My anger burns against your shepherds, and I will punish these leaders. For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has arrived to look after Judah, his flock- Zechariah 10:3 NLT
There are two different kinds of bad leaders and there is a world difference between the two.
The first kind of bad leader is an ineffective leader. Ineffective leaders are seldom terrible people. They simply lack the knowledge, skills and/or personal appeal necessary to lead well. They have the best of intentions and try their hardest but they just can’t get the job done.
The other kind of bad leaders is the worst kind of leader. The worst kinds of leaders are always quite capable. They tend to have a great deal of personal appeal and they understand how to get things done. However, because they are also oblivious, prideful, manipulative, power-hungry and self-absorbed they do a great deal of damage to those unfortunate enough to be led by them.
Regrettably, the worst kind of leadership is not limited to the secular world.
Sadly, American Christianity is infested with some of the worst kind of spiritual leaders. The worst kinds of spiritual leaders do far more damage than the worst kinds of secular leaders. This is because spiritual leaders are the mouthpieces of God in the body of Christ (2nd Peter 1:21, 1st Corinthians 12:7-11). Moreover, many mistakenly see spiritual leaders as God’s mini-me or stand-in. As a result, many people (saved and unsaved) are incapable of separating the actions and attitudes of a spiritual leader from the will of God. It is not uncommon for individuals who were treated badly by spiritual leaders to erroneously believe it was God’s will for the leader to mistreat them. Consequently, they blame God for the hurt they experienced at the hands of a bad spiritual leader.
God will not bless sin, therefore the worst kinds of leaders are a principal reason why even many “successful” churches are powerless to convert sinners and make disciples. It’s one reason American Christianity losing people like rats fleeing a sinking ship.
Satan is real (1st Peter 5:8, 1st Timothy 5:15, James 4:7) and not everyone who says they are a Christian really is (Matthew 7:15, Matthew 7:21). Moreover, Christians are not robots who do exactly what God wants them to do all the time. Due to these and other factors, problematic leadership has been an issue in the Church since the dawn of Christianity (Acts 15:1-2, Acts 20:28-31, Jude 1-25). Additionally, the Bible warns us, as we approach the end bad leaders will become common in the Church (2nd Timothy 3:1-9). It is our responsibility as believers to be on the lookout for spiritual leaders who give indications of being dangerous leaders (2nd Timothy 3:5, 2nd Peter 2:1-22). Judgment is God’s responsibility (Ecclesiastes 3:17). However, it is our job to exercise discernment and protect ourselves and our families from the damage these leaders do.
Bad Christian leaders are as diverse in personality as any other type of leader. However, there are certain hallmarks of these spiritual leaders we can all look out for. Those hallmarks are:
They universally misunderstand their role-
Contrary, to popular belief a pastor’s primary responsibility is not to deliver a well-prepared message on Sunday mornings. The primary role of a Christian leader is to equip and prepare Christians to do ministry and serve others (Ephesians 4:11-12). Good spiritual leaders empower the people around them to become the best version of themselves. They value every person for who they are not just what they can do. Conversely, dangerous spiritual leaders view people as a means to an end. The end is always making themselves popular and influential.
They tend to isolate themselves from those they lead-
The worst kinds of spiritual leaders are frequently AWOL at church events and rarely interact socially with people in their congregations even though the Bible clearly commands them to do so. (1st Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:7-8). Some isolate themselves out of pride. Others just don’t care enough about people to get past their own awkwardness in social situations. Yes, there are introverts and extraverts and there is nothing wrong with being an introvert. Furthermore, it is the height of emotional and spiritual immaturity to think a leader can or should be besties with everyone in a congregation. That said, every Christian should care enough about others to go out of their way to make them feel comfortable in social situations. This is especially true of spiritual leaders.
They demand blind obedience-
Christians are called to a life of obedience (Deuteronomy 6:25, 1st Samuel 15:22, 2nd John 1:6). Christians ought to obey leaders who are doing their level best to fully obey God. However, no one is commanded to obey a self-serving or evil leader living in contradiction to scripture.
They are faultfinders-
Bad leaders will read a great book like The Emotionally Healthy Leader or Emotionally Healthy Discipleship and immediately weaponize it to assess unhealthy or unspiritual attitudes in others. Bad spiritual leaders don’t self-reflect. This creates a situation where they can only see the sins of others, never their own (Jude 16).
They don’t apologize-
Even when it’s evident they should. An inability or unwillingness to admit wrong and apologize is an obvious indicator of a bad leader.
They don’t have their own junk under control-
All humans struggle with sin; however, bad spiritual leaders are fleshly and carnal at heart. Consequently, bad leaders struggle to keep their worst impulses in check. This leads to problems with sins like boastfulness, control, anger, greediness, lust, pride and dishonesty. (Jude, 2nd Peter 2, 2nd Timothy 3:1-9, Matthew 23:23-33).
Not all Christian leaders are bad leaders.
There are amazing pastors and teachers who pour themselves out for others. These men and women are worthy of the highest praise (Hebrews 13:7, Hebrews 13:17, Jeremiah 3:15) and should be treated with the highest level of respect. That said, Christianity is in crisis and much of the crisis is directly due to the excess of bad spiritual leaders in the fold. Christians must protect themselves and their churches from these men and women. In order to do this Christians must lead themselves well and understand what the Bible says about life and leadership. Bad leaders flourish in the midst of immature followers who lack the wisdom and spiritual sensitivity to see a bad leader or the moral bravery to walk away from one.