Jonathan Leeman has some wise words about how to recognize abusive leadership in a church:
All of us, at times, will be called to endure humbly a leader’s mistakes and sins. Nonetheless, should you find yourself in a church where the leadership is characteristically abusive, I would, in most cases, encourage you to flee. Flee to protect your discipleship, to protect your family, to set a good example for the members left behind, and to serve non-Christian neighbors by not lending credibility to the church’s ministry.
How do you recognize abusive leadership? Paul requires two witnesses for a charge to be leveled against an elder (1 Tim. 5:19), probably because he knows that leaders will be charged with infelicities more than others, often unfairly. That said, abusive churches and Christian leaders characteristically
- Make dogmatic prescriptions in places where Scripture is silent.
- Rely on intelligence, humor, charm, guilt, emotions, or threats rather than on God’s Word and prayer (see Acts 6:4).
- