The Problem With Arrogant Pastors — And 5 Ways Not to Be One

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Ed Stetzer: Arrogance stifles mission. It redirects the focus of our ministry to us instead of the Kingdom.

Arrogance.

Even writing a blog post on this almost guarantees comments about pots and kettles. And I get that. I’m as human as you are. And if we are all honest with ourselves, we would admit that it is a struggle for each of us in some way. 

However, sometimes to personally admit to our own arrogance, we need prodding. Why? Because we often become blind to our own faults. 

The reason it is so dangerous, especially for those of us in ministry positions, is that it can become a cancer to our ministry. I could, and I guess you could as well, name dozens of pastors whose arrogance and pride led them to a very public, very shameful, fall.

Arrogance stifles mission. It redirects the focus of our ministry to us instead of to a kingdom focus. And if left unchecked, our ministry will begin to exist for its purpose, not God’s purposes. 

So what should we look for in our ministry as a sign that we could be headed down a very long, hard road? Here are five warning signs Jonathan Howe and I listed. You might have more, and I invite you to share them in the comments below. 

1. Elitist Mentality: Your church is the only one you know doing things the right way.

This pastor has seen some growth in the church because of a program or a new method. So the pastor tells everyone that the only way for their church to grow is to copy what they have done. And when they choose not to because it might not be what their church needs, they are written off as an ineffective church. Just because something works at one church doesn’t mean it automatically will at another. 

Or … another pastor refuses to use anything the “big church” down the road is using. Even when members are leaving, the pastor refuses to change methods or adapt to the changing culture around the church. 

There is nothing wrong with trying new things in your church. Especially if you are plateaued or declining. But doing what everyone else is doing is not always the answer either. Find what works for your people. Serve them well. And if you see success, don’t think you have cornered the market on what works in every other church. 

2. Theologically Superior: You won’t read authors from outside of your own theological stream.

This pastor only reads recent heroes of the faith. The ones who think the same way, dress the same way, write the same way, talk the same way and blog the same way. The result is that the pastor becomes a theological clone; donning theological blinders and refusing to even consider or examine other perspectives on theology.

Fight this by reading a lot and reading people with whom you don’t always agree. And read authors who are dead. Contemporary authors are very helpful and have written some great works in recent years, but read the classics too. Read Lewis and Calvin and Wesley and Edwards and Augustine. Your theology might not change, but you will become much more informed about it as a result. Be a lifelong learner.

Ed Stetzer Ed Stetzer is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence. He has trained pastors and church planters on five continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Ed is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today's Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN.

More from Ed Stetzer or visit Ed at http://www.edstetzer.com/

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  • Joe McKeever

    A friend of mine was pastoring in a major city, and his church was one of the largest. On the church bulletin and letterhead was their slogan “We will reach (city) for Jesus.” I sent him a note saying, “Since yours is one of maybe 2,000 churches the Lord has there, wouldn’t it be kinder, more inclusive, and also more accurate to say something like “helping to reach” or “working with others to reach.” He blasted me for that. They clearly did not need anyone else. They would do it alone. (The day came when that friend was cut down by a transgression of a moral nature. Arrogance on display once again.)

  • Håkon Hovda

    Thanks for some good points, Stetzer. In more or less I guess we all can relate to several of the points you have mentioned. It is so easy to become proud and arrogant in ministry, especially when God blesses us with some growth.

    I think that the best way of avoiding this is to realize that it is not my church or my ministry, but Jesus’. It takes the load off, and if there is success then the glory is His alone :-)

  • Awele Anonyei

    Your write up made an interesting read. I believe there are a few other signs that show an arrogant leader. These include: 1.Playing the blame game. If in the time of crises, the Pastor refuses to evaluate situations properly in order to take personal responsibility where necessary but rather chooses to accuse his people (especially the leaders) of disloyalty he has become arrogant. 2. When a Pastor insists that his decisions are always right and should not be questioned. He may even go further to insist that he has heard from God and therefore could not be mistaken, even when such decisions and subsequent actions cause immense strife and division.

  • jimtheyouthguy

    6. You believe that God leads the church through you and your vision casting; that it is your role to declare the mission and purpose of the church and the peoples role to follow you.

    The problem with this is that it teaches people to follow you instead of Christ. If we are to mature in the body of Christ, we must each grow up into Christ who is the head. Too many pastors are convinced of their headship, so they fail to teach people to go to God for their purpose and direction. He is the head of His church – not me. He is more than capable of directing His church. When it becomes about me and my vision, very quickly it becomes about getting my way. It gets very political. Soon it is just another marketing organization with something to pitch.

    How will they learn to hear His voice if we don’t ask them to listen? I often say, “Tell me what God has called you to do and I will tell you what He has called this congregation to do.” And before anyone attacks me for allowing the inmates to run the asylum, remember all that stuff they taught us in preacher school about priesthood of believers? What if that is true? If my people are too broken (or maybe it is we that are too broken), then we know exactly what our direction is. It is to continue to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord, the setting free of the oppressed and the binding up of the broken hearted through the Spirit of God. We are too satisfied with marginally better people who have not been healed and transformed by God’s resurrection power in this world. When they are freed by Him they WILL hear His voice and follow.

    • The One Galen

      Amen, Jim. There is nothing “special” about the pastor that makes his vision for the church more accurate than a whole congregation of praying people seeking the Lord.

  • Trevor

    Half of the article is good the other half is missing. The title included ‘and how to avoid being one’. I don’t think it really scratch the surface of the second part which is all important. Why does any pastor fall into arrogance? The answer is the gospel. Its easy to preach the gospel but not actually live out of it ourselves. Simply not doing the things in this article will not remove arrogance it will remove some people being able to see our arrogance. To remove it we have to live, bathe, eat and sleep in the gospel. I have to continue to

    * feel the hideousness of my own sin,
    * keep my gaze on the cross, confessing sin and celebrating forgiveness
    * See all arrogance as self righteousness and actively be replacing it with trusting in
    Christ’s righteousness.
    * Trust in Christ’s sufficiency for all areas of our lives and repent of our own.
    * Be a child, that is a child of God. Revel in the Father’s love.

    Arrogance is what we pastors do when we don’t, in practice, believe the gospel – despite what we preach or what statement of faith we sign. Just like all christians there is a gulf between our confessional theology and our functional theology. Growing for all christians, including pastors is about closing that gulf.

    • Ellis

      Well said. It’s important to be rooted in the basics all of the time…every day, not to forget that we are the creature, redeemed and always dependent, owned. Just as we should remember Who we are dependent on Sovereign God, and Who He is.
      In the early 80’s the US Navy used the recruitment slogan, “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.” How much more so should we?. 1 Cor 4:7 comes to mind too.

  • Fred

    Sometimes people on the outside try and build you up because you are a pastor that can sing or you have an elaborate delivery but I have had to learn the hard way that without God’s anointing your just sounding brass and tinkling cymbals. I try to remember that this is God’s church and these are God’s people and to serve them effectively I need God’s anointing. In order to allow that anointing to work through me I must remain humble.

  • Fungolferguy

    Not teachable. This is the pastor who refuses to learn from others. Somewhat similar to not reading books outside your comfort zone. Thanks Ed

    • Richard UK

      Not only not teachable, but some who won’t even have serious Q and A because they think you are ignorant and just being divisive (the charge of being ‘divisive’ is often a concealed way of saying ‘shut up’

      • Trevor

        You also have to check your heart as to whether you are being used by the evil one to be divisive. This point can go either way, and many christians don’t realise the effect of their own actions and the implications it has for the wider church, whilst the pastor has responsibility over that very area – looking out for all the sheep and the impact on them.

  • http://twitter.com/danfishr Dan Fisher

    Nailed it.

  • Dave Ekstrom

    Excellent and so very important. Another sign to add is to surround one’s self with yes men. I’ve seen men start out with the best hearts evolve into some really ugly monsters.

    • Michele Benson

      I have seen this too! I think we should purposely have people who are bold enough to disagree with us.

