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5 Signs of a Dangerous Church Member

In his phenomenal book titled, Well-Intentioned Dragons, Marshall Shelley addressed the challenges of problem-people in the church saying,

“Wherever there’s light, there’s bugs.”

And boy, is he right.

It seems that, without question, problem people tend to pop up most where the light burns brightest. Not in every case, but quite often, they end up draining the pastor(s) of energy that should be going towards genuine needs – not nagging tares.

Hide of a Rhino; Heart of a Child

Now before you take this post to be the “default” position on problem-causing church members, understand that no pastor should ever be callously eager for church members to head out the door. Still, he must protect the flock from divisive members who prove to be more inclined to subterfuge than support. A pastor must be tough and tender. He needs the hide of a rhino, and the heart of a child.

The Bible provides hard evidence for church discipline with the goal of restoration (Matt. 18:15-20) and pastoral patience with the goal of saving people from errors (2 Timothy 2:24-26). Conversely, the Bible gives instruction for how to deal with wickedness and factious persons doing harm to the church (Romans 16:17-8; 2 Cor. 5:1-10; Titus 3:10-11). The subject of dealing with dangerous church members is certainly a “both/and” in that we ought to be patient, while still protecting the precious bride of Christ.

When Enough is Enough

I’ve known pastors who have literally spent countless hours trying to appease and please church members who seem to be more interest in shooting the dust and making them dance than receiving actual ministry from the shepherd. Once they’ve wreaked enough havoc or been shown the door, the church member leaves for another church and repeat the process. As much as pastors have a day of reckoning with the Master coming (rightfully so), so will church members who fail to humbly fulfill their duty in the body. Equal to the the high standard of excellence we place on our pastors (and we should), a high standard of excellence must apply to church members. Church hopping trouble-makers beware, a resume of harassing the bride will not go over well with the Bridegroom.

Sure, there will be plenty of seasons when difficult church members need thick-skinned pastors who will offer counsel, exhibit gentleness and patience, and be longsuffering. That is the job.

But are there times when a pastor needs to brush the dust off his feet and let church members huff and puff out the door? Absolutely.

As a compliment to a recent article on FTG entitled, 5 Signs of a Dangerous Pastor, here are 5 signs of a dangerous church member.

  1. The Money Manipulator

This church member uses money in two ways. One, they give lots of it and use that to manipulate their agenda. Two, they have money but give none of it because they don’t get their way. This kind of church member completely ignores imperatives for generous giving without strings attached (1 Timothy 6:17-18). Sometimes, they know a lot about church because they grew up in it, served on a deacon board, or perhaps even hold a seminary degree. Unfortunately, all of their experience and knowledge doesn’t translate into supporting or submitting to the church.

  1. The Sideline Spectator

When it comes to church members serving, some people have just never been taught what it means to biblically employ their gifts to serve one another (1 Peter 4:7-11). If they were told that the Bible commands serving, they’d joyfully obey. These are well-intentioned spectators waiting to be challenged and put in the game! But the dangerous type of spectator is the one who knows what to do but has an attitude problem about doing it. Their own pride keeps them from serving others and exemplifying the kind of love that Christ expects of His people. When VBS needs volunteers, the food pantry needs a cook, the campus team needs ushers, or the children’s ministry needs a teacher, they shrug it off with sentiments like, “Let the paid guys worry about that. That’s why we put food on their table.”

  1. The Extortionist

I witnessed this one first hand when I was a newly appointed associate pastor. A church member approached me and said, “If the pastor doesn’t stop preaching that way, we’re outta here.” Said church member didn’t like the hard truths coming from the pulpit or the teaching pastor’s refusal to tone down his doctrinal preaching. Fortunately, in this case, the member left and our church filled with people starving for truth. But not all of these shakedown standoffs end in joyful victory for faithful pastors. Many good pastors suffer greatly at the hands of dangerous church members. Horror stories abound of elder boards and influential families putting a pastor in the position of, “do what we say or end up homeless.” This heart-breaking reality is actually one of the reasons why denominations and church associations are so beneficial. They can usually help find the pastor a new church to serve.

