Saturday, September 15, 2012

Beware of the Lone Pastor

One glaring red flag we missed in our abusive church situation was the fact that our pastor seemed to have no real relationships with pastors in the local area.  He knew pastors, but I do not recall him saying he respected any of them.  How could a pastor in his first pastorate have no need for accountability or connection with other pastors?  

Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. 1 Timothy 3:7

Our former pastor told us that other local pastors did not evangelize properly, did not have the right gospel message, allowed youth groups, did not do authoritative preaching, etc.  No pastor measured up and so he was basically alone in his superior ways.  He did, however, respect pastors at Grace Community Church (John MacArthur's church), but these were not men he rubbed shoulders with locally, so they could not provide input into his life or challenge him or be available to him.  

Our former pastor was affiliated with the larger Grace Brethren assemblies, but he refused to have anything to do with those pastors, having a fall-out some 4 years ago while we were there.  I remember how he denigrated those pastors from the pulpit.  It wasn't pretty.  Hmm, denigrating pastors from the pulpit?  

Yes, another red flag.

Take a look at your pastor's life.  Ask your pastor who holds him accountable, who he calls for guidance, if he has mentors who speak into his life, etc.  Anyone who sets himself up in an authority position over people who does not allow someone to speak into his life is treading in dangerous territory.  Cultists listen to no one.  They have no need for anyone speaking into their life because they are above everyone.  Beware of lone pastors who have no need for real accountability.  I've mentioned this before, but when we met with the elders, we asked them if they ever had a need to bring any issue to the pastor's attention in the prior 10 years.  Both replied "no" - no such issue ever came up.  In other words, they said he had no anger issue, no personality issue, etc, absolutely nothing that they could find that they could bring correction to their pastor.   That is also another red flag.  No one is perfect.

"Following the biblical model, elders must not wield the authority given to them in a heavy-handed way. They must not use manipulative tactics, play power games, or be arrogant and aloof. They must never think that they are unanswerable to their fellow brethren or to God. Elders must not be authoritarian, which is incompatible with humble servanthood. When we consider Paul's example and that of our Lord's, we must agree that biblical elders do not dictate; they direct. True elders do not command the consciences of their brethren, but appeal to their brethren to faithfully follow God's Word.... They guard the community's liberty and freedom in Christ so that the saints are encouraged to develop their gifts, to mature, and to serve one another. "  Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership

We've read other stories here of lone pastors.   My personal experience is certainly not the only one (Personal Story of Spiritual Abuse by Eric Starkey and Can Spiritual Abuse Destroy a Marriage? Paul's Story).  

Here are a few notes taken from  Mark of a Cult that I found helpful:

Cults indoctrinate their members that they alone are right. The top leader who is portrayed as perfect and therefore beyond reproach is the bearer of God's truth. 
Elitism is the main reason why cults are very divisive among Christians. Anyone outside the group is suspect. Even one's own family is no longer to be trusted. The cult leader's word is more important than anyone else's.
How is your church controlled? What sort of control is exercised on ordinary members? Are they allowed to disagree?  1 Peter 5: 2-5; 2 Corinthians 7:2
How is your church defined?  Does it have a fringe?  Is there a sense in which everyone is clearly in or out?  How exclusive/elitist is it?  James 2:1-7
How is your church advertised?  Is there a note of triumphalism? A note of comparing selves with others? An element of competitiveness?
How does your church regard/ is your church regarded by other churches? Does your church work together with other churches, or is it so exclusive that it regards all others as inferior? Is its attitude to other churches one of co-operation or confrontation?
How easily is your church left?  Can a person leave the church without bringing down upon themselves the criticism and abuse that accompanies those leaving the cults?  Is your church content that a person should join another church? 


  1. It's good to hear somebody point this out, Julie Anne. I am so used to pastors telling everybody to watch out for the lone Christian (as in laity).

    "Is your church content that a person should join another church?" Ha! Only if it is "like-minded" of course.

    1. HA, Steve - Yesterday I read Paul Dohse's blog and he discusses just what you are talking about (re: Al Mohler, CJ Mahaney, DeYoung and the attitude of who owns the congregants).

  2. I saw the light..and left!September 16, 2012 at 6:10 PM

    The bashing of other preachers, armenians, catholics, pentecostals..
    it all got so old after a while, and the oldness accelerated once I began to see how certain church members were allowed to get away with whatever they wanted to while everyone else was expected to tow the line, or else!
    At my age, I don't think I need that much babysitting, nor does my family need outsiders babysitting us or tellling us what every move we make needs to be.. it all became silly and I began to feel more embarrassed at being there than thankful, joyous, and happy.. I knew at that point it was time to find the exit door and use it.
    Great decision and my whole family is much happier. We do have a little bit of contact with a few members and its interesting the things we have noticed about them now that we are no longer 'under the spell of the preacher'. How timid and afraid they seem to be at the mere thought of doing something wrong. Honestly, who can live like that and where is the 'freedom from bondage' that christians are afforded in Jesus Christ?

