Power is a sensitive subject. None of us feel like we wield social power, and we haven’t intentionally done anything to increase our own power either. But we often don’t realize– not everyone’s perception of us aligns with the way we see ourselves. Especially when we travel internationally, we have to grapple with history, stereotypes, and misconceptions that all color our interactions. Locals are likely to lump us in with other Americans they’ve known, or maybe even with the history of people who look like us. We think we had nothing to do with colonialism, so it shouldn’t affect our relationships. But our perceived distance from the past doesn’t mean that others recognize us as different from what they’ve experienced in the past.
As Christians, we think it’s important to address this issue head on. Unfortunately, we’ve seen a perceived imbalance of power affect many relationships between people in the US and those in other countries, and we don’t want that legacy to continue. The vulnerable are not best served when nationals feel indebted to Western benefactors and unable to advocate for the needs of their community. Empowered local leaders need to be able to say “that idea is not the best use of resources” or “the problem is much bigger than that” without fear of harming the relationship.
Consider, maybe for the first time, what risks exist in cross-cultural work and how gospel-centered, mutually-edifying partnerships with local leaders can mitigate these pitfalls and promote human dignity for all people. What might our responsibility be to balance a perceived power difference, even if we had no role in creating it?
The Problem of Power in Ministry Relationships
- What cultural habits that might communicate a power flex surprised you from this article? Can you think of other examples that show how we might unintentionally silence the opinions of people from less powerful countries or disadvantaged communities when we most want them to be honest with us?
- What are some ways we can minimize perceived power imbalances between ourselves and Christians in other countries? As those perceived to be in a position of power, how can we intentionally cultivate transparency and equality in those relationships?