1Pe 5:1-3 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: (2) shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; (3) not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
It is amazing to me how often I receive reports from Christians regarding the abuse of power on the part of their pastors. Power abuse occurs whenever someone exercises authority that God has not given them. Such pseudo-authority is always evil and its intent is to fleece the sheep for personal gain of some kind. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were a prime example.
These are the kinds of things that are happening in the churches and of which I have credible reports:
- A domestic abuse victim goes to her pastor for help, shows him one of my books, and he orders her to destroy the book and throw it away. She is not to read it, he commands her.
- Abuse victims are told that they must obtain the permission of their pastor/elders before they can divorce their abuser. Many times this requirement is disguised and very covertly exercised. “Meet with us and we will discuss your case and your options. We love you and we want to help you.” Yeah, right.
- Church leaders insist that the abuser is a Christian and order the victim to remain in the marriage because “she is a sinner too.”
Recently when I was telling my wife about how a pastor commanded an abuse victim to destroy her copy of my book on domestic abuse and how he ordered her not to read it…and how she obeyed these illegal and wicked commands…my wife said “how can anyone think that a pastor can control people like this?” It is shocking. But the answer is this – they have essentially been brainwashing their flock with false teaching and lies. And when people sit under that kind of abusive false shepherding evil, they often end up believing that if they disobey the pastor, they are disobeying God and incurring His wrath.
Another person told me recently that he lives in fear that he will be thrown out of the church if he disobeys his pastor’s orders. Such a place is no church – it is a toxic environment to be left in the rear view mirror.
Christians and truly Christian churches and true, authentic pastors do have authority. We have Christ’s authority to expose and rebuke evil. If you read the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 you will see several commands by Christ that the churches are to expel false teachers that they have been permitting to be in their midst. Look at 1 Corinthians 5 for Christ’s command that we expel a so-called Christian who is walking in habitual, unrepentant sin. And of course this authority from Christ is the basis of godly, right church discipline as outlined in Matthew 18. But notice – this authority is authority over evil, not over the victim of evil. I suppose you could say that we also have a positive authority – the authority of scripture’s promises and truths which we can proclaim and believe with authority. But this authority as well is for the good of Christ’s people, not for oppressing them.
So to anyone who might read this article and who realizes that they are in a church where the leaders are wielding abusive authority that of course God has never given them, leave. Or stand and fight if that option is open to you. But don’t just go on living in a toxic environment that is disguising itself with Christ’s name. It is not better. That is to say, it is not better to remain in a place where the air is poison that to get out of it and breath pure air.
This one resonates over here, but I’m still teasing out the nuances of my personal situation – having married someone from a family where the pastor father belonged to a theological stream in which “preaching the Gospel correctly”, with proper doctrine, was essentially the single responsibility of all pastors. I might add more later, but i do need to get to work 🙂
Before you go to your pastor looking for help from abuse, ask yourself.
Do I see the qualities Peter mentions in 1 Peter 5:1-3 and the qualifications Paul writes to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:2-7 in my pastor?
Not sure what the qualifications are? Read the list below and go to 1 Timothy 3:2-7 to get the full text.
PASTORAL QUALIFICATIONS CHECKLIST:
Be above reproach
Husband of one wife
Able to teach rightly (can clearly explain scripture and its meaning, not be a charismatic speaker)
Not an alcoholic
Not a lover of money
Manages his own household well
Not be a recent convert
Be well thought of by outsiders
THE FRUIT OF A GODLY PASTOR
The body of Christ he’s responsible for will see and feel his love for them in word and deed. The widows, the orphans, and the oppressed in his midst will be properly cared for. He is seen as publically advocating for the victims of abuse in his midst. He removes evil from the midst of the church when he discovers it.
How does your pastor’s behavior and reputation compare to 1 Timothy 3’s list of pastoral qualifications?
If he doesn’t fit the requirements, he’s not a true shepherd. I know that may be hard to hear, and your brain may try to come up will a bunch of excuses as to why it’s not that big a deal if he doesn’t meet and maintain ALL of the requirements. Nobody’s perfect. It whispers. Don’t fall for that lie. If the visible church actually used the instructions given to us in 1 Timothy 3, then I wouldn’t be surprised if more than 90% of pastors would be disqualified from the positions they hold. If they are disqualified by God, any attempt they make to continue in their “ministry” and act on God’s behalf is a lie. Following such men places your own soul in peril of destruction.
