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How to Check Your Pastor

Updated: Feb 19

As we see in every other position of power in the world, Christian Pastors have the potential to abuse their power with the worst of ‘em, and boy do they!


We see it all over the news. Whether you read the Trinity Foundation, The Roys Report, MinistryWatch, pay attention to the ongoing back and forth between Christian cult leaders and their many victims, or if you simply watch mainstream media. Pastors are selling drugs, doing drugs, having affairs, sexually abusing women and children, committing fraud, and abusing their congregations in all sorts of ways. Sometimes it even escalates to physical violence and murder.


Sometimes they get caught, but sometimes something much more sinister happens: they are enabled by their spouses, their congregations, and by the leadership staff of their church. They don’t get caught even though people know what they’re doing, and they allow it to continue for peace and unity’s sake. Or, perhapse worse: they think there’s nothing wrong with it.


If you’re one of these enabling flying monkeys that worship the ground your pastor walks on, this article isn’t for you. If you will defend your pastor’s character and behavior, regardless of how he’s spending the church’s money or treating those under his care, move along, my friend.


For the rest of you, if you think all you need to do is watch the news to protect yourself from being abused by one of these narcissistic wolves, you’re in a dreamland I used to frequent myself. If you think they’re so rare that you don’t need to worry about it, you are sadly mistaken. I've been checking churches going on four years now, and one of the first pastors I ever investigated was practicing multiple forms of financial abuse against his congregation. After investigating several more, I came to realize financial abuse has become a feature of local Christian churches.


I’m not necessarily saying that most pastors are guilty of having affairs, committing fraud, or abusing people. But I will say this: based on my experiences speaking with so many pastors throughout my life and in the past 4 years, many pastors are not honest people. Many of them lie almost pathologically for the sake of the ministry empire they've built.


Many pastors are dishonest, secretive, narcissistic, manipulative, and greedy. Too many. These characteristics are abusive and destructive to the Body. They drive people away from Christ and hurt those who don’t walk away. They dishonor God’s unconditional love and disrespect Christ’s death on the cross. They teach false doctrines and they dumb down the flock, keeping them dependent and too immature to go beyond the local church. Rather than holding them accountable, allowing them to reap the consequences of their actions, or walking away, however, the wolves' victims have largely continue to feed them.


The wolves, at this point, are too large and in charge to shoo from your church. If you want to avoid attending or becoming the member of a church or ministry with an abusive tyrant at the top, you need to check them carefully. If you're already attending or are a member of a church/ministry and you're beginning to worry that your pastor or ministry leader(s) are wolves in sheep's clothing, it's time you check them more closely as well.


Here are some simple ways you can observe your pastor for red flags of narcissistic and deceptive behavior.


How Do They Act at the Pulpit?



(Image: Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church)


When checking your pastor at the pulpit, watch for an agenda: Are they constantly sprinkling their sermons with messages and themes that remind you of what you need to do for the church? It could be as subtle as “a good Christian is giving and generous to their local church,” or “Christians filled with the Spirit want to serve others... and this weekend we have a conference and we could really use some volunteers.”


These are messages of coercion and manipulation for the purpose of exploiting you, your time, talents, and treasures.


Listen for criticism: Wolves want control, power, and resources. The desire for control and power over you is abusive, and it’s taken through critical language meant to shame and guilt-trip you into submission. If the sermons are full of criticisms for certain types of “worldly” behaviors that they deem un-Christian, like drinking alcohol or getting tattoos, then they're trying to assert control through shame and guilt-tripping. Many abusive pastors have even conceded to drinking and tattoos to create an image of being tolerant and accepting of others but continue to criticize other so-called ungodly behavior in order to shame and control you.


Are they preaching, or performing? It's common in churches today for pastors to perform and portray a character that is nothing like who they are in their real life. For the narc/wolf pastor, their sermon is a performance and a show, not an authentic representation of who they are. The pastors most guilty of this behavior are difficult to find outside the pulpit because they don’t want people seeing them as their real selves.


