15 Ways to Recognize Control Freaks in Your Church

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 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. Their early support for a new pastor seldom lasts—no matter who the pastor is. They have a pattern of trying to secure power with a new pastor, eventually turning on him, and driving him out.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. They see the negative more than the positive. They see themselves as God’s appointed prophets to make sure the church never goes astray (with “astray” meaning any direction they don’t want to go). 
  10. 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” . . . .
  11. 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.
  12. They often focus on the budget. Controlling the purse strings is a primary way they extend their influence.
  13. Tearing down others seems to be in their DNA. That is, they always find something wrong with anyone who might gain some influence in the church.
  14. They hold unofficial “business meetings” in the parking lot or the local restaurant. Or, at any place in town where their group can scheme their next step.
  15. 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? 



  • David Frasure says:

    Great, accurate list. I might add, “They don’t believe they are controlling.” They will read this list and have difficulty seeing themselves in it although it is quite obvious to others.

  • mark says:

    They do not always sit in leadership roles. THe unofficial power structure operates from the shadows. However, you will know they exist if a unanimous vote is reversed or someone right before the vote changes his/her mind to the opposite.

  • Richard Greene says:

    They often attack the character of a leader by bringing some flaw, real or perceived, to everyone’s attention. The flaw is usually the biggest issue that they themselves should address in their own lives.

  • Robin G Jordan says:

    You missed several characteristic. They often talk about the poor job that the pastors and church officers who left did, how they always wanted to spend money on what they considered pointless undertakings, and that sort of thing. They also frequently talk about how they don’t mince words and boast about how they put people in their place. They take charge of church’s mail and discard anything that they don’t think that the other church members, including the church’s official leaders, should see. They cultivate a small coterie of followers and gather on Sundays in a conspicuous place like the church office. There is a good chance that they are retired business executive who is used to throwing his weight around.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.