Unhealthy Church Leadership: 11 Warning Signs to Watch For (2023)

Churches wherever you turn areto get the lead thing backwards. This causes more unhealth in churches than possibly any other error. Why? Because people naturally judge themselves according to their status compared to others. This leads to certain toxic mindsets. Jesus addressed this directly with his disciples (Lukas 22:24-27).

Leadership in His upside down kingdom is also upside down. It literally acts like you have the lowest status with those you are related to. Many so-called "leaders" pay lip service to being servants and even do a lot of things for people. But servant leadership is not about what you say or do alone. It's about your general demeanor and attitude.

With that in mind, here are 11 unhealthy behaviors to give you a framework for how to spot a bad pastor or other leader in a church. I also add sections that explain the reverse healthy behavior that is the fruit of the Spirit's work in one's life.

I have drawn many of these from my experience and my own behavior. Dive deep into Jon Zens' book58 to 0: How Christ leads through the fellowshiphelped me to put many of them into words. I am indebted to Jon's work.

1. They create or accept status differences

An unhealthy church leadership sees itself as "above" other believers. They use this mindset to justify that it's best if they control what goes on in a church. They usually believe that maturity is why they deserve this position.

Many believe that is what the Bible teaches (it is not). Other justifications are convenience and security. It's easier when we don't really have to work together to discern and decide how the Lord is leading us.

From their point of view too, it can be more dangerous for Jesus to assume responsibility through all than through one or a few. The opposite is true.

People who believe this way typically form "inner rings" with people who think like that. This can be in the form of organized "teams" or just cliques of relationships.

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You see people as either leaders or non-leaders; rather than seeing Christ as a leader, flowing through all parts of the body in different ways, at different times, and on different scales (as the Bible actually teaches).

Official philosophies like "Elder Rule" have evolved from this lineage of toxic thinking. They are able to support this philosophy by using a cut and paste method of Bible study to piece together verses that make it sound biblical. But if you treat the Bible as it should be (as history), you learn that the elders in the early church dominated and were "above" no one.

healthy churchLeadership claims no status as they willingly serve, learn, in right body lifemutual submissionthrough participation in whole-body guidance, which revolves around spiritual gifts, guidance of the spirit, and affirmation of the body. You have the willingness and intention to live on the bottom rung of the ladder in relationships.

They intentionally make all members feel like equal partners as that is their identity in Christ.

2. You have an unhealthy focus on leadership

An unhealthy church leadership is more concerned with being a leader than with cultivating the physical life. This causes them to supplant Jesus as the leader of his church throughout the body. They will routinely make decisions believing the Lord is working through them to shepherd the people they church with.

Healthy church leadership recognizes that the foundation of healthy church life is Christ expressed as a living reality through the priesthood of all believers; and they won't hurt that. They realize that cultivating body life through mutually submissive relationships is what really builds up the body and each of its parts.

3. They see no need for outside help

An unhealthy church leader feels the need to be involved in all matters of the church itself; have to be part of the solution. When there is access to outside help, they dominate that relationship to maintain some level of control.

Healthy church leadership understands God's design pattern for extra-local help in establishing and maintaining healthy church life. While there may be a specific individual or representative who communicates more regularly with outside help, all members of the Church feel they have equal access to them and their communications, which are openly shared.


4. The Church is tied too closely to their particular strengths or gifts

Unhealthy church leadership builds the church experience around itself. They typically have a specific spiritual gift, talents, high IQ, or personality that is well suited for it. Church service and culture are typically built around their own particular strengths or gifts.

Healthy church leadership equips the body to shape church service from its diverse strengths and talents.

5. They behave in ways motivated by rivalry or competition

Unhealthy church leadership behaves in ways that show a scramble for position, power, or control. You seem to care about success, money, possessions, or status compared to other believers. They can also wear an aura and behave in ways that require the limelight.

Healthy church leadership takes on the humble attitude of a slave who has gifts available to others. That doesn't mean they are bossed around, but they are willing to positively influence people in situations where they are welcome.