  • David Riddering

    I think part of arrogance comes from thinking that just because God uses us sometimes, it means we are his pet servants and we deserve to be treated like something special by every other “mere mortal”. We must keep in mind that God can use mules, stones, fish in the sea and simple children if He so chooses. All authority is ultimately God’s, not the position we occupy in a church. Just see how deflated a pastor’s pride will become if he/she is ever fired from the position. Let our authority come from Christ-like humility and from true heavenly wisdom.

    • Richard UK

      excellent – I think ‘pet servants’ is a great phrase for a great danger!

      when a church ‘calls’ a pastor, very quickly it is assumed that God called him too.

      • Trevor

        In most cases that is a fair assumption. The body of Christ, made up of individuals who have the Holy Spirit, together recognise what God is doing and who He is calling. Unless the church is very unhealthy then this is a right assumption and a right method.

  • Jerry Edmonds

    I read a lot of articles here. I don’t think I have ever read a more apt one, or read one where no mudslinging had even been as much as implied in the comments. Tells me how needed this is. Tells me how perceptive you guys are. Tells me that I need to pay attention lest I become arrogant again.

    Thanks Ed and commenters. A blessing you have been to me!

  • James

    One sure way to cure the problem of arrogance in a pastor is to let him go serve in a dysfunctional, pastor-eater church. Then, see what he is like after about a year of abuse, slander, and attacks upon his family. I recently came into such a divided and dysfunctional church. I walked among them humbly and loving toward them. I tried to unify them and bring reconciliation to the broken relationships within the church. But, there were some members who simply had no desire to walk together in unity. Instead, they wanted power and control at the expense of running off members and pastors, including me. My efforts to love them were responded to with resistance to my leadership, theft of some of my belongings, dishonesty with my finances, slander, and verbal abuse. My wife would often cry herself to sleep in the depths of depression at the expense of such harsh treatment. My daughter began to struggle at school, only to come home and tell me that a girl in her class was told by a deacon in my church to harrass her because he was trying to run me off. What do you do when you come to a church only to love them and to be treated with nothing but hatred in response? This experience created so much heartache toward myself and my family that I finally just walked away from it. Some day soon I’ll pastor a church again because this is what God has called me to do. But in light of the new scars I bear, I have no choice but to continue to walk humbly before God as a shepherd to His people.

    • Trevor

      James, so sorry to read of your experience. I have been through similar things. For what its worth, I spent time preaching and teaching grace and the gospel to begin with. Many responded and came alive, others got worse. I had a meeting where I laid out everything that was said and did and called the church to repentance. This annoyed some further. I met up with people and called them to repentance individually and told them they were at a cross roads where they could decide to grow, which I would help them with or that discipline leading to them being put out of the church would ensue. All those in that category (half the church basically) left. It was so very hard, but the best thing that happened to the church. I trust and hope in the Lord that I was fair and gracious, while I was also firm. It’s Christ’s church and its His way (not mine) or the highway. We all struggle with sin, which is ok. Its not ok for people to purposefully act sinfully and not be repentant – thats not ok.

      I still twitch when I think about that time but am grateful now that the Lord has rebuilt the church as a graceful family. Totally feel your pain.

    • Min Dan Charlotte,NC

      Remember, Jesus said that we will have trials and tribulation in this life but he said also “rejoice and be exceedly glad for great is your reward in HEAVEN!

    • Mike

      James, you and yours will be in our prayers. We experienced a church staff and congregation who was so arrogant and hard that anyone who was not in lock-step with them was alienated until exiled. We and others experienced public verbal abuse at Sunday services often occuring in the courtyard. Ministry leaders, pastors’ wives using handicapped parking and fire lanes because they weren’t going to walk all that way into church. If the old people want them, get here earlier. Try to talk,with the pastor…his bodyguard has to approve it and stays close enoughnto listen. Disagree with the pastor…bodyguard escorts pastor away from you and you hear about it from assistant pastors. We are now in a loving church recovering for a season before we go back into ministry.

  • Richard UK

    Another sign is to be overly concerned about getting relationships with other churches right, that one forgets that one can be equally arrogant towards people inside one’s own church?

