Wade Burleson, one of the sauciest bloggers in the church world, has a post on creeping authoritarianism in the church. I heard from a friend recently that a leader said leadership is “imposing your will on a group,” and that is precisely what Wade is holding up before the searching light of our Lord and the Word in this post. [I’d like to see how Wade defines “leadership” but this post is not about that.]
The church of Jesus Christ was never designed to operate in this manner. Jesus explicitly taught in Matthew 23:8-11 (read it for yourself to see) that the only person who rules Christian communities is the Lord Himself. Under Him, we are all equals. He emphatically rejected the world’s system of top-down governance by declaring, “It shall not be so among you”(Mark 10:43). “The greatest among you shall be your servant“ (Matthew 23:11). There is no emphasis in the New Testament on authority that is derived from any “office” or position. Let me repeat that again: Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that a Christian, because of title or position, has moral authority over another Christian. The idea of an ‘office’ of authority in the church, like that of the office of ‘President of the United States,’ simply does not exist. Christ alone has the position of authority in the church and He has no vicar on earth but His Spirit, who resides in the life of every believer.
Then he gives ten signs of authoritarian leadership in a local church. What do you think are the major signs?
How does one know if the Christian community or church to which he or she belongs is following Christ’s teachings on leadership or is a reflection of the pagan’s understanding of authority? What are the signs imperial authoritarianism in the church? The following are ten indicators:
(1). There is never any freedom to question the leader.
(2). The leader often makes claims of having special insights from God, insights that the laity are unable to possess.
(3). Disagreement with the leader is deemed a sign of the devil’s influence in one’s life.
(4). Events are designed to bring attention and praise to the leader rather than equipping others to do the work of the ministry.
(5). Any concept of equality is immediately labeled rebellion or the end result of a “liberal” denial of the Bible.
(6) Authoritarian leaders are only comfortable around like-minded leaders; thus, there is an unoffical ‘speaking tour’ where only imperial, authoritarian leaders share the platform with each other.
(7). The measure of success becomes the number of people who follow the leader (“It must be of God! Look at how many come to hear me speak!“)
(8). If a person leaves the community or church, the problem is always in the person who leaves, not the leadership.
(9). Leaders who wrongly perceive themselves as those “with authority” insulate their lives by demanding absolute loyalty through giving large financial benefits to their closest ‘advisors.’
(10). The ultimate end of this kind of Christian leadership is always more; more money, more power, more followers, more publicity, more, more, more…