I wrote an article this week outlining some things to look out for when authority in the church goes too far. Let’s continue the conversation but first re-establish the fact that submission to spiritual authority and honoring leaders is a crucial lesson to learn in the Kingdom. I wrote a post about this as well some time ago and would love for you to give it another read. If someone – anyone – interprets these articles as a license for rebellion or to ignore the roles and voices of leadership in their lives, then you have entirely missed my point.

Getting planted in a house, staying faithful, and being pruned is the key to growth. Why? Because we cannot see all our blind spots – that’s why they are called blind spots. How do we confront what we cannot even identify?

That’s why God sends us leaders – seasoned, gracious men and women of God – to challenge us, comfort us, and call us out on our junk.

Yet, there is a resurgence of over-reaching, domineering, controlling leadership. Here are a few more ways to detect it:

1. They use fear and manipulation.
It is a gross over-reach to imply to someone that if they cut off a relationship with you, then God is done with them. I’ve seen and heard this too many times. I’ve watched good people with pure hearts trapped in a manipulative relationship with deeply insecure leaders who abuse their authority and take advantage. These people want to honor the Lord, so the leader teaches there is only one way to do that – blind, unflinching, unending obedience to “me.” Any breach in that obedience and not only is the leader through with you; God is through too. It is subtly communicated that to stay right with the Father you can not see; you must stay right with the father you can see.

I’ve seen this create such a strange dynamic – grown men and women get trapped in a parent-child relationship with other adults; sometimes, with people younger than them! Now, I take no issue with older people coming up under the leadership of someone younger. I am 37 years old and have people two and three times my age calling me “pastor.” But I would never dream of treating them like children – as though I am “one-up,” and they are “one-down.”

People who refuse to listen, to be teachable, will most certainly have a hard road ahead of them. The wisdom of others is designed to keep us from pain; but when we refuse to allow wisdom to keep us from pain, then our only teacher becomes pain.

However, merely ending a relationship with a leader is not the same as ending a relationship with God. Those two things are not synonymous.

2. They foster an exclusive mentality.
Whenever a leader or group uses language that implies (sometimes it’s not an implication – sometimes it is explicitly stated) they are closer to God than anyone else on the planet, what is happening in their ministry is the most cutting-edge thing God is doing, and everything else is foolish.

Run.

This elitism masks itself when they pretend to honor other ministries – a small handful of churches and leaders they have deemed worthy of attention – and treat the rest of the wonderful pastors and churches across the nation as hot garbage.

Real leaders – real fathers – foster an attitude and culture of honor toward the broader body of Christ, not an exclusive, antagonistic ceaseless, criticism of it.

Does the church have its issues?

Sure.

That includes my church.

And yours.

3. You can never leave.
Yes, there is a right way – and a wrong way – to leave a church or ministry. We nobly try to protect our churches from people leaving in a negative way – gossip-laced conversations and rumors built on half-truths or downright lies.

It is so excruciating to watch a ministry or leader torn to shreds because of disgruntled, offended people who do not know what they are talking about – while the leader is in a position where they cannot defend themselves.

Please note: when you see a pastor or leader remaining silent during these times, it is not an admission of guilt.

It is a demonstration of maturity.

However, over-reaching authority forbids you to leave. Ever.

Once in, never out.

You know what I’m talking about; those environments where everything must be hush-hush lest you incur the wrath, usually dished out from the pulpit.

And if, God forbid, word gets out you have even contemplated a move, then the most terrifying sermons you’ve ever heard get queued up as meeting after meeting is scheduled to frighten you into staying, or you will never do anything for God for the rest of your entire life, and you might as well drive your car off a bridge.

A bit exaggerated, but you get my point.

The balance to this is you shouldn’t leave. You should stay. You should get planted in that house, put down roots, serve, give, and grow.

Unless of course, God has told you to go.

And if he has, then by all means go.

Quietly.

Peacefully.

Speaking blessing and honor and life.

Even if someone is not a part of our church, they are still members of the Kingdom family.

This is such a fine line to walk to stay balanced. Precious men and women of God speak into my life to this very day, and I find their perspective and counsel priceless.

Sometimes I don’t like what they have to say.

Sometimes it’s offensive.

Sometimes I disagree.

Every time, it makes me better.

But the other stuff. The control, the intimidation, the fear.

It has to go.

BONUS: Observe what they believe and how they treat women.

Leaders who abuse authority tend to be threatened by strong women. These types of men domineer at home and at church. I’m not totally sure why other than profound insecurity, but they routinely to misuse Paul’s words about women to shut them up.

Healthy leaders empower and celebrate women to do everything they feel called to do.

Ladies, rise and shine. We need you!