Power posturing…these two words, when used in unison, conjure up many mental images.
Two summers ago, my family and I were rafting at Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska. The river is very low because it is a dry area. Our guide told us that one would occasionally see bears but bears don’t attack on water. I bet you can imagine where this is going. Suddenly, a large brown bear (known as Grizzlies in the lower 48) noticed a raft floating lazily by with well-developed humans on board. Forgetting the fact that bears don’t attack on water, he charged across this shallow river. The shocked guide, unarmed because bears, don’t…,well you get the picture, turned pale and jumped to his feet, brandishing a very inadequate oar.
Responding with lightening speed, I began to issue bloodcurdling screams. The guide basically told me to shut up and for all of us to stand up and attempt to make ourselves look as big as possible while beating our chests and roaring in deep voices (I’m afraid mine sounded more like a deep whimper.). The bear stopped in mid-charge, took one look at this suddenly ferocious, floating hors d’oeuvre, and hightailed it out of there. We lived and had the coolest Alaskan story of anyone in our tour.
Nice story, you say but what has that got to do with the topic? Well, we essentially power postured during the attack. Had the bear actually reached us, he could have easily polished us off. But, he believed that we were his superiors. Who exhibited true leadership in this situation? Our guide did. You can bet when he told me to shut up I did (to the best of my ability). He did not need to preface his statement by telling us why we should do what he was telling us to do nor did he need to review why he was in authority. We simply followed him.
I have been blessed to have two pastors who I would follow to the gates of hell. Why? They didn’t have to tell me they had authority over me. They demonstrated that they cared about me by their love and their service. They were not perfect. They both had flaws. One even stepped down from ministry for a short time. But they both demonstrated how to lead even when they failed. I thank them both for showing me what it means to be a true Christian pastor.
However, many folks have not had my experiences (I am not referring to the bear attack)! They have never seen sacrificial, humble leadership. Instead, they have experienced power posturing. Their pastors, not having a God given ability to lead willing people, must demand obedience from confused members.
Note the following quote from a review of The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse on Amazon.com. While the majority of reviews were great, this person said, …
” However, the answer isn't to listen to your feelings, but to measure your Pastor against the Word of God. If he follows God's Word, then you are under the obligation of the Holy Spirit to follow him. If he leads contrary to the Word of God, then you should quietly find a preacher that does. The deciding point, however, should not be your feelings but God's Almighty Word. There should also be respect toward the office of the Pastor. Running to the nearest "Christian" psychologist is not, has never been, and will never be God's way of revealing His Will in your life. He has ordained the church in this age and we are commanded to follow a shepherd, whether or not he soothes our feelings.”
This person, most likely a pastor, is frustrated. Since he can’t seem to find a good reason to explain why we should follow a pastor, he resorts to the usual litany used by those who power posture. He uses strong words like “commanded to follow”. He then states that if the pastor is following God’s word, we are obligated to follow him. The problem in most abusive systems is the lack of understanding by church members of what it means to follow God’s Word. As we have discussed previously, the Bible can be used to justify just about any action. Oh, and by the way, if you leave because the pastor is unbiblical, quietly leave! Huh?Why shouldn’t we let others know that the pastor doesn’t follow the Bible? Also, he says that you better not go to a psychologist if you are hurt. Only your church can tell you what to do and how to feel. Egads!
So, I contend, that a real leader is one that people naturally follow. They sense his love and servant nature. I am anticipating the following critique. “Well, blog queen, there are people out there who refuse to follow and are troublemakers.” Yes, there are. However, there are ways to engage those who are problematic. Unfortunately, this means developing a relationship with the involved “problem people” and today’s pastors are often too busy to shepherd. There are conferences to attend, books to write, and Christian singles cruises that need pastors to preach. I mourn the day of the involved pastor who knew our names. We have exchanged this for clever, hyped up CEOs.
I would like to share some personal observations of power posturing.
There is the pastor who snaps his fingers at the people while he is talking while loudly proclaiming, “Look at me, look at me.”
There is the pastor who pounded the pulpit and chastised the people in the service because they weren’t taking notes. He said that he was speaking the very words of God to them and they needed to take careful notes. (I guess he never considered the possibility that many people had heard this same old stuff over and over and were a bit disinterested).
One pastor was involved in a discussion about science with someone who had received an actual national award for his research. As this scientist tried to explain why the pastor’s view of a particular aspect of science was in error, the pastor exclaimed that he had four degrees. (None of them in science and primarily involved Christian education). This pastor continued to contradict the trained professional regarding various scientific principles.
One pastor, upon being asked a polite question by a church member, said, “I am the parent and you are the child.”
One only needs to visit any blog written by those abused in Sovereign Grace churches to see a plethora of examples of pastors misusing authority. Church members are told by their “leaders” to discontinue friendships, told to change jobs, not allowed to choose their own fellowship groups, etc. We will be dealing with the reasons why folks put up with this in future posts.
Finally, Martin Luther demonstrated true leadership. He was a reluctant rebel and tried desperately to stay reconciled to Rome. He did not want to be the lightening rod of a new movement. But, he was truly gifted and people flocked to his side. He never had to insist that people follow him; he couldn’t keep them away.
I want to end this post by remembering the two pastors who I admire. When we first met the Texas pastor, he asked my husband if he knew “Mr. S “ at a local hospital. My husband cringed because we had just left a church in which the pastor reveled in the famous people he knew. My husband said he didn’t know who he was. The pastor said that he cleaned the floors at the hospital and was one of the Godliest men he had ever met. We joined this church immediately!
The other pastor said something odd when we met him for the first time. He encouraged us to look at other churches because this church was getting too big (@500) and he felt that other churches offered just as much and weren’t as large. Can you imagine any of our mega church pastors saying such a thing? We became members without hesitation.
If you are in a church in which the pastors are exhibiting regular signs of power posturing, leave! Find the many wonderful pastors who humbly and effectively serve their people.