Might: Spiritual, organizational, personal and positional sources and resources are appropriately used to make decisions and develop people

Why Religious Leaders Abuse Their Power

As I stated in my last post, 5 Effects Powerful Leaders Are Blind To, cult status hierarchal religious leaders have and will abuse their power. It’s a given. It can be a by-product of their theology, personality, character, experience, or philosophy of leadership. But mostly it is a by-product of any hierarchal system, religious or otherwise. Abuses of power are rooted in all of the above but there are other contributing factors. In this article we will look at some of those factors.

The Most Frequent Warning Signs Of Abusive Power

The testimony of power abusing religious leaders who have suffered the consequences of their behavior’s sheds light on some of the factors that contributed to the abuse of their power. They provide clear warning signs for both leaders and followers to be on the lookout for.

I was naïve. Naivety is defined as having or showing a lack of experience, judgment, or information. When leaders abuse their power by insisting on making decisions in areas where they lack the experience or have insufficient information it negatively impacts their judgment. This lack of judgment can be their undoing as well as the undoing of the church, business or organization they lead.

I was on a power trip. Having power can be an exhilarating feeling. For some leaders, once they have it, they want more of it, which in turn feeds their ego and leads them to abuse their power. They allow the power, accolades and adulation that comes with their position to go to their heads, and they begin to think they are invincible, that they have God’s favor and can do no wrong. They fail to recognize that their power can be taken away as easily as it was granted.

I had few boundaries. Power abusing leaders frequently fail to put into place the safeguards necessary to maintain personal, spiritual and family health. They become lax in their relationship with the opposite sex which leads to both emotional and physical affairs. Their use of power becomes unchecked, and they ultimately abuse it.

I invested too little time at home. Powerful leaders are often so driven that they cheat their spouses and children out of the precious quality time they need since they are always on the phone, at the office, helping others, solving problems or busy trying to accomplish the next big goal. This becomes emotional abuse of the highest order.

It got bigger than I could handle. Powerful leaders often lead organizations that grow rapidly. Their platform outgrows their experience, skills, and character and erodes their confidence. They compensate by abusing their power.

I created a situation where no one challenged me. No one likes to be criticized. Pastors especially are prone to tire of constant criticism. It is natural to want to surround yourself with like-minded people who won’t challenge you and will agree with all of your decisions. When no one challenges you, it is easy to lose perspective and abuse your power.

Along the way I lost my soul. Powerful people are constantly on the go and have very little time for personal reflection, renewal and emotional and spiritual health. Ministry leadership by definition is soul depleting. Leaders often give more than they get and so implode due to a lack of inner structure. Religious leaders begin to neglect the spiritual disciplines, practices and habits that feed their souls. Among other things this leads to moral failures, unethical decisions, depression, addiction and power abusing behaviors.

I avoided accountability. Power abusing leaders go to great lengths to avoid any form of accountability which frees them to abuse their power without fear of the consequences.

I ignored the danger signs. Most leaders who lose their position because of abuse of power readily admit that there were frequent warning signs, such as the ones listed above, that they simply chose to ignore.

Leadership power can be a dangerous companion. It allows us to have control – control over others and what they do. Many of us want it, work hard to achieve it, feel the rush once we have it and ruthlessly strive for more of it. But too many of us also squander it, or worse, hurt others and our churches, businesses and organizations with it. Great leaders heed the above warning signs to curb the inevitable and relentless pull towards the abuse of their power.






Posted on July 26, 2022

Jim Baker

Jim is a Church Organizational Leadership and Management Coach, Consultant and Trainer. Throughout his career Jim has demonstrated a passion for showing Pastors and Ministers how to use organizational tools for church and personal growth and health.

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“For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:5