Recognizing when a pastor is performing rather than preaching is difficult if you can't observe the way they behave off-stage or in other venues. You have to be able to compare and contrast their body language, tone, speaking cadence, and other characteristics of their behavior to establish a baseline of authentic behavior. For example, Joel Webbon, a controversial Reformed pastor and frankly, someone I consider to be a wolf in sheep's clothing, behaves much differently behind the pulpit than he does on his YouTube show or in interviews with different types of people. Wolves change their behavior/body language/tone to match and mirror those they are trying to manipulate. Authentic people behave the same no matter where they are.


If your pastor is unapproachable or displays a wide variety of personalities depending on the audience, chances are they’re putting on a show. If you’re good at reading body language and can tell when people are acting fake, you can avoid these types of pastors easily. If you’re not, pay attention to how approachable they are and look for other hints of manipulative and coercive behavior in their sermons.


How Do They Act In Private or When Caught Off Guard?



Image: Kenneth Copeland interview with Inside Edition)


Does the pastor's private or in-person behavior match how they act behind the pulpit or are they two different people? One sign of narcissism is that their public self doesn’t match their private self. An argument could be made that it's necessary to behave differently while preaching than while giving a quiet interview, but if your pastor's personality is wildly differently on stage in front of the congregation than he does privately or with one or two people, he’s fake, he’s acting, and he might very well be a narcissist.


Can they admit to their sins? Sometimes to appear genuine or humble, pastors will come up with fake sins or made-up flaws to confess while talking to the congregation from the pulpit, but if their pulpit persona is fake, they don’t really feel that way about themselves. A deceptive pastor might even admit to real failures of theirs to appear humble and distract you or hide much worse behavior. Additionally, if you speak to them one-on-one and they don’t have the same humility or honesty about their flaws as a human being, which all but the narcissist can openly admit, you may have a wolf in sheep’s clothing on your hands.


And again with the criticism: just like we see from the pulpit, if your pastor is critical to their congregants in person, that’s a red flag. Not only of a legalistic pastor but a controlling and narcissistic pastor, too.


Do they have an “us vs them” mentality? A wolf wants nothing to do with potential threats to his or her control over their church. If non-Christians are a threat because they ask questions that the pastor can’t answer, they ridicule and shun non-Christians. If Christians that don’t agree with the pastor’s policies on membership or tithe-preaching speak up, the narc/wolf pastor will do all they can to silence that Christian. They’ll keep that threat out of reach from their church to prevent them from hearing different views. Anything that diverges from what the narc/wolf pastor thinks or wants is a threat to their world of being in control and in power. Those threats must be squelched.


Are they an honest person? Have you caught them lying about things? Even little things. Lying about little things easily means they’re willing to lie about big things. Making up fake confessions and false experiences for their sermons is a form of lying, and it isn't small, so pay attention. You can’t trust a liar. You need to be able to trust a pastor.


Look at their History


(Image: Google search results for pastor Micahn Carter)


Do you know anything about their past? If you don’t, there might be a reason. Good pastors get honestly personal in their sermons from time to time, revealing where they grew up, where they went to school, how much they loved (or hated) their last church if they have one, why they moved to wherever it is you are, and the list goes on. It’s hard for a pastor not to reveal anything of consequence about his or her past to their congregation that would bring you into a more genuine, personal relationship with them. So if your pastor avoids discussing any of these things, it's probably intentional.


Did they come from a church on the other side of the country? Why? Why did they leave that church and move their family all the way over here? Do they have family here? Did they grow up here? Come on, out with it, man! Explain yourself!


Their educational background: Did they go to a Bible College, a theological seminary, or maybe a business school? If they haven’t attended a Bible or Theological school, are they doing anything now to grow in understanding and knowledge of the Bible? Independent Bible studies? Online courses? Other research? If they lack anything showing an understanding of the Bible that warrants them teaching it to others, that’s another red flag. I'm not a big proponent of pastors needing degrees in order to teach the Bible, but any kind of history of at least an interest in the Bible can't be a bad thing.


