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10 warning signs of a cult of personality at work in a church.

A growing phenomenon within the ranks of churches, large and small (but mostly large), is the cult of personality.

What is a cult of personality?

It’s when a person becomes the center of attention rather than Christ; an individual looms larger than a mission; a figure is given more status than the organization itself.

Sometimes this “cult” is so egregious it’s hard to believe, such as reports from some churches that staff must rise when the pastor enters the room, aren’t allowed to look him in the eye, can never talk to him or engage him unless he takes the initiative, or must refer to him by title and never simply by his first name …

… all in the name of giving appropriate “honor.”

Puh-leeze.

Beyond such ridiculous antics, the greater dilemma is how many attenders of such churches would adamantly deny that a cult of personality is being intentionally fostered. Too many allow being fans, and having enthusiasm about ministry, to cloud their judgment.

So consider the following 10 signs, in no particular order, of a cult of personality at work in a local church:

1. The demand for special treatment, special honor, special recognition.

In other words, there is an active cultivation of being treated differently than others.

2. The website is focused on an individual.

A person’s quotes, their picture, their books, their activities, their blog, their … well, you get the picture. It’s pretty clear who, not what, the “church” is about.  

3. No one is allowed to question the leader without retribution.

There is a “thin skin” evident toward any and all critics, who are often written off as “haters” or simply those who are envious. There is a bubble that prevents constructive criticism.

4. If the leader were to leave, die or fall into scandal, there is little doubt in anyone’s mind that the entire enterprise would collapse.

Those who flooded in via transfer growth to be part of the “next, next thing” would flood right back out, because the “next, next thing” was a personality, not a true mission or movement.

James Emery White James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book is What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary (Baker). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

More from James Emery White or visit James Emery at http://www.churchandculture.org/

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