Every caring pastor finds himself assailed by such concerns, but I
want in this section to consider the hurt and grief that so many in
the Body of Christ experience when they are pushed, or pulled into a
mould that does not fit them, and where they feel misunderstood and
even intimidated by their leaders. If this comes on top of other
griefs that they are carrying, then they may indeed find the church
a hard place in which to bleed.
As surely as some churches exalt
grace to the point where people effectively do what they want,
others create a culture in which constant control and manipulation
press down to keep people in line. Born of insecurity on the one
hand, and pride of ownership on the other, such attitudes foster
legalistic traits and an “empire-building spirit” that
severely curtail the freedom of the Holy Spirit.
The process by which churches and
organisations become taken up with their own vision and concerns,
rather than with the best interests of their members, is a subtle
but serious one. When everyone and everything is sacrificed in order
to fulfil the vision, the Lord often has to go to extreme lengths to
rescue people from what may have become a hot house and a trap.
Such difficulties are equally as
common “the other way round.” All too many Godly leaders find
themselves constantly thwarted by the demands of certain controlling
people in their congregation. Whether the fault lies primarily in
the leaders or the led, all such tendencies need renouncing.(1)
Some years ago we spent a most
unhappy period in a church where the leader’s domination of his
flock caused us untold agony of heart. Week by week we would ask God
to keep our hearts free from any judgmental attitude, but would
emerge feeling far worse than when we had entered the building. We
hated seeing people being whipped into line, and told in no
uncertain terms where the door was if they didn’t agree with all
that was happening.
Attitudes such as this are abusive,
and right on the verge of being cultish. How can effective ministry
develop within the Body of Christ when everything revolves around
the leader’s whims and dictates?
The irony is that most of these
leaders mean well. More often than not, their understanding of what
Church ought to be sounds fine when talking to them on their own. It
is when they are “up front” that a controlling spirit
manifests itself, demanding such performance and compliance that it
causes intense grief and distress to sensitive souls. It was
certainly a relief to us when the Lord finally gave us the green
light to move on!
Since when did “servant”
leadership mean treating the congregation as slaves? God is looking
for leaders who empower without controlling and who, like Jesus
Himself, are full of both grace and truth (John 1;14,17).(2) Where
such love and grace are lacking, and control is present, leaders are
prone to rein in promising works of the Spirit, precisely because
too much is happening away from their immediate control.
In John’s second and third letters,
the apostle passed on to specific friends some of the pearls of
wisdom that God had given him.(3) In the second letter (the only one
in Scripture that is specifically addressed to a woman) John
reiterates his call that we should love one another.
Since this is something that comes
more easily to women than to men, this might seem self-evident, but
John is using the opportunity to warn her not to allow her loving
heart to blind her to error. If false teachers come to the
fellowship, she must not allow them into her home, or do anything to
encourage them. It is the clearest of warnings couched in the
mildest of rebukes. With supreme skill, John focuses on how a
woman’s greatest strength can become a potential weakness, allowing
real error to creep in beneath the radar.
John’s third letter, equally as
brief, also touches on the subject of hospitality: a vital subject
in those days before Travel Lodges, when Christians were the only
people willing to accommodate visiting preachers. John commends
Gaius, a generous-hearted elder who had been supporting godly
teachers. At the same time he warns against Diotrephes, a
dictatorial church leader, who rejected the teachers John had sent
to him. Full of his own self-importance, Diotrephes was so hot on
“truth” (as he perceived it) that he was actually expelling any
Church members who remained willing to receive John’s messengers.
If you have been on the receiving end
of the sort of control and intimidation that occurs only too often
when a man’s strength becomes his weakness, the example of
Diotrophes will resonate loudly. Such coercion often develops when a
group of leaders are so intent on building a “successful”
church or organisation that they hold the reins of authority too
tightly, unable to trust others, or to release them into their
If you sense that your leaders are
more interested in increasing the size of their church than in
developing healthy relationships, you will almost certainly be
carrying a heavy load of grief in your spirit May you have the grace
to handle this creatively, rather than allowing it to crush your
spirit. More than we perhaps appreciate at the time, God often
trains us by putting us alongside less perfect leaders because we
learn so much from their poor example and wrong attitudes. Apart
from anything else, it makes us determined to live in a different
If you come to the conclusion that
you need to move away from an environment that has become too
controlling, be prepared for squalls! Controlling bodies do not
easily give up their prey, even going so far as to imply that people
who leave are dooming themselves to fruitlessness. If God is calling
you to move on, however, you cannot afford to allow any threat or
intimidation to hold you back.
All such tensions are doubly
unwelcome in that they have no business to be anywhere near the
Church. The fact remains, however, that a significant number of
people opt out of Church altogether each year because they are
unable to differentiate between following the Lord Jesus Himself
(whom they instinctively warm to) and knowing how to cope with the
dictates of “leaders with attitude”.
Despite the many pressures and
frustrations, the answer is not to stop meeting altogether. Church
is still the place where God disciples His children, and from which
He reaches out to the world. That is why it is so important to pray
for God to raise up strong but sensitive leaders, and to work
towards establishing structures that facilitate growth and godly
experimentation. God wants us to enjoy being Church together!
Finally, I would like to conclude
this section by returning to the different strengths that men and
women bring to the Body of Christ. We are seriously incomplete
without each other!
In all too many churches, however,
the exclusively (or predominantly) male leadership has crushed the
beauty and creativity the Lord has invested in women. If this is
true for you, please don’t harden your hearts against us.
Can you find it in your heart to
forgive what we have done to you? If so, the Lord will hopefully
find ways to develop all He has in mind for you to be and to become.