Spiritual Abuse and What ‘Kind’ of Leaders Are We Looking For?

Spiritual Abuse and What ‘Kind’ of Leaders Are We Looking For?



Most people have a sense that they could use a ‘human’ spiritual leader since they don’t feel that they have what it takes to lead themselves.  Being a Christian spiritual leader involves both privilege and calling.  When an individual or a couple set about to find a church family, a new spiritual community, where they can serve and grow together, what type of leadership qualities are the ones that they value and would be important to them to look for?

All too often, we might be embarrassed to find that what we really value in a Christian leader is really a lot more social charisma than we might be willing to admit.  If people are really honest, they might confirm that what they look for in a church leader is someone with compelling people skills, sermon mastery, and a flair for church administration—somewhat of a ‘superman’ figure, to be exact!  In general, the hunt is on for a leader with exceptional leadership skills and who is basically a nice guy to be around.

Dynamic charisma and a talent for the church leadership task would have majority appeal among many church shoppers.  After all, if you are going to trust your personal spiritual leadership to someone in church leadership, then you’d want to be sure that he or she has what it takes to lead you and your family in the Christian way and be able to run this church organization efficiently.

This all sounds like a doable plan.  Find the right leader in a friendly Christian church and then settle in with the folks and get on with the task of worship, fellowship, growing together, and maybe even do some evangelism.


Making the Right Choice 

Making the right decision about which church to attend, is an important matter for individuals, couples, and families.  Therefore, it would be imperative to have some criteria when choosing a church leader and a new church.  God’s people usually do not choose a church or a leader in a cavalier way but with care, prayer, personal observation, and asking thoughtful questions.

This would all seem to be a reasonable strategy in most church settings.  Unfortunately, for some people, they become aware that certain church leaders pose a potential problem to the spiritual welfare of congregants, rather than providing them with the spiritual nurture expected of godly Christian leadership.  All too often, after the get-acquainted period of finding a new place of worship, some regular attenders begin to be alerted to valid concerns that they had not previously recognized were there.


Dealing with Disconnect

At this point, there suddenly becomes a disconnect between the ideal of godly leadership that these believers had and the leadership behaviors that they now seem to be experiencing in this church.  The big question that arises is: 

What went wrong?!

Although this question may be valid, there may be more pressing questions that go much deeper into the way one chooses a spiritual leader in the first place, that could be asked.  Some of these questions might be:

1.  What kind of a church leader should we have been looking for?

2.  What are my personal expectations of a church leader and why?

3.  Does this leader exemplify godly biblical leadership behaviors?

4.  When it comes to church governance, what do this church and this leader believe about Christian leadership principles in the church today?

5.  How does church governance work at this church?

6.  How does this leader and the church board deal with conflict?

These primary questions are closer to the ones that people need to be asking when it comes to making the decision about church leadership and pastoral leaders in particular.

When one is disillusioned regarding their previous choices in finding a spiritual leader, then it is time to consider one’s paradigm for Christian ministry.  The issue becomes what qualities they should have been looking for in a church and in the church leader that they may have been unmindful of early on.


Recognizing the Problem

Recognizing that we, as the people of God, have often had a faulty perspective of biblical leadership in the past, propels us forward to get our own answers as to what ‘kind’ of leader we should be looking for in our churches.  The question:  What is godly biblical church leadership?—now becomes a quest for answers in light of some wrongly founded perceptions of church leadership.

It may take some time to do personal research, consider various Bible passages on the topic, rethink and rework one’s previous or even flawed beliefs, and then adjust one’s paradigm for Christian ministry in light of a sound biblical base.  This will bring peace of mind and provide solid criteria for Christian leadership and church governance to aim for in the future.


Guidelines for Choosing a Spiritual Leader

Getting to the ‘heart’ of the matter for choosing a godly Christian spiritual leader involves these main areas:

          1.  Does the leader have a heart for God?

          2.  Does the leader have a heart for God’s Word?

          3.  Does the leader have a heart for God’s people?

          4.  Does the leader have a heart for the world?

These are the essentials when looking for a church leader.  These are the heart motivations to watch for when seeking a spiritual leader.  When the core motivations are better discerned then there is a good chance that one’s search will be more successful.



Choosing a spiritual leader in a Christian community is not a task to take lightly.  It is evident that many believers in Jesus have been lax in their understanding of biblical principles regarding church leadership.  It is crucial to avoid remaining either passive or naïve regarding this important task.

In light of the fact that all too many people have found that they have had to exit from toxic churches, they have also recognized that their choice of a leader was based on an underdeveloped biblical leadership paradigm.  It would be a good practice to do one’s homework ahead of time in order to be prepared for the future.

It is important to consider one’s biblical expectations of leadership as well as to consider a church leader’s expectations of the congregants.  When both elements of this dynamic are worked through, then there is a better chance that informed decisions will be made with greater accuracy.


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For Further Reflection

In Isaiah 53, the servant leader, who is highlighted, has some distinct qualities that could be observed when he became the leader of Yahweh’s people.  Jesus was the servant leader who was to come.  Christ’s leadership would be a genuine contrast to all other leadership paradigms that would be found throughout history. 

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,

nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by mankind,

a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.

Like one from whom people hide their faces

he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

                                                                                                Isaiah 53:2b-3

Jesus modeled the shepherd heart that was found in the Heavenly Father.  God has always been the Good Shepherd of his people.  Jesus came to show us The Father. 

He tends his flock like a shepherd:

He gathers the lambs in his arms

and carries them close to his heart;

he gently leads those that have young.

He gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

                                                                                      Isaiah 40:11, 28-31


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© 2012   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.