Thursday, 5 June 2014

The Last Chapter - some conclusions on Power and Pastoral Ministry

The nature of power in Pastoral Ministry

Chapter 5
Observations and Conclusions

The purpose of this study has been to make it clear that to attempt to deny or ignore the power inherent in Pastoral encounters is deluded and opens the way to serious, though often unconscious, abuses of the power that exists whether it is acknowledged or not.  This acknowledgement of power and the acceptance of the authority conveyed upon those engaged in pastoral ministry is the beginning of any attempt to move on and tackle the related issues that arise in pastoral work.  The presence of power will, whether known or not, influence any pastoral encounter for ill or for better.

As discussed in the previous chapter, the church structure within which power is exercised and from which authority for ministry is gained is often blamed for individual failures to use power appropriately.   While it is true that the ‘senior executives’ within the church - whether they be elders, Bishops, Archdeacons, Superintendents or otherwise, - often have a strong influence over the Christian community it is recognised more and more that the authority these individuals hold is dependent upon acceptance from those who are part of the main body of the church.  In this way issues such as hierarchy, power sharing and accountability are being placed on the everyday agenda of the ministry of the church. 

The Church of England has always located the ultimate authority of a given situation in one individual - the Bishop, priest or other figure.  This has given those in pastoral ministry in that denomination a sense of accountability and responsibility due to the power invested in them.  This has not always been successful but has offered a working model for the Anglican Church for a number of generations.

The truth is, that without an obvious location of power and responsibility then power often comes out in other ways.  Churches that claim no one leader will often still have an individual who, through the dynamics of the group, will be an unconscious bearer of power, with the ability to influence the congregation accordingly.  This offers more dangers than the model of a defined role taken by one person who, though working as part of and on behalf of the fellowship is the one on whom responsibility will lie.  At least in such a model there is some form of accountability.
It is important to acknowledge the ‘power factor’ in a pastoral relationship.  This process involves a certain amount of vulnerability on the part of the pastor and the client, but it is one which, having made the issues known, leaves less room for unacknowledged power to sabotage the process.


Three Steps in Moving Forward

The first step in moving towards more open pastoral relationships is to examine the dynamics that inform the process of pastoral encounter.  This is the concern of Dr Brice Avery (1996)as stated in Chapter Three.  Therefore the position of client and pastor must be made clear and the, often unconscious, motivations of each must be examined.  This is not to advocate that the pastor offers all of her or his misgivings, vulnerabilities, strengths and weaknesses to the client, thereby disempowering him or herself, but that, from the very beginning, there will be an awareness of the underlying issues of power and authority that flow quite naturally within a pastoral relationship.  Brice Avery (1996: 46) tells us,
“The activity in the best of pastoral encounters is one in which the pastoral pair work together to reveal, for reflection, activities on the emotional level that the client had, until then, been unaware of.” (Italics mine)

Recognition of the nature of the power relationship that will exist in such an encounter is the beginning of working together in order to bring about such revelations.  Pastors, especially Christian pastors,  must embark on the long journey of self-awareness, informed by reflection, scriptural understanding and personal honesty that will allow them to be truly aware of their motivations and desires, and not allow them to subvert the true purpose of the pastoral encounter, to bring about the increased well-being of those who seek the pastor’s aid. Campbell (1993: 99) states
“Because caring is an interaction in areas of life where helper and helped are both vulnerable, the person who claims to care must learn to recognize the intrusive quality of his or her own needs.”
Without this self-understanding and self-knowledge the pastor is liable to be living out unresolved issues, playing out fantasies and serving her or his own ends in the pastoral encounter and thereby making it impossible to engage in a deeper relationship, a relationship of trust - in this case the client will find it difficult to open up to a pastor, as Harris (1977: 48) tells us “…a trusting climate is necessary if an individual is to see purpose in relaxing his defenses, in opening up his life and concern to others.”

The second step in making pastoral relationships more open and more constructive is concerned with the consideration of the roots of pastoral ministry which, certainly in the church, are found in the early history of the church and in the life and ministry of Jesus.  With this basis we find a critique of any aspects of power which involve control or manipulation, and the ideal of the pastoral community as one of mutuality and sharing.  In looking at certain biblical material in this study we have not sought to claim that only Christian pastoral contact is of any value, but that all pastoral ministry can be informed by the example firstly of Jesus and secondly of the primitive church that struggled to care for those it met, even while the church was subject to persecution, in the early years of its life.

The issues of ‘power’ and ‘authority’ which stand out so strongly in the life of Jesus and in the writings of the New Testament are tied up with the need for the pastor to be grounded in the life of the spirit and with the community of faith.  This is the natural outcome of the struggles of the earliest generations of the church between ‘charismatic’ and ‘institutional’ power being located in leaders. 

