Abusive Leadership Avoids Accountability

Everything we do as leaders should stand scrutiny, even stand the scrutiny of our enemies in terms of it being righteous. We suffer for righteousness sake: because we are doing and saying right. “But even if ye should suffer for righteousness ‘sake, blessed are ye: and fear not their intimidation, neither be disturbed.” [1 Peter 3:14]

Jesus didn’t tell His critics to shut up, but He did shut them up, so to speak, by confronting their inconsistencies, biases, and irrationality.

I have had “unannounced visitors” who objective seemed to be: analyze our ministry to see if we have been invaded by an Indian demon. Some sloppy DVD work by a discredited, rejected leader has left quite a few simpleminded people with the impression that manifestations of the Spirit are a result of being touched by someone with this demon.

So, the critics arrive armed with silliness to analyze every song, word, dance, motion, manifestation, and posture of the people. They come in on a mission to find this spirit – it’s gotta be here somewhere – so it isn’t hard to find something that resembles whatever perceptions they picked up from the DVD. Someone worshipping with their eyes closed is enough for one critic to say that these people are “under the influence of the devil.”  My preaching  was misuse of Scripture, “taken out of context,” filled with new age code words, and a general work of deception. I cannot see these deceptions “because I am deceived.” But they can; they’ve seen the DVD.

What to do? What to do? I fain would deal with it. I am neither angry nor arrogant about it. Par for the course. To be expected. And, not so terribly unsettling.

I believe it was Thomas Edison who said we can avoid criticism by doing, saying, and being nothing.

Scrutiny Isn’t Evil

Testing your behaviors and message, or having them tested, isn’t a bad thing, so when these critics get off the highway to find another ministry to critique, I use this as an opportunity. All our leadership should stand scrutiny. So, I made some minor changes to our behaviors simply because they unnecessarily appeared odd and communicated something other than what our worship and ministry assignment is designed to communicate. Being odd for the sake of oddness has no virtue.

I have discovered that people can find something wrong, “unbiblical,” and demonic in nearly any aspect of ministry. The music is a great place to “identify demonic tendencies.” The preaching can be analyzed infinitum for opportunities to disagree about what Jesus, Paul, and other Scriptures writers meant by what they said. Spiritual manifestations are all opportunities to “uncover deceptions of hell!” Amazingly, I have yet to find one thing we do that someone doesn’t find this questionable.

I would like to spit in some dirt, make mud, and anoint someone’s eyes just to see how many experts would tell me that was of the devil. [Hint: Jesus did this. Of course, someone would then say, “But you aren’t Jesus so you shouldn’t do that.”]

I would find it interesting to confront a demon in a ministry setting operating within a Christian because people don’t like to admit demons can function inside the same building with Christians, let alone within Christians. People have two favorites Scriptures to quote to “prove” I’m wrong. [Jesus functioned very openly in front of Jesus wherever He went; that didn’t mean Jesus was the problem!]

Dancing makes us really vulnerable to criticism, of course. It happens right there in front of God and everybody, but dancing doesn’t make people demonized or demonstrate their demonization. A person falling down doesn’t determine they are right or wrong. Even speaking something from Scripture in a way that is different from someone else speaks it doesn’t mean you are deceived by a demonic infestation, an exotic Indian spirit that turns the whites of your eyes brown. Strangely, the assumption that anything people filled with the Spirit does can be more likely demonic than seems odd to me. People who do not dance, manifest, shake, shout, or preach are more likely under the influence of a hellish strategy than people sincerely seeking God!

However, I did recognize that good people have learned behaviors they tend toward in God’s presence that are not directly caused by God’s Presence. That is, God is present and these good people are responding to Him, but their mannerisms are sometimes learned more than spontaneous responses. That is not wrong but can be distracting, and by that I mean that distraction is about the worst problem this causes; a distraction to them personally because they could be experiencing God in new ways, and a distraction to others who observed the behaviors because they seem contrived.

Back to the story, these people come without an invite, then they proceed to “discern the spirit” and pronounce a “I have warned you” word over me. “You been told” is their pride’s pronouncement, a deeply held assumption that they have the responsibility to straighten me out.

Argument is a waste of time; however, scrutiny isn’t a cause of panic. Obviously, they didn’t actually have a revelation of something demonic outside their own silliness produced by spending too much time in front of their DVD player, but I want to see my critics as helpful because they require me to look another time at what we are doing and think about why we are doing it.

Everything we do should stand scrutiny, even from the most ridiculous, ill-informed, irrational, and religious critics.

Living by Someone Else’s Emotions and Misconceptions

The Bible makes it clear that our suffering for doing something wrong isn’t worthy of honor, as is our suffering for doing right. So use of the phrase, “If you obey God, you will not suffer!” sparingly. Just the opposite is true, and Jesus, Peter, James, and Paul couldn’t have been clearer about it.

Abusive leaders and people like to make their abuse your fault, not theirs. Amazingly, this effort often works well. “Now, look what I was forced to do because of what you did,” becomes a mantra for their out-of-control behaviors.