  1. The Bitter Busy Body

This type usually steers clear of the pastors as long as they can; seeking to lurk in the shadows. They spend a lot of time making their rounds, gossiping and creating factions, questioning the leadership of the church, and adding, “promise you won’t tell?” to their secrets. They are a time thief who distracts the church from staying on mission. You’ll often notice a repeated pattern of strife, gossip, bitterness, and discord at multiple churches from these individuals. Usually they don’t deal with their heart issues at one church so they continually leave churches because of their own pride; ignoring the very thing church members are supposed to: work out their sin and be restored! Have you ever wondered why there are so many “one another” statements in the New Testament? We are to love one another, serve one another, forgive one another, and bear with one another because we are human and we’re going to hurt one another. Dangerous church members refuse to face their sin, confess their need to help, and resolve conflict. God help their next church.

  1. The Blame Gamer

This is a toned down quote from a real story: “Pastor Larry didn’t meet with me because it was his day off. I really needed him. Now my marriage failed and I lost my job. If he was there for us when we needed him this wouldn’t have happened.” How many times does this occur in our own lives? We are the issue, but we need someone to blame to cope with our guilt. Dangerous church members are those who refuse to love their wives, won’t put down the porn, cuss at the boss, and roll their eyes at the pastor’s sermon series on marriage only to blame the pastor for what they caused. What’s at the center of this blame game? Self-centered sin and a focus on self. If a pastor refuses to cancel his date night or a family day to meet with a member, good for him. Unless it’s life or death, chances are it can wait 24 hours or someone else in the church can handle the situation and offer prayerful encouragement in the interim. Disobedient church members demanding the pastor save them from their sins have it twisted. They don’t need a pastor. They need Christ.

Be encouraged, faithful shepherd. There are some people that you can let go. Focus on loyal labor for the Master and serve those whom God has entrusted to your care. He will reward you (Rev. 22:12).

Recommended Reading: Well-Intentioned Dragons: Ministering to Problem People in Your Church by Marshall Shelley

5 Signs of a Dangerous Pastor

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.

Integrity is.

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:

  1. 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!

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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

 

Embracing God’s Timing as a Pastor-in-Waiting

At times in the early years of training and ministry, you’ll find yourself in the uncomfortable position of waiting. You may be waiting on a ministry opportunity, waiting to complete seminary, or waiting on what you think you’re ready for – but haven’t seen God open the door yet. No matter the tension we feel when waiting on God’s timing in ministry, He has a specific purpose in mind.

We often have the highest view of our own “readiness” for certain aspects of ministry but it is God who has the highest (and most reliable) view of such a thing. He sovereignly places you in seasons of waiting, and releases you from waiting in His own timing. Anybody who has tried to jump the gun on God’s timing for ministry has undoubtedly learned Who knows best. Men of God who are called to lead God’s flock as pastors will be pressed – actually, squeezed – dry of themselves in several ways before being made ready. Seasons of waiting prove to be useful conduits for such a “divine press,” leading to healthy tension for the man as he is emptied of himself.

Waiting is training. Here are three things that waiting does for God’s glory, and our good:

  1. Waiting Teaches Submission

Perhaps there is no greater example of someone who had to wait for what they seemed to be ready for than King David. Gene Edwards, in his book A Tale of Three Kings, writes concerning David’s difficult season sitting under the “mad king,” Saul:

God has a university. It’s a small school. Few enroll; even fewer graduate. Very, very few infeed. God has this school because he does not have broken men and women. Instead, he has several other types of people. He has people who claim to have God’s authority…and don’t – people who claim to be broken…and aren’t. and people who do have God’s authority, but who are mad and unbroken. And he has, regretfully, a great mixture of everything in between. All of these he has in abundance, but broken men and women, hardly at all. In God’s sacred school of submission and brokenness, why are there so few students? Because all the students in this school must suffer much pain.

It is likely most of us are under no “mad king.” How much more can we then happily submit to the process of God’s training through waiting? Submission is quite possibly the ultimate test for a man’s heart because it determines at what level he can be trusted with authority. He that cannot submit to authority will be dangerous with authority. Saul, albeit anointed by God, was used by God to exemplify the kind of leader we can become if we do not learn to submit.

  1. Waiting Teaches Humility

Entitlement is to a pastor what too much candy is to a child who is eager for it – it rots teeth. Or in the pastor’s case, his heart. We’ve all heard the old cliché that good things come to those who wait, but I would argue that waiting should not so much focus on the good things to come, but the process by which those good things come. Let me explain: Waiting allows for training in our craft and cultivates humility for a pastor-in-waiting. It increases discipline. Like a soldier waiting for deployment, a pastor-in-waiting doesn’t sit around day dreaming about the future or talking about what he should/could be if he were given the chance to preach. He embraces his station in the season of waiting and engages in practices that will produce success for his entire calling – and he does this humbly and patiently. He evangelizes the lost. He counsels the hurting. He balances budgets. He sits at the feet of elders. He studies critical doctrines. He learns his blind spots. He deals with marital issues. He confronts sin. He completes his assignments. If you’re a pastor-in-waiting who takes advantage of such seasons, you will be humbly confident when God moves you forward. Humble in that you did not make anything happen – God did. Confident in that God has put you where you are.

  1. Waiting Teaches Suffering

A pastor who has not learned to submit to God’s work through waiting is bound to learn these lessons one way or another. Waiting thickens the skin of man who is destined to suffer in service to Christ. David experienced this as you’ve seen already, and New Testament leaders were not off the hook either. In his letters to Timothy, what does Paul highlight multiple times? That Timothy discipline himself and get ready for suffering and tough times. He said that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). That Timothy was to “be sober in all things” and “endure hardship” (2 Tim. 4:5). And that Timothy should “discipline [himself] for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7-8). A pastor will go through seasons of doubt, despair, attack from both insiders and outsiders, and spiritual assaults from the enemy. He stands firm in suffering because his patience and trust in God were tested and developed in seasons of waiting.

Everybody’s seasons of “waiting” may look different, but the lesson God teaches us is the same: He’s calling the shots, and we can trust Him to work things out for His glory, and our good (Rom. 8:28).

4 Ways Pastors Can Cultivate Discernment in Their Church

Pastoral ministry is a serious work that requires work. When it comes to a pastor’s mandate to proclaim the truth and protect God’s people from error, The task is nothing short of a divine burden.Pastoral ministry can be described as a daily spiritual battle for souls that never seems to end. There are times when it can feel like a constant warzone across the landscape of the Christian world with causalities in the pulpit and in the pew. – and it probably is.

One of the ways to reduce spiritual casualties is equipping church members to be discerning. With false teachers using blending so much truth into their poisonous errors, people need faithful leaders to consistently provide objective truth they can depend on. Charles Spurgeon said it perfectly when he explained, “Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right.”

There are many ways that pastors can cultivate discernment in their church. I’ve offered 4 here that can help you get started in the right direction:

  1. Make a Big Deal About Sound Doctrine

A pastor who wants to cultivate theological discernment within the church needs to first be excited about teaching sound doctrine himself! A congregation that is fed a steady diet of sound doctrine is going to be growing like a well-rounded, balanced body. Like resistance to muscles in the weight room, solid doctrinal teaching breaks down old ways of carnal thinking and builds up the mind; bringing a believer to maturity. A pastor shouldn’t view doctrine as an inconvenience, but rather, as essential to the health of the church. Theological discernment can be cultivated not by merely telling the church to be discerning but by serving them a feast of sound doctrine that makes them discerning. Making a big deal about sound doctrine will be rooted in making much about Christ. A pastor ought to teach straight out of the Bible on Christology, Pneumatology, and other “ologies” that help people have a proper view of self and a high view of God. Sound doctrine is kryptonite to biblical illiteracy and protects people from falling prey to false teaching.

  1. Make the “Why” Clear

Pastors can be guilty of assuming people know the reason for everything they’re teaching. In order to cultivate discernment in a church, people have to know why any of it matters. A congregation’s lack of understanding is usually at the root of their indifference to discernment. Furthermore, the word “discernment” sparks thoughts of sinister behavior, deception, and conflict. Those are not things the average church member is eager to face. Most of them are just trying to make it through another day at work without any conflict. A pastor’s passionate sermon may leave them asking, “Why is the pastor on this bandwagon about doctrine and discernment?” or “Did our pastor just turn into one of those guys looking for a heretic around every corner?” Look to biblical examples of faithful men who explained the “why” along with instructions to be discerning and defend the faith. Paul did this in his farewell to the elders at Ephesus (Acts 20:17-38), and when he had to teach the Corinthians concerning their use of spiritual gifts and correct a few things in the process (1 Corinthians 12:1-14:40). Jude did this when he wanted to write about the common faith he shared with his readers, but instead, had to deal with false teaching and apostasy (Jude 3). Train your leaders, and your church on why doctrine and defending the faith matters.

