When we hear the word dictator, we think of an overbearing ruler of some small third world country. And, while that is true in many cases, there are other types of dictators in this world. There are those who would bully others, like we hear so much of in the school systems in this country and also in the work place. If a child is being bullied, there are appropriate steps which must be taken to stop the bully. There are many people who are in leadership positions on the job who are actually bullies or dictators and there are steps to be taken to correct this type of behavior also. A boss who is a dictator makes life miserable for the employee; the person knows the job is their means of income and support for their family and therefore, often times feel trapped. The employee knows that he/she just cannot walk away from the source of income, especially in these tough economic times. Secular job sites can be brutal when a boss is a dictator and there are appropriate steps to be taken to resolve the issue. But, I’m not writing this to help resolve secular employment bullies; the best way to resolve those issues are by prayer. In my experience with it, that has always worked for me. God knows our needs and He will take us through those times of trail and resolve the problem and we will learn the lesson He had for us, as well as grow stronger in the Lord.
But, what if you attend a church whose pastor appears to be a dictator? Well, it is one thing to be bullied by your boss or co-workers, but the pastor of the church you attend? Now, some of you might be thinking this is absurd; my pastor would never act like that. Praise God, I hope he doesn’t and never will. The reality of this is there are pastors in churches of all sizes who believe they must enforce this type of leadership. Some will do it because they are insecure, some believe it is the only way to keep those in attendance accountable. These pastors want to control the lives of every person in the church. They must seek the approval of the pastor in all they do.
Dictators From The Shepherding Movement
In the early 70′s, a movement began in Florida known as The Shepherding Movement. It was established by five men who were known as “The Fort Lauderdale Five” and their reason for beginning this type of ministry was to counter immorality among church fellowships and their leaders. This was all centered around the charismatic church movement. Not all churches with this personality were involved but many were and thus became part of a group of churches which fell under the leadership of these five men. I am not going to name these guys but you can find more information about this form of dictator style leadership at, http://churchrevolution.wordpress.com/2008/04/24/the-shepherding-movement-2/
The idea behind this accountability style of leadership was good, at first. But, it evolved into a pure form of dictatorship down through the ranks. From the top down, starting with the five men in Florida, and then down through the leadership of the churches and then into the individual fellowships, it was total control of lives by those selected as shepherds who were to be discipling new Christians. Within the movement, when a person was asked, “Who is your covering?”, the real question was, “Who is discipling you?” It got to a point of control that a disciple would do nothing without the consent of the shepherd. It was on the verge of being cult like. Now, this clearly violates what scripture tells us concerning our covering or our headship,
But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ…. 1 Cor. 11:3 NKJV www.biblegateway.com
This leadership style also contradicts what the Bible tells us about who we should obey, man or God. As Peter stood before the council in Jerusalem, he told them who he would obey,
But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.
Acts 5:29 NKJV
As Christians new in the faith, often times they don’t know if this is right or wrong. Many believe this method or style of leadership and discipling is the way all churches and ministries operate. I have been told by those who were under this type of leadership as new Christians they assumed this was the way all churches did business with their fellowships.
This excerpt is from the web site referenced above and explains the danger of the movement,
The second dangerous doctrine had to do with “Covenant” relationships or “Spiritual Family.” If being absolutely submitted to another person was an imprisonment, then the covenant relationship was the iron padlock on the door. The idea here is that when you enter into these discipleship relationships, they are permanent, and more broadly that your association with a specific group of believers is permanent. You were in a “Covenant” and if you left the relationship or the fellowship group, you were breaking a covenant. This quickly becomes a very dangerous situation: no matter how terrible your experience becomes with a group or person, you can not leave, and if you do, you believe that you’ve broken a covenant with God, so to get right with God you’d have to go back to the abuse! You slowly become enmeshed with the other members of the group and separated from the outside world. Your “spiritual family” becomes more important than your natural family or other believers you’ve had relationship with. You slowly become more and more isolated and more and more dependent upon the group or leader. At a certain point if your leaders do not check the pattern, it becomes a full fledged cult. Normally, however this pattern is held in tension with Biblical expectations so these groups rarely become true cults, while still exhibiting cult-like features. Scary.
Notice the use of the word covenant and what was involved; many today believe the use of a covenant by some seeker churches is headed in the same direction. I’m not sure they are but I do remember reading this in Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Church. Those reaching first base and attending membership class must sign a covenant which is requiring the person to start tithing as well as other requirements. I had a man approach me about this very thing. He was attending a seeker church which was patterned after Rick Warren’s church and his concern was with the tithing commitment. He had not been a Christian very long and was still in his infant stages of spiritual growth. Now, some new Christians get it, the tithing, and they want to give everything they have but others take a while to understand this form of worship. That is what it is, worship, not a requirement or a duty, it is a form of worship. This man had not reached that point of spiritual growth to understand this was a form of worship and he, being very young in the Lord, I explained it to him. When we were finished talking, he told me he really didn’t feel comfortable signing an agreement to do something he didn’t fully comprehend yet. I told him to make his decision with God’s guidance. He decided to leave that fellowship and attend a church which would disciple his spiritual growth in step with Jesus. Jesus knows that some of us grow faster than others and some are slower; Jesus doesn’t want us getting ahead of Him in our walk with Him. So, it made sense for this man to find a church that would allow him to grow and mature spiritually at the pace Jesus had for him. Was the contract with the seeker church wrong? Well, for him it was but for others it might have been what they needed to bring them into step with Jesus. I, personally, don’t like the idea of having Christians sign agreements or covenants. It proves nothing since we are all sinners living in a sinful nature, the flesh. I find nothing in scripture that tells us to sign a contract with God. That is written in our hearts and we, as individuals, must maintain our relationship with Jesus.