    1. Boy, it sure sounds like you were in my former church. Were you? I'm glad you saw the light and left. Good for you!

    2. I saw the light..and left!September 20, 2012 at 11:58 PM

      No, but I believe I might have been in one who followed closely the same teachings that yours did.
      I'm down here in the Lone Star state so you can see how far those types of teachings can travel.
      The good news is that you and your family are out, me and my family are out, and that frivolous lawsuit was tossed out the window by a judge, that I believe God specifically put in place for you and the other defendants.
      Your story has helped me with a few things that I had still been struggling a little bit with.
      The whole website has been a huge blessing and a treasure chest of uplifting and informative reading, and for that, I Thank you, and I thank God.

    3. Thanks be to God. I didn't know what He was doing with all of the hoopla, but with stories like yours, it confirms that He was definitely in the process far more than just my personal story and lawsuit. Thank you so much for sharing that with me. Beautiful!

      That kind of goes along with my current post: Beauty from Ashes :)

  3. I liked the red flag idea. After you delineate them one after the other, then you get quite the collection!! It is too bad that we don't catch on a lot quicker so that we would avoid so much distress! :(

    I would agree that all too often, after the 'get-acquainted' period of finding a new church for worship and fellowship, that some of us begin to be alerted to valid concerns that we had not previously recognized before.

    At this point, there suddenly becomes a disconnect between the ideal of godly leadership that we had and the leadership behaviors that we now seem to be experiencing in this church. One big question that we may ask ourselves is: What went wrong?!

    Your readers might be interested in a parallel article that just got posted on my website. It is entitled: Spiritual Abuse and What KIND of LEADERS are WE LOOKING For. Check out:

  4. Jullie Anne

    I really do like what you posted about someone who calls themself - “pastor”...
    “Take a look at your pastor's life. Ask your pastor who holds him accountable, who he calls for guidance, if he has mentors who speak into his life, etc.”

    And - If the pastor looks uncomfortable, or angry, with these questions...
    That might be a strong indication - that it is time to leave... ;-)

    Of course - questioning pastors today - has to come with a warning label... ;-)


    Warning Label
    Asking questions of pastors - can be dangerous to your - “Spiritual Health.”

    Questioing pastors - Can cause serious - Side effects...
    Church Discipline - Ex-communication - Shunning - etc.

    And - Name Calling - Rebellious - Lone Ranger - Slanderer - Divisive - etc.

    All cruel techniques “Pastors who Abuse” - “Pastors addicted to Exercisig Authority”
    Use to create fear - To control those who remain. :-(


    Be Blessed in your search for truth... Jesus...

  5. It's not just lone pastors, it's lone churches, the "remnant in the wilderness."

    1. So what does "safe" look like to you, Matthias?

    2. Amos said: questioning pastors can cause serious side effects:
      Church discipline, ex-communication, shunning, JA adds: filing civil lawsuit

      Name Calling - Rebellious - Lone Ranger - Slanderer - Divisive - etc.
      Julie Anne adds: subversive, waging war with God, waging war with God's church, with women, children, Jezebel, acting like Korah, etc.

    3. To be honest, Julie Anne, I don't think I'll ever be able to look at another church and say it "looks safe" ever again. I've been burned too many times.

      It seems a theme verse for some in these churches is "Zeal for thy house hast consumed me" (Psalm 69:9). Except theirs is not holy zeal, for it is not tempered with Christ's teaching in the Beatitudes and the Apostle Paul's in I Corinthians 13. Instead, their zeal is like an out of control fire that will destroy anything around it. I've seen this in pastors and elders, yes, but also in far too many "lay people" to count.

      Upon hearing this, people in those churches will accuse me of wanting a luke-warm, Laodacian type of church. I have no grand delusions of convincing them otherwise. For them, this zeal is a cornerstone of their theology and their identity. Take it away, and their identity begins to crumble. How their own inner circle and outside world perceives them is vitally important to the psyche of people involved with these groups.

    4. There is a practice, that's becoming increasingly popular, for churches to identify themselves as a 'safe place'. This is good in that it shows a sensitivity to the reality that a church can be a dangerous place where abuse occurs. Saying "we're safe', however, doesn't mean much by itself.

    5. Matthias: Thank you for your response.

      I think there is probably wisdom in that we should never go into a church blindly.

