Skip to comments.How to Avoid a Cult of Personality
Posted on 02/01/2014 5:44:47 PM PST by Gamecock
For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Cor. 1.11-13)
Just because you're a strong and effective leader doesn't mean you've built a cult of personality. That should be all of us. But the Oxford Dictionary helps us know what we are trying to avoid. It defines a cult of personality as a "misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing."
its-all-about-meThere is nothing wrong with your people admiring you as their pastor. The problem starts when the healthy admiration morphs into unreflective obedience, fearful retreat, or a messianic complex.
Only our admiration of Jesus could never be misplaced or excessive. So perhaps the best way to avoid a cult of personality in your ministry is to actively pursue creating a cult of personality for someone else, namely Jesus.
Consider these other ways to help you avoid an unhealthy cult of personality.
Power. Where does the ultimate power in the church reside? Sometimes this is hard to pin down. The formal org chart may or may not accurately reflect the reality on the ground. We all know of churches ruled by the biggest givers, whether in formal leadership or not.
Where does the buck stop? If you are the lead pastor, does anyone have the authority to tell you "no"? Have you ever been told "no" by other leaders and submitted to their views? If not, why? If you have never submitted to anyone else's input or leadership, who will help you identify your blind spots? Do you assume you don't have any blind spots?
If all the power in the church resides with you, you might be establishing a cult of personality.
Accessibility. How accessible are you? Do you give the impression that you are "set apart as holy" and different from them? Jesus retreated from the crowds at times, and so should we. I am certainly not advocating for any pastor to hand out his cell phone number to every member of the congregation. But if your ministry keeps messy people at arms length you might be establishing a cult of personality. Even as he spent most of his time with his disciples, Jesus reserved much of his attention for messy people. Think of how much the Gospels tell us about this activity of Jesus. He spent time with whores, political revolutionaries and conspirators, the marginalized, blue collar workers, and the physically broken. Does your ministry look this way?
If there are no pathways for "normal people" to reach you, you might be establishing a cult of personality.
Transparency. A culture of legalism can easily spring up when a pastor fails to be wisely transparent. How will your congregation believe the truth of the gospel and find freedom in repentance if they never see you do so? Don't transform the pulpit into a confessional booth, but help others know that you repent over your sins just like they do.
Does anyone in your church see you get tired, frustrated, discouraged, impatient, and sad? Jesus was all these things for his disciples to see. If he could be transparent with this inner circle, shouldn't we follow his lead? Why would anyone bring their problems to you if you never seem to know what real life is like? Show others how your identity in Christ as a justified, loved, adopted, and freed man of God helps you battle the lies that lead you toward isolation and the veneer of having it all together.
If you are not transparent in healthy ways, you might be establishing a cult of personality.
Branding. How much of your promotional materials, website, and Sunday service feature you? Is your name and face all over everything? It's important for visitors to identify the lead pastor, but are you actually communicating that the ministry is all about you?
If it's all about your name and face, you might be establishing a cult of personality.
Criticism. How do you handle criticism? Are people punished for criticizing you? Do you provide avenues for feedback? Do you request feedback from people who love God, love his Word, love you, and do not fear you? Do not wait for criticism but habitually plead for feedback. Make it a regular practice when you meet with church members to ask, "Do you have any feedback for me?" This example models humility, puts them in a position to share honestly, and helps you grow in ways you have not yet considered.
If you never receive healthy criticism or punish those who do, you might be establishing a cult of personality.
Watch for the Bus. What would happen if you got hit by a bus? Would your whole ministry come to a screeching halt? Is it possible that you subtly enjoy thinking you are indispensable? We need to repent of this raw pride that burns us out and squashes the gifts of the body of Christ.
Battle this sin by empowering other leaders at a high level. Then everyone knows you don't believe the life of the church rests completely on your shoulders. How are you investing in future leaders who will outlive you? Can you think of someone who would be in line to lead if you died tonight? If you can't think of anyone, maybe it's time to start investing in other leaders.
If you got hit by a bus and your ministry comes to a screeching halt, you might be establishing a cult of personality.
To be clear, it's not necessarily a sin to be popular, well-liked, or deeply respected. But how are you seeking to lay attention, power, and control at Jesus's feet? Do you revel in being the center of attention at church? Or do you seek to direct attention, power, and control to King Jesus? How can you decrease so that he might increase? (John 3:30)
A cult personality is merely one who thrives on your energy being given to him/her rather than their going within and finding God.
Cult personalities thrive on you surrendering to them, rather than deriving joy from seeing you grow closer to God.
Remember, God likes a flat organizational chart. Everyone is to have a direct line to the Boss, never through another human being!
Yes. Would that this would apply to certain high level political hacks too.
A cult of personality needn't have even met their object of admiration/worship; I submit to you the vocal Palin supporters who, like Obama supporters, support
their guy no matter what.
But you're totally right in that God having the place of primacy stymies the growth of a cult, either literal or figurative like a cult of personality.
Cult of personality...it worked for Khomeini and Zer0.
One thing my Dad taught me was to expect to be disappointed by people. That was an astute bit of wisdom. One time or another, even the people you trust the most and in whom you place the greatest confidence will let you down in ways you would never have thought.
That doesn’t mean you throw them away. It just means that they are human like yourself. You, too, will disappoint someone important to you. That is why we need to give and receive forgiveness.
That doesnt mean you throw them away. It just means that they are human like yourself. You, too, will disappoint someone important to you. That is why we need to give and receive forgiveness.
So very true. And it's hardest to deal with when it's someone you trusted completely.
The power of a cult is a natural stepping stone stage in the soul growth from dependency toward self actualization. People who are released from the dependency of the parent without an individual identity use a group identity as a stepping stone in the soul growth development. It’s the reason for peer pressure and gangs. A church is merely a group headed in the right direction as it is teaching one to grow toward surrender to God.
It’s the reason that Paul made the statement about marriage and it being better to remain single. Surrendering to God is not a group experience. Most group experiences are external surrender to others rather than surrendering within oneself to God.
If you are still in dependency, that means that you have not gained the freedom necessary to exercise your own free will to surrender to God. This is one of the reasons for getting rid of the old wine skin.
I joke that when an individual has surrendered to God and transcended self they can wear plaid pants with striped shirts and care less what anyone else thinks as their identity does not come from peers, but from their relationship with God. These people often do not go to church, but they talk with God every day multiple times.
Smart man, your father. I try to impress upon my grandchildren the fact that life is difficult, and that it is difficult for everyone, including the rich and famous. I will have to add your father's wisdom to that.
Well said tired&retired.
Not saying it is easy, but understanding this helps you find peace . . . a very rare commodity in this world today.
Thanks for the encouragement.
I appreciate that. He grew up in SW Georgia the son of a farmer during the height of the depression. His dad and several uncles were alcoholics. In his words, “we grew up drinking and fighting” because that is all we had to do. He learned to wind electric motors, worked in CCC camps, was a Chief (specialty of electrician) on the aircraft carrier Ticonderoga in WWII, was a mechanic, learned drafting and some mechanical design, and finally became a respected and faithful Cumberland Presbyterian minister for about 50 years. I think the broad array of people he knew and experiences he had gave him some unique insight about some things. His own Dad conned him into doing the lion’s share of the work on the farm when he was in his young teens. Like our President, Grandpa promised Dad a lot, but delivered very, very little in the end. He died in 2008 at the age of 86.
To me, conservatism is based on the reality that many lessons were learned in the past and our culture and way of life evolved from what did not work in the past. “Hope and change” always struck me as an absurdly naïve way to approach anything, especially when employed as a philosophy behind changing the foundation upon which our successful society was built.