"Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters." ~ Daniel Webster
This was written almost a century and a half ago but is still relevant today. I believe Webster is warning us against the seductive lure of power. How does this happen? What is it about power that changes people? Throughout history leaders who have risen up to overthrow tyranny have often, once they control the reins of power, changed into some form of the very tyrant they fought so hard to overthrow. Is it possible to use power solely for the benefit of others or do we have to get comfortable with viewing ourselves as “above” others in order to minister to those who are “below”? After all, how are we capable of helping anyone if we are not given at least some power over them to do it.
One of the last discussions I had with my students in class this spring was on the issue of ministry moral failure – not exactly the most cheerful topic, but nonetheless relevant particularly to those who aspire to be of help to the church. There are many dynamics behind ministry moral failure but perhaps one of the most severe is that, whatever else it is, it is an abuse of power. Somehow the shepherd who was appointed to feed the sheep suddenly feels justification to devour them.
So what is the answer?
Should we abolish the role of shepherd assuming that no one can handle such toxic material as power and not be disfigured? I think part of the answer is the requirements for elder in passages such as 1 Tim. 3. Could it be that Paul was worried about this very thing when he gave this job description? Is this why the overwhelming majority of qualifications have to do with maturity and character? Is this one of the many reasons that new believers are excluded until they have time to season (even Paul himself did not go immediately from famous unbeliever to famous believer (Gal. 1:18)?