The posthumous reports about Ravi Zacharias broke my heart. He was an amazing apologist and speaker. I have read several of his books and listened to him speak on a number of topics. What I always loved about him was his humble demeanor. The way he seemed to really care about where the other person was coming from. He wasn’t angry and demeaning like so many apologists tend to be. Unfortunately, as we now learn, he wasn’t as humble as we thought. Like so many others before him, power and fame had corrupted him also, emboldening him to live a double life where he clearly did not care about how others felt.
He had the illusion of humility but not the fruit. That is because humility is not about demeanor or about self-abasement. Humility is about relinquishing power. Andy Crouch states in Strong and Weak that, “It is hard to think of many things that do more damage to an organization than leaders who have no plan for how they will hand over power.”
Fortunately, we have an example to emulate. Paul states, “Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant being born in the likeness of man.” Phil 2: 5-6 My paraphrase–Be like Jesus who had all the power of the world (and the right to it) but gave His power away in order to love and serve others.
What does that look like for us? This is a complicated and multi-faceted topic, so I just want to address how we can avoid giving power to the wrong people and how we can have an accurate view of ourselves in regard to power.
How to divest power:
1. Don’t elevate people (pastors, writers, influencers).
My husband is a pastor. He became the head pastor just a couple of years ago after serving as the youth pastor for several years. We were both surprised and amused by how differently people related to him now that he was in this new position. People who never paid much attention to him before now had lots to say. It was clear that now that he was in a position of “power” somehow he had become someone worthy of focus. This kind of attention is dangerous for both parties—for the people who are looking up to a person of power and for the person who is in power. It’s easy to see the dangers to the people who are looking up to another. They can be misled and taken advantage of.
But it is also hazardous to the person being “idolized.” Power is dangerous and can destroy even the most righteous of leaders. A brief look at our Christian headlines only confirms this. Fame, power, and unquestioned trust make no sense in our Christian communities. Our theology should remind us daily of the depths to which we can all fall. Bottom line—do not act as if great teachers, preachers, influencers or anyone else are immune to the allure of power. Therefore, as much as you are able, do not give it to them.
2. Invest locally. Learn from your community, not just famous people.
The best way to not give power to powerful people is to invest in your local communities. Join Bible studies, volunteer, and attend a local church (however unexciting). Church should be more about performing acts of love and service than just learning about it. This will not happen unless we start with where we are.
In addition, one of the benefits of living locally is the experience of authentic community. When we live with people, we are going to see each others’ weaknesses. We cannot hide in real life what is able to be hidden in our online relationships. Therefore, when love is extended it is not for the perceived image of ourselves, but for who we truly are.
3. Do not fear being an ideological minority.
As much as we enjoy having our views held by the majority of our culture, dominant thought is actually unhealthy. Why? Because it’s about power and control. When our ideology is dominant then we keep adding to it, just like the Pharisees added to the law. The American church in her past dominance has been obsessed with superficial things such as haircuts, facial hair, and tattoos. Instead, conflict makes us narrow down to the essentials, to the heart of the gospel. It is good for our faith and our views to be challenged.
A dominant philosophy quickly becomes an echo chamber where we only hear what we already agree with. One of the biggest lies we tell ourselves is that all of our thinking is in line with God’s thinking. This is what the Pharisees did and they were unable to receive Jesus or His teachings. None of us can claim perfect theology and must take the stance of always learning. Even if it is simply the willingness to hear another person’s story.
4. Trust God to manage power. Don’t trust yourself.
Do not underestimate your own ability to be tempted by power. True humility recognizes that this is a temptation for every person. A common theme seen in films is how a seemingly good person is transformed into an evil one once they receive power. The message is clear—just because you don’t think you would or could abuse power does not mean you won’t. I don’t imagine for a second that leaders who have fallen (such as Ravi Zacharias) started their ministry thinking that is what they’d do.
The best way to wield power is to share it. Even Jesus did this with his disciples. I see this modeled every day with my husband. As a pastor, he seeks to share the pulpit, encouraging elders to preach. In leadership decisions, he seeks unity among the elders and does not force his way. Because he is giving power away, he is able to be a good leader and pastor.
Jesus Is Different
The fact that Jesus had access to and a right to the power of God and chose to put it aside to die for us is awe-inspiring. It is so unexpected that it sits like a huge character foil in the middle of history. No other man or woman has ever done perfectly what Jesus did. And He did it with love and grace. In a world where we see power’s corruption every day, we can safely rest our hopes in Jesus because we already know that He can handle power.