Getting the leadership thing backward may be leading to more manipulation, abuse and division in the church today than any other mistake. And it’s happening in churches everywhere you turn.
Humans have this tendency to want to be in positions that make them feel valued, and the default (fleshly) way to achieve feelings of value is through one’s relative status when compared to other human beings. Jesus addressed the issue of status head-on and taught the disciples that this behavior was toxic to Godly relationships. The main characteristic of those with a servant’s heart is striving for lower status in all relationships to be greater.
Jesus lived the Christian life by the Divine Life of the Father in and through Him. When Jesus entered His second many-membered Body, the way that Divine Life is expressed, and the type of behavior that results, did not change. The foundational expression of the Life of Christ in a church is mutual submission.
In light of this, it starts to become clear what it means to be a servant and slave to the Body of Christ.
Below are 11 unhealthy behaviors that give you a framework for how to recognize a bad pastor or other leader in a church. I also include sections that explain the inverse healthy behavior that is the fruit of the Spirit’s work in one’s life.
I pulled many of these from my experience and my own behavior. Taking a deep dive into Jon Zens’ book 58 to 0: How Christ Leads Through The One Anothers helped me put words to many of these. I’m indebted to Jon’s work.
1. They create or accept differences in status
They claim to be leaders without ever living within the context of proper Body life. They likely completed some kind of bible knowledge training course or have higher levels of commitment.
They create special teams (boards, leaders, elders, whatever) to be the final say in the direction and decisions of the church instead of involving the whole congregation.
These “inner rings” come with the feeling of elevated status. They can also come with official names like “elder rule.” They make it an individual (or select “mature” few) practice to seek out and communicate God’s will to His Body.
They act like mediators between God and the church, behaving like congregations belong to them and should follow their orders.
They see people as either leaders or non-leaders; instead of seeing Christ as Leader who works through all Body parts fluidly in different ways, at different times, and to different measures.
Their “superior level of maturity” is their justification for taking more control over the direction and decisions of the church.
They claim that the “household order” of the church as taught in the New Testament contains fathers and mothers as middle management between God and immature believers.
They claim no status as they willingly serve in proper Body life, learning mutual submission by sharing in whole-Body leadership that revolves according to spiritual gifts, the Spirit’s leading and the Body’s confirmation.
They intentionally make all members feel like co-equal partners, since that’s their identity in Christ.
They recognize Christ as the practical day-to-day Leader through all the Body parts because they all possess His Life, which is the Leader of the church. They recognize this happens in mutually submissive relationships.
They act like Christ is the mediator between God and man, and Christ lives inside of each member of the church.
While they may request or solicit compliance on certain matters in light of the Truth, they defer to the whole congregation (which, hello, includes them!) as the vessel of the Spirit in all matters.
They believe all members of the Body are to submit to one another out reverence for Christ.
They understand the two types of leadership – Whole Body and Word of God (what many call “oversight”). They understand that the foundation of Christ’s leadership involves His whole Body, while Word of God leadership protects, cares for, and guides the functioning of the whole Body’s leadership by making sure the Word of God is always referenced and kept central to all the processes and practices of the church.
They have a willingness and intention to live life on the bottom rung of the ladder in relationships.
They hold the sibling relationship as the chief and defining identity relationship between members of the Body of Christ that governs its life together. Their processes and practices are guided by God’s design for partnership, brother/sisterhood, and mutual service.
They may feel like they have a parent-child-like relationship in the faith with other believers (like Paul and Timothy), but they realize this is metaphoric language and Scripture does not teach this as the governing identity of their relationships. Only God is the parent of His children and governing authority of His household.
2. They have a heavy focus on and talk a lot about “developing leaders”
They’re more concerned about “developing and recognizing leaders” than cultivating Body life.
They accept recognition as a leader or elder at the beginning of a community meeting together; usually because they believe designated leaders are necessary to have a healthy church.
They realize the foundation of healthy church life is Christ expressed through the priesthood of all believers as a living reality; and they will not violate that. They realize that cultivating Body life through mutually submissive relationships is what truly builds up the Body and each of its parts.
They will never accept recognition as a top-down leader because their Leader is One, the Messiah. They will only accept recognition for functioning as an elder if they are “fully known” and been observed in all types of situations and circumstances in close-knit relationships..
They’ve been deemed by the Body to exemplify the character and mind of Christ consistently; marked by their foot-washing posture. They will also be open to being unrecognized if the Body deems their behavior no longer warrants it.
3. They don’t see a need for outside help
They need to be involved in all the issues in the church themselves; needing to be a part of the solution.
If there is access to outside help, they dominate that relationship.
They understand God’s design pattern of extra-local help in the building and maintaining of healthy church life. While there may be a point person or representative that communicates with outside help more regularly, all members of the church feel like they have equal access to them and their communication, which is openly shared.
4. Their gifts, talents and personality are justifications for more control
They behave like they have special status in the church because they have a specific spiritual gift, specific talents, a high IQ or a certain personality. These are typically dominating-type personalities who are eloquent, charismatic and good at speaking and teaching.
They tend to push for the ministry and culture of the church to be built around their own particular strengths or giftedness.
They behave like one with no status and continuously work to serve, build up and elevate others in the church.
Their behavior, posture and attitude toward the Body is similar to a person waiting a table at a restaurant that wants a good tip.
They equip the Body to form the church’s ministry out of its diverse strengths and giftedness.
5. They behave in ways motivated by rivalry or competition
You can sense rivalry or competition in and among them. It’s not always spoken, but you will notice actions that reveal a jockeying for position, power or control.
