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Dealing with Rebellious Christian Leaders


How Do I Deal with Difficult Church Leaders

Dealing with difficult Christian church leaders is a task not many are directly called to. This is not to say that a Matthew chapter 18:15-17 intervention is not the right of all Believers. Nevertheless, while many take on the task of confronting a difficult leader, very few are equipped to. Answering the question “how I deal with difficult church leaders” is simple for those so equipped: direct confrontation! I have read many articles, by well-meaning Christians, who encourage us to always “pray” and leave it up to the Lord to deal with such people. This is always the statement of someone who has abrogated their responsibility in the Word of God. Christians stop attending worship services, become discouraged, and may never return because of such behavior. We must stop the apathy!

The Bible defines faith as: “the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen”. We must also package that with the Apostle James: “faith without works is dead”. Our churches are in such a dilapidated spiritual condition because: “everyone is waiting on someone else to do what all of us should be doing or at least praying for direction on”. As a church Pastor, with the gifting of a confrontational Prophet, I do not mind confronting wayward leaders. Confronting God’s sheep, in the pews, is what makes me nervous. Not for fear of what they may do – rather I might mishandle them and anger God.

Here is my worldview – God’s sheep are people in the stands at a football game, watching (being present), cheering (praising), and learning. Church leadership are those who, having been “drafted”, are on the field and subject to whatever comes our way. Having been drafted (by the Lord), we have been placed in, and accepted, the violent consequences of being “on the field of combat”. The Lord has provided us with the “pads and equipment” (Word) to be out there. However, having been less equipped (less knowledge of the Word), those watching do not hold the same level of responsibility (read Hebrews 11). For me to run into the stands and tackle those not equipped on the same level as we, is evil and wrong. Jesus said it best with respect to levels of equipping: “for you (leaders) it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God but to them (followers) it is not given”.

Here are reasons why, in love, I confront rebellious Christian leaders:

1. They are self-harming: when we notice knife cuts, or continual scratch marks on someone’s arms, we know they are a danger to themselves. More forthrightly, we understand they may, at some point, successfully end their lives. The same is true with rebellious church leaders/Pastors. Just as you would not remain silent in the face of a loved one trying to end their lives, neither will I.

2. To demonstrate God’s Love: the Bible tells us: “whom the Lord loves he chastises”. God put the sword of correction in my hand, and I am going to swing it in demonstration of His “love” (through chastisement). I also expect to, and have been, confronted by God’s Prophets when I get a bit out of line as well.

3. So that others may fear: the Word of God says: “whoever is sending must be openly rebuke so that others may fear and remain faithful”. Christians must stop being shortsighted through believing righteous indignation is an evil thing. Confrontation is as much about the rebellious Christian as those with the potential to rebel. This pretty much is inclusive of all of us!

4. Providing the whole counsel of the Word: church leaders get to these spiritual lows because of mishandling, and misunderstanding the authority they have. Whether this authority was given by a “congregation”, or by the “Lord”, is a conversation for another time. It is a true saying that: “absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

5. Modelling freedom: there is something, to me anyway, powerful about someone confronting with the truth of God’s Word, in love, and fearlessly! I have been so confronted by God’s Prophets as well. I marvel at boldness and am reminded of the scripture: “the righteous are as bold as lions”. There are times when we all need reminding that Jesus freed us from sin and the perils of running back.

6. Being pleasing to God: despite the false doctrine: “grace allows most things to slide”, nothing is further from true. There is nothing more pleasing, to the Lord, than acknowledging His sovereignty and bringing some soul to and/or back to Him.

In summary, the way to deal with a rebellious church leader is through biblically direct confrontation. These leaders enjoy almost absolute, dictatorial power often. Unfortunately, by the time most congregations choose to stand for righteousness, the situation has become toxic.

Does the Bible Speak About Rebellious Christians

Yes, the Bible has much to say about both rebellious Christians and in the Old Testament, those defiant Israelites. There were many who rebelled against the teachings of the fledgling Christian church according to the New Testament. Even prior to the Book of Acts, we know of at least two (2). One was the disciple Peter. Peter knew the truth, affirmed Jesus’ Messiahship, yet denied Him after His arrest. Another prominent figure who rebelled against Jesus was Judas Iscariot. For nearly almost two thousand (2,000) years, his name is synonymous with “traitor”.

Here are further examples of rebellious Christians:

  1. Demas - Demas, a co-worker of Paul, later deserted him because he loved the things of the world more. (2nd Timothy 4:10)

  2. Hymenaeus - Hymenaeus was a false teacher preaching that the resurrection had already taken place. This overthrew the faith of some. (2nd Timothy 2:17-18)

  3. Alexander the Coppersmith - Alexander did Paul a great deal of harm and opposed his teachings. (2nd Timothy 4:14)

  4. Diotrephes - Diotrephes was a church leader who loved “status” and “title” and also refused to receive the brethren who came to him. (3rd John 1:9-10)

  5. Ananias and Sapphira – This couple sold some property and gave a portion of the proceeds to the church. However, they lied about the amount received and were struck dead by the words of Peter. (Acts 5:1-11)

  6. Simon Magus - Practiced magic in Samaria and claimed to be someone great. He was later rebuked by Peter for thinking he could buy the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:9-24)

  7. Jezebel - A false prophetess who led some of the Christians in Thyatira astray and committed sexual immorality. (Revelation 2:20-23)

In summary, rebellious Christians are not a new thing, and neither confined to this generation of leaders. Throughout the New Testament, as well as the old, there were people who rebelled against God.