  1. Make Sure You Model It

People are quite often a reflection of their leadership. Chances are, if it matters to you, it will eventually matter to them. Pastors who are absent-minded when it comes to theological discernment will often produce a flock who is as well. Modeling discernment is showing people how you got to your conclusions, and more importantly, what the bible says on the issue. If you’re praying for a culture of theological discernment and trying to take steps towards equipping your church to be theologically discerning, make sure you are practicing what you preach. Your example will be a powerful tool in God’s hands.

  1. Make Resources Available to Your People (God’s People)

There is arguably nothing worse than majoring on the problem without offering a solution. Yes, a sermon will certainly do the job and the Bible is all we need to show people the answers they seek. Still, excellent resources are available to engage people’s minds and equip them in specific ways. Online blogs and popular books are bombarding your people each day. If you let the latest Christian marketing fads guide their discernment, you’ll get the results – and they probably won’t always be on point. Give them a fighting chance by resourcing them with trusted material. As the old saying applies: Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he’ll feed himself for the rest of his life. A false teacher, a “new gospel,” and the winds of culture are no match for a church who is equipped to know the truth and discern the truth for themselves.

One of the most loving things that a pastor can do for his church is to equip them to be theologically discerning believers at a time when many are falling prey to divergent doctrines.

3 Ways To Nurture Emotional Intelligence

Lately, I’ve been thinking about emotions and pastoral ministry—particularly, when it comes to qualities like managing self-awareness and developing relational empathy with those I’ve been entrusted to lead. Pastors often pride ourselves on having a high IQ (intelligence quotient) even as we flaunt our indifference to EQ (emotional quotient, or our skill in handling emotions). Many of us rightly reject elevating feelings above truth, but we must be careful not to swing the pendulum to the other extreme. Managing and understanding the role of emotions is critical for every leader, especially those who shepherd God’s people.

Unfortunately, numerous pastors would call emotional intelligence a “feminine quality.” Some even argue that men are the intellectual epicenter of the church and women are the emotional one. This demeans emotional intelligence as unnecessary at best, and at worst a liability reserved for women who can’t control their tears.

This line of thinking can be especially dangerous in church leadership because it can cause leaders to disregard the emotions of others and railroad everyone around them. Pastors with excellent preaching and teaching gifts and no major moral failings can still do damage beyond measure if they are emotionally and relationally bankrupt.

What sorts of sentiments does a low EQ produce in church leadership? See if any on this list ring a bell. Maybe you’re like me and have caught yourself saying or thinking a few of these.

  • “It doesn’t matter how you feel; it matters what the Bible says.”
  • “I’m a pastor, not a therapist.”
  • “I need to keep distance between the people and myself.”
  • “Don’t come to me looking for empathy. Talk to my wife.”
  • “Get on board with my vision or get out.”

These statements all point to the same misconception: High IQ is the mark of a true leader fit for entrepreneurial work and life at the top of the totem pole. High EQ is unimportant and antithetical to dynamic leadership.

What is so wrong with this line of thinking? For starters, it does not belong anywhere near a church. It’s been said time and time again that emotional intelligence is the currency of relationships. What part of shepherding doesn’t involve building relationships with people and speaking into their lives? During their workweek, pastors spend 40 minutes in the pulpit and 40 hours outside of it. That’s a short time focused on a one-way monologue from a stage, and a whole lot more time engaged in two-way conversations with the saints.

Recently, Jared C. Wilson sounded off on this issue with a series of social media posts:

We like strong personalities, fiery pulpiteers, theologically rigorous thinkers. And then we’re shocked when they don’t know how to speak to a man struggling with same-sex attraction or a woman struggling in her marriage, etc. They’re awkward, unrelational, unempathetic…

It’s why we must insist that our pastors actually be *pastors*, with preacher/theologian a subset of that office. Low EQ pastors do untold damage b/c they see the church as an audience or a followership, not as a flock to be cared for…

And personality type has almost no bearing on this. Many introverted pastors are great in counseling/visitation/discipling and many extroverted pastors are terrible. It’s not about introvert/extrovert—it’s about emotional intelligence. The ability to empathize, relate, connect.

