Why does the abuse of power by leaders in our churches and parachurch organizations seem to be more common than it used to be, and how can we best address this problem?
It is true that our churches are plagued, like the rest of society, by the scourge of leadership abuse on occasion. The difference is that for too long in the past, this evil perpetrated against the vulnerable among us was tolerated, ignored, or swept under the rug. Thankfully this is no longer seen as acceptable.
Abuse of power does not happen in a vacuum. Leaders who are able to exercise enormous power because of their charisma might do much good, but may also give in to the temptation to “lord it over someone” just because they can, or because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Christian leaders are not exempt from temptations to sin any more than non-Christian leaders are.
When the abuse of power is sexualized, a leader feels an attraction to relationship-less sex (pornography) in combination with a desire to wield illegitimate power (lord it over). Such a leader is concerned with using his or her influence for self-gratification above the common good.
As Christians, we know from Scripture that we must abhor the wielding of self-serving power and not accept “junk sex” as okay. We often assume that Christian leaders are tempted less than non-Christians to wield power illegitimately. This is a fallacy. Statistics have proven that incidents of abuse—physical, emotional, and/or sexual—occur at approximately the same rate in all institutions of society, including the instituted church and parachurch groups.
It is better to be drowned with a weight tied around one’s neck, says Scripture, than to hurt one of these little ones for self-gratification. Leadership in Christian circles requires soul searching, self-sacrifice, and humility, not pride and narcissism.