At best, power that is acknowledged as institutional offers, a safeguard against the extreme abuses of pastoral power.  This power is rooted in the understanding that Jesus found his home among those he trusted and gave them the authority to continue his work.  These were the founders of the heritage to which the church clings today.   Power and authority are indeed dangerous, unstable concepts, yet Jesus was unafraid to speak with authority and to follow the leading of compassion and commitment to others event when it brought criticism.  This, indeed, is the calling of pastors in every age, to be committed to the appropriate use of power in encountering those who seek help. 

Ultimately the call of the pastor is to encourage healing and wholeness, recognising her or his own need for that healing and wholeness.  Jesus offers us a model of humanity which allows us to feel, to weep and laugh alongside those who are travelling with us through our journey in life. Harris (1997: 167) writes that pastors must “…learn to focus on the struggles of their people to be more fully human.  The aim and purpose of Christ’s ministry was that human beings might live more abundantly.” This is the aim of pastoral relationships within the church.

As a third step to fuller pastoral contact we must bear in mind the ongoing dynamic of the pastoral encounter within the community.  This study is concerned to make clear the idea of community as the background and basis of any genuine pastoral encounter, whether it be through the network of persons in church fellowships or the fact that the minister represents and works on behalf of the community. Pastoral authority and power, to be used appropriately, must be made to exist in relationship to the community of faith or pastoral organisation from which the pastor works and such power must be acknowledged as part of the ministry of the church, not just a personal control over others.. 

Pastoral ministry, certainly in the long term, can only be effective, and perhaps safe, agains the background of community.  Those who are pastoral ministers gain their identity, their authority, their grounding in being a part of and coming from a community or organisation from which they derive their power and authority.  For the Christian pastor that community comprises of the church, both on the level of individual fellowships and on the structural level of the church at large.  A Christian minister is recognised as having power due to the social, historical and tradition-based processes that have made the church what it is now.  Even for those who have no active involvement in the church the minister will be an approachable figure because of  their office as well as, or even in spite of, who they are as a human being.  Though exploring one’s full humanity must be a part of the ministerial task.

Because of this ‘rootedness’ in the community, the minister must always be accountable to the group she or he represents and speaks for.  To facilitate this the pastor must be transparent, honest and open to the community for and to which she or he ministers. This involves, from the start, acknowledging the presence of power in pastoral encounters and being willing and able to work on the issues involved together.  If the pastor genuinely finds their grounding in the life of the community then there is the potential for a relationship of trust which is essential for power to be truly shared.  This concern can be tackled initially by the desire to bring about mutuality in pastoral relationships. Harris (1977: 71) borrowing a phrase from Rollo May, talks in terms of ministers not having ‘power over the members (of the Community) but power with them.”


Pastoral Power grounded in community

Apart from the community the pastor has no power to offer authentic pastoral assistance, for it is by the commission of the community that he or she derives authentic pastoral power.  There will be times when healing and wholeness can only be brought within a community, and the leader must hand over to the pastoral community to allow the worshipping fellowship to do that work.  Frank Lake (1994: 14) makes the observation that
“It is in such a Christian community that the resources of Christ are meant to work.  It would be a departure from the New Testament pattern to set up separate clergymen working like therapists and general practitioners in isolation from the Body of Christ.  The resources of God are mediated in the whole life of the Christian fellowship…”
It must be admitted that for the leader of a community it can be a risk, it can be costly letting go.  At a certain level, sharing power allows more opportunity for mistakes to be made and more potential for failure, simply due to the fact that more people are a part of the pastoral process.  On the other hand holding power has the danger of one person’s failure being ultimately equally or even more damaging than a community sharing responsibility.

If, as discussed in the previous chapter, the role of the pastor is partly about being one who can foster and appropriate dependence on themselves within the community, it is only done in order to move individuals beyond ‘extra-dependence’ to ‘intra-dependence’.  In other words, as Dominian (1976: 98) says, “Although we are born in a state of dependence, the meaning of life is not to be found in dependence but relationship.”  This stresses the need for a mutuality in pastoral communities.  As Harris (1977: 60) explains, “Power is a social process.  In its best forms, power is expressed as people speak and act together in a climate of mutual respect.” In pastoral care the aim must be to empower people in such a way that it facilitates both their own healing and the healing of others.


Beyond the Church

Though this discussion has been concerned with a critique of power within the church, there must never be any doubt that the care that the church offers must be for society at large, not for a select group seeking to be comfortable and well-adjusted at the expense of others.  Just as many caring agencies seek to assist any in need, the care of the church must be open to all who come.  Pattison (1993: 15) states that
“One feature of the experience of pastoral care today which is very important is the fact that while pastoral care may be carried on primarily in, or on behalf of particular Christian communities, it cannot be directed solely towards Christians.”
This is the ‘Mission’ of the church in its broadest sense - working in common with other pastoral agencies to bring healing and wholeness to an often broken and confused humanity.  This mission, for the Christian, reflects faith in a God whose ultimate aim is the healing of creation, a work that is performed by those that seek to do the work of healing as part of the Christian vocation.

