One or two of these in isolated instances are likely handle-able. A pattern of any one or any combination of these signs in a pastor or the leadership culture of a church likely indicate a stalled or dying movement.

1. Insulation from criticism and/or interpretation of any criticism as attacks or insubordination.

Of course there is such a thing as malicious attacks, divisiveness, and nitpicking busybodies. But too many leaders treat all criticism as on par with those sins in an attempt to deflect or retaliate against any challenge to their sense of authority or rightness. In some cases it gets really bad when affected leaders treat any question, no matter how innocently or sincerely asked, as an affront to their authority, or when leaders cultivate a system that prevents questions, criticisms, challenges even reaching their eyes or ears. The minute leaders start insulating themselves from valid criticism is the minute they begin exalting themselves. And exaltation of anyone but Christ is death. Self-reflection, accountability, and openness to sharpening/correction are musts for healthy biblical leadership.

2. Paranoia about who is and who isn’t in line.

If a leader is constantly worried about who’s on their side and who’s not, who’s saying or thinking what about them behind their back, who can be trusted and who can’t, who are allies and who are obstacles, etc. etc., he is entering a world of insecurity that is hostile to the confidence of Christ’s righteousness. And really, most times a leader frets about who may not be unquestionably submitting to his leadership it is a sign he’s already lost credibility and trust. (Very closely related to this red flag is the tendency some pastors have to think of their people largely as statistics, consumers, assets, or liabilities, rather than as, you know, people.)

3. Need to micromanage or hold others back from leadership opportunities or other responsibilities.

Was it Luther who said, “All of us are ministers; some of us just happen to be clergy”? I don’t know, but I like it. Good leaders don’t just hand off responsibility but authority. A leader who micromanages trusts only in himself. Therefore, a leader who won’t trust other gifted and authorized leaders doesn’t trust God. And leaders who don’t trust God cannot lead life-giving movements.

Pastor, you can’t and shouldn’t do it all yourself. It’s not healthy for you and it’s not good leadership of your church to attempt shepherding it as a one-man show. Nobody wins in that situation, no matter the glory it may earn you and the comfort it may afford others. That’s all temporary, and therefore so will be your movement.

4. Impulse to horde credit and shift blame.

Leaders who claim all the credit and clout for successes and deny any responsibility for failures aren’t leaders but self-righteous glory-hogs. Self-righteous glory-hogs will eventually find themselves denying responsibility for the failure of the movement they spent a lot of time taking the credit for. Healthy leaders on mission understand that double honor comes with double responsibility.

5. Progression has become reaction.

Ever heard pro-Calvinism preaching that sounded more like anti-Arminianism? Or vice versa? Good leaders know that emphasizing what they’re for more than what they’re against is vital for fostering forward momentum. It’s okay to criticize or debate in appropriate measures, but so many pastors and leaders make the common mistake, fed by their emotions and the easy provocation of soapboxing, to rail and rant. Such stirring can draw a crowd and stir that crowd’s emotions, which can create a false impression of a coalescing movement. But a collection of naysayers and bitter critics can’t sustain movement over time. The content of our message can absolutely include what the message is not but if the shape of our message is what it is not (or what we hate or who we’re against, etc.) we triumphantly and enthusiastically shoot ourselves in the foot over and over again. It will be a frustrating — and ultimately failing — endeavor of Sisyphean proportions attempting to sustain a movement if it is known more for its denials than its affirmations.

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12 thoughts on “5 Leadership Signs Your Movement is Dying”

  1. David Bartosik says:

    wow! #2 was incredibly convicting and woke me up to defend a position because I actually believe in it rather than make war or play chess against opponents and rally the troops to my flag. Thanks brother- in helping reveal a few of my insecurities and hopefully growing in them!

  2. Kristian Henrandez says:

    Fantastic! Thanks for serving us with this.

  3. Jason says:

    This is fantastic. I've been thinking a lot lately about the legitimacy of reactionary movements. I hear you when you say that if we become more about what we're against than what we're for, we've already lost. But aren't all movements reactionary, to some extent? The monastic movement, the Reformations (Protestant and Catholic), the Great Awakening…weren't these all movements that began with some sense of discontent? Otherwise, there would have been no felt need to change.My tendency is to react to the reactionaries. But don't we all do this? Isn't that how a movement gets started? I guess I'm wondering how we can walk that limb and maintain our balance.

