The Flip Side of Abusive Leaders

The Flip Side of Abuse

During the several decades I have observed church-anity and ecclesia, I have seen as much abuse of leaders as I have abuse by leaders. I have observed some really strange abuse by leaders, for sure, even to the point of leaders drawing blood on a person’s cheek, grasping both cheeks in their fingers until fingernails left streaks of blood, because a person stated they weren’t completely convinced about the leader’s stand on divorce and remarriage or how long a person’s sleeves should be or whether or not a man can have or not have a beard!

However, the abuse of followers can certainly be equal or worse than the abuse of leaders. The casualty list of abused leaders is growing, the roadside strewn with wreckage, pushed off the highway to make room for the next high-speed train of church growth.

None of us has been called to be abused by leaders. Leaders will suffer as leaders because we must remain vulnerable to kicking, biting sheep, overly-energetic warriors who provide inadvertent friendly fire, and people who justify crucifying us for some imagined religious notion – “we are doing God a big favor nailing you to the cross.” (The worst things ever done to mankind have been done in the name of God; He gets blamed for things He had absolutely nothing to do with!)

As a leader, I have seen people abuse my children in an effort to hurt me. I have seen people attack my wife in an effort to discredit me. I have seen people attack my preaching, my dress, my lifestyle, my decisions, my mistakes of tongue and action, my basic humanness, my hairstyle, and my worst difficulties. Ruthanne and I had people say our ministry was cursed when our oldest son was diagnosed with leukemia! (He is healed!)

Recently, after praying with someone about their marriage, we got the blame because someone’s husband left his wife for another woman: our prayers should have been good enough to stop him from leaving his wife and children, and his actions were evidence that we weren’t really anointed.

Sometimes you laugh at people who justify doing everything they can to hurt you with spiritual ideas and Bible quotes. People you trust with leadership only to discover they are having meetings in which they bring everything you are doing into question, use the trust you have given them to separate people to themselves, and couch all these words in pious lies they tell themselves before they tell them to others. Laugh at the absurdity. Cry for the people damaged by betrayals.

Yet, none of this abuse gives me the right to wall myself away from criticism. Everything I do and say should stand scrutiny, and being wrong is not the end of my leadership. Admitting I messed up may actually cause some people to lose confidence in me because they demand a perfect leader (because their pride says they deserve it). However, admitting I messed up will strengthen the trust levels of people who have honor in their hearts.

So, everything I do as a leader should stand scrutiny, but nothing about my leadership calling requires me to be a victim. The test of my leadership is whether I protect the assignment and God’s people or use my leadership, even when I am abused, to protect myself at the expense of the kingdom. So, leaders suffer more than others. Paul speaks of this, tells Timothy to join him in it, and makes this suffering honorable because it is the stuff honor is made of.

In other words, no matter how badly we are treated, we cannot use abuse as justification for bad behavior. We cannot respond in the same spirit. We cannot control a control spirit. We cannot become angrier than the person with out-of-control rage. We cannot throw stronger acid on someone’s bitterness. We cannot be a better politician than the person operating in a political spirit. We cannot attempt to be a terror to others in order to overcome the fear of man.

Victimization and Victory

You must learn the distinction between victimized and victim. I can be victimized and remain victorious. While not “signing up to be a whipping post” or helping people pick out the whip they will use to beat me up, I remain “in place” during seasons of being pelted with tomatoes, remain calm while being screamed at and spit upon, and continue doing what I’m called to do while tremendous pressures are brought to bear that could distract me.

I believe, of course, in submission to God and to others. The most submitted people in the world are kingdom leaders. They are submitted to God and God’s people. Submission means “placing at the disposal of,” and leaders are servants, broken bread, poured-out wine. The greater our leadership the less of our lives and us belongs to us.

There is an important distinction between submission and victimization. I will give account to God for my calling and assignment. So even when a leader is abusive, I must receive a release from God before walking away. That Divine release from leadership assignment allows me to walk away with everything God gave me during that season. Without Divine release, I walk away empty-handed, forced to start over, diminished by short-circuiting my assignment even when my “walkaway” seems justified by that leader’s abuse of my destiny. (Review David’s honor of Saul.)

This is important because we are sometimes mistaken in measuring the difference between discipline and punishment when we are the one being disciplined! To tell the difference, we must be able to discern the difference between discipline and punishment, and be able to honestly measure how much we want to be changed.

Discipline includes pain. That is, painful experiences stop unwanted action and produce right behavior (according to Hebrews 12). Rebuke isn’t evil. Confrontation isn’t evil. Training isn’t evil. Sacrifice isn’t evil. Radical demands aren’t evil.

Discipline will produce good results in your life and calling. Punishment will kill it, imprison it, and force you to start over again. Running from discipline, correction, confrontation, or just being unwilling to have anybody tell you “No,” will leave you where you are no matter how far away you run. Escaping punishment is a relief, because if you suffer for righteousness, you come out with more than you had when you went in. Avoiding discipline reinforces your spiritual couch-potato flabbiness, feeds your foot-stomping “I’m still 4 years old” syndromes, and guarantees that what you do have will be taken away and given to another until you learn to be faithful with little.

Abused by Achievers, Disciplined by Fathers

Watch carefully the difference between leaders who wish to be achievers as opposed to people who function as leaders. Achievers will use you to achieve their goals or the goals of their family, ministry, or cause and crusade. Leaders will develop you and your capacities for goals greater than you or the leader, and will cause you, the leader, and that higher cause to be strengthened, expanded, and established. That’s kingdom!

Fathers do not see their children as competitors. Achievers will always seek to appear better than everyone else, either by eliminating perceived competitors – ‘get them before they get you” – or sabotaging competitors to prove their superiority. This is the Saul syndrome that throws the spear at David.

The reality is that superiority isn’t the measurement of leadership. Good fathers want their children to do better than they do: “You will do what I do and greater shall you do because I go to the Father, ” Jesus says.

Fathers want a harvest in the next generation greater than the harvest of their generation. They embrace a “He must increase and I must decrease” sentiment and motivation, and they understand that their investment is their children’s gain.


(So, now I am going to get myself into the crosshairs of controversy! Feeling kinda left out for a coupla weeks without the red dot of a laser sight on my chest.)

We should assume that a major shift is happening right now in the kingdom. God is reassigning the leadership of tens of thousands from achievers to leaders, from institutional to fathering leadership. Right now a major kingdom reset is happening! The kingdom realignment demands each of us to examine our motivations, measure how effectively and efficiently we are fulfilling kingdom purposes, and run through open doors into fathering leadership. A shift from the spirit of leadership upon Saul to the spirit of leadership upon David is occurring.

Don’t waste time crusading against the previous abuses. Running into the arms of fathers will be the greatest testimony and influence you could have to those held fast in dysfunctional leadership, as victims of their own comfort, and enslaved to achievers through achiever worship.

Since September 2011, when a great shift came to the ecclesia, I have been seated across from many leaders, saying the same thing: “I am looking for a father.” Their commonly held dissatisfaction with leaders who achieve but cannot father calls for careful change, and they are responding to the Father’s call. This change is as great for the ecclesia as Israel’s coming out of Egypt!

If you are a kingdom leader and the predominate purpose of the ministry you are part of is “to accumulate believers” or worship the achievements of the achieving leader, you will inevitably become frustrated. Not that we won’t have mega-churches anymore or that God hates them! No. Not because the “only Biblical model of ecclesia is -.” No. If your goal is to have an achieving leader so you can represent the kingdom in a spiritual Olympics, you are about to be radically shifted!




Posted in
Dr. Don

Dr. Don

Scroll to Top