Leadership seems to be the buzzword of our times. Bookstores now have multiple rows upon rows of books concerning this particular subject. Some of the content is very good and can help a person to hone their management skills and work toward becoming self-disciplined in a manner that will prove good for the organization that they are serving. I personally have benefited from some of the secular leadership books that I have read over the years. Despite all of these necessary and good resources only a small, in fact, microscopic amount of these books address spiritual issues in the life of the leader.
There aren’t any spiritual leadership concepts given in the books that Jim Collins has written. Patrick Lencioni does not address the spiritual side of a man who wants to build a Fortune 500 company. Peter Drucker’s works have almost elevated him posthumously to an exalted messiah among the leadership gurus of the last century. If we are not careful, there can be a tendency to think that we can build a church the same way that Steve Jobs made Apple successful. Once a spiritual leader buys into that particular idea that he can build a spiritual church with the same techniques that a profit-driven company is built, he deceives himself and he will create spiritual mayhem with the sheep he is meant to feed.
Spiritually abusive leaders are often very ambitious and driven toward success. It is important to understand the motives that drive men in spiritual leadership because our motives say much about our true intentions. Gary McIntosh in his book, Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership, identifies five types of leadership styles that lead toward tendencies to be spiritually abusive. The compulsive leader is characterized by being status conscious, looking for reassurance and approval from those in authority. He will have a tendency to try to control activities and keep order at all times doing this by being an extreme workaholic. They can be excessively moralistic, conscientious, and judgmental. He may have an angry and rebellious attitude but will repress his true feelings and hold in the anger and resentment. When these dark emotions turn on the church, the atmosphere immediately turns into one of control and extreme authoritarianism.
There are certain traits that usually show up in the preaching style of a compulsive leader. He will frequently be a gifted and charismatic speaker but has the tendency to minimize any impact of the Scriptures unless they are going to serve his own agenda. He will also be the hero of all of his stories and listeners will be “amazed” at his feats in personal outreach/evangelism, prayer schedule, and devotion to the Scriptures. He may even say something like this; “I am God’s appointed authority in your life. If you oppose me you’re opposing God.” He will almost have the capacity to turn himself into a rock star for a lack of a better description. He leads people to follow him instead of the Lord.
The narcissistic leader is driven to succeed by a need for admiration and acclaim. Often he will demonstrate an inflated sense of self-importance as well as great ambitions and grandiose fantasies. These leaders are generally very self-absorbed but will have a sense of uncertainty because of deep feelings of inferiority. Frequently they are unable to enjoy any success that comes into their life. He will have an outward presentation of discontentment and dissatisfaction with life. As his feelings of discontentment surface, he will seek to have more control in the operation of daily spiritual life. Additionally this leader will become embroiled in the financial decisions, career choices, and various day-to-day functions of life. The interesting thing is that some people allow this up-close intrusion in their lives and seem to think nothing of it.
The paranoid leader is suspicious, hostile, fearful, and jealous. He is constantly afraid that someone will undermine his position and are hypersensitive to the actions of others. He will attach subjective meaning to the motives of those around him and will create rigid structures for control. He also demonstrates strong feelings of insecurity and a lack of confidence. This leader is the most dangerous of all because he will work to manipulate the entire body of believers into docile, intimidated followers who are afraid of him. Anyone who opposes his methods of madness will be horribly ostracized and publicly humiliated.
A couple of the methods that this kind of leader will use can be incredibly intimidating. He will use outside “ministries” that appear to operate in the gifts of the Spirit. After spending time with the pastor who informs the “prophet” of the shortcomings and failings of the people, this “prophet” will call people out and confront or shame them in front of the entire congregation. They will be accused of stirring dissension, creating a mutiny, or of hosting demonic spirits of rebellion. The other method is a little less direct and more private. It usually involves a time of “counseling” in which the Lord has supposedly revealed some form of dark hidden character flaw to the pastor and he uses this as a way to control the people he is leading.
Being a peacemaker who covers up problems rather than facing them marks the co-dependent leader. The reason he covers up the problems is to maintain the balance of the group. He can be very benevolent with a high tolerance for deviant behavior and willing to take on more work so he does not have to ask anyone for assistance. He would rather react than act decisively. Often they are a repressed, frustrated person who has trouble giving full, honest expression to emotions or problems. Often one may scratch the surface of communities like this and there will be a discovery of dark, deviant sins that have been covered over for years. The reason that sin is covered is because the leader is more concerned with appearances than true spiritual substance and spiritual growth. If the sin is uncovered or if there have to be instances of church discipline this can destroy the perception the abusive spiritual leader has worked to build.
The passive-aggressive leader has traits such as being extremely stubborn, forgetful, and intentionally inefficient. There is a tendency to complain, resist demands, procrastinate, and drag out assignments as a means of controlling the environment and those around them. Periodically they may exert control by the use of short outbursts of sadness or anger. These leaders are generally filled with anger, bitterness, and a fear of success since it will lead to higher expectations.
In an atmosphere where a passive-aggressive leader rules you will rarely see young men coming to develop a calling into the ministry. The most prominent reason for this is because the leader does not want anyone to outpace him. Passive-aggressive leaders have a strong affinity toward a messiah complex in which they believe all ideas must come from them or through them. In fact what you will discover is that the people who do dare to oppose him operate on the premise that they will advance their cause first and get forgiveness later. They understand that they will not get permission if they ask, so they engage their plan or project and wait for the fallout to develop. Passive-aggressive leaders rarely want to sit down and deal with problems face-to-face and if they are forced into this kind of meeting, it immediately becomes heavy-handed and often the leader resorts to angry rants. The leader will work everything to play to his advantage so that he can humiliate the person who has dared to oppose him.
When all of these processes are set into motion, a very dark environment comes to life. There will be a revolving door of members who come and go. Every honest-hearted pastor must admit that he has lost some people for various reasons over his years of pastoral ministry. Truthfully some fault rests on both sides of the pulpit. On the other hand, if you are a pastor, take a look at the people you are leading and ask yourself if you can see all stages of various Christian growth in the congregation. In fact, I personally believe that you ought to have a range of the most mature to the most immature of Christians who show up every week. That can usually be a good sign of spiritual health in a church. If the congregation is all new folks or all “old” folks then it very well could be an opportunity to address some of your own spiritual issues.
I appreciate you reading about this very sensitive subject. I realize the volatility of it and know that there will be detractors on both sides of the fence who say there is not enough authority expressed by spiritual leaders and others who will say that there is too much authority taken. I will use a couple more messages to tell you what spiritual abuse is not and also some resources that will help a pastor to see the ultimate priority of his calling should be about.