Friday, May 30, 2014

5 Signs That Your Pastor Is Dangerous!

Discovering more potential in your life is, in a lot of ways, about who you trust to guide you. As you are well aware, we live in a world where nobody is perfect, and some are worse than others. For that reason, you have to be careful who you let speak into your life. So when it comes your spiritual guidance, it's important to know what to look for in order to identify good pastors and avoid the bad ones.

Photo courtesy of Jes at (CC license)

Sometimes you get a bad feeling about a person the moment you meet them. It's like a siren goes off in your head telling you to GET AWAY. Other times you don't see it right away, and the realization is more gradual. Those are the times you really stand to get hurt. At least, that's been my experience

When I was in college, I interviewed for a church job. And it went really well. I had breakfast with the church's senior pastor, and he told me about the role he wanted me to fill. He explained the church's desire to modernize their music repertoire, and concluded by saying, "It'll be an opportunity for you to build the music ministry of your dreams." My eyes lit up like big shiny coins.

Little did I know, the church had only been open for 5 months and had already chewed through two other worship leaders. But with the promise of creative freedom, I excitedly accepted the position and began making plans.

The Plot Thickens
After a couple months of getting acquainted with the church's band and introducing new music, the pastor called me into his office and had a very frank conversation with me. He said, "Tim, this church isn't growing. Now, there are only two things on Sunday morning. The music and the preaching. I know the preaching isn't bad. So why don't you tell me what the problem is?" I was stunned. With no idea how to answer. I found myself fumbling over my words, and promising to do better.

Quickly, meetings like that one became a regular thing. The pastor and I would meet, and he would say things like, "you're not very creative are you?" or "This Sunday is going to be good. But there's no way you'd be able to pull it off by yourself."

Pretty much all my interactions with the pastor became frustrating ordeals. What was advertised as an opportunity to create the music ministry of my dreams, felt a lot like verbal abuse and heavy micro-managing from my boss. And I wasn't the only one. Other people on the staff had experiences so similar that the pastor quickly became nicknamed The Colonel.

After a year of working at that church, I was not only not growing, I had come to seriously doubt my abilities and calling as a worship leader.

Learning from pain
Working with that pastor was a very painful experience. But in the end, I'm grateful for the opportunity. I gained a clear picture of how leadership can be used to hurt people. And more importantly, I learned that it's really important to get to know the pastor that's leading you. 

Whether you work at a church, or attend Sunday services, you're giving the church's pastor a level of influence in your life. When you consider that all pastors are human, it's important to watch for danger. Obviously, there's no way for you to truly know what's in a pastor's heart. Only God knows that. But you can watch for the warning signs that point to danger.

These are the things that typically indicate that you're pastor may not be a safe person to follow.

Arrogance. Okay, this one is tricky. Many of the worlds most influential pastors have lots of charisma, and can come off as arrogant. Some examples of this are guys like Mark Driscoll, Andy Stanley, and even Francis Chan at times. God is obviously using these guys to do amazing things. They seem very sure of themselves, which can look like arrogance.

The arrogance that we need to watch out for rests in the attitude that says I'm better than other people. And the easiest way to spot it is in criticism of God's calling on other people's lives. If a pastor is quick to criticize the ministry of other pastors, he may be harboring a level of arrogance that will neuter his ministry, and cause him to lead you in the wrong direction.

Everybody Likes Him. If a pastor has no enemies, he's doing something wrong. The Bible says that part of a church leader's job is confronting sin in the lives of believers (Gal 6:1; Matt. 18:15-17). To make matters worse, a pastor's job is to preach the Gospel, which is, "a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to gentiles" (1 Corinthians 1:23).  A pastor with a 100% approval rating is not doing his job and likely has no cajones. Follow someone like that, and you'll certainly experience spiritual growth. You'll grow spiritually fat and lazy.

He makes you uncomfortable. This one is pretty basic. God gave you intuition for a reason. You can learn to follow your gut now or after you get burned. But if you're getting a bad feeling about someone, listen to yourself.

