I met Rafael Lupez recently on my trip to the Vatican. He was head of his 500 strong community. He said he has no fear of power nor coveted power. He allowed newcomers to take leadership positions in their community. he believed power was not greater than God nor greater than grace.
Of course, it happens there are moments of betrayal, one cannot be assured all things will go well. St Francis of Assisi felt betrayed when his society turned away from serving the poor at one time even while he was still living. It pained him much. And yet, he saw that it was the motivation for life. Power does not overcome us even in those times of defeat. Weakness is still greater than power or might because God is always on the side of the weak.
We see this in the life of David, specially at the time he was retreating or fleeing from his rebellious son Absalom. He told Zadok to take back the Ark of the Covenant to the city. It was the symbol of his kingship, the main justification for his reign. And yet, it was as though he was giving it up. He truly held power lightly, with an open hand. He told Zadok, if God wants me to continue as king I will see the Ark again, if not, I am ready. Even with great power, David as King showed that he was open to what God would do to him. Even with mighty warriors absolutely loyal to him, David bared his body and soul to be hurt by Shimei who cursed and stoned him.
God clearly teaches that He will humble the proud, put low the powerful, and lift up the weak and honor the humble. This is the cord that ties life together which many people miss altogether because of a short and narrow view of life. Relating with Frodo of Lord of the Rings, those who cling to power to covet its illusion of control and togetherness, even mastery and dominion. The lust for power only ends up mastering the person himself, the one who wields the power. The person never masters power. The deception is this, that we think we have power or wealth when it fact it is we who are now slaves of power and wealth. and only those like Frodo who deigns power, who refuses its temptation, the lust of power, only they are not mastered by power.
Those who want power could not qualify for the work Frodo was tasked to do. Frodo was the only one qualified to bring the ring to the volcano and throw it into the fire to destroy it. All those who wanted power could not do it. The moment they took hold of the ring they would be possessed by the ring and became evil like the ring.
We have the paradigm of Jesus, taken clearly from Old Testament, on the use of power. This is the Isaiah 53 Servant Paradigm. It is the most controversial of all teachings in the Bible as far as the issue of engagement of power is concerned. For centuries, many writers and philosophers have attributed the legitimacy of the monarch from divine appointment. It was commonly referred to as the divine rights of kings, saying, kings derived their authority to rule directly from a mandate from heaven. What is often neglected despite this penchant for attributing power as emanating from God was precisely this Servant Paradigm, that kings were actually called to rule not as despots or dictators or tyrants but as servants.
When Jesus was tempted, there was a short cut offered to him. But Jesus refused for he knew that the right engagement with power as always the surrender of power. Only when one gave it up did power become his or hers. It was by giving up power, through becoming a weak mortal that he did this. He did it finally by his passion, leading to death on the cross. It was on the cross that power finally became his. We cannot really grasp power correctly aside from death on the cross.
In Hebrews, we read this remark – Jesus learned obedience from the things he suffered, which is the concomitant of power – suffering and in the end, death. Incidentally, the hand over of power comes through authority. Power comes from authority. Without authority, power is illegitimate. So, at the end, Jesus says to us, all authority in heaven and on earth have been given to me (it was not power he was talking about although later, he would say, presuming authority was given already, that we would receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down upon us).
Power is at least simply a lifeless mass of dominating energy without personality or name, at most it is evil incarnate, the demon himself personified. Power must be held with an open hand, even in the church, and most importantly in the church where God is Lord. That is why many will quote that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The story of the Lord of the Rings is an overarching perspective of power, a panoramic view from heaven of what power can be and the journey of Frodo to destroy the ring by throwing it into the volcano is the journey of all Christians who engages life supremely – for no one can be neutral with power. No one can stand on the side like a bystander. One is either consumed by it or consumed with bringing it to the Lord in surrender, to throwing the ring into the fire. We are either constantly seeking it and being consumed by it or constantly seeking to surrender it to God.
We often hold unto power unconsciously or secretly. We do it when we make our corporation’s finances confidential, meaning only a select few can see it. We also run our NGO like a family dynasty so we have perpetual control. We also do not realize how powerful we are even though we may think we have no official role as leader. In all these, we exercise power in the wrong way because we are not able to surrender power intentionally and honestly to God. All our finances are really open to the public if we are a corporation or specially an NGO since all the board members are merely trustees which means they hold power and wealth in trust for someone else, not certainly themselves. When we fail to realize we are exerting influence powerfully within the community, it discourages those who have formal positions.
Second to this teaching on power is the duty and responsibility to teach our people constantly, teach them a lot of wisdom and discernment, in order that foolishness and deception will reign over us and overcome us, and foolishness will not lead to betrayal in our organization. At all times we must remind each other what power is so that in our community we are ruled more by reason and grace than the lust for power. That constant teaching and our leaders’ example will purify our community so that we are full of truth and sincerity and be completely open and transparent for it is only in such an environment that trust can grow.
I am reminded of what lawyering really means in the noble sense: it is to win by the power of sheer reason, not win by force or intimidation, but only win with good, sound, powerful reasoning. It is part of our humanness and it is also that part of us that God reaches out to when he says in Isaiah, come and reason with me. We must win with reason just as God never tires to reason with us, does not get tired provoking our reasoning capacity to see the truth. But we must be careful also that those who are weak in reasoning will not feel they have no place in leadership. We must not just teach to give wisdom and discernment but teach in such a way that all those around us acquire the same power of reasoning, the same strength, so we can build each other up as iron sharpens iron.
The final act of a leader is to step back, create a vacuum, so that new leaders can come in, younger ones can step in, and lead. Leadership can only be taught with that vacuum. Leadership cannot be learned unless experienced and where mistakes and failures can happen. With that vacuum, the danger of failure and waste is real and possible. But delegation should never amount to abandonment. Leaders must always be present and behind the scene, praying, watching and encouraging. When a leader steps back, he is still liable, still responsible and he must suffer with all when waste, betrayal or failure occurs with the new leaders.
Leadership works in 3 stages: modelling, mentoring and coaching. One models by being the star player, being an example, being up front. One is an a model when he is always prompt, or being honest, being humble, being a servant. Mentoring means there are now two star players, you and the one being mentored. You allow the new comer to play and be an equal. The last stage is when the leader steps back, creates a vacuum so that the new leaders senses he is now totally in control, at the helm holding the steering wheel.