By Church politics I mean the way church leaders relate to one another
and to others in exercising authority and determining the way things will
be done in church life. The term “church politics” often has a negative
connotation – however I am using the term in a broader sense. The policies
and ways of church leadership may be godly or they may be ungodly. The
way leadership is exercised is tremendously important to the Lord, so for
this reason I believe it is worth writing about this and opening up the
subject. Church leaders may say they believe all that the Bible says but
this doesn’t mean that the Bible’s message fully shapes the values and
policies of the leader in question.
The Need for Leadership and Structure
A small group of Christians bound together in a group to meet each others
personal needs does not need a whole lot of structure or organisation.
Such a group might be compared to a small village on the main road – only
one road is needed and all the houses are on that road. However, a large
town or city cannot have just one road. Instead, a huge network of interconnecting
streets, avenues and highways forms part of the organisational structure
of that town or city. In the same way, if many Christians are to unite
together somehow and yet have a diversity of function and activity, there
will be a need for structure. There will be a need for organisation, accountability
and responsibility. There will be a need for clear direction so that people
working together co-operate well towards the same goal. These needs are
met through leaders who assist in giving direction, organisation, accountability
and responsibility. Without this, very little will be accomplished. “Without
a vision, the people perish (or cast off restraint)” (Proverbs 29:18).
The Bible exhorts Christian believers to respect and willingly choose to
co-operate with the leadership in the local church. See Hebrews 13:7, 17;
1 Thessalonians 5:12,13. This exhortation is hard to receive for some believers
who have been hurt in their dealings with church leadership but the alternative
is to stagnate, be unproductive and even poison the life of the church
with bitter seeds. Without co-operation towards a common purpose nothing
significant will ever be achieved.
When a church is first planted, a complex structure is not needed. It
might take the form of a weekly Bible study in someone’s living room at
first. It can be compared to a human embryo in the early stages – simple
structure, huge potential. However, if the group never recognises any leadership,
it will not develop. Instead, it will only remain as long as the people
involved all feel they are getting something out of it for themselves.
After that, it will begin to disintegrate.
As leadership develops, so does the requirement for procedures, norms
and policies regarding the church life. Church leaders use their authority
to enforce certain standards. For example, certain practices such as fornication
should not be tolerated amongst key members of the group. If they are,
the Holy Spirit will be grieved and the group will soon lose its “saltiness”
and Christ-like distinctiveness.
As well as this, the leader has a key role as “teacher” – setting out
and explaining the doctrines of the church. Since there can be disagreement
between Christians in some areas of doctrine the leadership usually makes
it quite clear what the position of that particular local church is on
certain issues. Church leaders are appointed by God to guard the people
of God against false teachings, and heresies of all kinds which can have
severe or even destructive consequences for those believers accepting them.
As well as this, leaders of a growing church are on the lookout for
people who God seems to be preparing for future leadership roles within
the church. People are evaluated according to certain criteria for suitability.
Some kind of policy – whether written down or not – must exist to help
decide who may or may not be suitable for positions of responsibility and
authority in the church as it develops.
When different churches leaders must interact the situations can be
even more complex. Church leaders may have differences and personal ambitions
which can lead to a conflict of interests. There are many different ways
these tensions are resolved in practice.
Some Pitfalls in Leadership
It is a great privilege and also a great responsibility to be in church
leadership. The Bible declares that such a role is not for novices in the
faith. At least a few years in the faith is necessary (but not in itself
sufficient) to produce the maturity required to handle the responsibility
of church leadership in a godly and skillful way. God loves church leaders
and will reward those who serve Him with a faithful heart. At the same
time leadership is usually the first target of satanic attacks – be they
direct or indirect. It is therefore our duty as Christians to also pray
for Christian leaders. We should pray for their walk with God to be protected,
their marriages, families, bodies and minds also. When we don’t guard our
leaders in prayer we open ourselves to potentially disastrous consequences.
The sad reality is that the devil does at times get inroads into the
lives of spiritual leaders. This can happen very subtly, but can have serious
negative consequences for those around them and their influence. It is
very easy for a spiritual leader in a few moments to seriously hurt someone
emotionally or give them occasion to take offense. Such actions can trigger
an entire chain reaction of negative consequences – criticism, bitterness,
division, strife, envy, discouragement and more.
It is very obvious that things need to change when a spiritual leader
falls into some really gross or carnal sin – like adultery. What is not
so obvious is when the ways of leadershiup begin to resemble more the ways
of the world than the ways of Christ. When the values of the world – such
as the desire for money, power and recognition – become the guiding values
in church politics then the church has taken a fall and needs the prophetic
ministry to restore it. We need to remember that the true values of the
church should be the honor and glory of God, love, mercy and truth. People
– even lost people – are tremendously valuable to God and should be to
us also. When these values are forsaken and decisions are made on the basis
of the former worldly values – such as lust, greed and pride, we have a
serious problem. Usually these values are not openly acknowledged if they
are present, but their presence compromises the church and tends to make
people into hypocrites instead of disciples of Christ.
