Trustworthy leadership is hard to find. Inside and outside Christianity, men and women with fancy letters behind their names are doing nasty things to innocent people – and children. It’s becoming more and more apparent that academic degrees (while important) and achievements (while admirable) are not the measure of success for a leader.
I recently tweeted about the “5 signs of a dangerous pastor” and wanted to add some commentary to each of the 5 points in an effort to shed more light on this topic. While it’s understandable that an article like this is not an exciting read, there are people who need to read it. For those who are trying to discern whether or not to stay at their church, this is a huge deal. Just like lives are changed every day when people find faithful pastors who labor in Christ-exalting service, lives are changed for the better every time someone escapes the dangerous ones too. If just one family – no, one individual – is made more aware of what to look for in a church leader because of a list like this, it’s worth it all.
If you’re a pastor, this list is the mirror of conviction we can stand in front of; asking the Holy Spirit to expose where we’ve been compromising and trusting His power to set us straight. If you’re a church member who suddenly realizes this list fits the bill of your pastor – and has for a long time – buckle up. You may need to find a new church.
Here are the 5 signs:
- The Pastor Insulates Himself
This is the pastor who surrounds himself with a system of layers; making it nearly impossible to get valuable time with him. Still, he makes sure to appear personable and approachable in public settings. He insulates himself because he’s CEO-minded and deeply believes that the best way to grow the church is to be distant from the people. This pragmatic approach gives him a sort of “holy-aura” as he attempts to make himself a novelty to his followers. Like the Pope waving from an ivory tower in the Vatican City, the pastor who insulates himself can remain god-like in status while doing whatever he pleases out of sight. You won’t find him doing a whole lot of discipleship. This guy is the show-and-go type. You see him Sunday – then he’s gone!
- The Pastor is Threatened by Smart Individuals
This is the pastor who can’t stand educated and discerning people who ask tough questions. He will tolerate some question-asking because he’s smart enough to appear fair and tolerant. However, you won’t find men with a high degree of theological knowledge hanging around for very long. This threatens his pride. Instead of receiving constructive wisdom from those who may even be wiser, or being open to feedback from people within the congregation, he patronizes those with less experience and demeans those with less knowledge. This pastor draws influence and power from knowing more than others do – or appearing like he does. He maintains a long term following by drawing unsuspecting people he can manipulate.
- The Pastor Punishes Those Who Disagree
This is the pastor who creates a punitive culture within the church. This church becomes a place where it’s the dogmatic pastor’s way or the highway. Should you or anyone else even think about gently pointing out inconsistencies in the theological positions he holds, you run the risk of being privately shamed. Think about addressing something unbiblical or unethical within the church, and you run the risk of public retribution. For staff members, this means the loss of livelihood. For church members, this could mean the loss of reputation in the community as the pastor publically or privately paints an opponent in a negative light.
- The Pastor is Obsessed with His Own Vision
This pastor knows exactly what he wants and his will, ahem…I mean God’s will be done. You may hear this pastor say something like, “I started this church and this is how it’s going to be!” or “This is my church and no one is going to take it from me!” Those exclamatory statements may seem shocking but they are not uncommon. So is all “vision” bad? No. It’s actually beneficial when a leader has a plan for the future of a church but all a pastor needs to say about “his vision” is that his vision is to do what the Bible says to do. Unfortunately, many churches only hire people if they sign on to serve “Pastor Steven’s vision” (or Mark’s, Jim’s, and Greg’s). Guess what? The church has nothing to do with a man’s vision. It’s about Christ’s. No church growth book can change that, no advice from a pragmatic guru can change that, and no amount of pastoral kicking and screaming can change that. The church belongs to Jesus.
- The Pastor Twists the Bible to Fit His Own Rules
From elders who aren’t really biblical elders, to using money for whatever he deems noble and necessary, this pastor views stewardship and accountability systems as very fluid concepts. In other words, stewardship is really about what he wants to do vs. what he must manage on behalf of the church. Accountability, to this pastor, is about putting “yes” men in key positions. In most cases, this pastor will boast about his high level of accountability and adherence to Scriptural authority in order to appear trustworthy. He will claim them to be his deepest convictions until those things infringe on his decision making process, then the twisted game begins. Instead of admitting a mistake or facing the difficult pain of owning a poor decision, he twists (even ignores) the Bible to fit his own rules and make excuses for his decision making.
This kind of leadership is not the kind of leadership that Jesus had in mind when He promised to build His church (Matthew 16:18). If this is the kind of autocratic ruler that dominates your assembly week-in and week-out, run to safety – even if it means switching denominations for a while.
Recommended Resource: “9Marks of a Healthy Church” by Mark Dever