For many of us, this issue can stir up all kinds of insecurities. But I believe most pastors want to grow their EQ. For every pastor who bashes emotional coherence, there are likely 10 pastors eager to be challenged in this area.

A few years ago I was counseling a church member who opened up about a struggle with sin. With a high-and-mighty view of my own personal holiness and some seminary credits under my belt, I felt fully prepared to tell this man a thing of two about killing his own sin. So I put my theological intellect on shining display, listing off verses and theological principles that applied to his situation. It was a Bible-thumping TKO!

But after my tirade of truth, the church member didn’t look energized or encouraged. I had knocked the wind out of his sails. He said, “Pastor, I already know what the Bible says about my sin, but I came here to see if you would come alongside me in this battle? I need someone to disciple me.” My heart sank. I had given him a monologue, expecting him to figure out what to do about his sin alone. I had failed to see him as a man who needed empathy and guidance.

Jesus doesn’t call pastors to be one-and-done counseling hammers. He calls us to make disciples. This man needed a friend, a brother, and a pastor to walk with him and keep him accountable. I had failed in the task.

After that counseling session, I knew I needed to become a more faithful pastor, so I sought ways to raise my pastoral EQ. I’m not done growing yet, but the following three practices were consistent keys to my growth. I hope you find them helpful as you seek to do the same.

1. Reflect on the gospel daily

Nothing can trigger a humble, loving heart for others like the gospel. It’s much easier to walk with a heart of grace for others after reflecting on the grace God has shown you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to write off family members caught up in false teaching or ignore a church member who just made the same mistake for the 20th time. The gospel is a motivating reminder that Jesus didn’t write me off when I deserved it.

I often find myself getting caught up in the day-to-day hustle of life and ministry. The organizational vision of a church can easily overshadow the people of the church. But a heart regularly moved by the gospel will be stirred with compassion and empathy toward others. Christ’s work and message are like anti-venom to the poison of selfish indifference and emotional ignorance.

2. Receive correction and instruction

Accountability and support from others can go a long way toward raising your EQ. I’ll never forget when, after a fellowship with some other pastors, my mentor pulled me aside and said, “Never forget, Costi, you can be right about something, but you don’t need to be ugly about it.” He didn’t need to say another word. I knew exactly what he meant.

Even though it has involved some tough conversations, my ministry has benefited remarkably from sitting down with trusted people who could point out my emotional blind spots. Biblical counseling can be a great way to grow your EQ by dealing with emotional wounds from your past that prohibit you from becoming a healthy leader. And few people are better than spouses for cultivating self-awareness—they know us better than anyone. If pastors are called to preach, teach, rebuke, exhort, and correct others, then surely it is fitting for that spiritual work to first take place in their own life and heart.

3. Resist the ego

Pastors may fear that addressing EQ challenges will expose them as “weak” or that their congregations and teams will no longer respect them. But by cultivating this area of their lives and ministries, they will be another step closer to the embodiment of what Paul called the “unashamed workman.” Pastors growing in their EQ will be able to handle the difficulties of ministry in constructive ways that bring glory to God. Second Timothy 2:24–25 offers this sobering reminder for how we ought to handle our emotions in a secure, humble, and God-honoring way:

The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.

Ministry can be tough, and difficult people can jade even the most loving and relational leaders, but there is no excuse for Christian leaders to toss aside emotional intelligence as “useless whining about emotions.” Men of God—not only women—must possess tenderness and toughness when caring for God’s flock. True, God has called pastors to speak informational truth to his people, but he also cares deeply about the transformation of their hearts. Our emotional intelligence is an important part of that work.

This article originally appeared in CT Pastors & Christianity Today in June of 2018 | www.christianitytoday.com

Pharisees and False Teachers

There is a word that used to have no derogatory meaning but has found its permanent place in  the insults of “Christianese.” Its original meaning referred to a man’s position as an expert adherent of God’s law with rabbinical duties to guide others. The word is – Pharisee.  

Nowadays, this word is used and thought of in a slightly different way. If you call for accuracy in biblical preaching you could get called a Pharisee. If you lovingly confront a small group friend concerning their sin, you’re not thanked through tears – you’re called a Pharisee. If you voice concern for dangerous doctrines and the exploitation of those desperate for hope…well, you’ll see.