The Roots of Bad Church Politics
Bad church politics comes about when church leadership departs from
either the leadership of the Holy Spirit or from the guidance of the Bible.
These two are closely related. The Holy Spirit will urge us to meditate
on the Scriptures and apply them, while the Scriptures urge us to be full
of the Holy Spirit.
When the Holy Spirit is disobeyed or grieved and this is not repented
of, an evil religious spirit gains entry. This religious spirit seeks to
counterfeit the voice and authority of the Holy Spirit in the life of the
leader. Even the partial influence of a religious spirit will have a negative
effect on the development of the work of God. Religious spirits incline
people to legalism, formalism and mechanical methodologies which don’t
need the Holy Spirit. These evil religious spirits seek to obscure our
vision of the meaning of the cross and of Christ. Religious spirits
operate deceptively, justifying selfish behavior on the part of leadership.
Such spirits seek to lead people into greater bondage to a form of religion
which denies the power of God and of godliness.
When the values taught by Christ of love and servanthood are effectively
replaced by pride, ambition and a love of power then the church politics
implemented will grieve the Holy Spirit. A leader should model love and
servanthood and not simply preach it so that he might be loved and served.
The Control Spirit
Sadly, some church leaders have got to the point where they must rely
on techniques of manipulation and domination in order to maintain their
positions of influence and authority. Such leaders are insecure and are
easily threatened by those whom they cannot control. These leaders may
have in the past been raised up by God for a great work, but at some point
they departed seriously from God’s will. To maintain their positions of
power and influence, to preserve their “territory”, such leaders resort
to all kinds of manipulative political tactics which hinder the purposes
of God’s Kingdom and delay the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon their communities.
Saul and David
A Biblical example of this was King Saul. Saul was threatened by David
and tried to kill him. He used various tactics hoping to kill David, but
without success, because God was with David. The entire story gives us
many insights into what some refer to as “the control spirit” which is
active in many segments of church life today, including the pentecostal/full
Saul’s downhill progression began when he felt compelled to offer a
sacrifice himself – something beyond the scope of his God-given authority.
Christian leaders today can get into problems when they seek to take on
an activity or ministry which God has not called them or authorised them
to do. What is begun in the power of the flesh can only be maintained by
the power of the flesh, and this gives an opening to much evil.
Saul had become king through the prophetic actions of Samuel, so he
knew Samuel was a true prophet of the Lord. Nevertheless, he did not heed
the voice of the Lord through the prophet Samuel. He had been instructed
to destroy everything pertaining to the Amelekites he was assigned to destroy.
Saul, by sparing the Amelekite king and the best of the sheep in contradiction
to the prophet’s instructions, disobeyed God and further compromised his
leadership. As Samuel explained, “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft”
(1 Samuel 15:23). Once a leader willfully disobeys the clear instructions
of the Lord, the door is opened to evil spirits.
On that day Samuel the prophet told Saul, “The Lord has torn the kingdom
of Israel from you today, and has given it to a neighbour of yours, who
is better than you” (vs 28). Even so, it was many years before Saul’s death
and David’s coronation. Yet as far as God was concerned, Saul had lost
God sent Samuel to anoint David king over Israel. At that moment, the
Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward. At the same time,
the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul and he was instead troubled by
a distressing spirit. David was brought in to sing in the presence of Saul.
This music, combined with the spiritual anointing now on David’s life,
caused the evil spirit to leave, so that Saul could function normally.
We see here that God made Saul dependent on David, who in fact now had
the anointing necessary for leadership. In the same way, some leaders with
the control spirit rely on the anointing and gifts of those under them
in order to operate. They can quickly become jealous and protective of
their position when those under them start to receive more recognition
than they themselves. This is what happened in the case of Saul when later
on the women of Israel sang, “Saul has slain his thousands, but David his
tens of thousands”. This is what made Saul hate David and seek to take
Having lost God’s blessing on his leadership through disobedience, Saul
was nevertheless intent on keeping his position at all costs. He began
to jealously watch David suspecting he might be the “neighbour” to whom
Samuel had referred, the one who was going to receive the kingdom in Saul’s
David eventually had to flee from the presence of the king to save his
life. It is interesting that David left alone. He did not seek to create
a faction or divide the kingdom, though he had much popular support. David
repeatedly resisted temptations to promote himself into that role which
God had promised Him. This is a major reason why God so honored David and
gave him so much spiritual authority in the end. In the same way, as we
wait upon the Lord and serve him in the roles we have been given, we must
not seek to promote ourselves to our eventual calling and ministry. Everything
should be done in humble dependence on the Lord. If we foster a spiritual
rebellion against existing leadership that we might gain influence and
expression, we are sowing seeds for our own demise.