If they went to business school and majored in marketing, advertising, or pretty much anything business-related, and then you notice a lot of slogans, logos, and corporate marketing techniques around the church, that could be a red flag that the church is actually a house of business, not a house of worship. If they won’t tell you anything about their educational background or where they went to school, I would sprint out of that church as fast as my legs could carry me and never look back.


Look at the Internet


If you can’t find a single thing about your pastor online, you should be careful. It's possible they paid a company to scrub the internet of anything negative about them. Especially if it’s a very popular pastor of a very popular or well-known church. Public figures always have opposition. If you have a pastor who previously worked at another church in another city or state and you can’t find anything about why they left or how they found your church, something is being kept from you, my friend.


If their online sermons don’t allow comments, if negative comments are taken down, or if you notice their sermons/posts get tons of views but have very little engagement/comments, that’s a red flag that people are being censored. How would you know if negative comments were being taken down without seeing them first and then seeing that they’re gone? Post a negative comment and see what happens.


How Legalistic or Materialistic is the Church?



Image: preachersnsneakers Instagram post)


These are two factors important to consider when checking your pastor. If your church is legalistic, either in the way they preach, treat their congregation, or deal with the finances and staff, the pastor is more than likely a very power-hungry and controlling person. If the church is very materialistic in how they spend their money and what they spend their money on, chances are the pastor enjoys putting on a big show as an extension of his or her fragile ego. If they're both legalistic and materialistic? Well, you're in trouble, my friend.


Also, don't let a casual appearance fool you. Just because your pastor wears jeans, sneakers, and a hoodie to church doesn't mean he isn't spending thousands of dollars on his clothes. Check out the preachersnsneakers Instagram page, where the outrageous cost of clothing that many pastors wear is exposed.


How Is Their Relationship With Questions?



The quickest way to check your pastor to see if he/she is a wolf is by asking questions. Questions about them or about the church, and pay close attention to how they respond or react. Even just a single good question can be enough to get a read on a pastor that may be a wolf in sheep's clothing.


Questions are threatening to insecure wolves hiding under that sheepskin. They can’t fathom anyone challenging their authority, decisions, or opinions, nor can they tolerate it.


Ask questions like "how financially transparent is the church?" or "what is the pastor's salary?" or "what does the church teaching about tithing?" Regardless of how frivolous or frugal the church appears to be, money is important to the wolf in sheep's clothing, and a large source of narcissistic supply.


If you get a response akin to “How dare you?”, you’re talking to a wolf.

If they’re angry at all, same thing.


If you get a response that doesn’t answer the question, your wolf is good at manipulating people.


If you get no response at all, your wolf suspects that you can see them and they’re playing dead.


If you get a word salad response (a bunch of words that confuse you and have nothing to do with the question), your wolf is trying to deflect and confuse to avoid answering the question.


If you get a response that answers the question but not entirely, and you either suspect there’s more they aren’t telling you or you can see signs of deception in their body language, your wolf likes to pretend to answer questions to appear open and honest while lying through his shiny, pointy teeth.


If you get a response that sounds good but requires that you take their word for it, call them on it. Follow up on it. Even if/when it sends you on a wild goose chase, you'll find your answer, and it probably won't be what the pastor told you it was.


If your pastor answers your questions without deflection, confusion, avoidance, dishonesty, anger, or discomfort, regardless of whether they know the answer, hate the answer, or don’t care about the answer… then you may have a keeper!


Here are some examples of a wolf-life reaction to questions I've asked actual pastors.


I followed the podcast of one of Utah’s most popular seeker-friendly churches for a few weeks. I observed their pastor’s reaction to the question, “Why don’t you teach more from the Bible?” He pulled the ole’ switcheroo on this question by deflecting. He said, “Whenever someone asks me that question, I always say the same thing: Who are you loving right now? Loving people is way harder than doing a deep Bible study. Try loving people. Now that’s hard.”


