Avoiding Power-Hungry Church Members

I love being outdoors. One of my wife’s favorite activities is hiking. We live in Missouri, and though we have some bears here, we have never come across one while hiking. On many occasions we have talked about hiking in Colorado, and one thing we always come back to is “what will we do if we meet a bear?” It always leads us to read stories and watch YouTube videos (until very late hours of the night) of people who have encountered wild animals and how they survived. Despite what Yogi taught us, hungry bears are not friendly. They are cranky. They want food. And when they want food, everything in their path should watch out.

It was our first week in a new town and we were having an informational meeting about a church that we would soon be planting. There was a man there (we’ll call him “Yogi”) who asked some interesting questions in a confrontational tone. I was alerted by his questions, but answered him and moved on. The next day he called me to set up a meeting. We met for breakfast later that week and while eating eggs and bacon, he began to explain to me his vision for this church. He shared what he thought should be included in the name of the church and that we should offer Sunday school instead of small groups. Then Yogi leaned across the table and said, “I want to be on your leadership team,” (the team leading our church in the planting stages as we prayerfully sought out elders) and proceeded to explain why he should be on the team.

This was my first time as a Lead Pastor after years of being a pastor of students. I was new to this whole church planting thing. I had not received much training in the area of leadership, but I knew that what was being proposed in this moment was not a good thing.

I listened to his thoughts and asked him some questions for further clarification. The more we talked the more I knew that our philosophies of ministry, our ecclesiology, and our theology were not good matches. The more I listened to him the more confrontational and forceful he became.

I finally sat my fork down, leaned across the table in the little diner and said with a kind smile, “Yogi, I appreciate your thoughts here and for sharing them with me. I want you to know though, that you are not going to be on my leadership team.” The remainder of breakfast was a little awkward as we talked through this. After that breakfast, I never saw him at our church again. Why was I so certain he shouldn’t be in leadership at our church? I saw him as a hungry bear who was on the hunt and hungry bears always get their food. I was not aboutto let the people and vision God had given to our church be eaten by this bear.

In a desire to help us avoid the hungry bears in our churches, I would like to submit five types of people to avoid when choosing leaders for your church:

1. Avoid Those Who Cause Divisions

Romans 16:17-18 says:

“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.”

Yogi was a confrontational guy. He questioned and challenged many ideas and visions that I cast. He voiced his division with his previous church. He voiced his division with other churches. Many of his issues Memberswere secondary issues (they had nothing to do with the integrity of the gospel). They were about preferences, yet he desired to control all these preferences and he caused division when he didn’t get his way.

2. Avoid Those Who Cannot Control Their Tongues

James 1:26 says, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” Yogi could not control his tongue. He would go on and on about his opinion of church, of his previous church, of his previous pastor, and of others in our core group. If he will talk that way in front of me, he will talk that way in front of anyone. Much damage will come from his tongue.

3. Avoid Those Who Are Prideful

The Scriptures about pride are many. Understand this: pride and church leadership do not mix. There may not be anything more anti-gospel than pride. Pride is what brought sin into the world. Pride is what keeps many of us from coming to God. Pride is what causes us to trust our thoughts over God’s leading. Pride is what causes us to love ourselves more than our church. If someone is pursuing leadership in your church and there are strong issues of pride showing through then either slow down their process or completely end it until these problems are dealt with.

4. Avoid The Impatient Pursuer of Position

1 Timothy 3 tells us that it is a good thing for one to aspire to be an elder. Aspire means to “direct ones hope or ambitions towards.” This is far different than impatient pursuit. One who truly aspires to the position will be committed to the process and time required to acquire that position. If they are wanting to rush or avoid that process or if they are pressuring you to make that decision quickly, then do not put them into a position. 1 Timothy 3 goes on to explain that qualifications of an elder also include self-control, gentleness, and not quarrelsome. Avoid putting someone into leadership roles in your church just because they are eager to serve in a leadership position.

5. Avoid The One Who Wants Power But is Unwilling to Serve

Philippians 2 is a powerful account of Jesus’ humility in leadership. Though He held absolute power, He humbled himself to serve. Be cautious to put anyone into a leadership position that gives them power or authority if they are not serving humbly without power and authority. Power rarely causes a prideful man to become humble and serve. Instead, even the most humble servant will have to fight the desire to control without serving once they receive power.