How Do I Share My Concerns with a Pastor

Regardless of what you have been told, there is a proper way to share your concerns with a rebellious church leader. Let’s begin with “why” he should be confronted to begin with. By the time this is being considered, the perception of a leader’s behavior is sound. First, take solace in the fact that the Pastor/church leader has had ample opportunity to repent. These lifestyles took a long time to “curate” and did not happen overnight.

1st Timothy chapter 3 lists the qualifications for a Bishop/Pastor to assume leadership in the church. Additionally, this is also an ongoing job description. If any 1st Timothy 3 requirements for leadership are violated, it is time for “truth in love” with that leader!

Here is how to do so gracefully and biblically:

1. Pray for guidance and discernment: before proceeding, seek God's guidance. Ask for wisdom, discernment, and courage to confront “in love”.

2. Package all evidence: gather (and package) evidence of the leader's sin, including specific examples. This will be useful in helping them understand the seriousness. Be prepared, however, to witness who you are truly following! Sorry to say, but great Pastors are not made in “pulpits” and other religious exploits. They are revealed in times of personal trial. Please, by the mercies of God, do not let what you are sure to experience overthrow your faith.

3. Meet privately: approach the meeting with a spirit of humility and do not make it a public spectacle! Besides a spouse, does anyone else need to know? This could simply be a case of misunderstanding on a few issues (but not all).

4. Address your views directly: be both clear and direct when addressing your concerns. Even if you do not have a strong command of scripture, a God called Pastor will cross-reference what you are saying, with the Word, while you are speaking.

5. Express concern: since things have gotten this far, your boldness is a Holy Ghost expression of concern for the leader. However, you must find balance between Holiness and aggressiveness enough to not be spiritually black mailed! I know these men – most do not believe you have the “status” to confront them.

6. Encourage repentance and accountability: Encourage accountability and repentance. They will be openly angry most often, but push through anyway. These conversations literally save souls.

7. Maintain post meeting privacy: small issues become church destroyers when private conversations somehow become public.

In summary, as a layperson, Jesus gave you permission to speak truth in love to any wayward leader, or other layperson. No one is above the Word of God but there is a process you must follow to do things “descent and in order” (as scripture commands).

What if My Pastor Will Not Listen

If your Pastor will not listen, it is time to involve the church body. What I say now, I know as a matter of fact and not conjecture. Having Pastored for some years, I know hundreds of these men, have gotten close to some, and been in back rooms with them. I know who they are beyond their religious pretense. Knowing this/them, when things have gotten this far, he is not going to listen to you because he is no longer listening to God.

The American church is in chaos because God’s people have abused the principle of “grace” and refused accountability. On the other side, when a leader should be shown grace because they have done nothing wrong, or at least nothing beyond personality conflicts, they are fired and destroyed.

In fairness, many God sent Pastors are lied on, abused, and thrown out of churches for no reason other than speaking truth. The “God guys” (without evidence beyond feelings and personal agendas) are abused while the “hirelings” (Satan’s infiltrators of evil), are rarely confronted.

Here are “next steps” when your Pastor will not listen:

1. Confrontation with Witnesses: you have already met privately with them and came away with a better understanding (or so you thought). However, the issues continue. It is time to bring one (1) or two (2) other witnesses. This will be hard because it is a church leader. Very few possess courage enough to confront these wayward men believing God will be displeased. Having witnesses provides a layer of protection for all involved at this stage (Matthew 18:16).

2. Church Involvement: If the leader remains unrepentant, the next step is to bring the issue before the church body. Other church leaders, such as Deacons or Elders, should be involved in this step. Just wisdom – if you have associate ministers in the church, and if they are not the offended party, leave them out of this! I know these men to be dangerously ambitious as well. Most will only see the opportunity to replace the Pastor. This is “conflict of interest” on an eternal scale (Matthew 18:17).

3. Removal from Leadership: if the leader still does not repent, the final step is to remove them by whatever process your church prescribes. Let’s be clear – issues need to be resolved “biblically” and “not to your personal satisfaction” (1st Corinthians 5:11-13).

In summary, there will be times a church leader will not listen. Unfortunately, I served just such a man who has now been removed from two (2) Pastorates for “failure to listen”. Why would a man claiming to hear God, suddenly refuse to listen? It is with the same conviction that we preach Jesus, which causes us to remain entrenched in unbiblical positions. We marvel because he who has so clearly communicated God’s Word, is now unable to clearly listen to it.

What Happens When a Pastor is Fired

When a rebellious Pastor is fired, they go spread their poison elsewhere. As was indicated earlier, far too many church leaders are fired for nothing more than standing on righteousness. The Pastor I referenced, stood on what was right and suffered for it. At that time, I marveled at his strength of faith. However, he became rebellious because he did not allow the Lord to heal his hurt.

Please be warned - if you choose to raise your hand to God’s man through confrontation, be on sound biblical ground. Many congregations have un-righteously struck down the shepherd, died, and are eternally screaming in hellfire for their decision. In love, there will be times where it is best for you to walk away, and not take such a huge step. The key is prayer, supplication, and guidance from the Holy Spirit.

As a Pastor now, I get how traumatic being thrown out of a church could be. However, this should occur more often and because it doesn’t, the American church is a laughingstock. Confront what needs confronting but be open to the move of the Holy Spirit.

While I would stop short of saying I enjoy confronting wicked leaders, I will not shy away from it. I was born for this cause. However, I have spoken words “out of season” and had to repent. The point is, speaking to much is just as dangerous as speaking to little.

Header Image Courtesy of Pete Linforth @ Pixabay

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