      I think you're right - those pastors who exhibit that kind of unholy zeal transfer it to the laity and of course that creates an environment that is also consumed with that type of legalism/unhealthy zeal.

      But what if the pastor was grace-filled - - would that not trickle down to the body? I think it would. I think there is always the risk of people in the church doing their own thing. That's going to be an ongoing issue.

      Today I have to say to myself - where does Christ want me to be today? How can I show love and grace to others? This is something I'm working out for myself daily. I don't want my abusive experience to also rob me of the joy of what God is doing in my life now. I'm not going to be a part of a system that abuses, but want to be used right where I am. I am seeing His mercies new this morning.

  6. Julie Anne

    Not so sure about this guy - Alexander Strauch.
    He also wrote this book...

    Men and Women, Equal Yet Different: A Brief Study of the Biblical Passages on Gender
    by Alexander Strauch (Sep 1, 1999)

    On Page 3, 4th Paragraph, Strauch writes a - Statement of Purpose.

    The purpose of this book is to state and defend the complementarian viewpoint. Written in outline form this book presents biblical evidence that Jesus Christ taught that men and women are equal yet different. It introduces the key terms, arguments, and most recent research related to the complementarian position...

    This statement can be found here...

    Now - I also use Strauch and his book - Biblical Eldership - When convenient.
    When debating with “Pastors who Abuse” who are familiar with his writings.

    When debating with those - Who have taken “Titles/Positions”
    NOT found in the Bible. - “Pastor/Reverend/Leader.”

    Because - Strauch says - In Biblical Eldership...

    “So in the first century, no Christian would dare take the position *or title*
    of sole ruler, overseer, **or pastor** of the church.

    We Christians today, however, are so accustomed to speaking of "the pastor"
    that we do not stop to realize that *the New Testament does not.*

    This fact is profoundly significant, and we must not permit our customary practice
    to shield our minds from this important truth.

    There is only one flock and *one Pastor* (John 10:16),
    one body and one Head (Col. 1:18), one holy priesthood
    and one great High Priest (Heb. 4:14ff.), one brotherhood
    and one Elder Brother (Rom. 8:29), one building and one Cornerstone (1 Peter 2:5ff.),
    one Mediator, one Lord.”

    Jesus Christ is "Senior Pastor," and *all others* (The Body of Christ??? Added by Amos)
    are His undershepherds (1 Peter 5:4).”

    - Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership:
    An Urgent Call To Restore Biblical Church Leadership, (pp. 114-115).

    And here - Strauch uses the *un-biblical* term - “undershepherd.” go figure...

    And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring, and they shall “hear My voice; “
    and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Fold - One Shepherd - One Voice - One leader

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

    1. Thank you for this information, Amos. Strauch's background is similar to my former church - Plymouth Brethren. I used the quote because those from both sides of the issue agree that pastors must be accountable to others.

      I read through the four reviews on Amazon, the first reviewer gives 5 stars and then goes on to highly recommend Piper and Grudem's "Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood". I have not read that book, but have had growing concerns from what I have seen from Piper - especially lately.

      You always challenge my thinking, Amos, and that is good!

  7. Amos,

    I don't want to pick at nits, but I think 'undershepherd' is justified from the context of I Peter 5. In verse 2 Peter instructs elders to shepherd the flock. Then in verse 4, perhaps realizing that being prone to conceit those shepherding may come to the conclusion that they're the Shepherd, Peter speaks of the appearing of the Chief Shepherd. So elders shepherd but they aren't the Chief Shepherd. They shepherd under the Chief Shepherd. The real danger of the lone shepherd mentality (and I think we agree here) is that a "lone shepherd" is liable to forget that he's under the Chief Shepherd.

  8. Craig

    You write...
    “I don't want to pick at nits, but”

    I actually welcome someone picking “Nits.” - If I gottem.
    Nit - In the dictionary refers to - An egg of a Parasitic Insect.
    There was a time - I paid NO attention - to the Nits - And they grew up and became - Parasites
    NOW - It’s beneficial - to nip - the nits - in the bud - before they become full blown Parasites.

    I’ve been in the process of removing “Nits” and “Parasites” from my “Spiritual Life” since I left “The Corrupt Religious System” in the early 90’s - thru much pain, tears and “Spiritual Abuse.”

    A parasite - is something that exists by taking from or depending on another. And causes varying degrees of damage or disease to the host.

    And - That fits the description - Of my so-called “Spiritual Leaders” and their “Doctrines.”

    That’s why I’m NO longer willing to put up with “Spiritual Parasites”- that cause “varying degrees of damage” to me - And - to the body of Christ.

