Fred is a member of a church in Latin America. He got saved as a young adult, spent a few years growing in his knowledge of the Lord, and was predictably requested to serve in different capacities in the church.
He ended up on the church board, but over time discovered that his job was to agree with the pastor’s vision, make it work even when it was flawed, and above all else, to cover over the difficulties the pastor had.
After a few years, a problem emerged which was too complex to be hidden by normal pretty words. Fred made a suggestion about how to address it honestly, before the congregation.
He was immediately condemned by the pastor, and shortly thereafter was kicked off the board, and was widely reviled in the church as a disloyal, rebellious and controlling person who was a danger to the great work God was doing there.
He came to me for help in dealing with the hidden root of rebellion in his life that he didn’t know about until the pastor pointed it out. He was shocked at my perspective.
I told him his pastor was a wounded predator.
The pastor’s story was very familiar. His woundedness produced the following legitimacy statement. “I am legitimate when I hear from God, when people believe I hear from God 100% of the time, and when they are loyal to me because I hear from God and am doing a big work for God.”
And with that legitimacy statement, anyone who offered a different perspective was deemed disloyal to the pastor, the church and God.
And when a pastor has embraced that legitimacy statement, they truly, genuinely, absolutely believe that they are the best place in town, and that anyone who leaves their church will have nothing but a third-rate Christian experience for the rest of their lives.
Really, truly, believes that.
And when he made a mess, he could not acknowledge it, especially to the congregation, because everything he proposed had to be from God. And when Fred proposed authenticity, it was “proof” to the pastor that Fred was disloyal at the core, was out to get him, and the congregation needed to be warned of how toxic Fred was.
That much Fred could eventually see and accept. He had to admit that the turnover on the board was very high over the years, and that the pastor could not accept input from anyone else.
But there is a much more subtle toxin here.
The overarching metric that the pastor used to determine good people vs. bad people was whether they could synchronize to him. It was obvious to all that they needed to synchronize to him regarding time. He preached about the sin of tardiness and was quick to publicly shame those who were late to an appointment or to church.
It was less obvious to Fred that the pastor wanted people to synchronize to his values. Clearly he preached doctrine passionately, but the reality is that he had opinions about everything from marriage, to politics, to sports and to medicine, and he expected the congregation to embrace his values wholeheartedly, unquestioningly, in all areas.
In short, he wanted a congregation of slaves, not sons, and any initiative or individuality on the part of the congregation registered as rebellion, control, and of course, extreme lack of loyalty.
The pastor was not original. This same package of wounds and legitimacy crutches is found in a lot of leaders. You see it in pastors, bosses, husbands, fathers, sports teams and homeowners’ associations. Wherever there is leadership, it can attract people who get their legitimacy from having others synchronize to them.
While it is massively predominant in men, women can also walk in that facet of control.
Synchronization is not wrong. Any time there is a community, be it a family, or a church, or a ball team, there HAS to be synchronization. But in a community of sons, there is a collaborative decision-making process, which is based on the greatest good, not the leader’s woundedness. And diversity of opinions can be held without it being an attack on the leader. And most especially, the leader can deal with a failed project without it destabilizing his whole identity.
Beware of any leader who demands repeated proofs of loyalty to him or her. No matter how often you prove your loyalty, they will simply raise the bar and ask for a larger, more sacrificial proof the following week.
And be very, very skeptical of a leader whose legitimacy is based on hearing God for the whole group.
When you get rejected for speaking the truth graciously into a situation that is rife with denial and with irresponsibility, it is a major red flag. Leadership should be based on reality, not on denial and self-deception.
The demand that we endlessly synchronize with a leader is a yellow flag because no amount of subordination to a wounded leader heals that leader, and the demands for synchronization simply become larger and more expensive as time goes on, since the leader needs continual reassurance that he is OK.
When he isn’t.
Copyright by Arthur Burk March 2020
The description of Fred's situation is sadly very familiar to me. After planting and running a church with my then pastors as a young person the doctrine of "Honour your pastor" became stronger and stronger and was enforced more as time went on. This doctrine was always "backed by scripture" and therefore questioning it would be seen as rejecting scripture. In Africa the "honour of leadership" is also very strongly infused in the culture which makes it even harder and more confusing. Just like you illustrated, our church also had a very high turn over of leadership which bothered me. But I couldn't leave for a long time because the church was all I had I felt. I was however eventually rejected (thankfully) by the leadership and I left. A church that operates in this way is in fact a cult. It turns out that the enemy's favourite covert base of operation is the church. I just want to say thank you for addressing these issues and speaking the truth. It means so much.
"When you get rejected for speaking the truth graciously into a situation that is rife with denial and with irresponsibility, it is a major red flag. Leadership should be based on reality, not on denial and self-deception". This has been my painful experience. Although it continues to be painful and lonely at times, I am thankful for this confirmation and validation. Thank you so much for this insight.
