The Seven Deadly Sins of Ministry Part 2: Struggling for Power

Being wise and strategic are needed skills for pastors and leaders, but manipulating people as a means to an end has no place in ministry. 

Whether you lead a small, medium, or large congregation, whether you are a lay leader, or you simply want to be more effective for the Kingdom, you will need to guard your heart against this particular sin. That’s why I recently had a conversation with Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, on my podcast concerning the topic of leadership and how we can recognize and battle the sin of struggling for power. 

First, let’s define the sin of struggling for power :

STRUGGLING FOR POWER: Pushing, influencing, or manipulating each other or others to get our way, display our control, or promote our agenda.

Sadly, over the years, we have seen no shortage of incredible leaders who have gotten caught in the trap of struggling for power, either trying to push agendas faster than the people they are leading are ready for or sinfully manipulating to get their way. Left unchecked, this issue can absolutely destroy our ministries.

How do we recognize when we are struggling for power? 

Something Kevin pointed out in our conversation that I agree with is that it is a balance. As leaders, we certainly need to have a vision. We need to know where we are headed and bring people along. We can lead strategically without resorting to manipulating. 

But, as Kevin shared, when we don't have the courage to develop leaders around us, or we refuse to spend time in the relational part of team building, we can end up manipulating to make things turn out how we want - which is ultimately an insecure and cowardly way to lead.

How do we battle the sin of struggling for power?

As we moved through our conversation, we ended up with a basic list that can help us all as leaders guard against the issue of struggling for power.

Here are five ways leaders can combat the sin of struggling for power:

1) Invest in building real relationships with the people you lead. 

I often use the well-worn analogy that relationships are like bank accounts. When I pour into someone, that is a deposit. Then, when I ask them to step out on faith and do something difficult with me, that is a withdrawal. But if I outrun my deposits with withdrawals, I will start bouncing relational checks. 

We cannot just use people as a means to an end. We must sincerely invest in them and build relationships with those we lead.

2) Check your motives continually and die to self. 

At the root of this issue is motive. As leaders, we will have to do hard things. There will be times we have to drive a stake in the ground and say, “We are going to go this direction. We are going to take that mountain.” While it will be challenging, it can still be done with a shepherd's heart. This will require checking our motives to be sure they come up under the gospel. 

A passage Kevin has turned to throughout his ministry life is Acts 20:24, “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” Ultimately, it is not about us. It is about being laser-focused on the mission of the gospel as the Apostle Paul was. 

And if you check your motives and continually die to self, then if someone does come at your character, not just your strategy but your character, you can lay your head on the pillow at night and say, “Lord, I've done what I believed to be Your will, and I've done it in a way that honors You.”

3) Stay teachable and actively seek to learn from others. 

Who are you learning from? Do you live like you have arrived or pridefully assume you have all the answers? When we cease to be teachable, we are in trouble. Humility and teachability are a must in leadership. We need to intentionally seek out time to receive wisdom and guidance from others. 

4) Find people who will hold you accountable and tell you the truth. 

One of the greatest helps in this battle that Kevin mentioned is proactively having two or three men in your life who are safe zones for you to run things by and ask to speak truthfully into your life. We need people who are willing to tell us what we may not want to hear. We rely on the honest insights of those who know us best. 

5) Find young leaders you can pour into with no agenda other than encouraging and releasing them to be more effective. 

Who are you sowing into? If a leader is willing to pour into someone who can bring him no benefit and for no reason other than to invest in another brother, that is a good indication he does not have ulterior motives. I agree with Kevin - we need to be continually discipling others. If we are doing that, it will make us healthier leaders. 

Let’s refuse to struggle for power. Let’s work in the power of the Lord. Let’s live out the words of 1 Peter 5:2-3, "Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock."

Want to learn more? You can listen to 7 Deadly Sins of Ministry Episode 2: Struggling for Power featuring Kevin Ezell here. And make sure to subscribe to the Living Worthy with D.J. Horton Podcast so you get the next five episodes to come.


  1. Where might this sin specifically show itself in your life?
  2. What precedes your struggle with this? In other words, what time, season, situation, or stress point usually triggers this in your life?
  3. Who could be best suited to watch your back on this?
  4. When you have experienced victory in this area, what helped you the most?