By Dr. David Schnittger, President, Southwest Prophecy Ministries
This article is the fourth in a series on the subject of “corruption in Christian leadership.” The purpose of this series is to help you maintain your spiritual freedom by becoming more discerning as to whether corrupt leaders have taken over your church or parachurch organization. We began our series by looking at biblical examples of corrupt leadership. We considered King Saul as an example of corrupt civil leadership and the sons of Eli as examples of corrupt religious leadership.
In the second article we described the corrupt attitudes that these individuals had which led to their corrupt actions. We concluded that their behavior basically placed them in the clinical categories of “sociopath” (Saul) and “narcissist” (Hophni and Phineas). In actuality, these individuals had characteristics of both types of personality disorders. They were sociopathic narcissists. Both of these personality disorders were defined in this article.
In the third article I gave examples of Christian leaders I have served under who exhibited these sociopathic/narcissistic behaviors. As a sidebar, let me just add that, from a biblical perspective, a person is defined by their behavior. Jesus said, “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Mt 7:16). How then do you know whether a person is a sociopath or a narcissist? By their behavior! When a person misbehaves, do not accept their excuse, “That is not like me.” That kind of statement is dishonest and betrays a lack of responsibility toward one’s actions.
Perhaps you do not know the leader of your church or parachurch organization personally. How do you know what kind of person they are, and what kind of leadership they are bringing to that organization? That is the purpose of this article. In this article, I am going to describe what corrupt leadership looks like from two vantage points; from the boardroom and from the pew. In other words, if you are serving on staff or lay leadership of a church or parachurch organization, what should you be looking for if the leadership is corrupt? In the same way, if you are not in leadership but are in the “followership” ranks, either as a parishioner or a non-management employee of a Christian organization, what clues should you be alert to?
Let me make it clear at the outset that this article is based solely on my experience and observation. I do not portray this article as a scientific sociological study. These are merely my observations. At the same time, my observations have taken place over a period of about 40 years and include staff participation in five churches and two parachurch organizations. I have noticed patterns that occur when corrupt leadership takes over a Christian organizations. It is these patterns that I want to expose.
Before I get into the specifics let me make a general statement that is universally true, both experientially and scripturally. The corruption of a church or Christian organization is always from within, never from without! Paul made this clear in his farewell address to the elders in Ephesus, stating: “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29, 30). Satan’s strategy for taking over and taking down a church or Christian organization is through infiltration and usurpation!
The View from the Boardroom
From my experience, a corrupt leader will attempt to take over an organization in the following sequence. First, the corrupt leader will seek to divide the leadership into two categories: the loyal and the disloyal. Through a series of personal initiatives, the skillful usurper will determine the leaders that are malleable and are willing to betray others to advance the new leader’s agenda. One way they may do this is by raising “controversial” issues with individual leaders to gauge those who are willing to go along and those who resist.
For example, Andy, the senior pastor of the megachurch where I served, early on in his tenure began to advance different models of church leadership than had been taught or practiced before in the church. Those who resisted these initiatives were put in the “disloyal” category.
Second, once the leadership has been categorized into the “loyal” and “disloyal” categories, it will eventually become obvious that there is collusion and orchestration “offline” between the corrupt leader and his minions. Board meetings seem more orchestrated and outcomes more predictable. Skillful observation will lead to the conclusion that the board has been divided into “players” and “observers.” The players are the “loyal” and the “observers” are the “disloyal.”
In addition to these “flying wedge” tactics in board meetings, major decisions, “reorganizations,” and changed directions start taking place away from the board, in “executive meetings” or through Senior Pastor/CEO “executive-orders.” Consolidation of power has begun to take place.
Third, the corrupt leader and his team of sycophants begin to marginalize the “disloyal.” Authority and responsibility is gradually transitioned away from the disloyal and given to the loyal. This leads inevitably to open attacks on the disloyal, either regarding their performance or character. The “job performance” and “dedication” of the disloyal is called into question. If that doesn’t work the character of the disloyal will be called into question. For example, the disloyal will be characterized as having an “unsuitable temperament” of not being a “team player,” or not having a “pastor’s heart.” These kinds of nebulous attacks are very difficult to defend against.
The final step in the takeover occurs as the disloyal are forced out, either through termination, or through a sustained campaign of harassment, intimidation and character assassination, resulting in their resignation and exodus. In the case of the local church, this process often leads to church splits, where the disaffected will ban together to start a new assembly. This happened after 18 months of Andy’s corrupt leadership.
The View from the Pew
Perhaps you are not in leadership of the church you attend or the Christian organization where you work. Are there observable signs that corrupt leadership has taken over your organization? Let me suggest some things to watch for if questionable “changes” are taking place in your organization.
First, you may notice that the “leadership circle” is growing smaller. For example, in the church you may begin to see the same few people in the pulpit, especially communicating on leadership issues. Perhaps some are new people you hadn’t seen before. At the same time, you notice that some of the long-term leaders are not as visible anymore. These are clues that, behind the scenes, a change in leadership is taking place.
Second, a takeover is often accompanied with announcements of a “changed direction” or “reorganization.” Or there may be a push for new programs or facilities that do not make sense logically or financially. These changes are often promoted in an excessive or manipulative manner, such as being “God’s will” or other calculating language. These may be wedge issues designed to push out the old leadership and establish the new.
Third, you may begin to hear generalized accusations about “divisive” or “disloyal” “troublemakers” in the church. These accusations will come from the “new” leaders who have risen to prominence. These accusations will often be described in cunning terms such as “Satanic attacks.”
Fourth, you may notice that some long-term staff members are being fired and others are resigning under mysterious circumstances. At the same time, you may notice some long-term lay leaders leaving the church. This is a very bad sign that corrupt leaders have taken over the organization! Usually, these departures will be accompanied by derogatory comments about those who have left, and an unwillingness by the “new leadership” to answer questions about the causes of these departures.
Finally, the new leadership will attempt to put a positive spin on these departures, and will also make promises of very positive outcomes from these “changes.” For example, in the church that Pastor Andy split, the remaining minions boasted that the church was on the “launching pad” for new growth. The loss of four pastors in four months was chronicled in the annual report as: “The church has added several new pastors to our staff this year!” There was no mention of the departed pastors who were forced out.
One organization that was taken over by corrupt leadership concocted a narrative that both slandered the disloyal and painted a rosy picture of the future in the same breath. One of the minions in the newly ascended corrupt leadership was heard to say: “Now that the troublemakers have left, we will be even better than before.”
As a parishioner or non-management employee of a Christian organization, when you begin to see and hear the kinds of things chronicled above, it may be that corrupt leadership has taken over your organization. What do you do then? Tune in next Friday for the answers to that question.