This answer does a few things that expose this pastor.


First, it doesn’t answer the freaking question. The question wasn’t, “What’s the hardest thing for a Christian?” It was asking why this church doesn’t teach more in-depth Bible studies. Instead of answering it, he deflected by answering a different, un-related question. Why? Because he knows the answer and he knows it will make him look bad.


Second, it attacked the questioner’s character by assuming the reason they want to learn the Bible is that they think they’re intelligent, they’ve matured as a Christian, they're looking for a challenge, and they're unloving. He’s assuming a condescension and self-righteousness by the questioner, but they’re asking a simple question. A question that all Christians should ask of their own church if it applies. Wolves can’t handle questions like this. They end up attacking the character of the person asking them because they feel backed into a corner.


Third, it tells two subtle, sneaky little lies. Is loving others harder than studying the Bible? Yep! Is that how Christians should measure their spiritual maturity? Sure. But is that all that matters, or is learning the Bible deeply important? This pastor is relying on his audience to be ignorant enough of the Scriptures to miss the lie that even though Christ-like love is paramount, understanding Scripture is still very important. How well you know the Bible or how deeply you’re able to study it doesn’t necessarily affect your ability to love others, but it does help mature you in your faith in other ways, and it protects you from false teachings that contradict Scripture and work to exploit and devour you.


Hebrews 5:12-14

Hebrews 6:1

1 Peter 2:2-3

2 Peter 3:18

Colossians 1:9-10

1 Corinthians 13:10-12

2 Peter 1:5-8

Ephesians 4:13-16

Proverbs 1:1-5

1 Timothy 4:11-15

1 Corinthians 3:2-8


I mean... come on. It’s everywhere, Pastor! Not only is learning the meat of the Word important, but it brings Christians into spiritual maturity, which in turn helps them to love better. It’s also another way in which Christians show their love for God, by worshiping Him with their minds. And let’s not forget: it’s your job.


Another example: I sent my questionnaire to another pastor of a different church and received a multi-faceted wolf-like response. First, the church had already blocked my email address to prevent me from sending my questions to the pastor. They also blocked my secondary email account which they found on my Facebook profile to prevent me from emailing from there and it made me think, “Wow, this guy is serious.”


Then when I tried to contact the church through one of their elders via Facebook, I received the “how dare you!?” response. This “elder” gave me the distinct impression that he believes there is no such thing as wolves in sheep’s clothing in the Christian church. That all pastors and church leadership are worthy of the title and I have no right to question them. Well, except for the ones he doesn’t like (because that’s not narcissistic). He finished it by threatening me with eternal hellfire for my “sin” of questioning the local churches, demanded that I repent, or God would punish me for my “rebellion”.


Holy guacamole. Talk about needing to be in control! And talk about idolizing the local church! Sheesh! Whoever said the local church was equivalent to God Himself? Not God!


On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are some pastors that are open to questions. Even welcoming of them. They’ll tell you their salary, their history in ministry, and be honest about their failures as a human being because true shepherds love the truth because God is truth. Because Jesus is the truth, and when we lie, we dishonor the truth. When we fight the truth, we’re fighting against God.


Therefore, check your pastor, church checkers. Ask questions, and check for red flags of wolf-like behavior. Use Christ-like discernment, examine everything, protect the sheep, and stop feeding the wolves.



3 komentarze


This is one of the greatest articles I have read. we are currently dealing with a wolf and all his minions. It’s exhausting to say the least.

Polub

Susan Rhone
Susan Rhone
27 paź 2021

This is not totally true about why pastors leave congregations. In the United Methodist Church the pastors are sent where the conference wants them to go, whether they want to or not

Polub
Sarah Leann Young
Sarah Leann Young
27 paź 2021
Odpowiada osobie:

Susan, of course, sometimes pastors leave congregations for honest, legitimate reasons. But sometimes they don't. The important thing is to know what the reason was, to protect yourself.

Polub
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