Recently a special conference was held in our city (Tustin, CA). The promoter promised signs, wonders, and miracles to those who would attend. A big sign was posted on the street and social media sites spread the word. Revival and health for the sick and needy was coming to our little corner of Orange County. Finally! Clever marketing tactics tagged the miracle working men as the “Pep Boys.” Perhaps because they were going give spiritual “tune-ups” to the crowd. Of course, admission was free. Based on some of the video footage from the conference host, the “signs, wonders, and miracles” were in short supply, but unintelligible tongues and bad theology was plentiful.15871887_941119289357321_4192490706401469971_n

Any push back against this tomfoolery could get you labeled. Shining a light on the flagrant lust for phony signs & wonders in today’s church climate could get you a new nickname. Encourage your friends to flee from this gimmickry and caution people about this unbiblical chaos, and you’re going to hear the P-word at some point.

You Pharisee.

Such a jarring indictment is enough to make any bold Christian think twice about opening their mouth concerning any serious issue. Jesus Himself called the over-zealous Pharisees horrible names. Would you ever want to be thought of as one of these?

  • Blind guides (Matthew 23:16)
  • Fools (Matthew 23:17)
  • Serpents (Matthew 23:33)
  • Vipers (Matthew 23:33)
  • Hypocrites (Luke 11:44)

That is one serious list. Obviously this kind of Pharisee is the last thing you ever want to be. Even from the earliest age, churches teach kids about these religious infiltrators with songs like,

“I don’t wanna be a Pharisee (a Pharisee!), I don’t wanna be a Pharisee (a Pharisee!), cause they’re not fair-ya-see? I just wanna be a sheep (ba-ba-ba-ba!).”

Ok so maybe only a few of us still remember that song from Sunday school, but you get the point.

There is one glaring problem with everything I’ve just described. Many people don’t know why Jesus used such harsh words with certain Pharisees. This leads to Christians getting either confused or fearful when called such a horrid term. So what in the world would constitute being called this type of Pharisee in today’s world? Is it being strict about biblical commands? Is it prohibiting the wearing of nail-polish or earrings at church? Is it calling out dangerous teaching? Is it the old guy who yells at the kids for playing drums in their youth worship service?

We need to let the bible speak so we don’t completely miss the point of what disastrous Pharisaic practices truly were.

Here’s what the gospels teach about the kind of things that the wretched Pharisees were doing to garner such harsh responses from Jesus:

  1. They Were Sign Seekers

When the Pharisees asked Jesus to show them a sign He replied, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after signs…” Then warning His own disciples Jesus cautioned, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees…He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:1,6,12).

Jesus calls the teachings of the Pharisees “leaven” as an illustration of how it changes bread dough when it’s added in. Similarly, modern day false teachers alter the gospel message with their own ingredients and corrupt it to the core. Signs and wonders is not what Christ came for and never to be our focus. He came to save sinners (Luke 5:32).Kris-Vallotton_large

When modern day churches start to obsess over signs, wonders (and everything in between) to draw an audience, they’re on a slippery slope. If preference is given to sign-seeking healing services over gospel-centered preaching, it is a sign that the wrong kind of Pharisees may be running the show. Further, if the gospel message is said to be powerless without signs and wonders, run from the place that teaches such a thing.

We don’t need more hype about signs and wonders. The pulpit must determine to know nothing among us but Christ crucified and Him raised from the dead.

  1. They Targeted Helpless People

In order to benefit themselves most, certain Pharisees preyed upon those who could defend themselves least. They were notorious for targeting helpless widows so they could benefit from the estate and resources a deceased husband had left to her.

Jesus described these greedy predators in His final public teaching discourse that Mark recorded. He taught, “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues, and places of honor at banquets, who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation” (Mark 12:38-40).

These conmen took no prisoners and even broke God’s law to make a buck off of heart-broken widows! The Old Testament commanded that people not overharvest their crops so that widows could benefit from what wasn’t picked the first time. Widows were not even be held to their own pledges (Deuteronomy 24:17-21). God took the care of widows seriously along with those who could not care for themselves – such as orphans.

In these modern times, false teachers take advantage of the lonely, the sick, the weak, and still go after widows much like the predatory Pharisees did. “Christian” leaders who capitalize on the least, last, and lost of our society for their own gain mirror the kind of bottom-feeding behavior that many Pharisees undertook.

