Problems Permeating Churches (Part 1)

The following column will appear on the website over the next several weeks. Each column will address a particular problem that seems to plague many fundamental and evangelical churches today and will provide a scriptural answer. The problems to be addressed will not necessarily focus on theologically liberal or mainline churches or even evangelical churches that have long ago chosen to identify with the culture at the expense of truth. Rather, this column will address churches that still claim to be fundamental or evangelical in their theological belief and practice. If the true church is to be honest with itself today, it must be willing to examine and evaluate its own beliefs and practices in light of the unchanging truth of God’s Word and make any necessary changes for the good of the church and for the glory of God.

Problem #1—Overbearing and possessive church leadership

Throughout the history of the church, some men have used their leadership roles in the church to exercise lordship and domination over those sitting under their ministry. History has recorded the abuses of power that have marked churches and even entire denominations for almost 2,000 years. Yet awareness of this problem has not diminished its existence. Overbearing and possessive pastors and elders still persist in many churches today, including many that profess to be fundamental or evangelical congregations. Some pastors and elders demand blind allegiance and loyalty. Others meddle in the personal lives of those sitting in the pew and make them feel as though they cannot make a personal decision without the pastor’s consultation. Still others subtly (or not-so-subtly) fill their sermons and Bible studies with references to their “authority” and the need for the congregation to elevate them to a revered status.

The motives for such an attitude and behavior vary. Some church leaders are afraid of losing church members or losing control of the congregation. Therefore, they become far too possessive of those in the congregation. Others are simply hungry for power and enjoy a position of what they believe to be “authority” over others. Still others may mean well and have simply succumbed to this type of behavior over a period of time without even realizing it.

God knew this would be a problem in the church throughout the ages. He realizes that the sinful and selfish nature of man still has an effect on even those who claim to be ministers of Jesus Christ. Therefore, His Word contains the important instruction of the apostle Peter who exhorted church elders to feed believers the milk and meat of the Word of God while simultaneously refusing to abuse their privileged responsibility by acting as “lords over God’s heritage” (1 Pet. 5:3). Church elders who are guilty of being overbearing, domineering and dictatorial do not belong in the pulpit as they are not fulfilling their God-ordained responsibility to willingly feed the flock and serve as examples to the flock (1 Pet. 5:2-3).

Today, church leaders can refrain from falling into the trap of becoming power-hungry and authority-loving overlords by submitting themselves to the following scriptural guidelines:

1. He must be sure to feed the flock the Word of God, not his own ideas and opinions. A great tendency exists among pastors and elders to force their own opinions regarding a particular issue upon those in the congregation. Yet God’s Word makes it very clear throughout the New Testament epistles that the milk and meat of God’s Word is the only food necessary to nourish the sheep.

2. He must have a proper view of himself and his position. A pastor or elder in the church is simply a servant of God and of God’s people. He is not a lord. He is not a ruler. He is a shepherd. He is an overseer. He is a servant. The apostle Peter makes it clear that elders are not “lords over God’s heritage” (1 Pet. 5:3). The sheep belong to God and to Him alone.

3. He must be an example to the flock. Once again, the apostle Peter makes this extremely clear in 1 Peter 5:3. The pastor or elder is to model what it means to “be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility” (1 Pet. 5:4). Pride and authoritarian arrogance have no place in the church, especially in the life and ministry of the pastors or elders.

Yet while fault clearly falls on the shoulders of the abusive and dictatorial elder, those who remain under the “iron fist” of such a person or who even defend such behavior are guilty as well. An authoritarian and domineering church leader is actually a cancer in a local church that is harming the very organism God wants to use and bless, and those who embrace, promote or remain under the leadership of such a person are furthering his unbiblical agenda and harming what God desires for the local body of believers.

Yes, overbearing and possessive church leadership is a real problem in many good (or once-good) churches today. The only way this problem can be solved is by a change in the heart and life of a church leader who has fallen prey to this sin and by believers in the fellowship who will not tolerate this kind of behavior and attitude in their church.

— by Matt Costella. Reproduced from Foundation magazine, Volume 31, Issue 1.