Reflecting on Andy Crouch’s Discussion on Power (And How it Relates In the Church Sector) at Q

As I mentioned at the end of my last post and in one last week, I want to blog a little on the Q Conference in Washington DC that I was able to attend. I do find myself thinking about a number of the presentations and a few that I force myself to think again about. I’m not sure I’ll admit to which is which, nor am I sure how many of these I am going to actually blog about but I am intentionally trying to take the time to do so for a number of reasons and they include:
1. I found many of them to be really important for me.
2. Grateful for the sacrifices and blessings to be able to get there.
3. I really believe in the work.
4. By taking time and reflecting on the content and what it means to me in context and application, it allows me to move beyond “conference junkie” and consumer of content (at least I hope to move from this).

Although it makes more sense to begin at the beginning, let’s start at the second presentation with Andy Crouch. His discussion on power continues to evolve so well. Having been privileged (can I use that word in this context?) to hear Andy speak on this a few times, it’s really great and helpful material. And it continues to get even better – looking forward to the book. I am also grateful that Biblical Seminary kept trying to find ways to bring him in to speak to us because I am truly hungry for this conversation.

I would love to give you all the sound-bytes but I wouldn’t be able to do them justice but here are a few:

Andy’s big question was, “Who is flourishing through your power? That is the test of power.”

“God has entrusted power to His Image bearers.
Vulnerable image-makers (even realize their own nakedness)
To deal with our vulnerability, we misuse our creativity.
Deepest use of power is not force but creation.
Deepest corruption of power is misplaced creativity – this is idolatry.”
Idols promise everything, demand nothing … but they extract everything
Idols work cheap and fast and they work … at first. (don’t keep working)”*

For one, I’m a sucker for the whole Imago Dei-idol conversation. So what he says at the end, I find myself yelling Amen at.

Andy is one of those speakers that make it sound so clear, yet when you find yourself explaining it to someone later, you say things like, “Well you know, he was talking about power … and stuff. Oh and I really liked what he said about idols – it was good.”

But here’s where I am two weeks later since listening to the presentation.
I have been contextualizing this in my sector (The Church) and asking the obvious questions like, “Who in the Church has the power?”
To some, it may seem obvious to say that the Sr. Pastor has the power but that’s not completely true, at least not in the evangelical tradition (can’t and won’t speak of any others). I’ve seen churches where the Sr. Pastor seems to run the show and others where they clearly didn’t.

Well, if not the Pastor (and the staff) then the elder board! Yes and no. Then, perhaps it’s the members, the community (power to the people!) and the answer again is yes and no.

What I’m learning in the Evangelical Church is that the “power” is scattered, limited, temporary and contingent on so many factors.

That church where the senior pastor micromanages every decision will never grow past 400 because he can only manage/control 400 people. It’s scattered and limited for a number of reasons. Among them is the pastor will only have their limited attention, generally Sunday mornings, funerals, weddings, etc. Half of them will change churches within a few years, a new crowd will take their place; this makes it temporary and it’s contingent on an endless number of factors like the preaching, the music, family ministries, the elder board, the budget, the parking, who and what was said in the last congregational meeting, factors contributing to the building and losing of momentum and various other wildcards. Or at least that’s what it feels and looks like from the inside and from the outside. It turns out the micromanaging senior pastor is not really that powerful.

The small congregational church with the revolving door right next to the pulpit seems to have given the power to the people but it hasn’t. Some of the congregants may have been there for fifty years, but the power is limited and certainly scattered. It seems to me that some of the “flatter” churches have similar struggles and being new in a large church environment, indeed there are hinderances at work here. To test it, we could ask “Who is really in charge?” to different groups and representatives. Pastors all tell you that the leadership has been granted authority but the attendees affirm this. But they’ll also say if/when people stop coming/serving/giving/connecting, their power is revealed and “The elder board has no legs!”

In all of these instances, idols are created. Idols are created out of man-made dreams, attendance, the budget, the ministry model, the customer satisfaction huh, I mean … well, whatever you want to call it.

I love the idea in theory that the power needs to be shared and given. I really do. Though I am a pastor, though I see myself as a leader, my prayers won’t be genuine if I know that people are responding to my control rather than their response to the leading of the Holy Spirit. We won’t share the power unless we trust each other.

I also love the idea that power needs to be unifying. It’s an amazing and scary thought of what could be if we truly trusted each other.

Further, I am thinking about what it means for the exercising of power to be a true act of worship. In some sense, this is what Andy is already saying about using power to create and in the Church sector, I see that happening in moments like, during our praise of God (whether it be Sunday morning, small groups or personally and privately throughout our week) and especially outside the institution of the Evangelical Church.

But lastly, I am returning to Andy’s original question in the church context “Who is flourishing through your power? That is the test of power.”

I’ve been thinking about this for almost two weeks and here’s where I am today. There are a number of people who are actually “flourishing” because of the influence and ministry of the church. The frustration is that it’s not nearly enough in terms of the number of people that are hurting around us and the depth of the “flourishing.” It was great to think of people, to know names and stories but again, it’s sobering to see how many more are in need of redemption from the hurt, pain and evil.

Plenty to think about, plenty to act upon and so may we be faithful with the creativity and the power/influence/calling we’ve been given in the Church sector as congregants, pastors, elders, as followers of God’s Kingdom.

Andy said so much more, maybe I’ll post again on it but if you are interested, check out his incredible book Culture Making and this presentation at Q Austin called “Power, Privilege and Risk.”


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Tim. I would love to hear more on the subject of power from Evangelical leaders. I work and travel in Multi-Ethnic church circles so the topic of power or dominate culture, especially in Evangelical circles is almost always a negative.

    I am at a church planting conference, one of the largest in the country, and yet I see only a handful of non white church leaders and even less female church leaders attending (unless they are pastor’s wives) in a crowd of 4000. It is often systematic exclusion in Evangelical churches and those in power tend to keep these systems in place. Only when the dominate culture learns to step back and allow other cultures to contribute and lead within the church, can the bride of Christ truly reflect the fullness of the love of Christ.

    I love your concept of power unifying and I have seen that modeled well in several healthy and diverse multi-ethnic congregations. When we stop trying to assimilate everyone and begin to share power and celebrate that we each bring unique and rich perspectives of leadership into the body, only then will people see and believe.

    Unity Within Diversity
    Galatians 3:27-28
    For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

    When I talk with pastors and leaders of non-white ethnicities as well as female leaders, power and leadership are some of the top limiting factors in bringing the church together in unity across cultures and genders.

    Great subject and would love to hear us talk more about it within the church.

    Many Thanks and Blessings, Lisa

  2. Mmmmm….Halleluuuuujah. Thanks for sharing Tim. Miss you. Of all your posts that I’ve read, this is probably one of the most thought provoking for me, especially as one who is the new sr. pastor of a church that suffered under terrible abuse of power under previous authorities. Oh, and for Lisa…I am a non-white leader leading a mostly white church. Indeed, race, sex and culture are huge factors in the conversation about power. Grace and Peace.

  3. Hey Lisa, sounds like we would have another great conversation. I find it to be tricky on both sides though. Too many generalizations going on.

    Would like to know how Exponential went too. Let’s try to grab coffee soon.

  4. Tom, I think about you regularly and given your new context, I can see why you’re thinking about this. I do think you are the ideal person to be at your church during this season (even if you are a Red Sox fan ;).
    Seriously though, I’m looking forward to hearing how things evolve – that church culture is going to shift significantly.

Speak Your Mind