4.  Historical. History can lead to issues regarding power. The Old Testament had a power hierarchy in its religious system (although I would argue that it was a relatively flat hierarchy  in its inception). But that history certainly played a part with the incorporation of a Christian “priesthood” in the church in the 4th century. The fight with the Gnostics and Marcionists and other groups led to a tendency to link authority/power and spiritual leadership through “apostolic succession”. Of course, the role of Constantine also had its part as aspects of the Christian religion were modified to fit into the pagan power structure tied to the Roman government. Additionally, Christianity “grew up” in the Roman power structure with the power structure of Charlemagne and the marriage of church and state. With a series of other governments, were continuous fights in that “marriage.”. It is actually, rather surprising that the church, in general, has been able to let go of civil control (often voluntarily) over the last few centuries.

5.  Biblical/Theological.  In recent years, some Protestant groups have tried to push towards a pre-Reformation understanding of the Christianity through undoing such things as “priesthood of the believer” or (among Baptists at least) soul sufficiency. They also tend to see submission as unilateral (citizen to government, wife to husband, servant to master, member to pastor) rather than mutual. Unfortunately, unilateral power/submission structures lead to abuse. There needs to be accountability, and such accountability is tied to mutuality.  Mutuality of service, humility, and submission is a very consistent theme throughout the New Testament. Perhaps the problem lies in the tendency to “theologize through proof-texts.” When one sees a verse that says to “submit” it is easy to see a unilateral relationships instead of seeing the broad-based theme of mutuality that is smoothly modeled and taught  throughout the gospels and epistles. Some preachers emphasize the importance of power.  But is that so important? Or does that reflect the value system of that particular preacher?

Oooops! Some Mistakes I Have Made #1

Mistake #1.  Trusting Untrustworthy People

Note:  To be fair, my wife and I have been BLESSED with many wonderful ministry partners. Additionally, many who are not reliable may have been set up for failure by me because I did not give them the proper tools and accountability to succeed. Prayerfully, this is an area for me to grow in.

Oops (Photo credit: dingler1109)

In missions, you can’t only work with reliable people… it’s just not an option. Sometimes we must work with untrustworthy people. There are at least three reasons for this;

  1. We don’t necessarily know who is trustworthy before we start working with them. Asking other people as to who one can rely on necessitates trusting those people for their recommendations. Volunteers may seek to join who have an inadequate set of references. Or they have proven to be reliable in one area but are untested in another area.
  2. Sometimes, people with a proven record of reliability are simply not available. If there is no one available to partner with who has a proven track record of reliability, perhaps it is best not to work in that area. But sometimes choosing not to work in that area is not an option. If one is working with a trustworthy church in an outreach ministry, one may have to also work with a potentially untrustworthy government official. Or an unreliable gatekeeper may have to be dealt with to go from vision to reality.
  3. In missions, we need to be open to give someone another chance. Christ gave another chance to “untrustworthy” Peter, while Barnabbas gave another chance to John Mark.Since I just said that one must at times work with untrustworthy people, where is my mistake? My error (one I have made more than once) has been working with untrustworthy people without proper accountability and standards. In other words, I am guilty of trusting people who were not trustworthy. Accountability means overseeing and verifying that things are being done as they should. Standards means there is something to compare against. After all, how does one know whether someone is reliable or not if one doesn’t have standards to compare them against?

Okay, so why have I made this mistake on multiple occasions? I have at least three reasons (I may add more as time goes on):

  • A Theology of Empowerment. In missions, I believe that a missionary should train and develop others and pull back. That requires empowering them with the resources and opportunity to succeed… or make mistakes. This is not necessarily a bad reason… but tied to the other two reasons, there can be bigger issues.
  • Hope/Desire. I want someone to succeed. I hope they can be trusted. But sometimes hope and desire can lead one astray just as one who bets money on a “sure thing” (hope and desire do not win wars or games). Christians often don’t call it hope or desire… they call it “faith.” But faith without a solid basis is presumption. God has NOT promised that bad plans must succeed simply because we “will it” (by faith) to succeed. <I have known people to rip verses out of the Bible to support such a theology… but it’s still not true.>
  • Laziness. I know that some people need oversight. I suppose on some level we all need oversight and accountability. But, really, when one has a busy schedule, the hope is that others will come along side to make your life easier. Training, oversight, and accountability takes time and effort. It is easier just to empower someone and hope that things work out.