Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Power and Authority in Pastoral Ministry

I've just managed to get my MA Thesis transferred from an old disc onto more contemporary readable Media.  It's taken 18 years, but on reading it back I realise just how much what I read at that time, and the thesis I ended up with, influences my approach to ministry today.  So I thought I would share it.  I'll do a chapter at a time over the next few days...

Here's the introduction:

The nature of power in pastoral relationships


Power exists as both a personal and structural ingredient of pastoral ministry.  It is present in any relationship of trust where one person seeks advice, aid or guidance from another.  Bishop Penny Jamieson (1997: 23) writes:
“There has always been fascination with power - who has it, how they came about it, how it can be used or misused, how it can change the course of history and how it can be challenged.  Part of that fascination, I believe, derives from the potential that power has to hurt.”

Power is a difficult word to define, and its relationship to authority makes it more difficult to offer a definition that can separate the two words from one another, particularly in a pastoral setting.  In simple terms we can start from the basis offered by John Harris (1977: 55), quoting Rollo May,  who says power is, “…the ability to affect, influence and change other persons.”   This is what pastoral encounters seek to do, to stimulate growth and movement, to heal hurts and to offer aid to people seeking assistance, both in times of trouble, and times of searching.

There is a dynamic relationship for those in pastoral positions between the power one has to make a difference in a person’s life and the authority that allows one to do that.  In the Church there are various sources of authority - local, structural, global.   Authority, in the church is founded in the pastor’s office, title and/or function, and rooted in the community.  These foundations give the minister the ability to speak on behalf of the church, to offer an opinion that is somehow ‘bigger’, more meaningful than just the pronouncement of an individual person.  These three aspects of ‘office, title and function’ are also in a dynamic relationship with one another which will be discussed further in Chapter 3 as we consider the development of the structures of the church.

Within the structures of the church there is an authority given to those who have particular pastoral roles that allows them to make pronouncement, to offer the view of ‘the Church’ to those who seek their aid.  The message the New Testament gives seems to be that this a necessary and proper part of the work of those who seek to ‘minister the Gospel’, but alongside this power is a great responsibility, to act in the best way for those who seek such aid, to remain within the Christian constants of love, care and concern, and to seek to make the Gospel real to those who ask for help, meaning that the ‘good news’ of healing, liberation, joy, peace and hope are to be both the methods and the aims of pastoral contact.

This authority, and the power it bestows. enables those in emotional, spiritual or sometimes physical need seek assistance from a pastor with the expectation that she or he will be able to assist them in their need.  This authority may come from a number of sources but without it the pastor is unable to connect with the client in such a way that change can be made and the client’s needs may be met. 

The bases for that authority and the power that is concomitant with it are many and varied, and exist within a complex web of personal, communal and structural  networks.  This study is an attempt to look at the nature of that power, the basis for such authority and at some aspects of the use and abuse of this power in pastoral ministry.   We will attempt to unravel some of the strands of the web that makes it possible for a minister to function in the pastoral encounter, we will examine the grounding of power in pastoral relationships, and critique the power structures and the exercise of power by those in pastoral ministry.  

This study is primarily concerned with the Church as a particular community within which pastoral power is manifested on an everyday level.  We will therefore look at the sources of the authority that is given to pastors in the Christian Church and how those who are responsible for pastoral ministry as part of the Church might be aware of their own power and authority.  We will consider the appropriate and inappropriate uses of power and authority and how those who have this power might bring about meaningful and helpful change in the lives of those who seek their help.

The aim of this study is threefold: to explore the foundation of pastoral power and authority in the Christian setting.  To consider the nature of pastoral power and how it may be used appropriately or abused.  To think about issues of accountability, transparency and other ways in which power might be guarded and made safer in its use and how this might be a part of the life of the Christian community in a constructive way.   This work is partly a reflection upon this growing need to understand power relationships in pastoral matters and partly an attempt to bring out into the open the need to constantly examine issues of power in modern society.

The material used in this dissertation  is primarily concerned with being a Christian critique of power and the authority that makes the use of that power possible.  It would, in many places, I hope be applicable for anyone in a caring position, but it intentionally focuses on Christian pastoral practice and the strengths and weaknesses of the church’s pastoral work.  As Stephen Pattison (1993: 7) tells us “…it should be noted that the historic pastoral care tradition very much revolved around the activities of recognized church leaders.” 

Pattison (1993: 7) goes on to say that the many care agencies that now exist to promote well being all offer forms of pastoral care.  Of these agencies the church is a distinctive one in offering pastoral care from a certain perspective, tied up with ‘elements of healing, sustaining, reconciling and guiding’ within a Christian understanding of wholeness in the light of God’s love for humanity.

It must be said that this study, by its very brevity and nature, cannot examine all aspects of the issues it raises and in some ways this is a very inadequate document in relation to the task facing pastoral agencies.  This dissertation does, however, seek to make clear the issues involved regarding power and pastoral ministry - even if unable to go into the detail of many of them.

Another area that lies beyond the scope of this work concerns the correction of abuses of power.  Many of the ideas discussed here consider how power might be used effectively and appropriately, and looks at ways in which those in positions of power might be encouraged to work and act appropriately and responsibly.  To that end we will consider ideas such as transparency, accountability and openness in the exercise of power.  We do not, however, deal with issues concerning the aftermath of abuse - physical, sexual, psychological or otherwise.  This would be the concern of another, much greater, study.  

Because this has not been the intention of the work, therefore, some of what is said might not apply to those situations.  Ideas such as ‘appropriate dependence’ and the very issue of the use of power for empowerment might in themselves further the damage an abused individual might suffer, especially in the case of child abuse victims - the considerations of this study are therefore limited to the everyday life of the church as a pastoral institution in a very general sense, recognising that in certain cases the issues are of such depth that only professional counselling and assistance can hope to take the abused individual through their experience to a place of stability and safety.

It is also important to mention that at no time do we examine in depth the types of abuse that are possible in pastoral relationships.  There may be spiritual, emotional or physical abuse which may be obvious.  There are also more subtle forms of abuse, such as using a client to fulfil the needs of the pastor in such a way as is detrimental to the client.  There are, in fact, so many shades of abuse that this would constitute a study in its own right.  In this work we will concentrate on how abuse may come about, with some examples of the results of abuse, and consider how abusive relationships might be avoided and planned against.

This study offers us the opportunity to consider a model of pastoral power that works with the idea of ‘appropriate dependence’ and to look at how the structures of community might facilitate and encourage this.  With this basis we go on to look at the existence of power in pastoral relationships, the authority held by leaders in the church and the roots of this power and authority in pastoral encounters. We will continue by looking at the Biblical roots of issues of power in a Christian setting, namely in the life of Jesus and the experience of the Apostolic and Post-Apostolic Church, before moving on to look at how the concerns brought to us there might lead us on to a modern critique, and indeed an apologetic, for the appropriate use of pastoral power

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