A vast majority of pastors genuinely care for the people they serve. They give sacrificially of their time and resources to provide that care. I applaud them and am grateful for their continued obedience to the master shepherd as they seek to fulfill their calling.
But not all pastors have such integrity.
I get angry when I see what a few “pastors” have done to abuse their sheep. A pastor is supposed to be a shepherd, the one who is to care for the sheep, not eat them. I put the word pastor in quotes because while these few have the title, they do not assume the responsibility of caring for those to whom they are to minister.
As I reflected on one particular situation that has caused me so much heartache, the term “sociopath” came to mind. I did a brief search on the internet to better understand the term and found a website that lists these characteristics of a sociopath:
- A lack of empathy for others
- Little to no genuine remorse
- The manipulation of other people
- Lying and deceit
- A sense of superiority over others
- Little to no regard for right or wrong
- The belief that rules do not apply to them
- Getting into legal trouble or a little regard for the law
- A lack of responsibility or engaging in irresponsible behaviors
- Aggression or hostility
- The exploitation of other people
- Substance use
Sure, there are times when any one of us could be accused of possessing some of these traits. We all struggle with our sinful nature as Paul reminds us in Romans 7. But when multiple characteristics from this list are repeatedly found in a single person, then the label may begin to apply.
Why do we think a good outcome will be obtained when we put someone with any of these traits in charge? Do we really need someone who will drive his agenda for the organization so hard that there is no concern for the individual members?
We expect this behavior from corporate CEOs. CEOs take charge and make what they feel are necessary changes with no sympathy for the people whose jobs are eliminated or the families that are disrupted by the “productivity gains” that they implement. They slash payrolls and budgets with no apparent concern for the lives they put in disarray. Many CEOs are focused solely on the bottom line; people do not matter to them.
But, have we gone so far down the path of emulating corporate America in the church that we think that we should look for a pastor who uses the methods of such a CEO to lead the church?
In the situation that has caused me heartache, a “pastor” was hired who was unwilling to be examined by the denominational officials that are ordained to provide oversight to the congregation. That should have been the first clue that something was very wrong. But, alas, the elders turned a blind eye to his aversion to accountability and hired him anyway because they thought he possessed organizational ability and experience.
Subsequent decisions made by this “pastor” showed little or no remorse as to the consequences of his decisions suffered by the congregation. I have spoken with many people that have left this church. Not only are they leaving, they are leaving with damage having been done to their souls. Some have expressed reluctance to ever join an organized church again after the way they were treated by this “pastor” and those who enabled him.
During this reflection, I coined a new term to identify this type of church leader. That term is “sociopastor.” This is a term for a pastor that is so focused on his agenda for the church organization that he does damage to the people he is charged to care for.
A sociopastor will use any means necessary to get his agenda implemented. He will slander those who disagree with him to reduce their credibility and influence. He will drive away anyone on staff who is perceived to be a threat. He will pursue back-room politics rather than openly discuss the issues with the elder board. He will seek to stack the elder board with those who agree with his agenda. He will function as if denominational standards do not apply to him because he is above such accountability. He will attempt to ruin the reputation of anyone who opposes him. He will simper and smile at the camera but show his fangs to anyone who does not support him.
Why would anyone in church leadership think that this is OK?
Have we forgotten that Paul addressed the qualifications for church leadership in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9? Have we forgotten that Paul calls elders to build up the people, not destroy them (Ephesians 4:11-14)? Have we forgotten that Paul warned the Ephesian elders against wolves that come to harass the flock and remind the elders of their duty to protect the flock (Acts 20:28-35)?
Yup, at times church leaders do seem to forget.