Leading Without Power in Youth Ministry (Part 1)

Youth Specialties
August 1st, 2016

We’re excited to have Marko as one of our NYWC speakers. This blog post is a great start to the conversations he’ll be navigating in his seminar: Leading Without Power. Check out more information HERE.

I don’t think I’m alone when I admit that I’ve had issues with power, probably for most of my life. And it’s strangely paradoxical that my struggle with power (as in, I want it, too much) has played a huge role in me being put in roles where I had power. That twisted reality is, I think, a reflection of our church culture buying into broader American power values. No need to harp too much on that — we see nasty abuse of power all around us in the church.

My current employment status (as in, self-employed) follows about 20 years or so of having multiple people reporting to me. Now I mostly supervise freelancers, and I’m a volunteer youth worker. And I’m starting to see these questions of power and leadership in a new light. Maybe it took a complete lack of power in order for me to learn something about this.

Of course, I’m challenged by Jesus. He’s certainly not powerless. Dude had/has plenty o’ power. So the question shifts from quantity to quality; or, the question shifts from if one can exercise power to how one exercises power. And, what form that power takes. I’m sure there are a hundred more forms, but here’s a short list of power forms, good, bad and indifferent:

  • Coercion
  • Manipulation
  • Positional authority
  • Official dispenser of rewards & punishment
  • Paycheck signer
  • Ability to control
  • Personality
  • Ideation
  • Encouragement
  • Truth telling
  • Serving
  • Facilitation

Jim Collins’ notion of ‘Level 5 Leadership’ (here’s a helpful Harvard Business Review article on Level 5 Leadership, written by Collins), developed first in his book Good to Great, has been messing with me for years. I’ve blogged about it many times (here’s one), actually, because it haunts me. The Level 5 Leader (a very, very rare leader, btw) possesses a “paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” And, at the end of the day, isn’t that a pretty good description of Jesus’ leadership and use of power? It’s also, unfortunately, not the approach to power we see in most churches (or other places of leadership, to be fair).

Let me dive in with this proposal:

[bctt tweet=”Top-down coercive power-based leadership has no place in the church.” username=”ys_scoop”]

Sure, we can argue semantics and reframe power in positive ways (like the power of servant leadership). But, for our purposes here, let’s just stick with the more common understood (and exercised) concept of power — the ability and practice of exerting influence over others whether they want it or not. That’s the kind of power I’d like to see (mostly) excised from church leadership. (I concede with a little “mostly” there, because if I were the exec pastor or senior pastor of a church today, I’m sure there would be times when I would ‘exert influence over others when they didn’t want it’ — whether I’d be right or wrong is a separate conversation.)

Here’s a paradigmatic shift idea:

[bctt tweet=”Church leadership needs to move from a paradigm of control to one of facilitation.” username=”ys_scoop”]

In this context: facilitation = identifying and nurturing competencies

Ooh. That’s an approach to ministry leadership I’d love to see more youth workers embrace.

Read PART 2 in this short series HERE

markoMark Oestreicher (Marko) is a veteran youth worker and founding partner in The Youth Cartel, providing resources, training and coaching for church youth workers. The author of dozens of books, including Youth Ministry 3.0, and Hopecasting: Finding, Keeping and Sharing the Things Unseen, Marko is a sought after speaker, writer and consultant. Marko lives in San Diego with his wife Jeannie and young adult and teenage children, Riley and Max. Marko’s blog: whyismarko.com.
Youth Specialties

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