  4. Anonymous says:

    You are so right. I was a youth pastor for 2 years and worked for a pastor associated with the first 4 in your 5 point list. I became tired, sometimes lost my own personal drive for ministry in our Church, and many times suppressed my own personality and my own goals within the structure of his vision. He promised me insurance, raises, and days off. I was imprisoned by it. And if I tried to explain my reasoning for feeling mislead by his failed promises, I would be considered not fit for ministry by him and have to "work my way back to earn his favor". He knew EVERYTHING, was never wrong, forgot meetings and special events, and assumed things were always my fault if something went wrong. He wanted to run the youth ministry. And never once poked his head in to one of our services and never asked me what I was teaching on unless I was excited enough to tell him. And I can only count 3 or 4 times where we actually prayed, just the two of us. I often felt it was better to remain patient and realize that God had a plan in this. It's not that I was suffering or complaining. It was never the time, work, or money, it was the principle. It was not being able to trust him fully. It was being stripped of myself. I found myself pleasing him. Not Christ. But I am sure that God stretched me in that, and I am better for it. What I learned from that experience was not only patience, but "how not to do things"…at least for me. I think when the Lord provides an opportunity for me to be a lead pastor/shepherd, I'll remember how I was "micro-managed" and "manage" differently. Thanks for this post. I am not complaining in any way. Just confirming the reality that these pastors exist, but all along…they're still teaching you something of value that you'll be able to take with you in your own ministry.

  5. APM says:

    Hi Jared-Glad to comment on what are excellent thoughts.Having been on the receiving end of such poor leadership- and also shamefully contributing to it myself- I must agree that these signs/behaviors are terribly destructive to the conscience of those who are in subordinate positions under the leader.The subordinates typically strive to honor God in such situations by humbly submitting and showing respect to their leaders/elders/etc. – as they should. Often when subordinates strive to biblically honor those above them it actually enables these sinful behaviors to continue.This is why the burden of leadership goes beyond the typical leader/subordinate relationship. One of the most significant responsibilities for a leader is to hold other leaders accountable. If accountability for leaders does not come from peers you can be certain it will never come from subordinates.If these sinful behaviors in leaders are not repented of then it is clear that these men are not called to any type of spiritual leadership. As Paul said to Titus, “an overseer must not be self-willed” (Titus 1:7). Leaders: shepherd the other leaders around you for the sake of the sheep!

  6. APM says:

    Hi Jared-Glad to comment on what are excellent thoughts.Having been on the receiving end of such poor leadership- and also shamefully contributing to it myself- I must agree that these signs/behaviors are terribly destructive to the conscience of those who are in subordinate positions under the leader.The subordinates typically strive to honor God in such situations by humbly submitting and showing respect to their leaders/elders/etc. – as they should. Often when subordinates strive to biblically honor those above them it actually enables these sinful behaviors to continue.This is why the burden of leadership goes beyond the typical leader/subordinate relationship. One of the most significant responsibilities for a leader is to hold other leaders accountable. If accountability for leaders does not come from peers you can be certain it will never come from subordinates.If these sinful behaviors in leaders are not repented of then it is clear that these men are not called to any type of spiritual leadership. As Paul said to Titus, “an overseer must not be self-willed” (Titus 1:7). Leaders: shepherd the other leaders around you for the sake of the sheep!

  7. Bill Donahue says:

    Some great stuff here — I too have experienced this firsthand — the flatter the better, the more communal the organization the less likely this stuff goes very far. Good leaders call one another out on this when it happens — and they get better. Way to go on this.

  8. Ben Klar says:

    In regard to your thoughts on reactionary movements, here are my thoughts. I think it is possible to react to something (an event, a movement, etc.) without being characterized as reactionary. Was the Reformation a reaction against the practices and theology of the Catholic Church? Yes, of course. However, I don't see the Reformers as being reactionary because I would say they are characterized more about what they were for (Sola Scriptura, justification by faith on Christ's merits alone, etc.) than what they were against. I realize this is a subtle difference but I think it's an important distinction.Obviously whenever we make an assertive truth statement we are putting ourselves at odds with any claim to the contrary. However, as the post says, we can react to negative issues without being reactionary when we continue our forward momentum through emphasizing what we are FOR.

  9. Church Chair Guy says:

    I see some of each of these in myself. Very helpful thoughts.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Fantastic Jared. Thanks for this. Born out of some past experience as an associate pastor, I imagine?Two thoughts:First, #2 is closely related to #1, right? A good leader cultivates an environment where honest feedback and accountability (always laced with grace) are regular realities. Therefore #2 isn't a problem, since he doesn't have to wonder who is on his side because his leadership team is talking to him personally about things.Second, what should we do if we're in situations where we see this stuff happening, as I am?You'll understand why I've posted this anonymously, I'm sure.

  11. Virginia Knowles says:

    We left a church organization like this last year. Unfortunately not just the local church was affected, but an entire "family of churches" that also has a lot of influence among other Reformed evangelicals. It has really come back to bite them (rather publicly) and they still don't get it.

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Jared C. Wilson


Jared C. Wilson is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont. You can follow him on Twitter.

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