By the Rev. Lakeya Stewart
“Oh sister, you can’t move… we need your help at the church!” Have you ever heard this or something similar come from a beloved pastor or church leader? Unfortunately, I have. We live in a time when some leaders aren’t as concerned about church members reaching their full potential in Christ as we would like them to be. Sadly, some leaders would rather hold members captive in churches and cities for selfish reasons. They may desire to have members stay at their church to meet a need without considering the possibility that God might be leading the member to another ministry. I use the words “captive” and “hostage” intentionally as members who have shared experiences like this with me have described such experiences in this way.
It is obvious that narcissistic and money-hungry leaders are more prevalent today than ever. Or, maybe not. I would venture to say they have always existed in communities but were never caught. By narcissistic, I mean self-serving and self-centered—that every ministry in the church or outside of the church must benefit the leader in some way. But, what happened to ministries being planted to serve the local church members and the community?
It seems that more and more of our beloved pastors and church leaders are being exposed for their wrong doing. While some laugh at these leaders, we all have sinned willfully and even unintentionally. What if all of our faults were instantly revealed to the public? What if all of our skeletons were taken out of the closet and put on display in the media? I think we would be more compassionate towards these leaders. We might actually be led to pray for them. That is the Christian thing to do.
So, what about the young college student who is seeking to further her or his education out of the state of their current church? Does God “call” people to specific churches? Yes, God can. There are seasons in life. Just like there are four natural seasons that are weather related, there are seasons in life that require connections with certain people, cities or even churches must come to an end. You might be wondering, could God really be speaking the message not to leave a church for education purposes to the pastor for the member’s well-being? Of course, but how does one decipher the difference? The answer is simple: Prayer and a personal relationship with God. When believers have a personal relationship with God, God gives them discernment.
Most believers have been blessed with sound reasoning skills and we can use wisdom and prayer when making major life changes. Leaders should seek God on behalf of members but, ultimately, members and all believers should seek God for themselves. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” This scripture, which happens to be my favorite, reminds believers that we can go to God first and on our own. No longer must we go to the priest to make intercession on our behalf. We can now go boldly to God with our prayers and petitions on our own. Talking to pastors is not wrong—we just need to remember that leaders are humans and like all of us are flawed.
At times our leaders will let us down. Humanity is sinful and as hard as we try, we sometimes fail. Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton in the book “Toxic Faith” say:
“Ministers whether in a church speaking to fifty or on television reaching out to millions, are real people with real problems. They are not superhuman, and they are not immune to all the temptations of the rest of us.” (Arterburn and Felton page 59)
Are we believers who practice forgiveness?
Sometimes, our sinful nature causes us to be selfish and self-centered. Leaders are no exception. As leaders, we must be ever so careful that we not intentionally or unintentionally hold members back from being all that God has created them to be. When members are held back, the body of Christ is not edified and God cannot be glorified. As leaders, we must continue to seek God concerning how we advise others in times of possible transition. How can we encourage others to be all that they can be in Christ?
For questions or further correspondence concerning future topics or speaking engagements, please email at RevStewartSpeaks@outlook.com.
The Rev. Dr. Lakeya Stewart, M.Div., D.Min.,ABD attended Berea College and the Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky and earned a double major B.A. degree in Sociology and in African & African American Studies as well as the Master of Divinity Degree. Rev. Stewart is currently writing a dissertation on Toxic Leadership and Spiritual Abuse from Regent University.