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Pastoral Bullies

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In his instructions to Elders/Pastors, Peter insists that they must not lead for love of power, which is to say they must not “domineer” those in their charge but rather be “examples” to them (v. 3b).

How might a pastor or elder “domineer” his flock? In other words, what makes a man a pastoral bully? Here are some ways.

A man can “domineer” or “lord it over” his flock by intimidating them into doing what he wants done by holding over their heads the prospect of loss of stature and position in the church.

A pastor domineers whenever he threatens them with stern warnings of the discipline and judgment of God, even though there is no biblical basis for doing so.

A pastor domineers whenever he threatens them with public exposure of their sin should they not conform to his will and knuckle under to his plans.

A pastor domineers whenever he uses the sheer force of his personality to overwhelm others and coerce their submission.

A pastor domineers whenever he uses slick verbiage or eloquence to humiliate people into feeling ignorant or less competent than they really are.

A pastor domineers whenever he presents himself as super-spiritual (his views came about only as the result of extensive prayer and fasting and seeking God. How could anyone then possibly disagree with him?).

A pastor domineers whenever he exploits the natural tendency people have to elevate their spiritual leaders above the average Christian. That is to say, many Christians mistakenly think that a pastor is closer to God and more in tune with the divine will. The pastor often takes advantage of this false belief to expand his power and influence.

A pastor domineers whenever he gains a following and support against all dissenters by guaranteeing those who stand with him that they will gain from it, either by being brought into his inner circle or by some form of promotion.

A pastor domineers by widening the alleged gap between “clergy” and “laity.” In other words, he reinforces in them the false belief that he has a degree of access to God which they don’t.

Related to the former is the way some pastors will make it appear that they hold sway or power over the extent to which average lay people can experience God’s grace. He presents himself in subtle (not overt) ways as the mediator between the grace of God and the average believer. In this way he can secure their loyalty for his agenda.

He domineers by building into people a greater loyalty to himself than to God. Or he makes it appear that not to support him is to work at cross purposes with God.

He domineers by teaching that he has a gift that enables him to understand Scripture in a way they cannot. They are led to believe they cannot trust their own interpretive conclusions and must yield at all times to his.

He domineers by short circuiting due process, by shutting down dialogue and discussion prematurely, by not giving all concerned an opportunity to voice their opinion.

He domineers by establishing an inviolable barrier between himself and the sheep. He either surrounds himself with staff who insulate him from contact with the people or withdraws from the daily affairs of the church in such a way that he is unavailable and unreachable.

Related to the above is the practice of some in creating a governmental structure in which the senior pastor is accountable to no one, or if he is accountable it is only to a small group of very close friends and fellow elders who stand to profit personally from his tenure as pastor.

He domineers by viewing the people as simply a means to the achieving of his own personal ends. Ministry is reduced to exploitation. The people exist to “serve his vision” rather than he and all the people together existing to serve the vision of the entire church.

He domineers by making people feel unsafe and insecure should they desire to voice an objection to his proposals and policies.

He domineers by convincing them, ever so subtly, that their spiritual welfare is dependent on his will. To cross him is to cross God!

He domineers by misinterpreting and misapplying to himself the OT command: “Don’t touch God’s anointed.”

He domineers by building a culture of legalism rather than one of grace. People are thus motivated to embrace his authority and bow to his will based on extra biblical rules that supposedly are the criteria for true spirituality.

He domineers by arguing or acting as if his movements and decisions are ultimately determinative of the spiritual welfare of others (cf. 2 Cor. 1:23-25).

He domineers when he leads people to believe that their faith hinges (i.e., rises or falls) upon his life and decisions.

He domineers when he uses people as a means to his own satisfaction rather than enabling them to experience satisfaction in Christ alone.

18 Comments

Thanks for the excellent article. As a pastor, I am now more aware of what to guard my heart against.

This guy restored my hope that there can be legitimate servant-leaders out there.

http://www.raystedman.org/thematic-studies/leadership/a-pastors-authority

Best Quote:

Yet in most churches today an unthinking acceptance has been given to the idea that the pastor is the final voice of authority in both doctrine and practice, and that he is the executive officer of the church with respect to administration. But surely, if a pope over the whole church is bad, a pope in every church is no better!

I recently left the First Church of Diotrephes.

My Diotrephes hid it so well. Then when you talk to people, you finally figure out that his "good sermons" are just white washed tombs, because he'll knock anyone over to build his earthly kingdom.

Sad. Sad.

I also recommend the book "The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse", or what I now affectionately call "The Diotrephes Survival Guide". Get a used copy on Amazon for <$5. A must read. ISBN-10: 1556611609

I ticked my Diotrephes off (before finally leaving for good) by sending him (via Amazon) 13 copies. I was trying to send one copy of the book for each person he's thrown out of HIS church, but I ran out of money. :O

Thanks, Sam. For further reading on this subject see Egoless Elders at www.michaelcannonloehrer.com.

