I have been living in a culture that is not my own for almost 11 years. From the beginning, my wife and I resolved not only to follow God’s call to this place but to do so without imposing our passport-culture’s baggage in our host culture.
“You know, Mike. The hardest one of the 4 for me is Powerlessness. As Pastors we need to guide our churches. Without our power, people will not move and the church will not grow. So there needs to be a balance.” Phil was wrestling with one of Michael Frost’s Four Ps of Incarnational Mission. As a churchplanter among middle-class Filipinos, he is concerned about the future of his church and the best way to minister to this group.
Phil was a part of SEATS latest School of Ministry class. In an effort to return to the roots of our movement we have been revisiting the Gospels under the guise of a hermeneutics class. Called “Understanding Jesus: Mark.” I thought it might be interesting to combine Frost’s understanding of Incarnation and Incarnational Mission with the stories we see in Mark. Here is a brief summary of each of the four:
Presence – Do what Jesus would have been doing, if he were here.
Proximity – Identify with those to whom we are ministering, much in the way Jesus identified with nearly everyone to whom he ministered.
Powerlessness – giving up our position of power – be it money, position, education, or whatever – and depend upon God for the things we need in ministry. Rather than trusting in my own power, I trust in God’s.
Proclamation – it is all worthless if we never get around to discussing and presenting Jesus as the good news.
Granted these summaries may not accurately reflect Frost’s concepts since they are my summaries but they did form the basis for our discussion in class.
Of course, like Phil, we are all ok with 3 of the 4. We are happy to see that we represent God’s presence in the world, that we drawn near to others just as he drew near to us, and that ultimately, without the good news being proclaimed, there is no value to our mission. But when we get to that pesky #3 – Powerlessness – something seems to hold us back. We begin asking questions like Phil: How do we balance leadership with servanthood? Am I just supposed to sit back and let my church fail? To sit back and let people just do what they want?
The key to all of this is to remember that in Powerlessness we are imitating Jesus. Perhaps the Trinity had a similar discussion “before the foundation of the earth” where they debated the nature of the Incarnation. Perhaps they thought about all the positives and negatives as they discussed the plan. Certainly God’s concerns are bigger than ours. If I am concerned about my church and its growth, God is concerned with the universe and its growth. But yet, when all is said and done, God chose to use powerlessness as a key part of how he presented his love and salvation to us.
Another key is to remember that it is not really Powerlessness that is being spoken of but rather a dependence upon power that is not our own. Jesus is constantly speaking of how he is the one who depends upon the Father for certain things. We also read how it was the Holy Spirit who filled him and enabled him to do his marvelous acts. When we embrace powerlessness, we set aside our own resources, powers, abilities, etc and embrace humility and dependence upon God in it all.
I thought of a few points that might help us focus on the key concepts that relate to Powerlessness:
1. So does the ‘Pastor’ have to be the best at everything? If we believe this, we will never be able to embrace powerlessness since we will need that power to keep up the hectic pressure and pace we need to set for ourselves.
2. Does the church depend upon the ‘Pastor’ for its existence? Obviously we need to answer “No.” It is Christ upon whom we depend for our existence as a church. As such, maybe we need to let go a little bit and see where God is leading. (See #1, above).
3. How do our gifts play into this concept of powerlessness? The fact that the Spirit manifests himself through gifts he gives to each Christian as he sees fit means that one person can’t carry the whole load. We need to give up our idea of the pastor as the key figure in the church, as the one with whom the church lives or dies and embrace the fact that each part of the body is crucial to the future of what God does through us!
4. The concept of team understands powerlessness and uses it effectively. “There is no ‘I’ in team” is an old saying that has some truth to it. Team means we do it together not that you or I do it alone.
5. Is ‘Pastoral’ leadership based upon leadership through power, or leadership through example or leadership through serving? Jesus is pretty clear in saying that power isn’t to be the basis for our leadership. In fact, in his example of washing the disciple’s feet, he showed that it is really through servanthood and example that our leadership lies.
What are your thoughts on powerlessness and how it relates to leadership?
Just watching Avatar on DVD at home with the family the other night when the line jumped out at me. Near the end of the show, when Jake Sulley is questioning himself and his quest to free Pandora of the “Skypeople,” he asks Eywa to help him. His girlfriend Neytiri replies, “Eywa doesn’t take sides, she keeps the balance.”