When confronted with situations that can become competitive, they are willing to lose, trusting that God will oppose the proud but give grace to the humble, even when it is not readily apparent.

6. They accept and enjoy honorary degrees

An unhealthy church leadership desires and seems to delight in being called by special titles such as pastor, elder, and so on.They experience exaltation and are treated with reverence by church members. They may also use terminology that suggests they are in a position of authority over other believers, such as "my flock" or "my people."

Healthy church leadership rejects all titles or signifiers of special status within a group of people and always strives to uplift others. They may use terms to explain to others how they function regularly in a group, but they will never accept being given honorifics.

7. Their ministry, agenda, model or plan is identified with God's will

Unhealthy church leadership leaves you feeling more a part of its ministry, agenda, model, or plan. They talk a lot about how you will be such a great asset to the ministry or the church and how they will give you opportunities to serve.

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Because they set the agenda, they usually bring with them high expectations and set them for the community. They are easily disappointed and frustrated when their expectations are not met, which manifests itself in anger, fear, aggression, and cynicism toward other members of the body.

Healthy church leadership makes you feel more important than them. You are patient, gentle, and respectful in striving to experience body life together; allowing the Holy Spirit to work through caring relationships.

8. You're having trouble collaborating

Unhealthy church leadership always seems to persuade people to see and agree with their point of view. They are overly critical of almost everything except what they prefer and do. They assume that the leading of Christ comes through them every time the body gathers, no matter what the activity or the reason for the gathering.

They ask people to work together with their vision instead of collaborating on a collective vision that is being guided throughout the body by the voice of Christ. You have no problem leading, but resist leadership from others.

Healthy church leadership always thrives on the priesthood of all believers; allow the king to rule according to his will by the will of all men together. You expect Christ's leadership to be fluid, fluid, and divided—different each time you meet, as the Lord leads.

9. They equate control with protection or "guarding."

Unhealthy church leadership claims that more control - provided it is used in the service of God and others - is a good thing. This comes from looking at the community through the lens of authority.

They believe that a hierarchy of relationships is the best way to achieve peace and unity in a group of people. They believe that a lack of human authority in a church will lead to chaos, so they rely on individuals and organizations instead.

Healthy church leadership will only be part of the body life processes or practices that lead to a distribution of control to all parts of the body. They view authority through the lens of community.

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They show by their actions that they believe in ChristpracticalAndfunctionalpresents himself as the head of the church through the Holy Spirit working in every member.

10. They struggle with relationships

An unhealthy church leadership struggles to have close personal and intimate relationships.

Healthy church leadership sees close personal and intimate relationships as the environment and prerequisite for its greatest impact and as a path for its own growth.

11. They use the Bible with arrogance

An unhealthy church leadership assumes that their English translations of the Bible and their interpretation say what the Bible really says.Bible verses about leadershipare classic targets because they impose on the text what they think, want, or have been falsely taught the verses mean.

Healthy church leadership is curious when and when it is questioned; willing to examine alternative meanings within Scripture when brought to them and receive correction if necessary.

They work to understand the history of the Bible, the literary designs of its books, and the importance of the authors in these contexts and in light of the design patterns and foundations of all biblical historyprinciples.

The rest of the posts in the series are servants and slavesHere.

Related posts:

  1. How church administration and structure should function
  2. Who is responsible for accepting God's will in a church?
  3. 3 Dangerously Misunderstood Bible Verses about Church Leadership
  4. Understand better how God's power should work in a church
(Video) Why I Left My Charismatic Church and You Should Too IF You see THESE signs! | STORY TIME

Michael Fleming

Unhealthy Church Leadership: 11 Warning Signs to Watch For (1)

Mike Fleming is the creator of Finding Healthy Church. More than 20 years ago, he was frustrated because he had not experienced what biblical history says a healthy church is. He had a vision and passion for seeing local churches as God designed them to be. He shares what he has learned to improve the health of local churches around the world. He is currently working on an insightful book that will help better understand what it means for a community to be healthy.


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