In a recent post, Thom Rainer hits on a pertinent topic that needs more attention. He calls them Church Cartels. Dr. Rainer has previously written on Church Bullies and he now expands the idea of a “bully” to a cartel, or group of people who are seeking to control the church. I highly recommend that you read both pieces, but especially the one on Church Cartels posted today.
As a pastor for many years, I read and heard so much about the role and responsibility of a pastor. Eventually, however, I came to dread going to evangelism conferences because I could no longer take seeing the megachurch pastor berate the room full of mostly older, white haired, tired pastors who came to the meeting for encouragement by telling them that they needed to be more fired up and do more because souls were at stake. My church was young and growing and reaching people of all kinds and I had a lot of energy. I would agree with the conference speaker about all that we should be doing. But, I began to suspect that something more was at work than a lack of motivation.
At one particular conference, while the mega-pastor was talking about how he shared his faith on the airplane to a stranger, I looked around and became so grieved. The room was full of men who had served for so long. They were getting older. Their whole lives had been given to the service of the church, many of which were struggling and in decline. They agreed with all that was being said and nodded their heads and said “Amen,” but they could not carry it out on their own. They had tried. They were tired. They needed people to come around them and work with them and cooperate. They needed people to repent for opposing what Scripture clearly called for and continuously disagreeing or slow playing or running their own agendas and building their own kingdoms. What was being said from the platform was fine, but few of these men had any ability to carry it out. They needed a church who would hold up their arms and actually work with them instead of expecting the pastor to be their servant and caretaker and fall-guy for every problem that popped up. I looked over the crowd, saw the weary faces, and realized that we weren’t helping them. We were just adding another load onto their already wearing but willing backs.
Dr. Rainer is right about the Church Cartels. Here are his main points:
A church cartel is an alliance of bullies, bully-followers, carnal Christians, and even non-Christians in the church. Its ultimate goal is to get its way. It feeds off of selfish power.
We don’t like to talk about church cartels. After all, it’s not the Christian thing to do. But they exist in too many churches. And if they are not exposed, they will continue to wreak havoc.
Here are five of the very dangerous realities of the church cartel:
When a cartel is allowed power, the church is already unhealthy. The cartel is, by its definition, self-centered and power-driven. A church is already very sick if members remain silent and do not confront this evil directly.
A church cartel leaves carnages of wounded and dying people. If you have any doubts about this danger, please see my post on “Autopsy of a Deceased Pastor.” See the comments. See the pain and questions and defeat the cartel leaves behind.
Church cartels drive away healthy leaders. Some of these leaders are driven away by the cartel. Others leave on their own accord because they want to be in a joyous and healthy church. Their departure exacerbates the problems in these churches.
Church cartels cause church leaders to work from a posture of fear. Instead of moving forward in faith, church leaders often spend more time worrying about how their decisions will impact the cartel. These leaders know the cartel will come after them if they go contrary to the carnal group’s wishes.
We are told in Scripture to manifest the fruit of the Spirit; the church cartel causes the church to do just the opposite. Galatians 5:22-23 is clear about the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. Church cartels bring hate, discord, anxiety, impatience, evil, fear, brutality, and chaos.
These traits do not describe every iteration of the “Church Cartel.” There are variations and the cartel might encompass some or a few of these traits – and maybe a few more. But, they exist and they are damaging.
Bad advice is often given to pastors such as, “Just be silent and suffer the way Jesus suffered. God will exalt you in the end.” There is a time for that, but there is also a time to stand and fight and not give in to groups of people trying to control you – especially when God has called you to a place, a people, and a purpose. Think of Nehemiah seeking to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem. Sanballat and Tobiah were trying to thwart him at every step. Nehemiah stood his ground because he was not trying to serve himself but he was fighting for the protection and flourishing of the people. Consensus is not always the best approach – and can even become an idol that replaces God’s work in calling His church to repentance and dedication to the work that He has put in front of them to do. I am not calling for pastors to be prideful and to ignore their critics or run over people in the church. By no means! That would be to err in the other direction. But, there has been SO MUCH written and said against pastors and pastoral authority, that we are nearing the point where basic pastoral leadership and functioning is in jeopardy on a widespread scale – even when the pastor has a good heart. Perhaps especially then.
Now that I travel throughout the Southeast and work with pastors of many denominations and in many regions, I see how widespread some of these things are. So many pastors want to lead and want their churches to reach people and be effective. But, they are afraid of offending people in their church, of bringing up uncomfortable things, and of leading their church to try and reach people who might not be accepted in their churches. Many pastors already anticipate who will oppose them and what cost they will pay for running afoul of the Cartel. Part of knowing your congregation well is that you know where the opposition will arise from before you even bring something up. A problem with that is that you might avoid conflict and just try to survive. That is wrong for the pastor to do, of course, and it is a forsaking of God’s call. It also shows a weakness of character, faith, and resolve. I get that. But, you know what? Pastors are human too. Rejection takes it toll. Worrying about what will happen to your children if you run afoul of the church bully because you have no other means of caring for them other than your church salary and you know that every established church opening has hundreds of applicants – that can take its toll. How many pastors get blasted in Deacon’s meetings where they are emasculated and then come home at night to stand at the door and look at their sleeping children with tears in their eyes and cry out to God and beg for a way out of the situation? Or, they want to stay in the situation and keep serving, but they don’t know how to handle or navigate the Church Cartel? It happens. The pastor is accountable for this and how he responds, but this type of thing does not happen in a vacuum. An environment is often created that nurtures pastoral cowardice and we all need grace and someone to come alongside us and help us work through these things.
So, what to do if you are dealing with a Church Cartel?
First of all – and before anything else is said – both Church Bullies and Church Cartels should be loved, prayed for, and served. Forgiveness should be offered and the pastor should be patient and long-suffering. Reconciliation and cooperation should always be the goal – not retribution or getting one’s way. That is what Jesus calls us to and is who He is. These folks are not the enemy – we battle not against flesh and blood. They too are objects of God’s mercy. But, how do pastors navigate this? That is the larger question.
As I study this topic, I know that there are ways forward here and ways of confrontation, reconciliation, healing, and future growth and health. Pastors need help and counsel from others to give much needed perspective. So, I’ll throw the comments open and ask if other pastors have experienced this type of thing and ask for some ideas.
Dr. Rainer needs to write a book on this.