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“…Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.” Acts 8:18-24

Power-play in the church has demonic origins. Satan hates the church and is always seeking to destroy her. He has many strategies in this effort. The evil-one uses slander and deception to foster bitterness and unforgiveness among God’s people, thus bringing about division in the church (John 8:44, 10:10; 2 Corinthians 2:10-11, 11:3-4,14; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10). Ephesians 6:12 teaches us that “…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Satan uses human beings in his warfare against God and the church, for he is “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). He works through people and circumstances in his attempts to destroy the church (See 2 Corinthians 11: 12-15; 2 Timothy 3: 1-9; 2 Peter 2:1-3,12-16). The epistles of the New Testament are full of the apostolic response to people that were used by Satan to disrupt the church. Most of them were seeking to take positions of authority that God had not entrusted to them. From these accounts, we can begin to discern the satanic strategies of power-play in the church.

1. The Clique This strategy was being used in Galatia, when Peter “…drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party” (Galatians 2:11-16). Cliques in the church are a useful tool in the hands of the enemy. Power-Brokers often demand allegiance to their understanding and interpretation of doctrines, for no-one gets into the club who is unwilling to play by the power-broker’s rules.

2. Unnecessary Secrets I am not referring to private ‘church leadership’ issues that really are no-one’s business. This strategy is characterized by an attitude that is communicating demeaning secrecy and a presumptuous unilateral decision making. Power-Brokers love to be in the know, be the decision-makers and the dispensers of secrets. It seems that everyone that is not in their clique is on a need to know only basis. Unnecessary secrets and unilateral decision making on behalf of the church (or a ministry) is ill-advised and often fosters division within the church. The Lord did not ‘keep secrets’ from His disciples. In John 15:15 the Lord is recorded as saying, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”

3. Commendation Experts Power-mongers tend to think that they are the ones that give commendation and approval to themselves and fellow-sheep. They are typically very competitive people. If you pray for forty minutes, they have prayed for forty-five minutes. If you have read three books on being a good wife, they have read five. They also seem to have a perspective that communicates that their approval is the last word on the Lord’s approval. But, the apostle Paul said, “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” And, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:12, 17-18 ESV).

4. Disappearing Sheep Mark it down: if you see a pattern of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, whom you know to be mature in the Lord, ‘disappearing’ from the flock (with no real explanation from them or anyone else as to why), there is a problem. Most likely, they have been given the left-foot-of-fellowship by someone in the leadership. This is power-play in the church in its most blatant form. Ultimately, every power-broker is working with the presumption that ‘It’s my way or the highway.’ The apostle John wrote that someone in the early church refused, “…to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church” (3 John 10 ESV).

5. Undermining Trusted Leaders Power-brokers undermine trusted leaders through slander and raising doubts in the minds of the church membership. The apostle Paul and the apostle John dealt with this repeatedly. Come to think of it; this was Satan’s first known strategy… “Did God really say?” (Genesis 3:1). John wrote that someone was talking wicked nonsense against him and the other apostles (3 John 10 ESV). And, Paul wrote that “…such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:12-15 ESV). Wow. That’s scary.

6. Shunning Power-brokers know how to punish with the silent treatment and ostracization. Shame and isolation are very effective tools in power-play. Power-players exclude and humiliate to produce the obedience and respect that they feel they deserve. Paul saw this tactic being used in the Galatian church and said, “They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them” (Galatians 4:17 ESV).

7. Lack of Submission Power-People expect others to be subordinate to their wills but are not very submissive people themselves. They do not submit to budgets (time or money), or other external authoritative structures – such as church constitutions, by-laws, and doctrinal statements. They are characterized by an urgency of the moment mentality, excusing their unwillingness to wait upon God in prayer as a matter of necessity. This was King Saul’s sin, and it cost him the kingdom (See 1 Samuel 15). Waiting on God in prayer and seeking the input of others are both essential expressions of a submitted person. John said about one power-hungry man that he was dealing with, “I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority” (3 John 9 ESV).

8. Emotional Manipulation It is not unusual to see a power-broker become demonstrably angry. If power-players are angry, they quickly become red-faced, raise their voices, and will even resort to tears to get their wills accomplished. This sort of behavior is particularly shocking since leaders in the church are supposed to set an example in godliness, holiness, and self-control. In Corinth, this manipulation may have even escalated to physical abuse! Paul wrote, “For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!” (2 Corinthians 11:20-21 ESV).

9. Electioneering People serving Christ pour their lives out for the glory of God in the good of others. On the other hand, people running for office promote themselves, slander others, put themselves forward, capitalize on the victories of other people, and have a general demeanor of ambitious pursuit. Power-players in the church act more like politicians than servants. But, James says, “…if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice” (James 3:13-16 ESV).

10. Twisting Scripture Power-brokers prefer unilateral decision-making. The next best thing to that is setting up a system in which they know that they already have a majority vote on a church board for anything they want to do. Power-brokers specialize in the off-the-record conversation. They do not think that it is wrong to threaten some form of church discipline for non-conformists, and they feel no shame in twisting Scriptures to accomplish their wills. Anyone that disagrees with them or their methods can easily be accused of causing division and refusing to submit to their fellow brethren out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21). Peter spoke of the abuse of Scripture in this way, “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16).

Intro: Power-Play in the Church

Part 1: Recognizing the Satanic Strategies of Power-Play

Part 2: Resisting Power-Play in the Church

Part 3: Responding Biblically to Power-Players