When to Leave....Think It Over
Chuck Swindoll began distributing the list of telltale signs in 1978 while he was pastor of the Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, when the church lost a number of college students to the Assembly, including Gary H., who was being groomed to assist Howie Stevenson as music director. Pastor Swindoll wrote the first part of this article in 1987.
For not quite a decade I have been distributing a warning list to all who are following strong religious leaders. Every time I repeat it, I remind folks that it's not all leaders I'm suspicious of...just blind leaders. God is still using trustworthy leaders--always has--so don't think for a minute I'm down on all who point the way...only those who have lost their way, but convince others they still know where they're going. (Yes, that could happen to me, too. No leader is immune to error!) How can you tell when you're dancing near the edge? What are some telltale signs that poison is brewing and blindness is setting in? At the risk of sounding repetitious, here's that list again:
Authoritarianism: Watch out when the leader deliberately represses your freedom...when inflexibility, oppressiveness, and threats take the place of a servant's heart. You can count on it, if a teachable spirit is absent, pride is present. If he or she refuses to listen to your words of concern, leave!
Exclusiveness: It's the we-alone-are-right-about-everything syndrome. Watch out when everything gets inbred, prompting a clannish, cliquish, closed mentality. Taken to an extreme, you'll be encouraged to break long-term commitments with your mate, family members, or friends. Paranoia becomes pronounced. If the leader is becoming the sole dispenser of truth, leave!
Greed: It's red-flag time when the emphasis frequently returns to money...especially funds that wind up in the leader's pocket. Pay attention to growing attitudes of fiscal secrecy and financial policies that aren't open for discussion. Dependable, God-honoring leaders aren't motivated by the bucks. If your is and won't change, leave!
Sensuality: Immorality and God's blessing cannot coexist. Any leader who promotes, laughs at, flirts with, or practices sexual looseness--or is too familiar with the same or opposite sex--is playing with fire, and you are going to get burned. If there's an absence of moral purity, leave!
Unaccountability: Beware of the touch-me-not guru who operates in his (or her) own world claiming, "I am God's anointed! I answer only to Him!" No matter how gifted, competent, or popular, no one can maintain godly leadership without faithful counsel and occasional confrontation from objective, wise, truth-talking confidants. If your leader is totally unaccountable, leave!
Rationalization: When wrong is justified, when plausible but untrue reasons for conduct are used, when scriptural truth is twisted to fit a lifestyle that lacks credibility, stop your support. Leave!
Too strong? Not really. Deadly poison that blinds needs a strong antidote. I can think of over 900 people who, if they could, would say I haven't been strong enough.
Further reading on how to evaluate a church: