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How to Spot a Self-Serving, Self-Promoting Pastor in Your Local Church

by | Feb 27, 2024 | Apostasy, Opinion, Religion, Social-Issues, The Church | 0 comments

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As the old, biblical adage goes, there is nothing new under the sun. And since the beginning of Creation, religious leaders have disguised themselves as shepherds of God’s people but have done so for nothing more than self-seeking reasons. In the modern Evangelical corporatocracy, this is a trend that, regrettably, mirrors the ambition-driven machinations of corporate ladder climbers more than the humble servitude Christ exemplified.

Imagine a shepherd who views his local church not as a flock to safeguard with care and devotion but as a stepping stone, a mere resume enhancer for his ascent up the denominational hierarchy. This pastor, driven by a thirst for recognition among the ecclesiastical elite, doesn’t hesitate to throw his own members under the bus if it means a boost to his status.

And such pastors, acting more like slick politicians than devoted guardians of biblical truth, are adept at telling different people individually what they want to hear when personally confronted on an issue, only to pivot and act in self-serving ways when decisive moments arise.

How can we identify these self-seeking pastors who prioritize their climb up the denominational ladder over the spiritual well-being of their church? Scripture, as always, provides us with a clear lens through which to discern the characteristics of such leaders who have fallen from the path of genuine leadership.

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Pursuit of Personal Gain Over Spiritual Welfare

First and foremost, and probably the most obvious, is that these pastors often exhibit a blatant pursuit of personal gain. While we most often think of this in terms of financial gain, for example, those who hold to the prosperity gospel and push false teachings in pursuit of personal wealth, this is not the only self-seeking form of personal gain these charlatans can seek after.

In fact, these pastors may be very doctrinally sound in their preaching and teaching—even expressing disdain for false teachings such as the prosperity gospel—while blinded by their own pursuit of notoriety, status, or power. This subtler form of self-enrichment is equally damaging, as it shifts the shepherd’s focus from leading the flock towards spiritual growth to navigating the church environment as a platform for personal advancement.

The underlying danger here lies in the seductive quality of recognition and influence, which can easily masquerade as “blessings” or “favor,” thus making it challenging for congregations to discern the pastor’s true intentions. Their skillful maneuvering within the denominational hierarchy often serves to further their own agendas under the guise of pursuing “greater opportunities for ministry,” thereby exploiting genuine desires for church growth and outreach to cloak their ambition.

Moreover, this quest for recognition frequently leads to a culture of performance over authenticity within the church community. Pastors caught in this web may prioritize high-profile projects, social media presence, or speaking engagements at the expense of pastoral care, discipleship, and deep theological teaching which not only divert resources and attention from the needs of the congregation but also set a precedent that values external success over internal spiritual health.

Lack of Genuine Love and Care for the Flock

The absence of authentic concern for their congregation’s spiritual and personal needs is another glaring sign. Scripture instructs leaders to shepherd their flock eagerly and willingly, not for shameful gain (1 Peter 5:2-3, ESV). Yet, these ladder climbers show little interest in the flock’s well-being, seeing them more as a means to an end rather than souls entrusted to their care.

This disconnection often manifests in a tangible distance between the pastor and the majority of the congregation. While they may maintain a veneer of accessibility, their interactions are typically superficial, lacking the depth of genuine pastoral care.

Members of the congregation who dare to raise concerns or question the direction of the church are quickly labeled as “contentious” or “quarrelsome,” effectively silencing dissent and fostering an environment where genuine issues are swept under the rug. Instead of engaging with these concerns in a Christ-like manner, these pastors often choose to marginalize those who voice them, creating a divide within the church that prioritizes conformity over the health of the community.

In cases where members of their congregation face criticism or attack from outside or even within the church for standing up for the gospel, these self-serving leaders are notably absent from the battlefield. Their lack of defense for their flock in times of need is a neglect of the biblical duty to defend the sheep.