The Shepherding Movement was curtailed by others in leadership among the charismatic movement and the Florida based ministry dissolved, or at least as an official ministry it dissolved. This style of leadership still is prevalent among various types of movements and local churches. Although it is not condoned by corporate ministries, individual pastors continue to use this type of leadership for a variety of reasons.
Dictator, Not Pastor
Maybe some of you reading this have served under or have been in a fellowship where the pastor was a dictator. There are many horror stories which could be told concerning these type of leaders. I want to believe these men begin with a sincere heart and wanted to serve the Lord as a dedicated under-shepherd but somewhere along the way they got diverted or allowed themselves to be redirected. I, personally, have been in fellowship and served under these type of leaders. They appear to be such loving and caring pastors; their approach to the fellowship as a whole is so loving but when dealing with individuals or one on one with leaders, a different person shows up. I was informed by one of these that because I had attended another church for one service, I could never teach in his church again. I got the impression that he saw me as being soiled because I had attended a different church one time. Of course, I took that as my departure notice and left that church and began to attend the one I had visited. I was told by this same pastor that in order to be on any ballot for any elected position in the church, I must be consistent in my tithing. Tithing aside and not being the issue here, I felt like I was buying a position in the church! A good friend of mine had been asking and asking this pastor to baptize him. When an opportunity for baptism elsewhere came across his path, he took it and was baptized at another church baptism. He had attempted to contact the pastor before he did this but could not reach him. He left the pastor a message telling him what he was going to do. He did this so the pastor would know he was getting baptized. The following Sunday, after service, he and another church leader took him to lunch and explained his membership application would be put on hold and he had showed disloyalty to the church by being baptized elsewhere. These and other similar events were the warning signs to me that this guy was not a pastor I wanted to be in fellowship with. He was a dictator and if you left his church, he would never recognize you again. I saw him go out of his way not to speak to or recognize people who had left his church, including me.
The stories I have heard and the incidents I have witnessed are without a doubt discouraging and lacking any pastoral characteristics. Pastors who are totally inconsiderate of individuals time as volunteers, disrespectful to individuals, arrogant and dismissive. One of the worst public displays of arrogance and disrespect by a pastor was in a restaurant in southern California. We were with some friends, after a Wednesday evening service, in a restaurant; we were visiting after being away for a few years and there were about 10 or 12 of us all sitting together at some tables we had pushed together. At a booth to my left front a man had stood up after receiving his food and was chastising the waitress; he was going on about how he had watched his order sit while waiting for her to get it and bring it to him, it had to be cold and he was refusing to accept that and she better get him another serving of hot food and who did she think she was. I felt so bad for this woman and then I was told by someone at the table that he was a local pastor. I was livid; nobody deserved to be spoken to by anyone like that, particularly by someone who is supposed to represent Jesus. I was ready to approach this young man and rebuke him but most at the table asked me not to. They were concerned it would cause more of a commotion and then we would all look as bad as him. They were right but it took a great deal of discipline to refrain from speaking to him. Why do these guys think they need to act like this? Can they really believe they are impressing anyone? This particular individual actually brought shame to Christianity by the way he acted. Is this a pastor or leader I could serve under or with? No way! Where was the love, the gentleness, the compassion? If this woman didn’t know Jesus, it would be very difficult to convince her that we serve a God of love after that incident.
What causes men to act this way? Certainly, there is nothing in scripture that tells us these are characteristics of a pastor. There could be many reasons why a pastor would choose to lead in this manner. It could be his personality, he could be a control freak or he could simply be arrogant! Here are the qualifications of a pastor or bishop or elder, which ever you prefer,
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.1 Tim. 3:2-7 NKJV
These are what you should see in your pastor as well as the fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5:22-26) as in all Christians. I don’t see anywhere in those qualifications that a pastor should rule with an iron fist.
What are some signs your pastor is a dictator or a control freak? Well, this is not official but if your pastor wants more information about your personal life than most pastors would want know. If your pastor doesn’t like the idea of you attending any other church. If you know the Lord has called you to a specific ministry and he discourages it and attempts to redirect you to a ministry he thinks is right for you. He must know where and when you may be traveling and insists you must tell him before you go or you must receive his approval (extreme case). If you miss a service, he demands to know why and where you were. These are just some of the more obvious traits and I guess it comes down to the fact that he is actually trying to control the lives of those in the fellowship. Some of these guys are very charismatic and when someone tries to leave the fellowship, he can turn on the charm and attempt to convince you to stay. He considers it a blow to his ego if a person leaves. He takes it personally. There is just one disclaimer here; every pastor is a little bit of a dictator as far as being protective of their flock. This seems to be natural for a lot of pastors. Don’t confuse a pastor who is genuinely concerned with the spiritual welfare of his flock with those who want to rule over them. A lot of pastors have a little tiny bit of dictatorship going for them, but they are not the domineering bullies I have described here and there is really no reason for alarm.
Here is a statement worth remembering when considering this topic,
“Jesus deeply loves His people. Therefore, as the Great Shepherd, He will herd His tender lambs to wherever they can be loved the best. That is the secret to church growth. When a pastor is loving and feeding the sheep the pure word of God, the Great Shepherd herds them his way. When instead he begins to abuse or beat the sheep, the Shepherd takes them elsewhere.” Larry Taylor, Leadership in the Body of Christ, p. 12, Published by Calvary Chapel Bible College
If your pastor is a dictator and you feel you are not comfortable with the situation, seek the guidance of the Lord and consider moving on to a spiritual healthy church. Don’t drop out! Find a church with a loving pastor who teaches the word of God and does not consider himself the Shepherd.