How innocence is devoured by the demands of woundedness.
Christ came to show us that it is ok, to not be ok.
Whatever we lack, He is the More Than Enough.
Where I live, the description of the Fred-Pastor relationship is the normative model for church, friendship, marriage, business etc. I suspect it might be the land. And I’m pretty certain blaming it on the land is not going to change anything. Experience has taught me that finger pointing is not helpful either. Neither does asking “Why me, Lord?” (self-pity is not a fruit of the Spirit.) And excusing bad behaviour also doesn’t help. (There is a huge difference between forgiving and excusing!)
So, I have decided ‘to resist this devil and it will flee from me’. Here are some practical tools from the trenches:
1. Andrew Murray’s book “Humility”. ( it’s free on Kindle!)
2. And Anne Hamilton’s “Dealing with the spirit of Ziz”.
3. I appreciate the way Steven Pressfield writes on ‘hierarchy’ and ‘territory’ in his book “The War of Art”.
4. The course “Pursuing Awe” on Sapphire Training.
Let us stay junk free!
I recognized the situation you describe immediately. The thing is, you have such a gift for bringing clarity and a completely new Twist of understanding!
Thank you for doing you!!!!!!!!!!!!
I appreciate the comments I have seen something like that with pastors and I thought something was wrong with me. You are blessing !
I was raised as an orthodox Roman Catholic and spent my freshman high school year in a preparatory school for the priesthood. The pastor's attitude sounds very familiar, except no one ever talked about hearing from God. That is the pope's role. Well, you put the issue into a very clear picture. Thank you!
Well done sharing the story... It communicated it so well... and your interpretation helped regular mortals realize it really isn’t always their issue, even when the wounded leader insists it is.
Amen to Jim Banks' comment! Healing was a long journey, but God is faithful, walking with me through the pain, confusion and strength to continue walking with Him.
I am certain that Fred's eyes were opened by this exchange. I wish I had received such wise counsel when I was in my mid-30's. When you admit that you've been thrown out of a church it is hard to miss the curious looks you get in response from folks who haven't been to that rodeo yet. Thanks for your insight.
Thank you for putting words to this. I am not under this kind of leadership right now but have been. When we are trying to grow as children of The Most High, we have to finally choose between that kind of leadership and The Lord because so many times they tell us to disobey The Lord and submit to them. It usually can't be both ways because their agenda doesn't line up with His will. At least that has been my experience. And the attacks after leaving these congregations have been ridiculous, in one case, it seems to have divided most of my extended family on one side having a mother in that cult-like congregation and me leaving it. Father, please help us all heal from these things.
Thankyou for putting into clear words that which I've observed (and been impacted by) over the years.
Identity crisis? Big time
Yep. That's pretty much true. I wince as I pause to consider the percentage of "strong" leaders that exhibit this behavior in some form or fashion. I had a mentor for 10+ years, a pastor, Rick, who was a Teacher I think. He modeled the opposite of this in so many ways. He allowed for a diversity of opinion among his leadership and people and was a safe place for people to learn and grow. What a gift he was to me during that season.
This is very good advice. I have been in the ministry for 43 years and I have seen a lot of this and heard much teaching on this subject. I was under this type of leadership many years. I got a hold of John Maxwell teaching on leaderships 20 years ago and it changed everything for me. It gave me permission to grow and eventually leave the ministry I was under. Thank you for sharing this. Please write more on this subject. The body of Christ needs it.
I walked through a 3 year period about 15 years ago of this same thing. At the time, my identity and legitimacy was not sound and I didn't know it. It made me vulnerable to finding this through a group that was led by a married couple who refused accountability and would not submit to authority. When it all came out in the wash, I had lost everything - home, relationships, finances - but the Lord brought me through to better understand Godly authority and the meaning of the Church. I have since found myself positioned in Him and it's safe, creative, and free. Great post!
Your footer - “Synchronization is not meant to be a sign of Loyalty.” Wow.
Definitely the opposite of what was drilled into me growing up in the South. I remember my mother emphasizing over & over that Family Loyalty was the governing value above everything except God. And obviously God was all for Family Loyalty. Whatever that looked like, and however bad it got.
This blog is a wonderful clarifier for all of us who have had Fred’s experience in different arenas. Thanks.
So true. Unless wounds are healed they fester. This damages not only the wounded person but those in connection with them. It is devastating to be ignorant of one"s wounds. But it doesnt stop the damage.
This article has been soothing balm to my soul.
Thanking God for the circumstances and people He uses to draw me closer to Himself and show me His ways and His perfect love for me!
Thank you Arthur for your passion for truth. May He continue to bless and use you even more in the years ahead for His glory!