10 Indicators of an Authoritarian Church Leader

Scot McKinght at Jesus Creed offers ten indicators to look for to determine if your community of faith is suffering from authoritarian leadership:

(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…

My “stump sermon” as I travel and speak on Open Source Church is rooted in Mark 10:35-45. My take is that we have a wrong view of God as a “top down, command and control ruler” and we want to be just like that. I think that’s why James and John wanted to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand in glory. But Jesus says, “It will not be so among you.” We are called to be servants and slaves to one another, living our lives for the sake of the other and expecting nothing in return. Isn’t this what Jesus meant when he said “love one another as I have loved you”? At least in my tradition, this is the requirement for leaders.

We’re not “bosses,” we’re servants. And, currently, we suck at that.

So, I buy Scot’s list. I saw these tendencies in the Fundegelical churches I was a part of growing up. I see them in many Mainline contexts I am in. I see them in myself.


3 thoughts on “10 Indicators of an Authoritarian Church Leader”

  1. I want to say I don’t see myself, but in some ways, I do. But I’m also wondering what other signs there might be that would be comparable outside the context of the ‘good vs. evil’/ ‘God vs. Devil’ churches – since I wouldn’t be likely to blame opposition on the influence of the devil, that doesn’t make me not guilty, but am not sure what my ‘devil’ is – maybe it’s ‘you just don’t ‘really’ love Jesus like I do’? Thanks for provoking me to think. Peace. Beth

    1. Yeah, that’s the only part of Scot’s list that I really deviate from. I haven’t used “devil” language in so long, it would also take me a while to translate.

  2. This seems to go well with the Lectionary text for Sunday on 1 Corinthians 8, because it speaks to how power flows and is used in communities of faith. Power is to be handled with care–and this list serves as a good reminder. Thanks for sharing this–I’m using this on Sunday.

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