    Nothing new - Jesus already warned us about the dangers - “Spiritual Parasites” - that will damage His Word. That will make void His Word. And in turn - Damage - His body - That the “Spiritual Parasite” sucks the life out of.

    Seems “Commandments of Men” - “Doctrines of Men” - “Traditions of Men”
    Fit this description - of Damage - To His Body - And - Sucking the life - out of His Body.

    Mark 7:13 KJV - Making the word of God of “none effect” through your tradition...
    Mark 7:13 ASV - Making “void” the word of God by your tradition...
    Mark 7:13 NIV - Thus you “nullify” the word of God by your tradition...

    And - I recommend exposing these “Spiritual Parasites” - To the Light - Of God’s Word.
    “He sends His Word and Heals our dis-ease” - Our “Spiritual Parasites.”

    Do we want to live - According to “the Traditions of Men?” Or...

    Do we want to live - According to - “The Word of God?”

    Rev 19:13
    And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood:
    and his name is called “The Word of God.”

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

    1. A. Amos Love - I love the analogy of the parasites and spiritual abuse. When you are spiritually abused, it does feel like the life is sucked out of you. I may need to borrow this from time to time. Thank you!

    2. Julie Anne

      I'll trade you one - "CreepO Meter"

      For one - Eternal Life sucking "Spiritual Parasite."

    3. Amos - No, I can't trade, but let's share :)

  9. Craig

    You write...
    “I think 'undershepherd' is justified from the context of I Peter 5.”

    Now I’m familiar with that teaching - But...
    Since I’m NO longer in leadership - No longer interested in “Titles” - NO longer interested in folks “Following me” - but - “Following Jesus”- And - “I’m NO longer willing to put up with “Spiritual Parasites” that cause harm to the Body of Christ...

    I do a little research. Guess what I find?

    Now - I cudda missed it...
    But - “undershepherd” is NOT in the Bible. Ever...
    And - I can only find Jesus with the “Title” - Shepherd - In the Bible.
    NOT one “Mere Fallible Human” had the “Title” - Shepherd or Pastor.

    In The Bible...
    NOT one of His Disciples - were called - undershepherd - or shepherd.
    NOT one of His Disciples - called themselves - undershepherd - or shepherd.
    NOT one of His Disciples - had the “Title” - undershepherd - or shepherd.

    So from my research - and God forbid - My research could be wrong - But...

    I come to the conclusion that “Undershepherd” is - a “Commandment of men.”
    Or a - “Doctrine of men.” Or a “Tradition of men” - That we are warned about.

    And I call “undershepherd” - Un-Biblical - Because - It is NOT in the Bible.
    I cudda said “undershepherd’ was - Non-Biblical - Because - It is NOT in the Bible.
    I cudda said “undershepherd’ was - Extra-Biblical - Because - It is ADDED to the Bible.
    ......Hmmm? Isn’t ADDING to the Bible - A No, No? Frowned upon?

    I cudda said “undershepherd’ was - Anti-Biblical - Because...
    “Undershepherd” - Is a “Tradition” that makes “Void” “Nullifies” the Word of God.

    And - IMO - Anything, or anyone, that makes “Void” “Nullifies” the Word of God

    Is - Anti-Biblical - Whether they want to be or NOT.

    That’s how damaging “Spiritual Parasites” - “Traditions of Men” can be...

    To you - and me - To the Body of Christ. The Ekklsia of God. The Church of God.

    Here I’m in agreement with Alexander Strauch when he says...

    “So in the first century, no Christian would dare take the position *or title*
    of sole ruler, overseer, **or pastor** of the church.”

    “There is only one flock and *one Pastor* (John 10:16),”

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  10. Amos,
    Thanks for your thoughts. Though it's an admirable goal, I think it's too restrictive to limit ourselves to terms in the Bible. Technically, if we did that, we'd only use Greek and Hebrew terms. That would make communication difficult at best. Even if we allow only terms in the English Bible, we'd still have problems. Look at your own comment. Where do you find the term 'Bible' in the Bible? Where do you find "Anti-Biblical" or "Spiritual Parasites"?

    My point is that Peter exhorts elders to shepherd the flock. He then refers to the appearing of the Chief Shepherd. So I see no problem with saying the shepherding Peter commands of elders is under shepherding because it's under the Chief Shepherd. This doesn't make 'under shepherd' a title (and I don't think Strauch is using it as a title).

  11. Amos,
    As I think about my own comment, I realize I've given an academic response. I don't mean to ignore the abuse you've suffered. You've been deeply hurt and have responded to that hurt by wanting all of the focus to be on Jesus, the Good Shepherd. I hope by God's grace that I do the same when I suffer.

