When your church becomes cultish

When your church becomes cultishOne of the identifying marks of a cult is that the leader will demonize any person who leaves the group.

Even the best of churches cannot meet all the needs of everyone coming through the doors. There is room for diversity within the body of Christ and there is nothing inherently wrong with choosing a church based on preferences like style of preaching or style of worship.

I attend a great church but some people visit and determine that it is not the right church for them for a variety of reasons. I’m OK with that and I know that the leadership of my church is OK with that also.

Some attend a particular church for a while and get plugged into various aspects of church life only to find out that the church does not fit what they want in a church. Or, sometimes, the needs of a family change and another church may be better suited to minister to that family in their new stage in life. People leave churches for various legitimate reasons.

But, if the leader or leadership speaks ill of people who leave, then that church is becoming cultish no matter how orthodox the teaching and worship might be. No church leader or denomination has a monopoly on the truth. We all have equal access to Scripture and the Holy Spirit.

When a leader behaves in a way that indicates that those who left the church were wrong for doing so, then those that remain should seriously question whether that is a leader God would have them follow. To stay in that environment so that you can avoid the criticism if you leave is only delaying the inevitable.

When the leader is behaving in a manor contrary to the example we have in Jesus, then that leader disqualifies himself from leadership. It would be instructive at this point to review the qualifications that the Apostle Paul gives for an elder (or pastor).

“An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” (1 Timothy 3:2–7, NASB)

I would draw your attention to the command to not be pugnacious. In other words, the leader should not be looking for a fight. He should not fight with those who stay and he certainly should not fight with those who leave.

I am reminded of how Jesus dealt with Judas. Jesus knew that Judas was the one who would betray him, yet he did not treat Judas differently than the other disciples. Notice that when Jesus announced his upcoming betrayal, none of the disciples had a clue as to who it might be (John 13:25).

If you are a leader who is dealing with people who have left your church, wish them well. If you are tempted to criticize them, bite your tongue.

If you are in a church where there is pressure to stay, do not stay to avoid criticism. Stay only if that is where Jesus is calling you to worship and minister. My experience is that in such an environment, you will not have the freedom to minister as God would have you to do. But, you have to make the determination for yourself as to whether you stay or go.

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Mark McIntyre

A follower of Jesus Christ who shares observations about how Scripture should impact the church and the world. Mark is the original author and editor of Attempts at Honesty.
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About Mark McIntyre

A follower of Jesus Christ who shares observations about how Scripture should impact the church and the world. Mark is the original author and editor of Attempts at Honesty.


  1. RobeyTulak There are good churches out there. Sometimes they are harder to find than they should be but keep looking.

  2. RobeyTulak When I was in seminary I met many men who have probably turned into excellent pastors. I also met some under whose ministry I would not enjoy sitting. But a majority were good men who were there with a heart to serve God  and their future congregations.

  3. RobeyTulak Thanks Robey, I agree that many churches today share the issues of the Laodician church in Revelation. I also agree that the music can be a performance or it can truly be worship. The division is not one of style but one of purpose and focus.

  4. RobeyTulak says:

    Also, I have recently had 2 bad experiences in 2 churches. The Spirit of God was not there.

  5. RobeyTulak says:

    What percentage of people standing behind a pulpit/lectern TRULY have the Spiritual Gift of a pastor??  Probably not very many!

  6. RobeyTulak says:

    I contend that what is going on now in organized religion is the Laodician church age. Spit out. There may be a few exceptions. Services now are soulish. The “band” walks out and takes over in soulish entertainment. From such turn away. NO SPIRITUAL POWER/AUTHORITY. How sad!  Worship is to be Truly Spiritual. I was raised in the Kathryn Kuhlman services in PGH, PA. Those services were Spiritual. Beautiful!  Not so today, it’s soulish.

  7. Glen McGraw says:

    I have seen this behavior before. It’s a power grab. When lay leaders, deacons, and long staining member start leaving in waves people ask questions. To vilify those leaving is a tool to maintain the power in the seat of the Pastor. Shame more to not stand up to such comments and correct the record.

  8. Agradesco a Dios por su mensaje y a,usted,por sintonizar a Dios de la manera correcta.
    Me agrado mucho el mensaje,es un tema que por lo menos aqui en Perù se toca poco. pero es un tema muy necesario para la edificaciòn del pueblo de Dios.
    Doy gracias a Dios por la Iglesia Biblica Enmanuell,y por el pastor principal: Saul Gutierres,por su esposa y el cuerpo pastoral que es muy usado para la congregacion que es bastante numerosa.
    Una vez mas muchas gracias,estarè compartiendo su mensaje.
    Dios le bendiga.

  9. The Church I attend is St Marys in Sydney Australia. I love that church. I have a preference for the Priest who does Saturday rather than Sunday. However they are both worthy of their jobs. Just entering that church does wonders for me. I often attend when there is no service , just to pray. If I am away I attend any Christian church available. But I have noticed that St Marys is my home. Virginia Lawton

  10. How long have you studied the Bible?. I have studied the social sciences Social/Welfare and Health and research, which includes psychology, as well as the Performing arts. Then Psychic development, Basis astrology.
    I can not comment on the interpretation of the Bible as one who has devoted his or her life to studying the bible . The same goes for another who can not truly comment on Psychology who has not studied Psychology. I use contemporary interpretation from the Christian radio station which I listen to always. Then order the books they promote. That gives a contemporary view and then they refer it back to the verse of the bible. Some I recall from childhood. That is my life. I have spent most of my adulthood using my many God given gifts to help others. My faith is strong. That makes me one with the Father and the Son. My Home is decorated somewhat like a church.

    Although I have suffered I still continue to do what God asks me to do. Even if I know it means suffering for some time.
    Because I a long time ago had a decision to go with Making a lot of money and I mean a lot, but I chose to follow Gods path. And as the bible says seek first the kingdom of heaven and all the rest comes. it has for me . Virginia Lawton

    • I have been a Bible student all of my adult life. I have had some formal training at both the undergrad and graduate level. But the times when I’ve learned the most about the Bible was when I sat under good preaching.

  11. Well said. I think some pastors become possessive of their sheep. I think it’s normal for a pastor to grieve when someone leaves the fold. Perhaps they need to be taught how to do this constructively rather than destructively. My husband likes to pray for those leaving and then send them forth with his blessing. But it still hurts when people leave because you grow close to them. But as you said, there are very legitimate reasons for people leaving. Sometimes, though, people don’t leave well. Sheep also need to be taught how to leave so that a rift doesn’t occur. I feel that if a pastor can be caught talking about anyone, what makes you think they won’t talk about YOU? I’m very happy my husband is wise and keeps his mouth shut about such things. Thanks for sharing this post.

    • You raise a good point that people do not always leave well. Too often they poison the water before they leave.

      I don’t think that a pastor is wrong with expressing sadness or disappointment about someone leaving. I would not want a pastor who did not take a personal interest in his sheep.

      It does become wrong when the character of the one who left is attacked.

  12. I believe one should only speak ill of someone to their face & if they have proof of ill doing, like Coruption Crime . God has given some of us that job. To Take Risks & while not nice for the ill doer can save many from the ill doer and their bad behaviour.

  13. I agree that someone needs to stand up and challenge the comments. The problem is amplified in churches where the pastor holds all the power. If the pastor is the one doing this, the only option may be to leave and find a church that understands the idea of grace.

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