A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Lording it Over the Flock Creates an Abuser-friendly Climate

Matthew 20:25-26  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,

1 Peter 5:2-3  shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.

Ephesians 4:11-12  And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

We Christians speak of servanthood, self-denial, considering others more important than ourselves, and rightly so. These qualities and attitudes are all taught in Scripture to all who desire to follow Christ. But we must constantly be on guard against our sinful flesh which desires to be first, like Diotrephes (3 John). This self-seeking “lording it over” mentality is far easier to slide into than we might realize. In fact, the prevalence of abusers who seem to be comfortable masquerading as Christians in our churches would indicate that a “lording it over” climate exists all too commonly among us, often expressed in some kind of patriarchal society.  How does this all come about?

It comes about quite subtly, without planning. Someone in the church, often a pastor or some other “notable” personality, has a kind of charisma, a giftedness (not necessarily from the Holy Spirit), an unusual talent. It might be in public speaking, preaching, or in writing ability. These talents are met with some “success” and acclaim, and so the person is cheered on. Pretty soon, people like this are offering their “advice” on various areas of our lives: marriage, family, sex, finances, spiritual life, and so on. And at some point, the people are expected to implement this person’s teachings. “This is how a husband functions. Here is how a wife is to relate to him. You must do this and that in raising your children. Let me give you some bedroom advice. This is the Bible version you must use…..” and on and on and on it goes.

And I recommend to you that this is lording it over the flock. This is morphing into a “great one” who inevitably will be guilty of “exercising authority” over Christ’s people in a way that Christ has not endorsed. Not leading by example and thus using authority rightly, but “domineering” by becoming the “dominant one” like a chief rooster in the coop. Soon, the enjoyment of such acclaim will morph into expectation and entitlement to that acclaim, which, as you can now see, is quite close to the entitlement mentality (if not identical) of the abuser. Like produces like.

Think about this. Just how specific does the Bible get in giving us the Lord’s instruction on following Christ and living for Him? Are we told to home-school and forbidden to enroll our children in public schools? No. Are we told how a wife specifically is to do tasks in the home? No. Are we told specifically in detail that the husband/father is to gather the family in the living room every evening at 7PM and begin with prayer, then a hymn, then move on into Bible instruction? No. What we are given are timeless principles. A homemaker is to love her family. Parents are to raise up their children in the instruction and nurture of the Lord. Husbands are to love their wives. Christians are to dress with modesty. We are to pray for the king, but we are not told to always and only be members of the conservative political party.

When someone in the church begins to give more specific instructions, then commands, than Holy Scripture gives, then they are beginning to lord it over the flock. And they are starting to feed the evil fires of the abuser’s twisted heart.

Colossians 2:18-19  Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

10 Comments

  1. Still Reforming

    Indeed. In fact, Paul labored in his letters to the Gentile communities that we were never given the Law and can never be bound by it in any form. If anything, Christian liberty is repeated over and over in his letters in the New Testament. It’s repeated in many ways, including how what is sin for one may not be sin for another based on God’s unique and personal conviction via His Holy Spirit given to the Christian. Paul was vehement in his opposition to the Judaizers trying to put a yoke of anything apart from Christ’s finished work on believers.

    As I have seen, often the slippery slope isn’t so much in outright “must read this Bible translation or wear your hair this way” in Christian leadership (although those definitely do exist), but what I have witnessed is that kind of subtle persuasion of “I hear Christians say all the time they want to serve or ask how God wants them to serve, but no one is volunteering for the nursery, and we still need people in there…. ” The guilt trip kind of persuasion. Or the utilization of Scripture to bring about a desired result. “We’re still paying off the mortgage on the new church addition, and you know how God loves a cheerful giver…”

    So true about how easy a gift (as you wrote, not necessarily Spirit-filled) can turn into a cult-like following. How many times have we seen Hollywood celebrities testify in front of the US Congress as if they’re experts in whatever roles they’ve played in a movie (like farming or disease)? And they’re given access as if they’re experts or have wise things to say. But then, that’s the world. The church should not be the same. Sadly, I see it remains much as it did in Christ’s day – the leaders lording it over the flock. We see it. I doubt they’ll ever be given eyes to see, because they stand in opposition to Christ by trying to be Lord over His flock.

  2. Thought the rooster illustration was interesting. As a chicken keeper, I would add that the male bird in a flock is expected to protect and care for his girls. Any rooster worth his salt is willing to lay down his life for his flock. Greedy, selfish, cowardly, bullying, and/or domineering roosters head straight for the stew pot.

    However, this does not mean he is in charge. The hens trust him to care for them, but they are still dominant– he has no authority to break up fights, he eats last, follows them around, and no hen gets courted unless she wants to be!

    Roosters do fight with other roosters. The irony is that they are fighting for a position of servant hood.

    • I never knew all that about roosters. What a wonderful analogy!

    • healinginhim

      Harlequin Tabby. Hey, I’m an old farm gal. You are absolutely right about the roosters. Many a feisty rooster made a tasty stew as my father would not put up with the domineering rooster being bold enough to attack the farmer that fed him!!

  3. Anonymous

    “Just how specific does the Bible get in giving us the Lord’s instruction on following Christ and living for Him?”

    Isaiah 43:19, “”Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, Rivers in the desert.”

    “Will you not be aware of it?” I was so programmed to follow the rules, to behave in a certain way, to concede to all authority that I never even knew Jesus. How could I be aware of “something new” that God was doing in my life when all I was doing was putting on the façade created for me by people who didn’t even know the Lord, let alone understand his dictates? I couldn’t. These shepherds feed only themselves (Jude 1:12).

    Psalm 116:1, “I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.” The most amazing thing was that I didn’t even realize that I was screaming for mercy until God tore my life away. It was only afterwards, when he was rebuilding the beautiful life HE had planned for me that he showed me the truth of this. I was so very unhappy because I was living the lie that I was told SHOULD make me happy. (Get married, give up everything for your family, have children, cater to your husband even when he bad mouths you and turns everyone against you.)

    You’re right Jeff in pointing out that God DOESN’T give specific instructions about many things because each of us alive was meant to live an absolutely unique life. ABSOLUTELY UNIQUE! And if we are so busy trying to fit ourselves into a box, guess what, we are paying way more attention to that box than we are to the new thing God is doing in our lives.

    The checklist we are given in 1 Corinthians 13 (Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres) is a good way of helping us discern the most fundamental truth to Christianity — whether someone has the ability to love others and what this should look like. If someone integral in the church–someone who has a position of authority — isn’t displaying these characteristics, we need to question why.

    We are forewarned that there will be a time when things will be terrible due to people who love ONLY themselves (2 Tim 3:2) and all the personality traits that go along with this as listed through to 2 Tim 3:5. (The word for this in the Greek is philautos and it means” loving oneself,” describing someone preoccupied with their own selfish desires (self-interests). It is used ONLY ONCE in the Bible.) Thank you Jeff for continuing to write about this.

  4. Another great post. Thank you, Pastor Crippen.

  5. This is very interesting. My worst experience of a leader lording it over the flock doesn’t come from a conservative church, but from a Pentecostal church with Word of Faith leanings. That kind of church is very different from conservative, legalistic churches, at least on the surface. There were no rules at all about how people should dress or behave at home. Yet there was a power structure which was obviously man-made, regardless of the leaders’ claims to be appointed by God. Abusers are expert at using and infiltrating man made hierarchies, and my own abuser was no different. I suspect that if abusers encounter a true servant leader, they won’t know what to do, because they don’t understand the rules. They’re not Christians, they can’t understand.

  6. a prodigal daughter returns

    Thank you, Pastor Crippen, I’ve known the term “lording over” and had a working definition but didn’t know these subtleties how it plays out in a church. The micromanaging of lives is something God himself doesn’t do. Free will is a sacred gift that God imbued mankind with and yet it is violated in the name of God in those lording over establishments. Good wives look like this, say this, do this….
    Another variation of lording over might be the false dreams that so many say came from the Lord. I’ve seen poor churches, affluent churches, large and small churches, laboring under some pastors “dream”. The dream usually involves empire building.

    “We must grow,” those pushing their dream say, as they lay out a 7 million dollar building project and expect the congregation to cough up the funds so the man has a massive monument. The project goes on for years, and some architect gets a contract that represents the blood, sweat and tears of people that would be happy worshiping in a school gym if they were actually cared about.

    I know of one of those 7 million dollar buildings that sit empty in Texas, emptied out by a scandal of the pastor. I knew of people whose children didn’t go to college because their father decided to pour all his savings and basic survival money into that monument of a lust for power and fame. Yet, when God called Gideon to set the Israelites free He told Gideon to REDUCE the number of soldiers. Growth is not always God’s idea.

    Sometimes I think the building project is the beginning of the end of a ministry. Recently, a fabulous teacher/preacher church was growing so much he had 6 services on a Sunday, in the nice part of town Many, many people drove 12 miles from the bad part of town, to attend. However rather than establish a badly needed outreach in that broken down area they embarked on a multi-million dollar building, the cheerleaders come out the high pressure salesmanship, the special fund raising extravaganzas. Meanwhile the poor were poorer, the hungry still hungry, and the neglected part of town still isolated in its darkness.

    Jeremiah 23:
    28 “The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain?” declares the Lord.
    29 “Is not My word like fire?” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer which shatters a rock?
    30 “Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,” declares the Lord, “who steal My words from each other. 31 “Behold, I am against the prophets,” declares the Lord, “who use their tongues and declare, ‘The Lord declares.’ 32 “Behold, I am against those who have prophesied false dreams,” declares the Lord, “and related them and led My people astray by their falsehoods and reckless boasting; yet I did not send them or command them, nor do they furnish this people the slightest benefit,” declares the Lord.

  7. IamMyBeloved's

    This makes more sense to me in the description and examples of lording over, than anything I remember seeing before. We are called to be free in Christ and anytime that freedom to decide what is His will for our own lives, is infringed upon by man’s rules of interpretation and the “how tos” for those rules or even the “how tos” that go above and beyond what Scripture teaches us, should be quickly seen as someone lording it over. I already feel freer from those things that have happened in my past! Thank you, Ps. Jeff for another great post.

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