How to spot a manipulative church leader

We all know at least one.

Most of us have worked for one.

The manipulative church leader.

Donald Miller has a great piece on how to spot these manipulative guys (and gals).

You need to read his narrative, here…

According to Miller, a Christian leader who is manipulative will:

  • Never be truly vulnerable. They will never tell stories about their weaknesses. If they do, those stories will be about how they are too strong, too devout and too many other things that are more or less humble brags.
  • Always have the true answer, and truth is truth because they said it. The truth is the Bible is complex, but a manipulator knows they can’t get you to submit if they don’t have ALL the answers. Certainly trained pastors have answers, but nobody has all the answers. Manipulators do. They want to tell you how to live.
  • They make you jump through hoops. If you want to get married, you must go through hours of classes so they can approve. If you want to be a member, you must sign a contract or a statement of theological belief. Now many wonderful churches do this sort of thing, but when there is a manipulative leader, you’ll normally find an endless number of hurdles to jump over. They want to test you, over and over, to make sure you’re being submissive.
  • They will never let you off the hook. A manipulative leader can never, ever let you be fully free in Christ. There must always be something wrong with you or else you will no longer need them and will no longer have to submit.

What would you add to this list?

LEAVE A COMMENT:  What is the most outlandish example of a manipulative church leader that you’ve ever encountered?



  • Chuck September 23, 2013 Reply

    Todd, I think you are being unfair about that third observation (hoops).

    As an executive in an organization, I’m finding it more of a challenge in my region of responsibility to move our pastors to a more intelligent and wise approach to these things (“work now, enjoy later”) and away from the pains of the loosey-goosey approach.

    Manipulative, really? How do you really distinguish that from a healthy approach.


    • Todd Rhoades September 23, 2013 Reply

      Not necessarily… but the number of hoops makes a difference.

      It’s ok to set expectations, as long as those expectations don’t become excessive or legalistic.

      I think what Donald is saying is that some leaders use this as a filter for spirituality (and, for how people don’t measure up to them). That is the trait of the manipulative leader.

      And I’ve seen it more than I’d like to admit.


  • Dane Gressett September 23, 2013 Reply

    certainly pastors have control issues, some more than others. And nobody probably sees it in themselves. God help us.

    Would we call Paul a manipulator? Tons of people would today. Or how about Jesus? Because if you took Christ’s conditions for discipleship and salvation…and then attributed them to a present-day pastor, people would probably cry “control freak”!

    Jesus was pretty narrow on many issues. How about divorce and remarriage according to Jesus? Yes, I know that none of us are Jesus. But His words are our standards, right?

    Paul was pretty narrow about sexual orientation, by the way. And not just anybody could be on his ministry team. And he had a two-strike rule for people who were contentious. And made the ladies hold their tongues.

    Here’s a concern I have: in postmodernism lawlessness seems to be the favored ethos. But we don’t call it that. Liberty and rebellion are siamese twins.

    Jesus and Paul both predicted that the last days would be characterized by lawlessness and disobedience and disrespect for authority.

    This doesn’t justify someone who is a carnal manipulator. But it should cause us to be careful in rushing to judgment.

    • Chap September 23, 2013 Reply

      Excellent comment Dane. I tend to think Todd posts articles that come from the unhealthy church and church leader realm and in that context Donald Miller’s comments ring true. But many of us in healthy church-land look at these and wonder what’s wrong with some hoops, expectations for a church leader to prove themselves “worthy” of leadership?

  • Frustrated November 14, 2013 Reply

    Manipulative Church Leaders are becoming more abundant.Men who blatantly accuse people of who left the church of “missing the mark” only because they left our church. But if member from their church leave their church and join ours then its fine.Where in times past till today who ever has had a difference with the church leadership has been isolated and people told to stay away from them “lest we catch their spirit”The senior Pastor always making sure to remind us that our “calls” are locked up inside of him. where Watchman Nee’s spiritual authorty teachings are shoved down our throats from the day we became new converts, where Warren Weirsbe’s Ruth commentory is used as induction to express how people died that left the place God called them too, (meaning our Church in case you missed it.)
    I have friends who tithe simply because they are terrified of the”curse” because of the manipulation of the scripture.(And yes i tithe)
    I’m happy that so many people out there are in “happy church land.” But there are many of us that are not. My experience is common to many of my friends who are in other church’s in our city. The preachers are getting more bold on the pulpit, and daring and aggressive and arrogant and….

    If your wondering why i haven’t left its because the church has a spell over my wife and she wont leave, hence my dilemma, i have friends now where the husband goes to fellowship in one place and the wife in another,this because of the unnatural hold churches now even have over marriages…
    I pray God intervenes, church life has become depressing…

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