Review: The Politics of Ministry

Editor Eric Black reviews "The Politics of Ministry" by Bob Burns, Tasha D. Chapman and Donald C. Guthrie.

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The Politics of Ministry: Navigating Power Dynamics and Negotiating Interests

By Bob Burns, Tasha D. Chapman and Donald C. Guthrie (InterVarsity Press)

Many despise the manipulative, coercive, unjust, conflictual and divisive bent all too common in church politics. The authors respond that “practicing leadership requires people to shun unethical and unbiblical gamesmanship.” But avoiding the give and take—and even disagreements—of politics is to forego benefits to ministry of such negotiation.

“Politics is the art of getting things done with others.” It involves relationships, power, influence, interests, ethics and the interplay of stakeholders in negotiation. “Interests are priority preferences … that fuel people’s emotions, motivations, and actions.”

As much as ministry is about spiritual leadership of people, people’s interests must be identified, recognized, understood and engaged. Four chapters are devoted to interests, and for good reason. Any resistance a leader faces will be due to a perceived threat to interests. Much profit can be gained by reading nothing more than these four chapters. A good companion to this section is Marshall Shelley’s Ministering to Problem People in Your Church: What to Do With Well-Intentioned Dragons.

The last half of The Politics of Ministry ties together power and interests. When a person or a group sees either an opportunity to realize interests or a need to defend them, they bring what power they have to the service of their interests. At this point, negotiation takes place, either formally or informally. The authors describe a four-cell grid of negotiation based on the degree to which the power and interests of the parties involved overlap. The fourth cell involves the most challenge and receives its own chapter well worth reading.

The book is full of actual examples of the dynamics at play in ministry politics. The fullest example is the case study at the end, which the authors admit presents only one party’s view on a set of negotiations.

The Politics of Ministry is written to four audiences: those already involved in Christian ministry, people hurt or confused by ministry, those just starting in ministry, and the larger context of politics.

The book is intended to be imminently practical and therefore reads like a textbook. As a result, the profit may be lost by those who lose interest.

Eric Black, executive director, publisher and editor
Baptist Standard


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