Who Has the Power in Your [Former] Church?

Who Has the Power in Your [Former] Church? February 6, 2015

Ellenby Ellen cross posted from her blog When Church Hurts

I know a man who once worked for a major Christian Publisher. He had gone to their school to train as a missionary, but when it was almost time for he and his wife to leave for the mission field, the leadership requested that he stay and teach in the school.

After several years, this particular school/publishing company decided to practice what they preach and so they brought in a company to test and interview everyone in the organization. They also looked at the structure and needs in the school and the publishing areas. As part of the deal, they committed to honoring all of the changes this company would indicate – everyone was to be on board with any changes that took place. The company came in, did their interviews and tests, and then made recommendations on how people could be reassigned in their positions so that they were using their skills and giftings to best serve the publishing business and the school.

Lo and behold! My friend became managing editor of the publishing company – one of the top positions in the publishing side of the organization. Suddenly, based on his gifts and abilities, he was in a position well-suited to him, as was the case for the entire staff.

So, I am wondering why our churches don’t do the same thing? In fact, several years ago, spiritual gifts classes and “surveys” made a big resurgence – probably based on the book that Willow Creek in Chicago was promoting at that time – and hundreds of people took the spiritual gifts class at our (former) church. Folks who took the class were told that they would then be given a list of areas that would be suited best for them to serve.

(I, of course, was not allowed to attend the final class in which I would be told how I could serve because I was not going to be allowed to serve under the male music director. When I requested to know why, I was told they couldn’t share that information with me. Spiritual abuse at its finest.)

The problem was that no one ever carried through. Hundreds took the class and “discovered” their spiritual gifts. But when it came time to organize the teachers and leaders for various ministries, it was back to the same old popularity contests – based on who had the most money, lived in the right neighborhood, had the right job (often coaches in sports at the local college and high school because this community puts a high priority on sports), the right last name, or wrote nice sized checks.

During those few years of focusing on spiritual gifts, I was involved in the worship team for the women’s ministry. The women’s ministry had various teachers who would speak each week to the large group, and then there were several small group leaders who led groups for discussion and more in-depth study. The small group leaders were not selected based on their gifts and abilities, but on their position in society. So after a very few weeks, what had been well over a hundred women attending, dropped back to only 50-60. (I know those numbers may sound large, but this is a church of over 2500, so 50-60 was a paltry sum.)

The leadership went into a tail-spin. What was wrong with these women who weren’t committed to attending? Because, of course, it wasn’t the leadership that was the problem. It was the women who weren’t committed enough to keep coming who weren’t spiritual enough. The solution devised by the leadership was not to discontinue the positions of those small group leaders who had lost their members, but instead was to combine some of the small discussion groups and give them two leaders (because we can’t tell a high-society “leader” that they aren’t leadership material). As I sat in a worship team meeting, the leader of our group – who served on the leadership committee – mentioned what was happening and so I asked, “How are the small group leaders selected?”

She replied that the leadership committee just asks women they want to be leaders. “Why aren’t they looking at the spiritual gifts results and making sure the women they are asking are gifted to be small group leaders and teachers?” I asked.

The leader of our group looked at me with a stunned and not-so-happy expression. How dare I question the leadership in the first place and how dare I suggest something they hadn’t even considered even though it was supposed to be church policy? Though she didn’t say those words to me, that was the expression on her face and the message of her body language. It became apparent over time asking questions like this was tantamount to treason. Do not question leadership. Even if you are pointing out the obvious.

So, let me ask you: Who has the Power in Your (Former – if that applies) Church?

Who serves as elders and deacons? Who teaches Sunday School classes? Who is the treasurer and handles the money? Who makes the decisions?

In my experience, the people with the power are, first and foremost, the people with the right last name, the right pedigree, who live in the right neighborhood, have the right job, make the most money, and drop plenty of it into the offering plate, and often they are those whose family has been in power in the church for generations.

In the smaller churches that I have attended, worked for, or am familiar with, there are usually two or three families whom everyone knows ultimately have control of the church, either by their pocketbook, or by their social status, or by their generational longevity in the church. These are the people who sit on the boards and committees, and get upset if decisions are made that they don’t suggest or agree with. I have heard of people throwing tantrums and I myself have been verbally accosted and physically threatened.

Oftentimes, churches don’t honor the spiritual giftings and abilities of the people in their church because they want people of prominence in those positions. And the people of prominence want the positions, as well, whether they are the best person for the job or not.

Take for example the worship team or solos with the choir. These may or may not be people suited for leading worship (it takes more than a pretty voice), but they want to be on the platform and center stage. And rather than use their own God-given gifts and abilities to the glory of God, they usurp the gifts and abilities that they (and others) deem as the most desireable. Being on that platform, performing like a rock star, is a big one. Often, they are allowed to do this because they are part of the powerful lineage of the church and are considered so valuable that they must be allowed to do whatever they wish.

If a newcomer arrives who has obvious giftings, they will often be resented, especially if the new persons talents outweigh that of the person of power. This new person will suffer complaints, questions, backbiting, griping, and gossip because they are lower on the food chain. They will be resented because they aren’t “as good” as the person with power, yet they have better skills in that desired area.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if churches would make a point of only putting people in positions in which they are truly gifted? We often spout that we are all part of the body of Christ and we all are needed to do what God has called and equipped us to do. But, at least in my experience, this is all lip-service and doesn’t actually happen because there is too much cow-towing to the people of power.


Ellen’s Series – 21 Days of Healing

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9

Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17

Part 18 | Part 19 |Part 20 | Part 21

Ellen is a member of the SASBN and she blogs at When Church Hurts

More about Ellen:

Several years ago I was the victim of a most heinous form of abuse unlike anything I had ever thought possible. Not having been raised in a Christian home, my first experience with Christians and pastors had been one of joy, grace, fellowship, love, and delight. When faced with the horrors of having the very essence of who I was as a woman of faith stripped from me in what I can only describe as spiritual rape, I couldn’t comprehend what was happening. This was church, after all, and I believed that everything works together for good for those who love God. Somehow, it didn’t make sense that everything was not working together for good. When I was finally able to resign myself to the fact that God was not going to “work this out,” I made my escape and sought a safe haven. 
Little did I realize that I was going from the proverbial frying pan into the fire. Oh, how I tried to beat back the flames! Oh, how I prayed and pleaded for mercy, for grace, for a chance. “But hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will toward” Ellen. 
He who began a good work . . . had forsaken me . . . and the silence was more than deafening . . . it was defeating. So intertwined were we, that as God went missing, so did Ellen. But I am nothing, if not tenacious.

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