  • thekingsownhighlander

    Very thought provoking article, and I thought well articulated. Identifying the problem is the first step, avoiding the pitfall is going to be one of personal choice. For many years I would not cooperate with other denominations, but then G~D put me into an Intentional Interim Pastoral role, and I was called by several different Evangelical denominations. I learned a great deal from this experience.
    In one of my most favorite pastorates as Senior Pastor, I endeavored successfully to incorporate seminars and worship events that reached out to several different denominations in the small town we were called to. We are not in a competition, we are called to be a cooperation as we grow His Kingdom. It is after all His Church, not ours. We can work together to build His Church!

  • Steven Leapley

    Thanks Ed…. we recently left a church due a pastor having almost all of those characteristics…. it was such a hard thing, and I struggled with how to talk with the pastor afterwards.. I try to live at peace with it…meaning my heart just breaks for him and the church… but it is hard….

    The associate pastor came to him informing him that he and his wife were going thought some challenges….. and it was so interesting to see how quickly they fired him….instead of loving him… the message to the congregation was “the associate pastor is doing things that are not in character with the church…” it was incredibly saddening, especially knowing the depths of both sides…

    • Michele Benson

      Steven, I went through almost the exact same situation. We were looked down by our pastor because we were having financial troubles. He said, “that’s not what we teach”. He was full of arrogance. This article described him to a T. God told us to leave and the pastor told us God didn’t speak to us. Very heartbreaking! I feel your pain.

  • Kevin

    As a senior pastor who has been on staff also, the biggest problem I’ve experienced is a pastor who think If you don’t agree 100% with him then you are an enemy. This is a great way to destroy a good church.

  • Teddy

    This is good and timely. I hope we can all learn from it. Thanks

  • recovering arrogance

    For a while I had a problem with another pastor I just knew was arrogant. I did not mind how I felt about him for several years until the Holy Spirit showed me that I was just like him in my own ways. Lord Jesus help me to shut my mouth.

  • http://twitter.com/fourforfrance Four For France

    As a missionary in France, I say ALL of these also apply to missionaries and/or mission agencies.

  • Daro Thol

    What a great reminder, thank you! One question that came to my mind was, “what is arrogance?” Arrogance is pride, which is the opposite of humility. Humility comes from seeing yourself just the way God sees you, in need of a savior and His grace. A pastor that is not humble does not make personal worship a priority in his life, therefore his ministry is driven more by his own abilities. It’s possible that most of what he proclaims in public he denies in private.

  • Rev. Gbenga S. Onasanwo

    Beloved, your five elements is appreciated. However the general trend that is gaining disturbing momentum is this caption….”I prophezise into your life……..” I decree…into your life……your situation ” etc. The trace of arrogance is the word “I”. It is true the Scripture says when we decree..it shall be established… It is true to prophezise…… The personalising of utterances makes the congregation to arrogate false authority to the Pastor?.. Some Pastors have developed swollen head on manifestation when giving testimony as if he is another god. However, better could it have been if we follow our Lord . It is written…with the relevant scripture…….then……. I pray for the manifestation …in Jesus name .. This is our Lord’s stand against Satan’s temptation. It obviously displays humility, and acknowledging Who has the authority. It is just an observation based on the topic.

  • Roy

    Pastors are good at telling us, but most are not good at telling others. Jesus said we would receive power to be His witnesses. If pastors were to get involved with witnessing to the lost in the power of the Holy Spirit, they would no longer take themselves so seriously, pride and arrogance would diminish, and Jesus would be lifted up instead of themselves. “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men” Jesus!

  • http://www.mygraceway.org Chuck Brooks

    Great article! I’ve had to pull each of these five planks from my own eyes over the years. Thanks for the opportunity to revisit and reassess.

  • Rosalyn

    The basis of Church, Ministry and servitude is Love. God so loved and God is love. Mass articles and strategies of big words can be used but if you do not love it profits nothing. Return to love rather than building big visions as a modern day pharoah offerring up the masked title of Pastor!!

