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A Submissive Leadercomment (0)

January 3, 2013

By Bob Terry

A Submissive Leader

There it was in black and white — the characteristics of a submissive leader. The term seemed an anomaly. It brought to mind cartoonish images of one sticking a finger in the air to determine which way the wind blew or one yelling to a crowd, “Wait for me. I’m your leader.”

The term was not a compliment. It described the type of pastor it took to be “successful” in a particular church — a well-known Baptist church — a few years ago. For example, the submissive leader had to “submit to the whims of reactionaries in the congregation.” The submissive pastor had to maintain the existing social order within the church and avoid controversial subjects in the pulpit. The submissive pastor had to “support the status quo in the community by remaining silent about issues.”

One could have a long and highly regarded tenure in this church if one obeyed the unwritten code of conduct. But violations of the code would be met with persistent and cruel responses from the power structure of the church.
The words were more than a hypothetical description. They were history.

Like throwaway products, pastors were expendable in this church. Those who courted the candidate to accept the church’s invitation to be pastor were the same ones who repudiated the leadership of any man with gall enough to stand against the values and traditions of the congregation. After all, there was always another would-be-pastor certain that he could succeed where others have failed.

Does that sound like any church you know? Does it sound like any pastor you know?

The book continued, “Some lay leaders and church members treated preachers like hired hands. They expected complete submission to their whims.” In 10 years this well-known church called four different men as pastor. To those outside the congregation, the church became known as a “meat grinder” that chewed up and spit out good men.

Yes, there were some members who tried to support the pastor, who tried to do the right thing; but the power structure of the church was in the hands of aggressive members willing to use unrelenting intimidation to get their way. Passionate people usually overpower those seeking consensus.

Reading the account of this church it was obvious the members never wanted a pastor. They wanted a private chaplain to preside at events marking rites of passage — birth, death, baptisms, marriage, etc. The rest of the time the cleric was to be no more than an attractive display showing all who cared to see how nice the “owners” were.

I have known churches like this but never before had I picked up a book that described in public detail — including the name of the church and the names of some of the members — such a congregation. I felt sorry for the pastors caught in that “meat grinder.” Some of them I had known personally. And I felt sorry for pastors I know today who serve in similar situations.

By no means am I trying to place blame only on churches when discord occurs in a fellowship. The emergence of pastors who see themselves primarily as chief executive officers with an attitude of “my way or the highway” has done untold damage to churches in Alabama and elsewhere. Those who think themselves above accountability to anyone, including the church they serve, do not reflect the congregational polity of Baptists.

But failings by pastors do not excuse churches that want a “submissive leader” rather than a pastor. And the church described in the book developed its destructive patterns despite the work of good men with sterling records everywhere they served except that one congregation.

A pastor is the catalyst for all that happens in a congregation. That doesn’t mean he does everything, but little will succeed without his blessing. A pastor is a change agent in a church. He stimulates growth in one’s relationship with the Lord. He clarifies the vision of the congregation and helps members choose the goals toward which they strive individually and as a congregation.

A pastor is the cheerleader as the church works toward its goals. He is the prophet bringing God’s Word to bear on one’s life and the life of the community. A pastor is the servant leader building up the fellowship by serving others.

The pastor must be free to preach the Bible. He must be free to confront sin. He must be free to obey God rather than men.

How hard that is when told either directly or by innuendo that to do something or say something could jeopardize one’s livelihood. What pastor has not been warned against angering Brother So-and-So because he is the biggest giver or Sister What’s-Her-Name because she influences a lot of people in the church.

Even during the time I sat writing these words came a report of a Baptist minister told to resign or be fired because the head of a family clan in the rural church he served became angry with him. Just days before Christmas he was looking for a place to serve. What kind of security is that for a family?  

Baptist pastors have no denominational hierarchy to protect them from abuse. They have no union of peers to fight for them when they are wronged. Courts stay out of ecclesiastical fights for the most part.

Pastors and their families live exposed to the congregations they serve. And they live knowing how tenuous that relationship can be.

Like the church described in the book, every pastor knows stories of business meetings unexpectedly flooded with marginal members who show up only because word of some disagreement circulated on the gossip network.

No church needs a “submissive leader” as described in the book I read. Every church needs a pastor free to be the undershepherd of God to that congregation.

And every pastor needs to know that the church he serves wants him to be their pastor, not their “submissive leader.” Receiving such a message from you would be great encouragement to your pastor.

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