The feature article in this months CT (Christianity Today) is about pastoral power in the local church. The author, Andy Crouch, does a very fine job of discussing the differences and similarities between high power churches (think Roman Catholic or megachurches) and low power churches (think Quaker, congregational Baptists) and how power is neutral–it can be either good or bad depending on the user. The best paragraph in the whole article, though, is almost lost because it is buried in the deep middle. We all know that most people just skim these things–but they might miss this:
One prescription for power’s right use in high power distance communities is vulnerability and accountability. If your church is one where the pastor dwells in unapproachable, sanctified splendor, it becomes all the more crucial that known elders and friends hold your pastor accountable.
This, sadly is about all Crouch says about the prevention of pastoral power abuse and that is a shame because abuse of power is a terrible situation that occurs far too often because what passes for church more often than not is merely a cult of personality. As individuals, pastors should not matter that much–they are only servants doing their job. Should they be respected? Yes. Should they be heeded as experts? Yes. Should they be revered as special? No, absolutely not. Should they be out of reach of the people they lead? Never.
I wish Crouch would have said something like “pastors should not dwell in unapproachable, sanctified splendor,” but he didn’t. I also wish he would have spilled more ink about how abuse of power can be prevented. Since he didn’t I will.
1. Ultimate financial power should be vested in a team of people whom the pastor must plead with to get funding. For me it was the finance team in our church. Often I would go round-and-round with them about how I wanted to spend money only to have them deny me again and again. It was frustrating, but it kept my power in check and that was a good thing.
2. Elders are all the rage now, but I still believe in congregational polity. However, it is impossible for a congregation to keep a pastor in check. My deacons always did this for me. There was always one or two deacons in this small group who despised me, and that was actually a good thing. Too many churches that have elders as their main body of decision makers have elders hand picked by the pastor. This is very bad. Deacons, by contrast, accumulate over the years and gather independent of a pastor’s selection so it provides a good balance.
3. Money is a great temptation, but the greatest abuse of power in a church is sexual. No pastor is beyond the realm of temptation and sin. That is why the greatest tools for the prevention of abuse of power are simple things like windows and agreed upon protocols. A window in every door is a must. Again, my property people often did not understand this, but it is vital to have windows and see through glass. If I could have, I would have made every wall for every room in the church (except bathrooms!) see through glass. Protocols help to. I once had a person ask me to pick up their 17 year old daughter from school because their car broke down. No way. It is just not negotiable. I’d rather give her cab money or be judged uncaring. By the way, things like this are a great reason why female pastors and deacons are not only biblical but sociologically necessary.
It is the church’s responsibility to keep the pastor’s power in check. I do not mean to torment the pastor or to make life unbearable but I do mean that that the polity and the culture of a congregation should be such that abuse of power, though not impossible, would be difficult.