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Abuse of Authority
Sheep can be bitten by the shepherd. Why do we seldom hear of Church leaders being dismissed for abuse of authority?

I wasn't sure what was on her mind when she came up after class one day and booked an appointment to chat.

It's not uncommon to hear from believers perplexed by the rigid authoritarianism … in leadership at church and in other Christian organizations.

"You know how we were talking in class about vices that undermine effective Christian leadership," she began when we met a day or two later.

"Yes," I recalled. "We suggested that impropriety related to money, sex or power can devastate and even destroy both ministries and people."

"Exactly," she nodded. "Is it just me or, well, why does it seem that, while there's no shortage of examples of Christian leaders who've fallen due to sexual or financial indiscretions, we seldom hear of leaders being dismissed for abusing authority?"

"Why do I have the feeling you're prepared to answer your own question?" I responded, prompting a grin of "gotcha" to cross her face.

"But before you do," I interjected, "permit a couple of observations."

"For one thing," I proceeded, "your perceptive question touches on a question I hear being discussed much more openly today than it was, say, ten years ago."

Possess an email address with the word "Christian" in it — I have three due to my association with publications such as City Light News — and it's amazing the kind of questions, stories and diatribes people will send you. It's not uncommon at all to hear from believers perplexed by the rigid authoritarianism or egomania they're encountering in leadership at church and in other Christian organizations.

Also, by virtue of my work as an editor for a secular publication, I regularly interview an assortment of CEOs, business execs, politicians and other leaders in main-stream society. I'm consistently intrigued by the confluence of thinking I see and hear in the marketplace regarding leadership with that which I see and hear in circles of faith. I've long since concluded that whereas some of this overlap is to be applauded, not all of it is benign.

"Hmmm," the student emitted, collecting her thoughts.

In the course of the next 45 minutes, she poured out a five-gallon pail's worth of questions, thoughts, accusations and, to be accurate, some resentment. I share some of that here because I think she touched on a couple of issues worthy of frequent consideration by those of us involved in Christian leadership of some variety.

My friend expressed skepticism about the notion of a specific call from God to ministry. Oh, she's well aware that Moses had the burning bush and Isaiah his burning coals, yet she's pretty well convinced that such has not been the experience of most today who talk about "God's call." She acknowledged her skepticism in this regard is fuelled by having witnessed some very "un-Godlike" behaviour in the lives of those professing to be thus "called."

She spoke here of her affinity for the servant-leadership modeled by Jesus that was refreshingly free of self-promotion, drivenness and the need to try and prove He was somebody.

She went on to articulate concerns about Christian organizations without a forum for constructive criticism or legitimate questioning of leadership styles and decisions.

She shared how she and her husband had once been on the receiving end of a letter from church leadership citing Scripture pertaining to criticism of elders following an exchange with their pastor they both felt was "mutually warm and affirming."


As I drove away from our meeting, I soberly found myself thinking of the sentiments Karl Barth once expressed. Commenting on the words of our Lord related to the gates of hell not prevailing against the Church, Barth wondered, who was worried about the gates of hell given the indications he'd seen of the capacity of believers to do the Church in all by ourselves.

Tim Callaway is a Calgary-area pastor, college instructor and journalist. You can interact with him at

Originally published in City Light News, November 2004.




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