Have you ever experienced a church where the pastor is a bully? He’s like the overgrown kid at the playground, shoving around smaller kids. He’s the preacher, and he’s in control. He’s mean. He’s tough. I wish I were just painting a caricature, or indulging in a bit of overstatement, but I’m not. There are such pastors. This is the pastor who controls his church with an iron fist, and declares, “Well, if you don’t like my church, you can just leave!!!”
There are bad lawyers. There are bad policemen. There are bad politicians. Unfortunately, there are also bad pastors. Thankfully, bad pastors make up only a small minority of the pastoral population. Still, a bad pastor can do a lot of damage.
This article is written in an attempt to prevent such damage. It is written to pastors, to warn them about these temptations. It is written to church members who need to do something about their dangerous situation. It is written to Christians who need to protect against the dangerous pastors in their midst.
This is a hard subject to write about. Why? Because The Pastor is often placed on a pedestal. He’s a bit above everyone around him. After all, he has a “high calling” (a term used in the Bible to describe the Christian life, not the pastoral calling – Philippians 3:14). Some people call him the “Man of God,” describing, perhaps, his alleged closer-to-God status. To speak ill of the pastor is to speak ill of God Himself. “Touch not God’s anointed!”
I understand and respect the role of the pastor, just as the Bible commands. I do not, however, wish to allow the abusive pastoral tyranny that is happening in some churches. So, with that disclaimer in mind, here you go.
Here’s what he looks like.
Let me sketch a picture of the pastor-gone-tyrant. See if you recognize some symptoms or maybe the beginning stages of a despotic shepherd charlatan.
- Power Produces Pugnacity. Some pastors think of their position as a pastor as one of power. They’re in control. They’re the head honcho. When they get a whiff of that power, they want more. The desire for power begins to creep into their deacon-meeting-domination techniques, their call-every-shot leadership style, and their fighter’s spirit. Such an attitude is directly contradictory to the Bible’s model of shepherd-leaders. Where is the servanthood? Where is the humility? It has given way to a self-consumed pursuit of more power. This hurtles out of control, producing a pugnacious pastor. He may cover up his feisty attitude by pretending to be “zealous for the Lord,” but, in actuality, he just might be a bully. “Well,” says he, “shepherds have gotta break the sheep’s legs sometimes, you know!” No. No, pastor, you don’t need to break anyone’s legs.
- Control Breeds Contempt. A lust for control can quickly careen into contemptuous attitudes towards other people. The person in charge seems himself as the one above everyone else. Therefore, he regards everyone else as beneath him. The sub-Christians, struggling along in their sin-saturated lives, have no idea of the height of responsibility in the lofty reaches of pastoral reign. The pastor becomes contemptuous of others. This is especially common in pastors who have never had a secular job. Their Christian cocoon lifestyle has set them up for viewing others with contempt and disdain.
- Self-Admiration Causes Selfish Sins. Perhaps one of the most damaging traits of a bad pastor is his pride. He becomes self-absorbed. Since he has the control, the title, the position, and is doing all the talking every Sunday, he begins to view himself with a sense of smug satisfaction. The pride develops into a sense of entitlement and self satisfaction. Before long, the pastor may be engaged in immorality. He may be caught in pornography. He may be living a lie, wrapped up in his own lust, pride, and self-love.
This, sadly, is the state of some pastors. Our response should not be to spit on such a man, angrily treating him with violence. If possible, he should be restored. Perhaps he may not be a pastor, but he ought never to be neglected. Rather than disdain him we must love him, and take necessary action.
End the Reign of the Tyrant
What do you do if you’re face to face with this monstrous abuse of the pastoral office? What do you do if you’re this kind of pastor? What do you do if you’re in the church of this kind of pastor?
- A Word to the Pastor. Pastor, please consider stepping down from the ministry. If you are characterized by some of the things mentioned above, you are doing more harm than good. What you need to do is take some time off and work on your relationship with God. Being a pastor can be a very difficult task. There is a lot to do. There is a lot of pressure. Perhaps the best thing that you can do is simply pause and get some perspective. Do not remain in your present church. Move to a different location, and build relationships with other believers. Second, you need to get some help. Rather than view yourself as an independent and manly hero, view yourself as a sinner who needs grace. That grace can come in the form of a fellow Christian who can provide support and edification in your time of struggle. Spend much time with your family, in the Word, and in prayer.
- A Word to the Church. Although you may wish to protect your pastor and help restore him, you must also keep in mind the health of the church. A dictator-pastor can quickly ruin a church. You are not doing him any good by keeping him around. You are not doing the church any good by keeping him around. The tyrant needs to go. Kindly dismiss him. Because of his power-abusing role, this may be hard to do. Rather than politicize, strategize, and form church coalitions, prayerfully consider your options and move forward with boldness. Let come what may. If the church is being destroyed, there may be some necessary conflict to prevent further damage.
- A Word to the Member. If you are being squashed under the thumb of an autocratic pastor, you need to leave. This is not an issue of loyalty. It’s an issue of integrity. Doing the right thing means leaving the wrong thing, thus maintaing your loyalty to God and not some man.