Not long ago I received a heartfelt email from a discerning associate pastor who had been battling unbiblical church authoritarianism. He described some classic abuses that he was enduring under the crushing hand of a false “Senior” Pastor. He was at a loss for what he should do next in order to help correct the situation so he wrote me asking for any insights I could offer.
Here is an edited version of my response to him:
Dear ________ (name has been removed to protect his identity),
Thank you for contacting me. I commend you for your courage and boldness to confront this difficult situation as you have. Your situation is not unique so you are not alone. The fact that you recognize this problem puts you into an entirely different discernment league than most. Please allow me to assure you that you are not being rebellious. You are not harming but rather helping the true church of Jesus Christ by what you have been doing. Please keep up the good work.
What you are experiencing is the inevitable fallout of a power system that is nowhere to be found in the Bible. This kind of false system is popularly taught as a requirement of the Christian faith and very few Christians even question it. Authoritarianism is how businesses in the world operate and because of this, many Christians automatically expect and assume that the church operates in the same way. But Jesus never did anything the way the world does. So this assumption is very foolish.
The man you describe is no pastor. He is a counterfeit. He may be a real Christian, who knows, but he is not a genuine biblical pastor / elder. Biblical pastors / elders set Christian free and lead them to more of the Bible and therefore to more of Christ. False pastors set up their own political machine and misuse the Bible to try to support and expand their constituency. This kind of “leader” typically gets very little resistance. This should not be the case.
In a nutshell, you have a Diotrophes of 3rd John authoritarianism problem on your hands:
“I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.” 3John 9-11
John pointed out that what Diotrophes was doing was evil. Men like this who are greedy for power (and often money as well) fall under 1Cor 5:11-13 which shows us what we should do with this kind of wickedness in the church. It’s really that simple. But trying to get a church to be obedient to this is another thing all together.
“But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you." “ 1Cor5:12-13
This man is also putting obstacles in your way contrary to that which you have leaned (from the Bible):
“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” Rom 16:17-18
It’s not an easy answer but this man needs to be removed from power. Such man-based power is not to be allowed within churches of Jesus Christ. Convincing a church to be obedient to this is where the real work begins.
Here’s the good news: You (being an associate pastor) likely have a certain amount of influence among the other members. If I were you, I would use that influence as long as you have it to lead as many Christians as possible to the truth regarding these matters. You may have to work quickly since, as you explained, you have been marked as “rebellious”, so your influence probably won’t last for much longer. This is because in any cult of personality like this, the pastor and his head robots will begin to systematically assassinate your character. They will usually bring all kind of false accusations against you in order to ruin your reputation to try to discredit anything that you might have to say about them. This is a clever damage control tactic that keeps members from listening to those like yourself and keeps them from (if necessary) following you out if or when you leave.
By all means, speak the truth in love and earnestly contend for the faith. Don’t give up. Many Christians think that speaking the truth in love means to do so weakly and without conviction in a soft-spoken whisper. No, I would say speaking the truth in love carries with it the inescapable basic premise of dying to self and being willing to suffer loss of reputation, being willing to be hated in order to help.
Jesus made himself of no reputation. Few Christians are willing to follow His illustrious example.
You could be in a very important, such-a-time-as-this (Esther-like) position to potentially help a lot of people…
P.S. Thank you for the kind words that you said about my audio message. I appreciate it. I have many more recorded and need to get them posted.
He responded extremely favorably to this email and was especially impressed with the biblical backing for these views.