Church Politics

Politics – social relations involving intrigue to gain authority or power

God never intended for political power to be used in the church.

“You know how the kings of the nations show their power to the people. Important leaders use their power over the people. It must not be that way with you.” Matthew 20:25-26 (NLV)

The old saying that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” may be true. From my experience, power tends to reveal corruption.

My intent with this post and my previous post is not to go down the path of leader bashing. That is not fruitful for any of us.

Every experience of spiritual abuse is not the result of an abusive pastor. However most can be traced to the abuse of power within a church political system resulting in someone being abused. Depending on where the power lies, at times the person being abused is the pastor.

One of the most freeing things I came across early on in my recovery from SA was a site about workplace bullying. For the first time, someone was describing the nature of the tactics and manipulations we had experienced. There was nothing in my life that had prepared me for the underhanded things we confronted, and I had trouble dealing with my disbelief that such things could happen in church.

If you are currently in relationship with a bully, your best approach is flattery, emotional distance, and avoidance of conflict. No matter how hard you attempt to befriend them in a healthy peer relationship, it cannot work. To them, everyone is perceived as either an asset or a liablity. If you are an asset, you will be manipulated for their purposes, and if you are a liability, you will be targeted with abuse.

Why talk about this? Because if you experienced a failed relationship with a bully, it is likely you were left with the frustration and doubt of wondering what you could have done differently. The fact is, there is rarely a workable solution to conflict with a person like this.

The good news is, you have options.
You get to forgive.
You get to release them to God’s judgment.
You get to heal.
And you get to move on.

When you truly understand the nature of this type of personality disorder, you will realize the pathetic emptiness in that person’s ability to sustain healthy relationships. You may even find it in your heart to pray for the healing of their emotions. Due to their deep-seated fear of being exposed, this would truly require a miracle.

In the end, it is all incredibly sad. Relationships and sometimes churches are destroyed. Maybe God knew why political power structures wouldn’t work within the church.

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9 thoughts on “Church Politics

  1. I have been wondering recently about human nature (or maybe our fallen nature) that causes so many in leadership to succumb to the temptation of abuse of power. As you said, it is particulary sad when leaders in the church abuse the power that they have, because Jesus spoke so clearly that this type of leadership was not the type He wanted.

    I think in my situation it may explain why it took me so long to realize the type of abuse that existed in the church – I kept on believing that the church leadership would be different.

    The abuse of power may just be something that is so tempting to some people that have leadership potential that they can not resist it. This temptation makes accountability all the more important. The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham describes accountability as a shield of protection, which I think describes it perfectly. I tried (in vain) to explain this to the Pastor at my CLB, but I think he only saw accountability as something that would be used to persecute him or slow him down, instead of being a shield to allow him to grow God’s Kingdom.

    So sad…..

  2. Grace, this is a great follow-up to your previous post since it demonstrates an appropriate response to abusers.

    I agree completely that it is useful to recognize and acknowledge abusers and the tools they use. As well it is important to acknowledge that the abuser is dealing with his/her own character flaws. This is what is so humanizing about abusers… even though in their weakness they can be mean & ugly, in their strength they can also kind & generous. In other words, not so different from the rest of us. And they usually know how to hide their nasty side very well: abusers are rendered powerless when everyone recognizes what they are and how they operate.
    Thankfully, by God’s grace, those of us who have been burned by abuse can move on to better things, and although we have been victimized, we can not be victims.

  3. Grace,
    Thanks for another well-informed, clearly written post about the abuse of power. I am convinced that in many Evangelical churches that the four words of Jesus least believed and obeyed are: “Not so with you” (Mark 10:43). Political power, being in charge power, lording it over power—these expressions are rampant in the churches. Cultural ideas of power have trumped Jesus in our day. Sad.

  4. catman,
    I think it may be as simple as this – in the body, Jesus didn’t want us to have relationships of power and rule. When we do church that way, it is a distortion of how things should be and therefore produces bad results.

    ksg,
    The whole point of recognizing toxic behaviors, personalities, and systems is to avoid them in favor of something more healthy (not perfect, just healthy).

  5. john,
    That is one of the most attractive things I see in the emerging conversation. As people are willing to deconstruct, they are challenging the validity of traditional power structures within the church in favor of models of church which reflect the upside-down nature of the kingdom.

  6. Hi Grace,

    I have been mining your blog for a year now. My name is Barb and I am doing doctoral research on the topic of spiritual abuse and “how” people have recovered from this devastating church experience.

    My focus is on how believers come through a process of healing with the enabling of the Holy Spirit— from grief and disillusionment to a place of spiritual harmony.

    Here is my research question and purpose along with a brief part of the Introduction to my topic.

    Research Question: How have Christians recovered after experiencing perceived spiritual abuse in a local congregation?

    Basically: How have Christians regained a holistic sense of spiritual harmony after experiencing disillusionment through perceived spiritual abuse?

    Purpose:
    The purpose of this dissertation is to understand how believers have gone from a devastating experience in a local church setting to a state or condition of spiritual harmony. It will seek to demonstrate how people, who have experienced grief and loss in their Christian lives, have through a purposeful spiritual process now regained a constructive measure of spiritual equilibrium. It will show to others, who have recently been faced with similar losses, how they can benefit from the spiritual process of other believers in their own present struggle. It should aid church ministry leaders in being informed regarding the complex nature of this issue in order to be able to help individuals who come to them for help in their time of need. It should alert the Body of Christ to the issues which are involved in this occurrence in the Church and seek ways to prevent and avert the rise of such incidences by understanding the contributing factors.
    —–
    I am looking for people who would be willing to fill out 25 questions and return them to me. All info will be kept confidential and for me personal research purposes.

    If you or those reading this blog would like to be a part of this study, please use this email address to contact me: –> churchexitersq@telus.net

    I would appreciate the feedback and insights from your experiences.

    Thanks a bunch, In Him, Barb

  7. I’ve been feeling for some time like my rector is a bit of a bully. Tricky, when I’m in the ordination process, and everything is supposed to go through him Thanks for your perspective.

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