I don't think the greatest value is in thinking about people who could be type cast in this role of pastor bully y fitting each description, the value is for leaders in the church to consider each one and ask God to reveal which of them they are prone to so they can repent.

This is the best treatment I have seen of what it means for a pastor to "domineer." If only I had read something like this years ago.

I was a member of a New England Bible cult for 25 years. Our pastor practiced each of these domineering tendencies, but somehow he always made it seem biblical. We were told that he was God's man, that he knew Greek and Hebrew and so he could interpret God's Word better, that God spoke to him in special ways. Eventually, we obeyed him as if he was God, and scripture seemed to support it (Heb 13:17).

I attended a conservative seminary in the South and my former church blew apart when our pastor basically drove himself insane with his own legalism and perfectionism. Now I write a blog which confronts spiritual abuse with grace and truth. Spiritual abuse can be so subtle.

This post is so clear, so refreshing to me. I will re-post it on my blog. I know it will benefit hundreds of others who have been scarred by abusive leadership and who may not normally read a pastor's blog.

Thank you for writing such a valuable post and for demonstrating true shepherding.

I do take note that Peter's comments are addressed to elders not to elders/pastors. The oversight of the flock is given to a group of elders who are to do shepherding work not to a single male who occupies an office called "the Pastor." The word "pastors" occurs only once in the NT. Modern day Christians have taken the Biblical word and filled it with a massive, complex, unbiblical meaning that the NT knows nothing about. The "Pastor (modern concept)" is conspicuous by his total absence from the NT. He is actually an obstacle to the every-member functioning of the body in the meeting of the church. If the modern, unbiblical concept of Pastor were discarded all of the above abuses listed in Sam's article would instantly evaporate. However, I do take note that the elders, who should be the spiritually mature men in the church who practice leadership by example and not by dominance, are not yet entirely without sin.

Lord, our humanity how do you put up with us? Our righteousness is as filthy rags...this article makes me so thankful for the Mercy of God - we must pray for our pastors and leaders it is our solemn charge as priests before the Lord

Good article Sam! But could you also address the converse of this, meaning what about when the congregation, or a significant part of it, is the bully towards the leadership?

Been there, suffered that. And that applies to church leaders as well: deacons, elders, etc.

Thank you Sam for a comprehensive review of the modes pastoral domineering. You have mentioned something of the conformity of the flock to such actions, but I am hoping you could explore in depth the counterpoints and outcomes for those who resist, even patiently, these bully-pastors. The problem, of course, is that many of our Pastor-Teachers are not going to be so inclined to teach on the dangers of having bullies as pastors, especially those that live by the practice. The flock ends up suffering mightily under the hands of such people - and don't know a 'way out'. Hope that makes sense.

Thank you for this article. I both breathed a sigh of relief at the blatant and bold truth of this and shuddered at the sadness of this...

I have seen "the prophetic" and the idea of special "prophets" used in similar ways.

The hate that spreads from the Westboro Baptist church comes from the heart and core values of its founder and current leaders. These individuals hate feed the hate already present in people's lives and somehow made it seem Biblical to hate the sinner because of the sin. No where in their literature are the words FORGIVENESS. They intend on picketing at the funerals of those killed in the Boston bombings claiming that "God sent the bombs," and that this is the judgment on a state that is the first legal "fag" state. (I apologize for the ignorant words.) What makes these leaders more dangerous than David Koresh and Jim Jones is that it fuels hate instead of forgiveness. It is true, God will judge nations for their disobedience and sin, but isn't unforgiveness a sin? Jesus Christ was brutality beaten and murdered, but before He died He proclaimed, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." I hate the sin of our nation, I hate the fact that we, as a nation, have allowed same-sex marriage. But that does not mean I should hate the sinner, indeed, we should pray for their salvation. Nevertheless, the despicable acts of this church are a blemish on our nation as well as the sin our nation condones. Is this a judgment from the throne room of heaven, is this a reminder to all of us that sin IS going to be judged? But may I ask, why are we so concerned about the judgment of God when we should be focused on the Great Commission, isn't that the call of the church?

Thanks for posting this blog..I know a pastor who is like this and now I can share this to my church mates.

Unfortunately some of this is happening right now in our church where our senior pastor has just retired. The purge has begun.

I have been waiting almost the years for some one to share about this God is so good to me!
I had a Pastor do some real damage and I believed her lies! No more and I forgive her!

Great study on this issue, Sam. Brother John Piper shared this and I decided to look it over. I find a lot of these things can be found in almost every "evangelical church" here in Beaufort, SC and it saddens me for the sake of the people. I will be praying for you and for those here who are coerced using fragments of scripture to say that examining the teachings of a pastor through scripture is wrong/outside of biblical faith.

I've seen this. I've been this. Lord have mercy on me, a sinner. Lord, raise up faithful shepherds to guard your flock, especially from those who are clothed in sheep's wool.

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