Pastor and Christian Leadership Resources

Ask Dr. David: Can Church Staff Disagree with Leadership?

  • Dr. David B. Hawkins The Relationship Doctor
  • 2010 10 Mar
Ask Dr. David: Can Church Staff Disagree with Leadership?

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Dear Dr. David,


I am writing to you confidentially because I do not want to threaten my job, and certainly don’t want to be unchristian in my attitude or behavior. Here is my concern:


I work in a church and every day feel like I cannot be myself. We are taught to honor authority and I constantly try to do that. However, does that mean I have to give up my opinions or individuality? Whenever I disagree with my pastor, or other church leaders, I am made to feel like I am sinning. I am scolded and shamed for voicing any contrary opinion. I am told that he is the leader and I am to follow his leading. I am so confused. I want to work for a Christian organization, but want to be able to disagree and share my thoughts at times. Am I wrong?


I come from a codependent background, and it seems like I keep finding these situations. I grew up walking on eggshells, and now find that I am doing it again. Is this the way it has to be? How can I heal from my past if I keep finding abusive situations in my life? Please help me with this problem.
--Spiritually Confused


Dear Spiritually Confused,


I receive many notes from people who feel they are being hurt by spiritual leaders. This issue has gained more attention in recent years in books such as Ken Blue's Healing Spiritual Abuse. In it he details how any organization, including the church, can be a place where the abuse of power takes place. Here are a few things to consider:


Pastors or spiritual leaders who abuse power are rarely unlikable characters – in fact, often quite the opposite. They may be charismatic, insightful and dedicated to furthering the Kingdom of God. They are often people who seek to guide you to deepen your spiritual walk. However, abuse occurs when someone in spiritual authority, who are called to build up, equip and help free you from spiritual and emotional burdens, actually misuses that authority to control, coerce or manipulate you to think and act the way they want you to.


The issue of misuse of power is not a new one. The prophet Ezekiel warned about “shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves!  Should not shepherds take care of the flock?  You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.  You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured.  You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost.  You have ruled them harshly and brutally” (Ezekiel 34:2-4).


It is important to note that Ezekiel is not speaking of literal shepherds, but rather he is speaking to the spiritual shepherds of Israel.  He is speaking to those who forget their mission and lose sight of their calling. He is concerned with those who seek to advance their church, rather than the church.


I am particularly concerned with the response you receive when you disagree — which is something each of us should feel free to do. You say you are scolded and shamed for disagreeing. It is quite possible that your pastor has fallen into an attitude of authoritarianism and needs continual assurances of being in control. These kinds of leaders cannot tolerate anyone who voices a contrary opinion — it is too threatening for them.


Jesus, himself, talked about the abuse of power. He railed against the religious leaders of his day, stating his opinion about true leadership: “The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves” (Luke 22:25).


Here are some thoughts for all of us to consider:


  • We must be careful of performance-based Christianity — we are all sinners, saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9);
  • None of us are in a position to judge each other — we hate the sin, but love the sinner (Matthew 7:1);
  • We must resist legalism — superficial Christianity (Matthew 23:27);
  • We must be compassionate, loving and accepting, always “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

Finally, you note that you have struggled your whole life from codependency. Often people with porous boundaries, and an uncertain sense of self, have greater difficulty dealing effectively with authority. While it may be very challenging, it is important for you to be true to what God is telling you. Keep sharing your thoughts and opinions, respectfully. Your voice needs to be heard. It is important that you honor the wisdom God has given you.


“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).


David Hawkins, Ph.D., has worked with couples and families to improve the quality of their lives by resolving personal issues for the last 30 years. He is the author of over 18 books, including Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage   Saying It So He'll Listen, and  When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. His newest books are titled  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt.  Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.