They seem to be concerned with success, money, possessions or status as compared to other believers.
They carry an aura and behave in ways that demand the spotlight.
You observe humility that takes the posture of a slave who possesses gifts that are at the disposal of others. This doesn’t mean they get bossed around, but they are willing to influence people positively in situations where they’re welcomed.
They seem to be concerned with using their personal blessings to be a blessing and build up others and the church.
They defer to others and will receive the spotlight with the intention of being a blessing and building up others.
6. They accept and enjoy honorific titles
They desire and seem to take joy in being called by special titles like Pastor, Elder, etc.
They receive exaltation and allow church members to treat them with a sense of awe. They seem to enjoy their special status.
They use terminology that suggests they are in a position of authority over other believers like “my flock” or “my people.”
They’ll reject any titles or signifiers of any special status among a group of people, always striving to elevate others. They may use terms to explain to others how they regularly function within a group, but they will never accept being called by honorific titles.
They will reject being exalted as a more important part of the Body and will always steer people toward an awe for Christ. They always point to Christ as the Chief Shepherd and Leader of the church.
7. Their ministry, agenda, model or plan is equated with God’s will
You leave interactions with them feeling like you’re more a part of their ministry, agenda, model or plan.
They talk a lot about how you’ll be such a great asset to the ministry or church and how they’ll give you opportunities to serve.
They bring Messianic expectations and place them on the community. They are easily disappointed and frustrated when their expectations aren’t met, which manifests in anger, anxiety, aggression and cynicism toward other members of the Body.
You leave interactions with them feeling like you’re more important than they are and you’re a co-equal partner in living out the gospel.
Ministry activity is determined by partnership and consensus in discerning the direction of Christ.
They are patient, gentle and respectful in the pursuit of experiencing Body life together; allowing the Holy Spirit to work through caring relationships.
8. They have trouble collaborating
They believe leaders make decisions and others are to submit to those decisions.
They seem to always be persuading people to see their point of view and agree to it.
They are hypercritical of almost everything except what they favor and do.
They assume the leading of Christ will be coming through them each time the Body gathers, no matter what the activity or reason for gathering is.
They ask people to cooperate with their vision rather than collaborate on a collective vision led by the voice of Christ through the whole Body.
They have no trouble leading, but resist being led by others.
They believe adult relationships (marriages, families, churches) need final decision-makers because they misunderstand and misapply biblical texts.
They have a domineering manner that tends to crush the opposition.
They are OK with ratifying decisions that split the Body into camps on particular matters; claiming the leadership or majority of the congregation has the will of God on a matter and expecting the minority to submit to those decisions.
They seem to always be searching for the will of Christ through the entire Body and are unassuming that it will primarily come through them (even if it may).
They assume the leading of Christ is fluid, floating and shared – varying each time you come together, as the Lord leads.
They’re always looking to discern, along with the whole Body, where the leading of Christ the Head is coming from.
They’ve learned that adult relationships were created by God to be partnerships that seek the will of Christ together in symphony.
They act like a servant and slave only interested in building up others.
They always live by the first principle of the priesthood of all believers; allowing the King to govern by His will through the will of all the people together.
They facilitate assembly life as the context for decision-making. The responsibility for carrying out the will of Christ is intentionally placed on the shoulders of the entire Body.
They give congregations the freedom and responsibility to decide for themselves how to live out the Truth of Christ and His Word.
They will contribute their appropriate influence, but they always leave room for the whole congregation (of which, hello, they are a part!) to find the appropriate response to the Spirit’s leading.
9. They equate control with protection or “shepherding”
They claim that having more control – provided it is used in the service of God and your fellow human beings – is a good thing.
They believe peace and unity are accomplished through submission to the order that leadership establishes.
They believe a lack of human authority in a church will cause everything to degenerate into chaos, so they rely on personalities and organization instead.
They view community through the lens of authority.
They give off the impression that they’re controlling because of fear of what may happen if the whole congregation was responsible to listen to the voice of Christ together. They avoid differences and tensions and healthy practices for resolving them out of fear of being divided.
They tend to legislate or arbitrate the sources from which truth will be learned and create suspicion of outside sources.
When legitimate inquiries are brought to the table, they tend to resort to innuendo, emotional phrases and unkind words to refute it in unChristlike ways.
They will only be a part of Body life processes or practices that result in the distribution of control among all the Body parts.
They show by their actions that they believe Christ is practically and functionally present as the Head of the church by the Holy Spirit working in each member.
They view authority through the lens of community.
Their posture is brokenness, humility and openness to examine legitimate inquiries into the sound teaching of the Truth; knowing there is still much the Spirit can teach them, no matter how mature they think they are.
They accept opportunities given to them by others to exercise Christ’s authority as they communicate the mind of Christ on specific matters. They accept willing submission to Christ through them on a case-by-case basis (not a permanent status), but never demand it from others.
They do not allow others to shirk their responsibility to be a part of laying hold of Christ’s authority through the whole congregation.
They intentionally deny control.
10. They struggle with relationships
They struggle to have close personal and intimate relationships.
Close personal and intimate relationships are the environment and prerequisite for their biggest impact, as well as the avenue for their own growth.
11. They approach the Bible with arrogance and apply their own meaning to it
They assume their English translations of the Bible and their interpretation of them say what the Bible really says.
They are inquisitive if and when questioned; willing to investigate alternative meaning within Scripture when brought to them and to receive correction if appropriate.
They work to understand the story of the Bible, its books’ literary designs and what the authors meant within these contexts and in light of the whole biblical story’s design patterns and foundational principles.
The rest of the posts in the Servants and Slaves series are here.