We are repeatedly told in scripture that God will preserve his remnant. A remnant is not a lot of something. It’s the scraps. It’s like flour that gets caught in the edges of the empty jar after the rest is used up. It’s not 49% of something. So it bears consideration that many of the people proclaiming to be pastors, are not qualified and commissioned by God to do the work they are doing. They are out for their own selfish gain. Some are blatant in their desire to build their own little kingdom on earth in the name of Christ, while others may be much more covert.
A quick way to test the heart of a pastor is to watch how he talks and behaves about women, the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed. When the wickedness of a pastor is exposed, how does your pastor respond? Is he silent? Does he tell women to go home or some other misogynistic patriarchal poison if they do something that doesn’t align with his view of what women are to be? Does he make excuses for the exposed pastor? Does he use language to minimize the deep trauma that the victim(s) have suffered in order to maintain his place of authority or support those who do? Does he refuse to believe it’s true? Does he blame the victim?
All of these questions give you a peek into the heart of the pastor and will let you know if he’s safe or not.
Scripture commands the church that disqualified pastors are to be permanently removed from the office of elder and cast out of the church. If the man genuinely repents – look for sustained changed behavior + voluntary restitution to his victims as evidence of his genuine repentance – it is possible he may be allowed to rejoin the body as a member under the supervision of an elder who will disciple him. Rejoining the church would be contingent on how his return would impact the victims. He would never seek to take on the position of a pastor again nor would the church seek to restore him to that office. Being restored to Christ doesn’t mean a restoration to the position of pastor.
Once you’ve vetted your pastor against scripture’s requirements, ask yourself –
When my pastor exercises his authority/oversight, is it compulsatory or do I have the freedom in Christ to say no and not be negatively impacted by my decision? If you answered compulsatory, you’re in the presence of a wolf, not a shepherd.
Does his life reflect a love of money (e.g. he must have or be given expensive things or other perks because of his position as pastor) and/or does his advice allow him to personally benefit from his counsel? You’re in the presence of a wolf, not a shepherd.
I’ve had multiple pastors use their position for shameful gain. They manipulated me into giving money to them claiming it was my duty as a Christian because if I didn’t I was robbing God and inviting a curse on me. Let me be clear. Giving money to your pastor, a church. or ministry does not always mean you are giving to God. Many times is it is the exact opposite. I wouldn’t recommend giving money to any organization that professes Christ if you can’t vet their leaders thoroughly enough to know if they meet with the pastoral qualifications given to us in 1 Timothy 3. Instead, use that money to directly help your brothers and sisters in Christ that you know within your sphere of influence who are hurting and would be the relief they’ve been praying for.
Does your pastor believe that men must be in authority over their wives and/or are superior to women? You’re in the presence of a misogynistic wolf, not a shepherd.
Does your pastor wield his authority in a domineering manner? You’re in the presence of a child of the devil, not a child of God.
Does he always have to be the boss, have the final word, be the ultimate decision-maker? You’re in the presence of a controlling wolf, not a shepherd.
Run from them. Fight for the gospel in your church if you feel led to, but don’t feel guilty if you don’t. Do NOT heed their advice. They are not your mediator with God, Christ is. Anything that tries to come between you and God, or claims to be able to mediate for; is not of God. Freedom awaits you on the other side of choosing to come out of false teaching and removing the false Christians from your midst. I know because I’ve lived it. If God can do it for me, He can do it for you. So come, let your soul find rest in your relationship with Christ and be free.
ALL FOR JESUS MINISTRIES
A huge AMEN to everything you said, Lynn!
It’s like a cult, Pastor Crippen’s comment on brainwashing is a mild statement of what the devil does and is getting away with at the willing hands of such a devastatingly high number of church leaders. I had all but given up on churches until CRC, even with the distance it is a blessing – CRC a breath of truth in the otherwise suffocating re-abuse within the churches at large.
Lynn, your comments, again are helpful. Your last sentence is the freedom banner, its so true, it’s your relationship with Christ – be free.
ALL FOR JESUS MINISTRIES
So, so true, Pastor Jeff! SO sad, but SO, SO TRUE!!!