  • Mark Skalberg

    Good words and reminder. the problem of leadership self deception is that our blind spots outshine the the truth about ourselves.

  • http://www.truegraceinstitute.webs.com Jeff Hagan

    Of course there’s much more to all of this than a brief list of five items, but you chose five of the most prominent ones for sure. Good concise summary and reminder for us ministers to k.i.s.s. (keep it simple stupid) and keep our focus on Christ.

  • Robert Christopulos

    There are numerous issues within the Church that tend to fracture and crush whatever God may wish to do-not the least of these is immaturity and lack of discipline in it’s leadership.

    I was an MK for eleven years, during which I survived a horrific accident that left me broken physically but gave me an indomitable will. As I returned to the US to finish school to graduate from college, afterwards I was ordained and pastored for awhile. Then I moved on, returning to the mission field as a missionary for a couple of years and finally returned to the US, broken both physically and emotionally and in much need of rest.

    I broke ranks at that time, and chose to run from God. Talk about a Jonah experience! I did many things that disgraced my own name, my family and My God. At the end of three years, I finally came to the end of myself. I told Him that either He was going to take control of my will or I was going to end my life. I fell to my knees, crying out day and night to Him for more than a month. I wrestled with God and wouldn’t let go till He took control and crushed my foolish self confidence and pride.

    It took the next 10 Years for The Lord to really prep me for a pulpit ministry by teaching me to do menial work and helping the hungry to find food, helping the needy with shelter, job training, placement, to find medical help, etc., as well as prayer and study (By the way, this pattern that God used to prep me, together with strong mentoring by a good pastor is probably better than seminary training to make a good senior pastor).

    The next thirty years saw Him use me in founding and growing fifteen churches till I injured myself badly four years ago causing me to retire from the pulpit. I still teach, study, counsel, sing and play my keyboard, even occasionally doing some preaching. I’ve been broken in body, but during my last experience with God, He told me that He didn’t want me Home yet, but to be “Pastor Pester”! As it is now, I get to pester everybody.

    All of the above took place over a period of sixty-one years. Needless to say, I’ve seen, and learned a lot, including seeing many things that have ruined, or destroyed many, many lives, as well as having God show me how to be a good pastor.

    I guess the first thing that has to be rejected in the pastor’s life is the “Seven Last Words Of The Church” idea that says:

    We-Never-Did-It-That-Way-Before.

    Next you need to assess the spiritual state of the church you’re working with: Sometimes this can be pretty gruesome with real moral and spiritual issues even in the deaconate!

    Some pastors, deacons and church bodies can be really arrogant and controlling. To the point that you may need to walk out because they won’t let you do your calling without fighting your every step. In this case you might just want to pray for the people, and let them know that when they’re through fighting everybody they might just try to call and find out if you’re still available to help bring the church to unity with The Lord Jesus.

    Someone else here said it, and this goes for everyone in the church including you. It’s not about you-It’s about Jesus! Start with you on your knees reading Proverbs 3:5,6, and spending real time in prayer every day asking for the wisdom from above as to how best serve the people of God and to aid in making Christ real to the community. We are the servants of God, He is not our errand boy.

    Really stop and listen to the people of the church. You are the shepherd-find out what ails the sheep and the community. Even the spiritual giants within the church may be battling with severe issues.

    We need to be in the world, but not of it. Find out where your church may be able to actually reach the community with meaningful help. Give it mission by walking through the businesses talking to people, and take the pulse of your community.

    Of course the fundamental truth of God’s Word is never open to negotiation, but often there are peripheral issues that you and your church have not done a good job with, are thought of as being sacrosanct, but may not really be Biblically sound. Do not be afraid to prayerfully and thoughtfully challenge these shibboleths.

    On the other hand, when it comes to any changes you might want to bring to your church as to means of outreach, call to holiness, methodology of ministry in the church, music, how to keep youth in the church without losing them to the world, even moving a stained glass window, updating the sound system, or the place of computers in the church-anytime you want to make change, you’ll run into resistance and someone may choose to leave the church. Don’t be afraid of this. If God is being honored, He will honor the Church and it’s leaders.