“Of course, I shouldn’t have over-reacted like that, but what was I to do? You just weren’t listening.” This works both in leaders and those following leaders as easily and often. The justification for over-reaction and abusive behaviors always tends toward projecting the blame on the victim.

The abusers leaves the impression that their abuse isn’t part of their disposition, a product of their own inner issues, but something forced upon them and revealed through them by the environment, the pressure, the people, the demands, the expectations, the battle – you made me do it!

Hey, I think I’ve heard it all and then I hear something that amazes me in a brand new way. The behaviors of abusers are often excusable in their own minds, justified by some warp of the soul, and perhaps touted as beneficial and redemptive when taken in the context of their inaccurate assumptions. Some abusive leader produces a sadly inaccurate hatchet job, comparing godly leaders to some eastern guru, and people use this silliness as proof that they have some great Biblical revelation.

Its not their fault, of course, because they wish everyone else to live in bondage to their emotions and inconsistencies while they attempt to take the moral high ground by being a bit more pompous and “right with God” than the rest of us. It is avoidance behavior. It is projection. It is a rejection test upon which they base the reasonableness of their holding hands with the accuser of the brethren. When I saw the DVD, which I watched to determine the basis for the criticism, I thought, “Well, the devil couldn’t have done a better job of discrediting revival.”

The point I am making is that criticism shouldn’t become our excuse for abuse. What we do should stand scrutiny without making an example of someone, investing a great deal of emotion in “doing a better job of criticizing them back,” or “bringing down the judgment of God upon their heads.”

What to Do with Criticism – Punishment or Discipline

There is a marked difference between discipline and punishment. Kingdom leaders don’t punish. That’s for God and government to do – the courts, the police, the sword of government that serves God’s design for society, to be a terror to them that do evil. (See Romans 13)

We discipline. We aren’t a terror to them that do evil. We don’t terrorize people and call for their final end, avenging their evil behavior. God has a plan for that. Punishment is the end reward of evil. Discipling produces changed behavior.

When leaders punish, they abuse. When people demonize someone, an end reward for evil, they punish them, mark them like Cain. They abuse because they assume no redemptive change is possible, or they do not wish any redemptive change to occur. They simply want the person to “go away.” Punish is a terror to them who do evil, for sure, but we are not in the business of terrorizing people into submission. We are leading people who submit to leadership and discipline. Discipline generates redemptive transformation, strengthens the will, and produces peaceable, right-action fruit. (See Hebrews 12)

We shouldn’t use Matthew 18 to punish people. We walk through Matthew 18 to produce redemptive change, restoring people and relationships, and reuniting the ecclesia. We walk through Matthew 18 even for the person who refuses to make things right so we can properly respond to that person: “if he will not listen, treat him like an outsider” means that we start all over with the person, the same way we would treat any unsaved person who isn’t part of the ecclesia. Even the ultimate step of Matthew 18 discipline is redemptive, not punishment or banishment.

The instructions of Jesus in Matthew 18 have been pieced out to prove several inconsistent claims and misrepresentations. Read with a proper understanding of what ecclesia is and does, we find, among other things, that Jesus is making discipline available to every person within the called together assembly. To use Matthew 18 to punish people who don’t toe the line leaders set is abusive. Matthew 18 is there more for personal relationships than corporate behaviors. A different process should be used to deal with rebellion, disobedience, and destructive disunity.

In any case, Matthew 18 prescribes restoration through confrontation, not punishment and banishment. While Scripture does say to “avoid people who produce division” including eating with them, listening to their bitter poisons, and taking part in their justifications for wrong-doing, the purpose of re-relating to people who are into “ugly” is to produce changed behavior and to protect your own heart and mind from poison. That is, we relate to them upon the basis of discipline. The discussion we have is about their refusal to make right what they did wrong; not to prove “we are loving” by ignoring their rebellion and abuse toward another kingdom citizen.

Jesus says a person with “a beef” ought to communicate with the people with whom he has the beef, not communicate “ugly” with everyone else. This is punishment, not discipline. This is destructive, not redemptive. This creates more division and fragmentation, cynicism and doubt, not the deeper trust that God has designed for the ecclesia, her ability to heal and strengthen herself in the worst life can throw at her.

If you are part of the ecclesia with leaders who cannot deal with conflict and misunderstanding in a way that produces redemption and peace, you should examine your assignment. What I mean is this, “Am I assigned to this leadership or am I ‘attending church’ for some other personal, less purposeful reason.” You should be able to endure some level of imperfection in leadership dynamics, but you should avoid the more common ills of kingdom dysfunction in which ecclesia has been altered into socialization of Christians and the maintenance of a subculture.

Since the main thing leaders do is make decisions and solve problems, you gotta ask yourself, “How long should I endure following leaders who do neither well.” In the words of the Declaration of Independence: “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

In other words, no one should shallowly or flippantly separate from their assignments, creating division and disunity in the Body without counting the cost that division brings to the whole of the kingdom. No one should believe for a moment they can just “go to church wherever I please to get whatever I want for myself.” However, understanding abusive leadership and separating from dysfunctional leadership will be necessary at times, and when any leadership refuses to stand to scrutiny, that leadership is by definition dysfunctional.

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Dr. Don

Dr. Don

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