Teaching That Suits Personal Agendas

Twisting Scripture to align with personal agendas or to curry favor is a hallmark of such pastors. They carefully select passages that superficially bolster their ambitions, conveniently sidelining the full counsel of God’s Word when it proves inconvenient or counterproductive to their objectives. For example, when the current denominational powers are pushing a narrative of “racism,” and “white supremacy” under the guise of “racial reconciliation,” these pastors, attempting to make themselves look good to the powers that be, may preach a sermon on “racism” and “white supremacy” that echoes the sentiments of this movement, albeit that passage they’re preaching from has nothing to do with such foolishness.

This selective approach to Scripture is not just intellectually dishonest—it represents a deliberate manipulation of divine truth for earthly gain. By presenting a skewed version of biblical teaching, they create an echo chamber that reinforces their authority and justifies their actions, all while misleading their congregation about the true breadth and depth of Christian doctrine.

This practice does far more than mislead—it fundamentally undermines the integrity of biblical teaching and erodes the foundation of trust upon which the church is built. When leaders choose to cherry-pick Scripture, they set a precedent that the Word of God is open to interpretation based on personal preference rather than being the absolute truth it claims to be.

Unwillingness to Unite or Divide When Biblically Necessary

Some pastors will display an eagerness to rally their congregation around the latest denominational direction or popular movement while neglecting sound doctrine in the process. This inclination often manifests in a reluctance to address or correct teachings and practices that, while politically correct or culturally en vogue, are actually perversions of biblical principles. For example, Critical Race Theory, egalitarianism, and similar vain ideologies might be embraced or unchallenged for fear of causing division or appearing out of step with the broader denominational stance, revealing a compromising spirit that values organizational harmony over doctrinal purity.

Conversely, when members within the church take a stand for biblical truth that challenges such prevailing movements or the pastor’s alignment with denominational trends, the response can be swift and punitive. Pastors, in their quest to maintain a superficial semblance of unity and to safeguard their status within the denomination, may discipline or silence these voices. Such actions betray a willingness to enforce division not over doctrinal error but over fidelity to Scripture, prioritizing the pastor’s reputation over the spiritual health and integrity of the church.

This dynamic of selectively uniting or dividing the church based on denominational allegiance rather than biblical fidelity poses a profound challenge to the church’s witness and health. It fosters an environment where truth is sacrificed on the altar of expediency and personal ambition, undermining the church’s foundational commitment to Scripture as the ultimate authority. As a result, the church is weakened, and its mission is compromised, as it fails to stand as a beacon of truth in a shifting cultural and denominational landscape.

Lack of Accountability and Transparency

The lack of accountability in decision-making and personal conduct among such pastors positions them as self-appointed kings within their own dominions, ruling with an authority that often goes unquestioned by fellow staff members. Surrounding themselves with “underlings” or “yes men,” these leaders construct an echo chamber where their decisions for the church and their behavior—marked by foolishness and peacocking outside of it—are insulated from critique or challenge. This self-anointed priesthood within the universal denominational empire eschews the biblical model of accountability, where iron sharpens iron and leaders are held to a high standard of conduct and decision-making.

This approach to leadership not only erodes the foundation of church community but also represents a departure from the scriptural directive for leaders to be above reproach. Such pastors, viewing themselves as untouchable sovereigns, often make unilateral decisions without seeking the wisdom or input of their congregations or fellow leaders. The absence of a counterbalance or a dissenting voice leads to a leadership style more akin to a monarchy than to a body of believers led by servant-hearted shepherds, which undermines the church’s integrity and damages her witness.

The never-ending emergence of these pastors who see their ministry as a resume builder, a trophy for their personal ambition, is a challenge that demands our attention. These corporate ladder climbers, by prioritizing their ascent to denominational prominence, betray the very essence of pastoral ministry. We must remain vigilant, discerning leaders who embody Christ’s leadership rather than those who pursue self-aggrandizement. Only then can we foster congregations that thrive under genuine, godly stewardship, untainted by the ambitions of self-seeking pastors.

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