Tapestry of Faith: Building the World We Dream About: An Anti-racism Multicultural Program

Handout 1: Mapping Power and Authority


POWER is the ability to achieve purpose. — from a 1967 sermon by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

AUTHORITY is conferred power to perform a service. This definition is a reminder of two facts. First, authority is given and can be taken away. Second, authority is conferred as part of an exchange. Failure to meet the terms of the exchange means losing one's authority: it can be taken back or given to another who promises to fulfill the bargain.

AUTHORITY can be conferred in two forms: formal and informal. With FORMAL authority come the various powers of the office, role, or position. With INFORMAL authority comes the power to influence attitude and behavior beyond compliance.

FORMAL authority is granted because the officeholder promises to meet a set of explicit expectations (job description, legislated mandates).

INFORMAL authority comes from promising to meet expectations that are often left implicit (expectations of trustworthiness, ability, civility). — adapted from Leadership Without Easy Answers, by Ronald A. Heifetz (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1994), pp. 57 and 101.

Instructions for mapping power and authority in your congregation

Your group is invited to draw a road map that reflects the "Road to Power and Authority" in your congregation. Begin by placing the positions/groups with "power" in a dominant position on your map and draw a representation of the route taken to achieving power. Use all the elements of a road map in your design. For example, some roads are rural routes, others are six-lane superhighways. Some questions you might want to explore include: What obstacles, roadblocks, or detours (ideas, policies, practices, and so on) are there in the road? Is there an unpaved road to power? Who takes which paths? Where are the yield signs? Stop signs? Do some roads charge emotional tolls? Do conscious or unconscious stereotypes affect how your congregation has constructed its Road to Power?