Five thoughts on healthy uses of power

05 June 2024

To celebrate the launch of the new A Methodist Way of Life discipleship toolkit, we're producing a new monthly blog series on leadership and culture change. Whether you’re mission planning, starting an New Places for New People, focusing on one of the commitments of MWOL, or re-orienting your church’s focus to discipleship, we hope these blogs will provide inspiration, encouragement and guidance for making your hopes and dreams a reality.

This month we share some thoughts on leadership and power.

These thoughts are intended as a starting point, the beginning of an on-going conversation.

  • What resonates with you?
  • What do you find helpful/unhelpful?

Share your thoughts with us on social media using #HealthyPower.

Definition of Power: The ability or capacity to do something, to act in some way that causes a reaction - the capacity to direct or influence other people or course of events.

Every person has access to power, though it can vary depending on many factors including our age, gender, position, role, personality, expertise, and socio-economic status. Power shifts in every interaction we have. In this ever-changing balance, it’s important to recognise any imbalances. Leaders especially need to be mindful of how they use their power. Both overusing and giving up power can be unhealthy. As leaders, we are first and foremost followers and disciples of Christ. Our human power relies on God’s power working within us and in the world. How can we use our power, and speak of God’s power, in ways that help us and others see God more clearly?

1. Enable people to recognise God’s power

Use your God-given power to guide people towards God. Enabling others, and ourselves to notice and speak of God, are practices we must continually repeat. When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, people heard ‘the wonders of God’ in ways they could understand. Make it a habit, in every meeting, to ask people where they see God at work. Encourage people to expect God to do something. Stay open to discovering God’s life-giving, life-transforming power as you lead.

The Methodist Way of Life Notice graphic.

2. Embrace your limitations

No leader has all the power. God created humans to need each other. Recognising our gifts, strengths, and limits is an important leadership lesson. Our limitations may be part of our gifting, enabling us to need others and reminding us of our humanity. This is no accident; God created us to be interdependent. Healthy leadership begins when we acknowledge and celebrate everyone’s gifts, strengths, and limitations. How can you use your leadership power to create spaces, where people discover each other’s gifts and limitations? Spaces where friendships develop as people co-create, co-design, and thrive together.

The Methodist Way of Life Care graphic.

3. Prioritise people more than programmes

Most leaders have too much to do. Use your power to take control of your diary. We all need to learn to say no, to enable a better yes. In the gospels, story after story depicts beautiful encounters because Jesus prioritised relationships. To grow disciples and build healthy communities, we must prioritise relationships. One of the core practices of Faith Rooted Community Organising is the one- to-one meeting. We often spend time in ‘what’ conversations, where we exchange pleasantries, talk about the weather, or discuss activities. While a one-to-one meeting may start here, it quickly aims to go deeper. The one-to-one meeting is an intentional conversation between you and one other person, designed to make a connection, explore common ground, build trust, and learn what the other person values.

The Methodist Way of Life Open graphic.

4. Listen to people experiencing poverty

Amongst the many injustices in our society, economic poverty is a major challenge. People in poverty have much less access to power, and the problem is growing, with one in five people in the UK experiencing poverty, including four million people facing destitution. As leaders, we care deeply about this, because God consistently shows a bias towards people experiencing poverty and those who are excluded. It is one of our Principles as a Justice-seeking Church. Spending time listening and learning from people on the economic margins in your community can open you to the love and justice of God. As Martin Luther King Jnr said, ‘Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anaemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.’ Jesus persistently shared meals with people at the margins of society and listened to people without power. Who is God inviting you to listen to in your community?

The Methodist Way of Life Serve graphic.

5. Stay healthy

Every aspect of our power can enable or inhibit people from seeing God. Healthy leaders will seek to use their power to help others experience God’s love, justice, and grace. We remain healthy as leaders by being open to feedback. Every leader needs people in their lives who love them enough to tell the truth. Sometimes, you will get it wrong. You won’t always have your best day. Staying healthy as a leader means admitting when you have made mistakes, exploring what went wrong in supervision or with trusted friends and learning from those mistakes. Staying healthy is not about perfection but a willingness to recognise and review how you use your power, to enable people to see God. In the gospels, Jesus rejected the use of power to dominate others. Jesus reimagined relationships where power consistently enabled human flourishing.

The Methodist Way of Life Live graphic.