Sunday, March 06, 2011

Toxic Pastors

Author, Joe Hellerman is presently at work on a book about the use of power and authority in Christian leadership. The provisional title is When Pastors Were Servants: Recapturing Paul’s Cruciform Vision for Authentic Christian Leadership.

He writes:
The motivation to take on the project came from numbers of students at Talbot, and colleagues in pastoral ministry, who have found themselves on the receiving end of abusive, hurtful leaders. The book will contain, among other things, a series of narratives (well disguised, of course) detailing the various experiences that these men and women have had at the hands of narcissistic, dysfunctional leaders in their churches.

Here is perhaps the most counterintuitive reality I have encountered in the whole process of researching the topic: all but one of the dozen or so abusive local church leaders described in the book are still in their churches, fully in control of the church’s vision, ministry, and staffing.

At a deeper level, people respond to powerful, charismatic leadership out of a profound longing for a god-like figure in their lives. In religious contexts this person can be a gifted, celebrity pastor who simultaneously serves as both God’s representative and spiritual father to a willing, compliant congregation. Jesus was apparently well aware of this dynamic: ‘Do not call anyone on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is in heaven’ (Matt 23:9).

I think this promises to be a book worth reading, paradoxically in the light of the need ministers in New Zealand and elsewhere have for avoiding burnout and stress-related sicknesses.

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