It’s usually the case that at their beginning, small independent churches have less than ten people, and having a group this size doesn’t leave much room for anyone to claim positional superiority over anyone else. There just wouldn’t be enough folks in that setting to accommodate anyone’s need to be overbearing towards anyone else. It’s what happens when the numbers begin to grow that gives us insight into the true purposes of some in the group.
As I said before, authoritarianism in a church starts subtly. There’s no formal proclamation where someone says, “We are now going to lord over you!” No, because if it was that direct, chances are most folks would leave as soon as they heard it. In the case of the church in which I was a part, it didn’t start by clearly making a division between “the laity and the leadership”, but by creating a less noticeable set of distinctions throughout the members. This is how these divisions started in the church I was going to:
It was at a point when the numbers started to cross about twenty persons who were in regular attendance and the preacher determined that there was now a need for leadership in the church. He selected a group of members; myself included and invited us all to “leadership meetings”. The point of these meetings was to develop teams of people with certain responsibilities and for the preacher to “train” these people. The first sets of teams that he came up with were: a hospitality team, a new believer’s team, a worship team, a media team and a counseling team; later he developed a deliverance team and a finance committee.
Now I can see a lot of people (possibly avid church goers) reading this and beginning to quietly protest. They might be saying, “What’s the problem with this? Wouldn’t the creation of these leadership teams help in conducting well organized services?” This was actually my thinking at the time as well, and sure, if having a worship team and new believer’s class actually helps with serving people then fine. But here’s the problem: many times, as was the case in my church, the establishing of these groups of “leaders” forms the initial basis of the separation of the people. There were now two fundamental groups; one group of attendees who came to be instructed and a second group that facilitated this instruction.
The second problem with this was that the leadership group was taught by implication that they were more spiritually equipped than the “regular attendees”. The leadership meetings were less about learning how to serve and more about learning how to micro manage the non-leaders because you were more “anointed” to do so. At one of the leadership meetings, the preacher distributed a questionnaire where the leaders were to consider, discuss and provide their opinions on various hypothetical scenarios. Here are a few examples:
- A young lady member does not dress properly and you notice she’s very friendly with the young men. What do you do?
- You know for a fact that one of the members of the music team is involved in continual fornication. What do you do?
- You are involved in an area of ministry with some other leaders. You notice that one of the leader’s teachings is not doctrinally sound. What do you do?
Do you notice something about these questions? They imply that the role of the leaders is to identify and manage what people do, specifically in the area of their morality. This is how the micro-managing of people had begun in our church. It didn’t take long for us (the leaders) to begin closely analyzing people’s lives using everything from their Facebook page to the clothes that they wore or even the friends that they had, to determine how “well” they were doing and in what ways they required adjustments.
I found myself advising people about what they should or shouldn’t be doing in their relationships, either with friends or love interests. Many times my involvement in their lives was self-imposed, given without any appeal by them. I recall the preacher saying to the young ladies, “If you meet a guy and want to know if you should be with him, bring him to church and based on what happens, we can tell you if it’s a good idea to get involved with him or not.”
Of course, once the leaders and the other members started to buy into this, it’s no stretch to get them to buy into the idea that the micro-managers of the micro-managers were of course, the preacher and his wife. This is an organizational chart that the preacher once shared with me:
Notice anything interesting?
Again I know many people reading this may have objections, and it is usually because like me, they were sold an idea of Christianity that didn’t look much different from their job or school. To them, Church is a place where they have a function that could be considered as being of greater or less importance than the other guy. Where there is a person or small group of people “at the top” who are uniquely identified as heads of the organization. The only problem is that this isn’t what it means to be a Christian, or even part of a church.
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. ~ Matthew 20:25-28
If what Jesus said is true, then our Christian congregations should never be patterned after or resemble the systems of governance where one person exercises authority over another. We are all a body, with one head; Christ. Each one of us in this body is unique and of equal value and importance to the whole body.
The establishing of various levels of Christianity where it is directly or indirectly indicated that some people are more spiritual, anointed or positioned over other people, not only directly contradicts this idea but also tries to circumvent a very important role that belongs to God; His role as Lord of the Christian. It is to attempt to reintroduce the practice of the religious who “shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces”(Matt 23:13). They set themselves up as a class of “holy leaders” and convince people that they could only get to God through these leaders.
And Jesus hated when they did that.
The distinguishing between levels of Christians was also backed by a fringe theology that was allowed to become central to the congregation’s core doctrines which I will talk about in my next Warning Sign.