  1. They Added to God’s Law

Pharisees enjoyed nothing more than adding their own powerless words, traditions, and methods to God’s basic commands. Where God had given enough instruction for the people’s good, the Pharisees added traditions and precepts that were established by their own ambition. Their agenda was centered on controlling people and making themselves look powerful. In Mark 7:6-9 Jesus calls out the Pharisees for their man-made system:

And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophecy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.”

Much like the Pharisees of yesterday, false teachers today add to God’s decrees with decrees of their own. They convince people that God has more to say, and He is using them to say it. These modern Pharisees toss aside what God has declared and in preference their own twisted version. As if the completed revelation breathed out by God Himself wasn’t enough (2 Timothy 3:16-17), they seek to elevate their own ideology as equal to God’s revealed word.

One famous mystic who has sold millions upon millions of books opens one of her best-sellers by saying, I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more.” This is common place today. Hoards of people yawn over expository preaching from the pages of Scripture, but mystical (possibly even demonic) counterfeits and prophetic conferences draw millions of people who are seeking a “new” word from the Lord. How much more time and money could be spent on spreading the gospel and lives saved from deception if people would accept that God already has spoken?

Reliability is in short supply in many loose theological circles that claim new prophetic words from God. Perhaps going back to the sufficiency of God’s already revealed will in the Scriptures and leaving it at that would solve the insufficiency of old pharisaic habits.

  1. They Added Unlawful Burdens to People

This one carries over from #3 on this list because the “extras” that the Pharisees added to God’s law were things they couldn’t even keep themselves. Hypocrites! For example,  where God set the Sabbath in order for man, the Pharisees created a laundry list of ridiculous additions to define “work” how they saw fit. At one point Jesus looks at an expert of the law and said, “Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers” (Luke 11:46).

Though they appeared to be righteous, the Pharisees were crooked benefactors of a system that burdened the people. image_large

The type of burdens the Pharisees used back then have a modern-day version that burdens Christians in similarly oppressive ways. For example, false teachers convince people that if they want to be healed, they should give money or just “have enough faith.” People are taught that they have to give a certain amount of money to be “blessed”, to get a “breakthrough” at their job or have relief from debt. Further, people are taught that certain men and women are especially anointed so they should give money to them.

These burdens are as powerless as the works-based salvation the Pharisees sold. This spiritual abuse results in confused Christians with deflated faith, and false teachers with inflated wallets. None of that sort of teaching is biblical. Sure, anyone can twist God’s word for capitalistic control over people. The Pharisees did it better than anyone.

  1. They Loved Their Own Honor

Nothing excites a Pharisee more than a system that will honor himself. These leaders love when people elevate them to unbiblical heights. This cultish hierarchy makes the shepherds of God’s people into anointed royal rulers worthy of glory and praise that only God deserves.

In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees sat themselves in the best seats, received immaculate greetings in public, and ensured that everyone noticed how holy and powerful they were.

One day, Jesus gave them an ear full and told them what He thinks about their honor-system.

“Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the chief seats in the synagogues and the respectful greetings in the market places. Woe to you! For you are like concealed tombs, and the people who walk over them are unaware of it” (Luke 11:43-44).

Now there’s a divine indictment. These status seeking Pharisees were caught red-handed by Christ. He saw right through their fancy clothes, front row seats, long bios, and hidden hypocrisy. He knew of their self-indulgent pride, lust for power over people, and desire for possessions. They were like dead corpses lurking unnoticed below and spoiling their unsuspecting victims.

Like those who Jesus rebuked, false teachers in the church world today love to be called humble yet enjoy the spoils of a king. They use a culture of honor to protect themselves from accountability. Protecting the precious people of God is the last thing on their minds. In fact, they are the very wolves attacking the sheep from within the fold. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were too busy honoring themselves that they missed salvation from the Messiah when it was right in front of them. Today’s Pharisees take on the form of supposed “pastors” who spend a lifetime compiling a pension of riches from their powerless pulpits, only to find their lake front retirement plan is more of a lake of fire one. Christ is not in the building. He was never involved at all (Matthew 7:22-23).

Once we allow the bible to speak on this issue, it’s not so hard to spot a real Pharisee after all is it?