    Surround yourself with godly advisors, and people to whom you can delegate authority who will help administer the responsibilities of the church and bring concerns to the pastor. In other words, take Jethro’s advice to Moses seriously, and don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought.

    Finally, protect yourself from temptation. Set perimiters, and NEVER violate them!

    I know that this has been a long response, but I think it is a necessary one.

    Blessings

    Pastor Pester

    • Walt Clark Imnoturdaddyimurgra

      Wow what a testimony!!!

      • Robert Christopulos

        Walt,

        Thank you for your words of encouragement. I’m 73 now, and struggle daily with the desire for an easy life(that’s the old me trying to regain control). He’s not given such a life to me, but I have Jesus with, and in me, leading me moment by moment-protecting me from me, and He has promised me Eternity with Him, which is richer by far.

        I still work with, live with, and among the poorest of the poor. As I said before, my body is in ill health, has been busted up, and I often walk with difficulty with a cane, yet God, in His Mercy chose to rescue Me. He could have abandoned me to the fate I so richly deserved, yet He chose to reach down, take my wretched soul, and restore me to His service. It’s not the service that has brought fame and fortune, but it is incredibly rewarding as I’ve seen so many who have been able to see Jesus through His Word, and in the face of this little, old man. I’m not a head hunter. For me, it’s not a numbers game-it’s about one life at a time, brought to the Throne to see The Lord Jesus apply His incredibly healing touch.

        I praise Him daily, and rejoice. My name is written down in The Lamb’s Book of Life, and I have been privileged to dwell in The House of The Lord Forever.

        Last night, the pastor of the church where I attend spoke with me. He said, “I know that you’ve learned to trust God for everything, but how come you continue to struggle with such horrific issues-It has to be because He’s speaking to others through you.”My response was that I see the trials of Job, Joseph, Jeremiah, and Paul, etcetera-men who endured astounding trials, yet remained faithful. How can I do otherwise. People see my life, and learn to rejoice in the middle of trial.

        “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”

        Again Walt, thanks for the encouragement. An old song said “Keep on runnin'”. Run the race with patience-The Victor’s Crown awaits with Jesus!

        Blessings

  • Jim Watson

    A problem with arrogant pastors is that they don’t listen and learn from those they are commanded to love: God and neighbor. In fact, eventually, they stop listening to anyone.

    • Robert Christopulos

      Very true Jim. I’ve seen a lot of this too.

  • Timothy Turner

    In agreement…i am a member of a denomination, but i am seeing that the indepedant movement in my area is producing more. I am less demoniational than i used to be

    • Maxaipa

      Always ask this question of the leadership of an “independant denomination, “what are you independant of?” Usually it is accountability!

  • Mark

    Arrogant clergy only talk to certainpeople in the congregation who have donated enough money and attended there for ages.

  • TheRev

    “Arrogance” is a rather harsh and judgmental term to label or place upon any pastor. What if these traits mentioned were personality weaknesses or character faults? Is any pastor totally “in control” of his fallen, human nature or flesh? I think we need to be careful in saying, “My pastor is arrogant!” lest we become proud, judgmental and then accused of the same trait that we are labeling him or others.

    • Fernando Villegas

      That’s a good point, but I believe the thrust of the article was not to judge arrogance in other pastors, but rather to discern arrogance in oneself.

      • TheMinister1951

        Fernando, did we read the same article? It ALL was about the arrogance of other pastors and how to determine that trait with clear, accompanying points. “Discerning arrogance in oneself” is only IF you are the pastor in this situation.

        • Fernando Villegas

          From the article: “So what should we look for in our ministry as a sign that we could be headed down a very long, hard road? Here are five warning signs Jonathan Howe and I listed.”

          I’m wondering if we read the same article, myself. It is clear that the points listed in the article are for the purpose of discerning “warning signs” in our own ministries, not looking for arrogance in other pastors.

  • Doug Knox

    The frightening thing about this post is how much of myself I see in it. Thank you, Ed, for your insightful blog.

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