Who’s got the power?


Recently, I’ve heard people decrying hierarchies, particularly in the Emerging Church movement. At first, I would nod my head. As a young feminist, this sounded great.

And then I got nervous….

Let me tell you a little bit about myself. In the seventies, while I was growing up, we lived in a laid-back beach town in Florida, where almost anyone with enough charisma could become a pastor.

We had a “home church.” My father (an engineer at NASA) had an ordination certificate.

My parents switched congregations at least five times. I’ve worshiped in about every type of space: a sanctuary, a storefront, a concrete block warehouse, a metal warehouse, a coffeehouse…you get the picture. I never really became a member of most of them, because they didn’t have any membership. Membership would indicate a certain hierarchy.

I watched as a window washer became a pastor, a sales person at the surf shop became a pastor, a pharmacist became a pastor, a popular high school football player became a pastor. With no specialized education (except for the Calvary Chapel pastors, they had six weeks of schooling). In all, the only thing that qualified them was a certain something.

The movement of the Spirit is what they would say. Which I didn’t doubt. But there were also some other things they had in common: they were all young, they were all good-looking, and they were all male.

When the Spirit moved upon me at an early age, I quickly picked up on the fact that I would never be a pastor in any of the churches I grew up in.

As I got older, I realized some of the terrible things that happened in some of those churches (the same sorts of things that happen in denominational settings). There was clergy abuse: sexual misconduct, sometimes with children.

But there was no hierarchy. There was nothing that could be done about it. Sure, sometimes a pastor lost his job, but most of the time it was just covered up. If a secret got too out-of-hand, he just moved on to the next laid-back beach town and set up shop again.

It was a terrible spiritual environment.

So I left the rock-and-roll churches of my youth and joined a denomination where I could become a pastor, even though I wasn’t a handsome guy. I could go to seminary, learn theology, and make my way through the ordination process. And I could serve within a democratic form of church government, where laypeople have equal say in decisions.

That’s why I get nervous when we talk about throwing away all hierarchies. I’ve been there. It started out as exciting, but soon it became disastrous. Because without any hierarchy, there’s no accountability. And then who has all the power?


4 thoughts on “Who’s got the power?

  1. I talked about this a bit this morning in worship.

    It’s not the hierarchy or the type of music or the space. It’s about authenticity — what’s real and true especially for the specific context.

    I think we can cling to power by stressing hierarchy, and we can also cling to power by removing hierarchy. Decentralizing our own congregation’s “power” (away from the pastor) is very good for us — and actually in line with denominational guidelines/rules. (e.g. I’m not the only one who gets to visit in the hospital.)

    The unhealthiest pastors are the ones concerned with keeping/getting power (sexual, financial, theological, perceived eternal) regardless of denomination/non-denomination. The emergent conversation seems to be a response, in part, to abuses of power on both ends of the spectrum.

  2. Jan, I’m so glad you posted about this, my emergent friend!

    Okay, so I’ll narrow it down. I read portions of the Pagitt + Jones’ Manifesto again, and focused on what Morganthaler wrote on the “Leadership in a Flattened World.” I’ve been following her lately and like her very much. She’s more clear, more concise and less self-deprecating than some others in the movement.

    Anyways…she’s reacting to the entrepreneurial church, with their CEO models, and I love what she has to say as she speaks out in her male-dominated culture. And I hope that she keeps saying it, with gusto!

    Yet, I, as a pastor, didn’t struggle with the CEO, my-way-or-the-highway model. It never occurred to me to run a church that way….

    What I struggled with was becoming empowered. Within the denomination structure, I grew as a leader.

    My concern is what you stated: “you can also cling to power by removing hierarchy.” There will always be a power structure. So, for me, it’s important that the power is intentional, democratic, and representational.

    And about authenticity…have you checked out http://www.passiveaggressivenotes.com?

  3. First of all, thanks for your comment on my site! I, of course, had to come check out yours!

    What you say about church government is a good reminder to those of us who have grown up in a denomination with a polity that says everything ought to be done “decently and in order.” Sometimes that polity seems so cramping. But then there are times when I’m so glad it’s there to guide us through a difficult situation.

    Anyway, I love hearing from someone who’s been on both sides of the fence…

  4. I had to visit your site, because “Stretchychurch” is just a great name! Where did you get it from? It reminds me of Jack Black in Nacho Libre: “Sometimes men wear stretchy pants. Just for fun.”

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