    I'm not wed to the title 'pastor'. If the church I serve were to decide tomorrow, after reading the comments of A. Amos Love, that they would no longer use the title, I wouldn't lose any sleep over that. I hope that when I do use the title it's to help me to love, not to fill me with false pride.

  12. Craig

    You write - September 19, 2012 1:14 PM...
    “My point is that Peter exhorts elders to shepherd the flock.”

    The challenge I see with using - 1 Pet 5:2 - And fabricting - Undershepherd - a noun...
    Is - Shepherd - In 1 Pet 5:2 - Is a verb - an action - NOT a “Position” - NOT a “Title.”

    And - It depends on which - Bible Version - “It Is Written” - You use.
    Some Bible Versions use - Feed - or - Tend - And - NOT Shepherd.
    Bit of a stretch - to come up with - Undershepherd - from - Feed - Tend - God’s flock.

    Near by - there’s a cute - Petting Zoo - Some animals are caged - Buffalo’s - Eagles...
    And - Some we can “Feed.” - You guessed it - Sheepies - and - Goats...
    Just put a quater in a machine - Out comes a handful of pellets - And we “Feed” the Flock.
    Ain’t - NO body - calling these folks who “Feed” hungry sheep - Shepherd.

    Just cause - One hungry sheepie - “Feeds” - another hungry sheepie...
    Do they automatically get a “Title” - And - Morph - Into - The Shepherd?

    Just look at all - The Feeding - The Tending - that takes place on this Blog...
    By Julie Anne - By those who comment - By the other Survivor Blogs...
    And - Not many - looking to - “seperate themselves” - from God’s flock...
    By declaring - Hey look at me - We’re different - I’m an Undershepherd - You’re just sheepies.

    NO - they are “Servants” “Sheep” who - Care for - Feed - and - Tend - God’s Flock.

    Look what God says about “His People” that have “their shepherds.”
    When you believe the lie you start to die...

    Jer 50:6
    “My people” hath been “lost sheep:”
    **their shepherds** have caused them **to go astray,**

    1 Pet 2:25
    For ye were as “sheep going astray;”
    but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

    I’m Blest - I’ve returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of my soul...

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  13. Craig

    The problem I see - With believers taking “Titles” - Pastor - Shepherd - Undershepherd - Is...

    1 - “Titles” become “Idols”........... “Idols” of the heart - NOT easy to lay down.
    And God now talks to you - According to that “Idol.” Ezek 14:1-11.

    And that “Title” comes with - Power - Profit - Prestige - Honor - Glory - Reputation

    Even if the “Title” is not an “Idol” to some - What about the guy in the back row...
    Who desires - Power - Profit - Prestige - Honor - Glory - Reputation - Recognition?
    Desires to “Exercise Authority like the gentiles - and - Lord it over God’s heritage?
    And by example - He now seeks a “Title” and “Postion” NOT found in the Bible?
    Like so many of these recent “Church Planters” who want to “Run The Show?”
    Set up “Church Membership Forms” and “Demand” you - Pay - Pray - and - Obey?
    And - Preach often about - And - Hold over your head - “Church Discipline” to controll folks?
    And - Since they are the founder/pastor - Who cannot be questioned - Guess who has to leave?

    Yup - “Titles” become “Idols” - And if you will NOT bow to the “Title” - the “Idol”
    “Church Discipline” will be on the way...

    2 - Still - Other sheep - Will look for guidence - From a “Mere Fallible Human” - as shepherd...
    And - NOT - Look to the “ONE” Shepherd and Bishop of their soul - Jesus.

    In 1 Pet 5:2 - Feed - Tend - Shepherd - is Strongs #4165 - poimaino - poy-mah'-ee-no;

    KJV - King James Version
    “Feed” the flock of God which is among you...

    YLT - Youngs Literal Translation
    “feed” the flock of God that is among you...

    ASV - American Standard Version
    “Tend” the flock of God which is among you...

    NASB - New American Standard Bible.
    “shepherd” the flock of God among you...

    HCSB - Holman Christian Standard Bible
    “Shepherd” God’s flock among you...

    NOPE - Just cause one “Mere Fallible” sheepie - Feeds - another hungry sheepie...
    That does NOT make them a shepherd - an Undershepherd - or Pastor.

    And - If someone tells you their - “Title” is NOT and “Idol.”

    Just ask them to lay it down - walk away from that “Title.”
    And the - Power - Profit - Prestige - Honor - Glory - Reputation - Recognition...
    that comes with the “Title” - And see how they react - I double dare you...

    I’m in agreement with King David...

    The Lord is my Shepherd - Thank You Jesus...


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