Those with the control spirit do great harm to God’s true ministers.
Saul killed many true priests of the Lord because they had innocently sheltered
David. In the same way, those with a control spirit will seek, if possible,
to kill the ministry of anyone they perceive to be helping those of whom
they are jealous.This can be done by bad-mouthing or simply by expressing
unjustified reservations when asked for their opinion by others with influence.
Because the motive is impure, the politics which comes out is also corrupt.
Saul became obsessed with keeping his hold on power and stamping out
David, whom he perceived as a threat. This murderous spirit was the same
kind which operated in Cain’s life, inspiring him to murder his brother
Abel. “For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that
we should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered
his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and
his brother’s righteous.” (1 John 3:12).
I have seen and heard of many cruel things done by ministers of the
gospel to other ministers. In some nations where the government has been
hostile to the church, church leaders have reported independent Christian
groups they cannot control to the authorities and their leaders go to prison
and suffer for many years. Some even die. At the same time, these leaders
often receive much public and international acclaim. It is the control
spirit, the love of money and the desire for acclamation and influence
which are ultimately behind such actions.
The link to witchcraft in Saul’s life is seen again in the fact that
he actually spent his last night in the house of a witch.Ultimately, witchcraft
is about obtaining power contrary to God’s expressed will. It does not
have to be by using incantations and spells. Leaders and church members
who seek to obtain power and influence by illicit means are guilty of using
witchcraft, as Saul did.
The control spirit has done a lot of harm in hindering moves of the
Holy Spirit as they have been starting. We can see that the control spirit
was effective in slowly killing the true move of the Holy Spirit in the
post-apostolic church. When teachings started appearing saying “Do nothing
without the bishop”, and bishops began to fight and squabble over doctrine,
litugy and personal power it wasn’t long before the Holy Spirit was grieved
and marginalised within the very church of God. They may have referred
to Him in their creeds and liturgies but He was either taking a back seat
in the church or not even there. The church became prostituted to the interests
of temporal power and the Orthodox and Roman Catholic systems were the
results. The leadership got so bad at some times in some places that when
the muslims later took over the Christians actually preferred the new leadership
to what existed before. Islam would never have gotten off the ground had
the church not been so corrupted by the 7th century.
I’ve observed in some places that even Pentecostals have gotten to the
place where it seems they could function very well without the leading
of the Holy Spirit. The gifts of the Spirit are not practiced in the church.
There is a program and system in place which serves the interests of maintaining
the church. People fall in love with the familiar and resist change. If
the fire of God starts to burn there are plenty of volunteers to immediately
pour cold water on it and put it out.
The Danger of Over Reaction
If we have been the victim of negative church politics there is a danger
that we take offense and begin to despise and speak against leadership
that God has ordained. David refused to attack Saul when he could have,
saying “he would not touch the Lord’s anointed”. Some withdraw from organised
churches altogether and end up in little groups with no evangelistic vision
or corporate purpose. They exist as forums where everyone can air what
is in their hearts – be it helpful or harmful – and nothing is achieved.
It does no good to sit around and speak against those who have hurt you.
In fact, it can bring God’s severe displeasure and judgment on your life.
Avoid becoming critical of leadership in general. It will only result
in your own continued demotion in the Kingdom of God. You need to go to
God for healing. Spend much time as David did learning to worship and praise
the Lord. This will bring a needed river of healing to your soul. You are
not ready to minister while you still have major unhealed wounds.
There are times when it is our own rebellious nature and not that of
the leaders over us that is causing us to disagree with their actions.
“He who keeps instruction is on the way of life, but he who refuses correction
goes astray” (Proverbs 10:17). “The wise in heart will receive commands”
(Proverbs 10:8). Be careful to walk in humility and be ready to receive
the valid points coming out of the mouths of those who don’t even seem
to love you at all. Sometimes our own perceptions are clouded and we need
to suspend judgment or even simply submit to those who are responsible
to God for the ministry God has assigned us to serve.
A Word of Advice
The best thing to do when coming under severe and unbearable attacks
from leadership that is grieving the Holy Spirit is to do what David did
– seek to “avoid” “the Lord’s anointed” as much as possible. Spend time
in the wilderness with God. Make a few disciples as God enables. Try to
associate with people who want to serve God and who are moving in the Holy
Spirit both in the gifts and in their relational style. There is always
much to learn from others. Draw strength from God and when you know in
your heart he has spoken, do it. When you still need to ask approval from
many others about something in your heart before doing it you are not in
the place of sufficient faith. Fierce opposition always comes to any important
assignment you receive from God, so make sure you are convinced and ready
to persevere before launching out.
God bless you.