I’ve got another question to toss out today — we’ll see if it gets anyone out of shape or yields as many comments as yesterday’s…. ;^)

I’ve been reading The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations in bites and chunks over the past week. In the past, I’ve talked about leadership and in particular pastoral relationships and authority. The issue I’ve flagged is an inherent power imbalance in the relationship, which puts the parishioner “below” the pastor. In that context, sharing personal information and receiving advice exacerbates the imbalance… they can’t be peers. This sets up a dangerous environment for both — the pastor in that he’s isolated, and the parishioner in that he’s easily open to manipulation. Further, power in a relationship tends to shape it — and not in a good way. The pastor is therefore tempted to misuse the power he has and manipulate the parishioner… and in some relationships, this temptation can grow over time. To be sure, in other relationships, it diminishes and the parishioner becomes more like a peer. The pastor(s) I describe may not be doing this intentionally, but the way the relationship is cast makes the danger inherent. Others (the good ones!) recognize the danger and take steps to ward against it. I’m sure I’ve said more on this around here somewhere.

Anyway, I was reading this book and noticed in the midst of his description of a personality they call the catalyst (page 125):

When people feel heard, when they feel understood and supported, they are more likely to change. A catalyst doesn’t prescribe a solution, nor does he hit you over the head with one. Instead, he assumes a peer relationship and listens intently. You don’t follow a catalyst because you have to—you follow a catalyst because he understands you.

When we give advice to someone, we automatically create a power hierarchy. The advice-giver is superior to the recipient. As we’ve seen, this kind of hierarchy is detrimental to a decentralized organization. In meeting people where they are, catalysts can inspire change without being coercive.

And, well, you can guess what connection I made for the church… and I was glad to see someone else describe the inherent power imbalance between one who gives and one who receives guidance. In our pattern of pastoral leadership, we have typically set up the imbalance by design. (I’m mostly saying pastor, but it could be any leadership role in the church.)

So now, what do you all say? How do we deal with the imbalance, prevent it, live with it… what?

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