The Politics of Ministry
Navigating Power Dynamics and Negotiating Interests
by Bob Burns, Tasha D. Chapman, and Donald C. Guthrie
Pub Date 08 Jan 2019
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We all need help navigating the politics of ministry. "Politics" is often considered a dirty word. It brings to mind lies and manipulation, accusations and scandals. But at its most basic level, politics is simply the everyday activity of getting things done with other people: understanding their interests, recognizing the power dynamics at play, and learning how to negotiate relationships and institutions to achieve a common goal. These realities are as true in ministry settings as anywhere else. In The Politics of Ministry, Bob Burns, Tasha Chapman, and Donald Guthrie combine their long ministry experience with sociological research on the topic. Filled with real-life stories taken from a variety of ministry settings, this book sets out wise principles and practices that help us see more clearly the political dynamics at play in our churches and parachurch ministries. All ministry is political. As servants of Christ's kingdom, we are called to navigate the politics of ministry with grace, wisdom, and charity. This book shows us how the gospel of Jesus changes the way we work with those around us toward our common goal.
"I once spoke with a six-term US Congressman who told me, 'I once considered the ministry, but thought it was just too political!' Needless to say, I howled. For anyone in, thinking about, or trying to penetrate the mysterious politics of church life, this book will function like an ecclesial MRI revealing subtle layers of how decisions are made, who stays and who goes, and much that goes on under the surface of ministry. Burns, Chapman, and Guthrie nail it. The light they shed from current research illuminates what is for most of us a dark and often dangerous landscape. I only wish this wisdom had been available when I entered my first church thirty-four years ago. This book is a significant step in their helping local congregations and pastors to become both healthier and more effective."
-Tom Pfizenmaier, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
"It's only a matter of time until we leaders realize we're not really as good at working with people as we thought, and we're not sure what to do about it. Through relatable stories, practical tools, and helpful new language, this book provides essential training in how to work with and through God's people, in ways that honor him and increase our self-awareness as leaders."
-Leela Murty, thirty-year campus staff member and former northeast regional director with Cru
"Written by my three friends and colaborers, Burns, Chapman, and Guthrie share a combined one hundred years of negotiating ministry in the trenches. They present rich substance, timely practical resources and case studies for applying biblical theology into the challenges of daily ministry. All for the sake of the health and mission of Christ's church. This book will help us in seminaries to more effectively prepare pastors and leaders to face future challenges in ministry with realistic hope. It will also be a tool to sustain them as they grow in wise stewardship of people, power, interests, and negotiation wherever God calls them."
-Mark L. Dalbey, president and associate professor of applied theology at Covenant Theological Seminary
"Drawing on years of teaching and ministry experience, Bob Burns, Tasha Chapman, and Donald Guthrie have provided readers with a wise, thoughtful, helpful, and insightful guide regarding ministry and church relationships. Addressing issues of power, interests, and negotiation, our authors point readers toward opportunities for redemption and resilience in both relationships and structures for the good of the gospel and the edification of the church. Drawing on case studies and providing direction for personal or group reflection, the book is focused on authentic application for those new to ministry, for those with a long tenure in ministry, as well as for those who have experienced pain, setback, and disappointment in ministry. Burns, Chapman, and Guthrie are to be highly commended for this most important work, which I am delighted to recommend."
-David S. Dockery, president of Trinity International University and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
"Politics? Ministry? The two words on the surface appear incongruous, even disconcerting. Yet more often than we may know, the derail-er of a pastor or ministry leader is not their own moral failing or lack of competence, but rather the invisible yet powerful systems at work in the context they have entered. These systems are emotional and relational in nature, and unless the leader has been equipped to look for them and engage them appropriately, they may never be effective in their role regardless of intelligence or theological prowess. The resources and tools provided in this important book will help a ministry leader (or any leader) navigate contextual waters that may seem calm on the surface but often have a powerful undertow. An integration of systems thinking, interpersonal relational health, and complexity science, The Politics of Ministry is a practical handbook for any ministry leader seeking to build dynamic, healthy organizational cultures and not lose their own sanity in the process."
-Lisa Pratt Slayton, CEO, Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation
"The most perilous leadership land mines are often political ones. Those called to lead the church quickly learn they must not only read the Bible well, they must also read the room well. Utilizing a scholarly bent with practitioner flair, a persuasive case is made that the longevity and fruitfulness of Christian leadership is in good part due to a growing competency in navigating the inevitable political realities any faith community presents. For all who are called to the enterprise of church leadership, The Politics of Ministry is an invaluable guide down the path of greater effectiveness and influence. I highly recommend it."
-Tom Nelson, senior pastor of Christ Community Church in Kansas City, president of Made to Flourish, author of The Economics of Neighborly Love
"This book addresses political issues in ministry with honesty and clarity, illustrated with rich examples from real-life stories. The conceptual frameworks provided—interests, power, negotiation, and ethical considerations—are extremely helpful to understand the phenomena and to explore redemptive approaches in various situations. This is a must-read for all who are involved in various types of church and parachurch ministry."
-Sutrisna Harjanto, Bandung Theological Seminary, Bandung, Indonesia
"People often enter a new ministry with great energy and hope only to discover they have been thrust into a bewildering set of expectations, conflicting demands, and unspoken rules. After a while they may even feel jaded about Christian ministry and quietly begin looking for another job. A key benefit of this book is that it names and encourages us to be honest about the social dynamics that occur in any church or organization. The authors point the way to a more healthy, human, and informed way of living the good news of Jesus in community."
-John F. Thomas, senior director for training, Redeemer City to City
"The Politics of Ministry is an excellent and one-of-a-kind toolkit for anyone involved in Christian ministry around the world and committed to redeeming the messiness in ministry. As scholar-practitioners, Bob Burns, Tasha Chapman, and Donald Guthrie, with real-life examples and thought-provoking questions, facilitate how to navigate different power dynamics and how to negotiate interests."
-Ebenezer G. P. Perinbaraj and Esther T. Rajamani, founders and coexecutive directors of Rabah Network, Chennai, India
"Politics is a dirty word in the church of Jesus Christ and increasingly in our American culture. People are sick of leaders focused only their own interests who use power for personal agendas. Many sincere leaders are naive about power; but Jesus challenges us to be shrewd as snakes as well as innocent as a dove. Here is a book with the beauty of a snake and the ethics of a dove."
-Richard G. Thompson, Great Lakes district superintendent, Evangelical Free Church of America