How do you recognize abusive leadership? Paul requires two witnesses for a charge to be leveled against an elder (1 Tim. 5:19), probably because he knows that leaders will be charged with infelicities more than others, often unfairly. That said, abusive churches and Christian leaders characteristically
- Make dogmatic prescriptions in places where Scripture is silent.
- Rely on intelligence, humor, charm, guilt, emotions, or threats rather than on God’s Word and prayer (see Acts 6:4).
- Play favorites.
- Punish those who disagree.
- Employ extreme forms of communication (tempers, silent treatment).
- Recommend courses of action that always, somehow, improve the leader’s own situation, even at the expense of others.
- Speak often and quickly.
- Seldom do good deeds in secret.
- Seldom encourage.
- Seldom give the benefit of the doubt.
- Emphasize outward conformity, rather than repentance of heart.
- Preach, counsel, disciple, and oversee the church with lips that fail to ground everything in what Christ has done in the gospel and to give glory to God.
I’ve numbered them so that I may offer some evidences…and encouragement to others that if you are experiencing this, don’t stick around. Leave.
2. The pastor at my previous church was preaching on Revelation 6. When he got to the part about the martyrs half-way through, he stopped to give what I thought was an illustration. Turned out to be a joke that was completely unrelated to the text.
4. I was run out of the church because I thought that the Scriptures, all pointing to Christ as they do, should be preached that way.
5. When I met with the elders, two of them screamed at me. At the top of their lungs. One of them was the pastor.
10. I was questioned by the elders and accused of vetting song lists without proper authorization (I was leading worship). Never mind that the music deacon had asked me to do that. When I brought this detail to their attention, they balked and wouldn’t believe me or bother to ask the deacon. In another situation, they accused me of having told a young lady to stop attending an evangelism class one of the elders was teaching. I’d done nothing of the kind.
11. They told me, after all the meetings with ministry groups and the elders, that I’d “not repented enough.” Really? Repentance is like pregnancy…either you are, or you aren’t.
12. Things were, unfortunately, grounded more in the authority of the office and claimed inspiration from God, rather than showing how any course of action or sermon was rooted in the saving work of Christ. When confronted, the pastor said, “I preach Christ…when he’s in the text.” Unfortunately, this misses the entire point of Scripture (see Luke 24 when Jesus says the whole book is about Him).
This isn’t a blow-by-blow description. Some don’t like the version of events I’ve given here, but something which needs to be considered is that too many of these conditions existed to be ignored.