Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel on Abuses of Power in the Church

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Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel offer insight on how can pastors or leaders can guard against the temptations and abuses that come with positions of power and influence in the church. To learn more about this important topic, check out Jamin and Kyle’s address at TGC West or their book, The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It.

Below is a lightly edited transcript of the video above. Before quoting, please check the video to ensure accuracy.
Kyle Strobel:
We know there are going to be certain kinds of things we can give in to in leadership, particularly the reality and the temptation of power. Let me kind of disabuse you of the assumption that you will not be tempted by worldly power in ministry. Just because you’re doing ministry doesn’t mean somehow you’re not going to be tempted to employ worldly power for the sake of it.
One of the key areas I think that’s going to be particularly helpful is cultivating a life of prayer where honesty is at its core and where you’re tuning your heart to kind of see what areas in your life where you are tempted toward power. Are you tempted to kind of wield worldly power to make my church what you want it to be? Are you tempted to wield worldly power to get more people to download your sermons? To get more people in your congregation? To make your life and family and all these other things work the way you want it to? We need to be aware of all these areas in our hearts where we’re actually trying to use God instead of worshipping him; we may end up employing worldly power ourselves and wield it to try to further his Kingdom. All of these things are temptations toward power.
And so as I see myself being tempted by these things, now I have to come in prayer: “Lord, I hear your message, I hear that without you I can do nothing. I look at my life, I know how much you’ve done for me. I know everything I have is because you are a gracious Father and yet I consistently look for ways where I can wield worldly power.”
I think back to reading Scripture in high school. I loved the section of 2 Corinthians 11:16–12:10; it was one solid highlighted section in my Bible. I remember memorizing “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And I love that passage, but I didn’t believe a word of it. My life didn’t look that way. I didn’t know what it meant but I loved how it sounded. And my worry is we often read Scripture to preach it, to try to explain it, and we don’t quite sit with it and really feel the weight of it. We need to ask ourselves whether the text of Scripture is really how we see the world. Do I really believe the last are first and the first are last? If someone looked at my life, would they see someone who believes that power is found in weakness, or will they see a person who found their strengths and actualized them?
It is in prayer and in Scripture we have to wrestle with questions of power and submission to Scripture. We pray: “Lord, this is not how I’ve been formed. In my flesh, your path is not what I desire.” And as we give ourselves to prayer and submission to Scripture, we have to cultivate this openness of heart so that we could really sit with and see the truth of ourselves in the very presence of God.
Jamin Goggin:
I think what Kyle surfaces is really important and has been instrumental in my own vocation as a pastor these past 15 years or so. What he’s commending is a life of prayer that’s marked by honesty and vulnerability, where the very real temptations with power that we face in ministry are fodder for a life of prayer, bringing these things into the conversation with the Lord.
I’m still a young pastor, so I’m mindful of that as we answer this question, the truth is that I still have much to learn in this regard and much to learn from those that have embraced this vocation for a lot longer than I have. But what does occur to me is the pastoral office quite simply is a position of power. And this, in fact, isn’t all bad or inappropriate, it is an office that is vested with authority and rightly so by Christ. And as pastors when we stand before our congregation and proclaim the Word of the Lord for 20 or 50 minutes, we’re in a position of authority and power. When we mediate between two parties in the life of the church that are at conflict and reconciliation is needed, when we lean into pastoral care conversations that are pointed down a road of church discipline, these are all places where power and authority do show up. And so the question is not “Are we in a position of power?” but to Kyle’s point, “Is the kind of power we are embracing in those moments worldly power or Kingdom power? Is it a kind of power and
strength exercised for control or is it a kind of power shown in our weakness, love, and dependence upon Christ?”
And so I think he’s right that prayer is incredibly important in this conversation. We must cultivate in our prayer life an ongoing dialogue with God about very real temptations we face in these moments of preaching and pastoral care and all the areas of leadership in the life of the church as a pastor. We’re tempted to kind of wield our personality to get the job done. We’re tempted to lean on our strengths and abilities and competencies rather than trusting in Christ.
I think the other thing that surfaces for me that has been a real value in my own journey in these things is the importance of friendship. And it is incredibly important as pastors that we have relationships that aren’t only hierarchical, but relationships that are marked by genuine reciprocity. And so I use the word “friendship” intentionally because friendships aren’t hierarchical relationships. They’re relationships of genuine reciprocity where we’re known and we know the other, where we’re loved and we love the other, where vulnerability and intimacy and honesty are ingredients to what it means to have relationship.
And I think we need a variety of kinds of friendships in fact, that can help us guard against temptations in power. I think we need friendships with our fellow elders or pastors within the life of our church where they know us and our temptations with power and we know them. In friendships like these, conversation about these realities is regular and ongoing. Confession is a part of this relationship, and accountability is built in.
I think we need those kinds of friendships even with pastors and elders outside the life of our church. These pastors may not be in our immediate context but they do understand the kind of challenges, travails, temptations of ministry and meet us in those places with a sense of pure relationality.
Two other kinds of friendships may be somewhat more surprising to us in this regard. First are friendships with people in the life of our church. When I was a young pastor, I was often told, I think implicitly and sometimes explicitly, that I couldn’t really be friends with people in my church. I’ve come to believe that this is a false reality. Of course there are proper boundaries we need to hold and we should exercise wisdom in this regard. But we need to have real relationships with people in the life of our church where we’re known and we know them, where vulnerability is a part of our relationships. And what this does is it opens up to the life of the church that we aren’t just leaders in positions of authority but we are real people, and that’s incredibly important.
Lastly, friendships with people outside the life of our church or who aren’t even Christians and are thoroughly unimpressed with the fact that we’re pastors are important relationships to have. And they may just be friendships at the coffee shop or place that we study in, someone we dialogue with occasionally when we’re there. But we need friendships with people that see us as people and value us but don’t find our position our authority in the life of the church as anything noteworthy or impressive. It’s these kinds of relationships that can ground us and provide a helpful mirror of humility in our vocation.