Powerbrokers and Reconciliation

By John Kimball, D. Min.

Powerbrokers. By their very nature they wield their power and influence in the church. Typically, unless the church is healthy enough to prevent them from doing so, they also leave a long wake of frustrated and broken relationships behind them. In my own pastoral experience and in my role as a denominational leader, I know of countless stories of people who have been maligned, destroyed (usually via gossip), or even emotionally wounded by the antics of a powerbroker. In one church alone I learned of 17 families who had left over a several-year period because of one powerbroker’s control!

At this point, I need to state something clearly: powerbrokers only have power because churches allow them to wield it unchecked. This is true in churches of all stripes — whether congregationally governed, led by a presbytery of some kind or even of a more episcopal oversight (i.e., led by a bishop, pastor or other “elder”). Since it is the church that allows the powerbroker to exert his or her power, it is also the church that can disallow it. For example, after a particularly brutal public trouncing of a pastor in a church business meeting, the pastor had a very direct discussion with his leadership team. It was time to address the power problem or he was going to resign (just like their previous 4 pastors). The leadership team took it to heart. They also talked with some other former leaders. All of them decided together it was time to put this to rest.  At the next business meeting (just a few weeks later), the pastor became the target again. But this time a single leader stood and challenged the powerbroker. The powerbroker became irate, but then one by one the other leaders began to stand and publicly state that “this is not the way we are going to conduct business in this church.” Further, the chairman of the leadership team requested that the powerbroker make a formal apology to the pastor for his behavior at both meetings. The powerbroker sheepishly apologized and sat down. The whole spirit of the church changed that night. True story — and it’s been repeated in similar circumstances many times.

Generally, a powerbroker cannot handle having his or her record of broken relationships reflected back to them. In many cases, when this is done, the powerbroker will have well-designed explanations to exonerate themselves in every situation and especially with respect to those people who left the church because of them. They are masterful at making excuses, but deficient at making amends. Therefore, one of the single most-powerful tools at a local church’s disposal when it comes to addressing powerbrokers is a formal (and practiced!) policy of biblical peacemaking. In fact, such a policy often prevents powerbrokers from taking root in the first place. The problem is that most churches do not have such a policy, and any attempt to establish one is resisted by the powerbroker and his or her lemmings because they can see the hand writing on the wall.

Setting up a policy of biblical peacemaking itself is beyond the scope of this post. In fact, one could write a series of posts just on that topic. If you would like more information about establishing such a policy, feel free to contact me. My purpose here is to explain how a church uses biblical peacemaking, not only to address a powerbroker problem, but to begin the healing process for the broken relationships and reputations caused by the powerbroker.

Reconciliation through biblical peacemaking is nothing more than the power of the gospel put into practice. Among the most powerful examples of our gospel is the reconciliation of broken relationships with (and sometimes in spite of) powerbrokers. People who are sidelined by the efforts of a powerbroker have broken relationships with both the powerbroker and the church that allowed it to happen. Even if the powerbroker will not participate in the reconciliation effort, the church must still work diligently toward restoration. Christ’s gospel requires it. When the church — the family of faith — bands together for the purposes of reconciling a wounded member, that corporate gospel advocacy is far stronger than anything a powerbroker can muster. Remember, a powerbroker is only powerful if the church allows it. When that same church bands together to reconcile someone hurt by the powerbroker, the powerbroker’s influence becomes immediately impotent. They may boast and belly-ache, but a church standing for gospel reconciliation is a force with which to recon by God’s design.

Sometimes powerbrokers will actually repent when faced with a strong reconciliation effort. I have seen some beautiful demonstrations of the miracle-working power of God in such cases. But many times the powerbroker will simply back down. And as the church sees the restoration of multiple relationships over time, the power of Christ’s gospel changes the atmosphere that allowed the powerbroker’s influence to grow. There will indeed come a point at which the church family — collectively — is no longer under that thumb.