10 Signs of a Pastor-Controlled Church

Recently, I wrote a post titled,11 Signs of a Family-Run Church.” Apparently, that post hit a nerve for many readers who’ve seen that kind of church. Some readers also asked about another kind of church they’ve seen: the “pastor-controlled” church. So, here are characteristics I’ve seen in this church:

  1. The pastor is not vulnerable—or ever wrong. He guards his space, keeps his distance from his congregation, and never says, “I was wrong” or “I’m sorry.” Even when it seems he might have been wrong, he deflects blame to others.
  2. The pastor has no accountability to anyone. I’m not convinced that the New Testament demands a plurality of elders in every case, but I am convinced that we’re never to lead on our own. Controlling pastors lead without input from others.
  3. Staff turnover (particularly of good staff) is high. Those who depart may not always be honest about their struggle with the pastor, but few staff members stay very long. If you give them an honest exit interview, their complaints about the pastor are remarkably similar.
  4. The unspoken (and sometimes spoken) message is, “Comply or leave.” Members who don’t get fully on board with the pastor’s agenda are encouraged/invited/asked/pushed to move on to another church. Even simple questions are unwelcomed.
  5. Every decision requires the pastor’s stamp of approval. No matter the significance of the decision, no one can make that decision without the pastor’s involvement. The proverbial “buck” really does stop with him—in every case.
  6. Faithful, mature, growing, discerning believers don’t stay long at the church. They recognize that they’re likely not welcomed or needed, so they usually quietly move on. They want to be in a church that allows them to maximize their giftedness.
  7. Seldom, if ever, does the pastor invite others to preach. Sometimes that’s because the pulpit is his primary means to influence—even discipline—others; at other times, it’s because he doesn’t want to share the limelight. He might see others who preach well as a threat.
  8. If the church has a “leadership team,” the team members are usually “yes” men and women. Hence, the “leadership team” neither leads nor truly functions as a team. Their sole role is to affirm whatever the pastor wants.
  9. The pastor does not disciple others, call out “the called,” or send faithful members to the nations. All of these pastoral responsibilities require a sacrificial outward focus—which a controlling a pastor does not have.
  10. The congregation has given up hope that things will get better. Eventually, even the most faithful members decide, “Nothing’s going to change as long as ______ is our pastor.” The members endure rather than enjoy church.

What would you add to this list? How might you now pray for your pastor or other pastors?

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