Ways to Recognize a “Church Control Freak”

I don’t like writing this kind of post, but I think it’s necessary. I’ve seen too many churches with laypersons (and pastors, for that matter, though I’m focusing on laity with this post) who want to control the show. Here are some markers of those folks:

  1. They’ve been at the church for a while. At least in the established church, they assume that their tenure gives them the right to take the lead.  
  2. They’ve often stepped into leadership voids in the past. Listen to their stories, and you’ll often find that they’ve gained control during previous times of transition or turmoil.
  3. They want to know everything. Knowledge is empowering, and they expect to be in the loop for everything. I call them “information idolaters.”
  4. They don’t listen to opposing views. Particularly in a congregational-polity church, they’ll fight for the right to express their opinion – but then completely dismiss the opinions of others.
  5. They demand being a part of every major decision. In fact, they can’t imagine how the church can wisely decide something without their input. Even if they agree with the decision, they’ll find something wrong if they weren’t part of the process.
  6. Their support for pastoral leadership blows with the wind. If they like what the pastor’s doing, they’re on board. If they don’t like it, though, they quickly become opposition – always “for the good of the church,” they say.
  7. They speak in terms of “some people are saying.”  These “people” may be only themselves and their spouses, but the exaggerated phrase “some people” gives them a sense of support.
  8. They see the negative more than the positive. They see themselves as God’s appointed prophet to make sure the church never goes astray (with “astray” meaning any direction they don’t want to go). 
  9. They often use veiled threats against leaders. You’ve probably heard some of them: “people are going to leave”; “we’ll stop giving”; “we’ve seen many pastors come and go” . . . .
  10. They seldom talk about the Word or prayer. Indeed, you’ll seldom hear them talk about their personal walk with God. Control freaks don’t usually need God.
  11. They often focus on the budget. Controlling the purse strings is a primary way they extend their influence.
  12. They’d never admit they’re controlling. In fact, they might not even recognize it. That’s one of the enemy’s subtle ways to mess up the church: he influences control freaks who don’t even recognize what’s happening.

What other characteristics would you add? 


  • Chuck Lawless says:

    I’m actually sorry that I did, Sunny. . . . Thanks for reading.

    • I’ve noticed that many ‘control freaks’ actually blame the current or former pastor for their church’s spiritual condition. My response to them, whether understood or received well, is to remind them that there has been one ‘constant’ regarding the leadership of the church. So I challenge us all to deal with the leadership issues past and present so that we might move ahead in following the Lord and reviving the church. I’ve discovered that ‘control freaks’ have lost a sense of purpose and priority for the church. So we strive to return to the purpose of giving God glory and making disciples who will also possess a biblical purpose and priority. It’s hard work for all! But I believe that it pleases Him and gives us joy!

  • Brandon says:

    What is the solution though?

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      First, I doubt we’re going to change every control freak. I do think there are a few things we can do, though:

      1. Pray specifically for them to be the people God wants them to be. He alone can change their hearts. Simply praying for them often changes our heart. 

      2. Strive to love them even when they drive us crazy. Some of these folks really do believe they’re doing what’s best for the church.

      3. Work to change one life at a time. Have lunch. Share your heart. Pray together. Even one changed control freak can strengthen the church.  

      4. If they are continually and unrepentantly disruptive, the church may well need to take a public stand for the good of the gospel.  

  • Thanks, Chuck. Few understand the myriad of dynamics that are at work among a church family. The unseen spiritual conflict manifests itself in so many hurtful ways. The pain of a dysfunctional church family is exacerbated by these “well-intentioned dragons” and the result is grievous. My heart cries out for our churches to fulfill 2Chronicles 7:14 so we may be healed.

  • Do you mind if I share this article with a Cluster Group of pastors? We’re discussing Sam Chand’s book regarding culture and control is a part of our upcoming discussion.

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    No problem. Please encourage them to read the blog.

  • Matt says:

    They don’t like to see others succeed in leadership, especially if such leadership is “public”. (I’m writing from a worship pastor’s perspective on soloists and praise team members who get threatened by the accomplishments of others.) Shared leadership is not in their vocabulary if such leads to the “elevation” of another they don’t approve of.

    They frequently tout “success” they’ve had at other churches, which are most often, smaller in scope and calling and not comparable to where they currently worship and seek influence.

    They “tattle” and “nit pick” often on virtually anything so as to make sure the leader constantly has them in mind, constantly demanding perfection on issues that are not overly significant.

    They are never satisfied, and/or constantly change the expectations that would satisfy them.

    If you are not a senior pastor, and you resist them, they run to the pastor and use tactic #7 that Chuck wrote!

    Just ask worship pastors / ministers of music…we could write volumes on this topic.

  • They bully those who do not agree with them or who try to introduce a new idea or program.

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