He's insecure. I met with a pastor the other day who used to have a secret sin in his life. His secret was so heavy on his heart, that he became completely unapproachable to everyone around him. He said he took everything really personally, and would get defensive and mad at the first sign of criticism.

If your pastor gets defensive, it's a sign that there's something really nasty brewing underneath the surface. If your pastor is like that, do yourself a favor and get out of there.

His sermons are founded more on his experiences and ideas than they are on Scripture. I remember a meeting I had with the teaching pastor at my current church. I was going to be preaching, and he was giving me some sermon prep advice. He said, "Remember, we are waiters, not chefs. Our job is to deliver God's word to people, not to create it." There seem to be a lot of pastors who forget this. If your pastor's sermons are founded in his own opinion, or if he uses Scripture to make his own points, run.

But not all pastors are the devil.
There certainly are a lot of great pastor's out there. They are the ones that are submitting their lives and ministries to God's will. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to tell them apart form the ones who will steer you into the rocks. But if you watch for the warning signs, it'll help you avoid many of the dangerous pastors out there.

Question: What is the one big warning sign that you'd add to this list? 

I want to invite you to leave your answer in the comment section below. 


  1. A thing that I would add is that these things are true for all church leaders, not just the pastor but also the elders, deacons, directors, coordinators, Sunday school teachers, and even worship leaders (Sorry Tim). The sad thing is that I have experiences with people who have fit these descriptions in many areas of the church.

    - Is he two faced?

    Let me start by saying this, Paul instructs believers to avoid placing any stumbling blocks for weak believers (Romans 14:13, 1 Corinthians 8:9), and pastors are called to a higher standard (James 3:1). Because of this, there are some things a Pastor (or other church leader) would keep quiet about themselves. For example I have known several pastors who have had a hobby in firearms, but some of them don't speak publicly about them because of the controversy around them in modern society. Similarly, I have noticed many pastors not mention their political stance (granted, a good portion of that is to keep the church tax exempt [1] but I have been told by some that is not the only reason). This is done so that they many not needlessly offend and, as Paul said, become all things to all men (1 Corinthians 9:22).

    An experience someone had told me about in dealing with their Pastor, they mentioned how he was a different person in the pulpit than he was in his office and elder board meeting. An experience that I had involved a worship leader who was charming during services but harshly critical in rehearsals. Granted, this is not something that the typical layperson encounters normally, but staff and volunteers are usually the ones to experience it first hand. As you mentioned with the Colonel, he had a reputation among the church staff but I'm guessing probably not the same reputation with the congregation. In both the examples I gave, the congregations were almost completely unaware of these issues.

    - Are staff exoduses common? Or is there a high turn-over rate in the church staff?

    One thing that I have noticed around problematic pastors are points where large portions of the church staff quit at once or staff members don't keep their job for very long. Again, you had mentioned that there were already 2 worship leaders before you in past five months. I have also seen a permanent youth pastor quit after being at a church for around a year. I remember working in a church office that had to keep rearrange itself regularly because of constant staff changes. I understand that there are jobs that have higher turn-over rates, such as janitorial staff or anything else which hires students, but when people at all levels, including administrators and pastors, leave on a yearly basis then there is likely something negative going on behind the scenes.

    Granted, This one especially should not be considered alone. There could be some legitimate reasons for high staff turn-over even among good church leadership. I know when church brings on a new pastor, that first year tends to be a transitioning period where staff either adjusts to the new leadership or uses the opportunity to move on to different things. I remember leaving El Camino within a year of Stuart becoming youth pastor but I did not leave because of him, on the contrary, I really wanted to stay and serve with him but the Lord had called me elsewhere.


  2. Carl, that's solid insight. And thanks for backing it up with Scripture. It seems like a lot of pastors don't bother to do that, which is probably another sign of danger. Thanks for chiming in man.