Intriguingly, not a single person in the Bible was named Pastor, yet it was named in the 5-Fold Ministry and appears to be a spiritual gift, something that was enacted for the perfecting of God’s people. A position of leadership, to point towards the Christ and to inspire others toward, Christ.
Yet, history and experience have also taught that pastors can become idolized, creating movements that follow the man and not the Christ. When the man fails, the movement fails. And when a human reveres another human, they are ripe to be taken advantage of by that human.
My inspiration for this writing is two-fold. First is that I left (after 15 years) what is a bonified cult – a split off church from the Oneness Pentecostal church (United Pentecostal Church) that went independent and fanatical. In this cult, the pastor was everything, overriding any leading of the Spirit an individual may have. Secondly, I recently finished watching the Netflix documentary Wild Wild Country.
First Things First
This is not to bash and bang on pastors! Only God knows the burden and labor someone who takes that office is placed under. If you believe in Spiritual Warfare, I would argue 75% of that warfare is aimed at spiritual leaders. They must take seriously their position of leading people to Christ, and simultaneously remember they are simply followers themselves. I think the latter part is the hardest.
In the documentary about Baghwan Rajneesh, a Hindu guru that amassed a great following and eventually created a 70,000 acre compound in Antelope, OR, (191 miles from where I live!) it becomes evident immediately that this man is being worshipped. Every person hangs on his every word and to simply be in his presence evoked great emotions.
I can recall three times in the 15 years of my time in my cult that I was able to sit next to the pastor, and I would have given my right arm for each experience. I felt special to be that close to the man. His admiration and approval meant everything to me in the years that I was really bought into the lies. At a group function (one time) I sat next to my pastor and I probably gushed with arrogant pride that it was me and not someone else.
The first way to spot Pastor Worship is seeing someone completely enamored and devoted to the person. They hang on their every word. If the pastor stands up, they stand up. If the pastor wears blue, they wear blue.
One way I spotted it in my cult was noticing people dressed and reflected the pastor. The way the young men in the church talked sounded like the pastor. Their facial expressions mimicked the pastor. The phrases and speech style of the pastor was mimicked in the young men. This was the same for the young women who would mimic the pastor’s wife.
There certainly is nothing wrong with admiring a person for their labor in the Church, but when you begin cloning the person, you have idolized them and they have absolute control over you.
These people will often repeat phrases the pastor has shrouded in his messages, like, ‘This man has given his life for me!’, or, ‘He has given everything to this church, the least we can do is give him our everything…’ (Please note that one man giving his wealth, to having 100, 200, 1000 or more people return their wealth is a pretty good ROI!)
This also ends with followers becoming militant in their defense of the pastor or leader. In the Rajneesh cult, they literally took up weapons. In my cult, I heard men say while pumping their fist in the air or punching one palm with the other fist, ‘Don’t you come against my man of God or you’ll get the five folded ministry.’
The Pastor Overrides God
One of the most striking examples of this came when I felt the Lord lead me into some type of ministry. At the time I felt God called me to take the Gospel to a third-world country. We always think of that as an evangelist or preacher.
After three or four days of turmoil, I went to the pastor and told him about it. His response was a little shocking to me now – but then I accepted it as right. The Pastor said,
“If that was God leading you, he would have confirmed it in me, and he hasn’t.”
Another example of this is a man I know who felt it was right to take his family to another town and another church. Instead of the pastor saying, “Is this what you think the Lord wants you to do, and if so, then listen to Him!”, the pastor said, “I don’t think this is the right move and if you move without my blessings, you’ll do it without God’s blessings too.”
That family is basically exiled from the church because they moved without the pastors blessing.
The Bible tells Christians to be led by the spirit, not by a man. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” not the pastor’s commandments. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t seek counsel from our pastor, and listen, but if he (pastor) thinks he is wiser and overrides the Spirit, he is out of his place.
No Demand Seems Too High, No Crime is Too Much
Outsiders, often family, will say things like, “Why do you let them control you like that?” and the most common response is “They don’t control me! I want to do this.”
People who idolize their pastor never feel like the demands are too high. No amount of time, money, energy or sacrifice is enough to pay back all that the pastor has put in to the church. And they normally remind you of this, roundabouts time to preach about tithing.
Furthermore, people who idolize their pastor look right over the top of controversy and criminal behavior and call it ‘persecution of the devil’. A classic example is my old pastor, who was found guilty of violating child labor laws and was subsequently sued for defaming a former member and settled for nearly $1,000,000 to shut up the former member with a gag order. To the people still in the church, it was ‘made up charges’ and ‘worldly persecution’.
This is the reality of pastor worship. If you are a pastor and reading this, please know that I am not coming against you – just those who abuse the position.
1 Peter 2:9 tells us that we are a peculiar people belonging to God. Jesus said that the gates of hell would not prevail against HIS church. Jesus prayed to the father and called us HIS sheep.
We do not belong to a pastor – we follow a pastor if he is walking and leading us to Christ. Paul said, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1. This leaves the door open that if Paul stops imitating Christ, they were(disciples) to stop imitating Paul.
If you see someone idolizing their pastor, share this article with them. We need a revolution of people willing to follow Christ and not the man with the shiniest suit, the finest car, the best programs, the trophy wife…Jesus commanded Peter, ‘Feed my sheep’, not ‘Fleece my sheep’.