Pastoral care is needed by the world, by society as a whole, and the church is called to model healing relationships, appropriate dependence and authority without abuse.  Dominian (1976: 78) writes
“…ultimately, what society is seeking is that the model of authority should be one of integrity, wholeness, holiness, wisdom and love and not based on the power of money, coercion, violence and subjugation of others.”
In the present era, when so many values and ideas are being questioned, people are turning to people they can trust rather than to ‘meta-narratives’ or cosmic explanations.  If the future paradigm, the future ‘philosophy’, of western culture is to be relational, then the Christian community of faith must live in relationship to one another and the world in such a way as to demonstrate the love and freedom that their faith aspires to.


Word and Deed

In any pastoral encounter words and deeds, teaching and practice, must both work together.  It is impossible to pay lip-service to empowerment and then retain old methods of control and still retain any credibility with those who seek the aid of the pastor.  The authenticity of such a ministry would soon come under question.  The pastor cannot claim to be mutual and concerned with sharing if their model of ministry is still dictatorial and manipulative. Therefore, those who hold positions of pastoral responsibility must take risks in allowing the community of which she or he is a part to be responsible for their own healing.  If we are, however, to follow the example of Jesus as pastor then we must acknowledge the client’s part in their own move towards wholeness.  Pastors must live by values that allow them to empower those they serve as well as talking about such values. Hannah Arends, quoted by Harris (1977) writes
“Power is actualized only when word and deed have not parted company, where words are not empty and deeds are not brutal, where words are not used to violate and destroy but to establish relations and create new realities.”

If pastoral care is about creating a new reality in the lives of those who are seeking wholeness and healing then power and authority must be part of a system that allows for its appropriate manifestation. Those who are particularly responsible for the administration of pastoral care, and there will always be individuals whose calling is to particularly minister pastorally on behalf of the community, must be willing and open to admit their limitations, to allow the community to be a resource and encourage partnership in the pastoral process.  There is no room for the kind of relationship where a pastor tells a client exactly how to lead their life, though there may be times when an authoritative pronouncement is appropriate.  Instead we have sought to express mutuality, transparency and accountability in pastoral relationships.  When the pastor is seen as a person of integrity, speaking from and as a part of a pastoral community she or he embodies and authority that is representative and persuasive rather than manipulative and coercive, in short, Harris (1977: 79) talks about it in terms of “…the difference between authority and control, the capacity to have one’s advice and insight taken seriously, verses the power to decide what happens.”



The pastor is a person of authority, and that authority is part of the heritage of the Christian community.  The authority to offer forgiveness, love, healing, wholeness.  This is a process where that authority is bestowed by the institution of the church, but is also made real and effective by the spiritual and emotional power that comes from integrity.  Integrity has been a much used word in this study, with a belief that the reader will make their own assumptions as to the meaning of the word ,but a definition given by Alastair Campbell (1993: 12) adds some meaning in relation to our subject, Campbell  writes
“When we speak of someone possessing ‘integrity’ we are trying to describe a quality of character for which the word ‘honesty’ may be too weak a synonym.  To possess integrity is to be incapable of compromising that which we believe to be true.”
The ultimate conclusion of this study is that fostering responsibility and integrity is the only solution to the difficulties of issues around pastoral power and authority.  Those who are called to exercise a pastoral ministry must be grounded in community, aware of self, and seeking to do what is right for others and for themselves.  All these must be believed to be true in order for the pastor to be truly a person of integrity. When pastoral power, and the authority of the church, is to be exercised then it must be done by those committed to assist their fellow travellers to live life to its fullest extent. 

The conclusion of this study is one made on a personal level, it must be those who are pastors who have the responsibility to care for themselves and be honest with themselves in order that they may care for others.  It is difficult to impose any structural changes that could foster this beyond what seems obvious, that pastors need supervision, support and accountability structures both within and without the local fellowship in order to facilitate this.  The church is beginning to take seriously commercial and managerial models of support, but these cannot be simply transferred into ecclesiastical structures, they will need translation, interpretation and adaption.  The church at large is recognising the need for change, and as we end this study our hope is that this recognition will grow and develop.

There will be tensions on this journey, as Harris (1977: 171) writes
“…the practicing minister needs constantly to balance opposing tendencies within himself, and between himself and the congregation…He is continually caught, for example in at least three fundamental tensions: the tension between comforting and confronting, between controlling and sharing control with others, between encouraging healthy dependence and stimulating growth toward interdependence.”
This tension is where this study ends, we recognise that the issues brought up by this work are not easy ones, nor are they easily defined.  For the church to continue to function in service to the world and faithful to the gospel, however, the issues must be faced by all of those who offer pastoral care on its behalf.  Pastoral power is an unavoidable part of the pastoral encounter, and must be acknowledged, accepted and worked with, rather than ignored, repressed and allowed to cause damage to those who come seeking guidance and help from ministers.

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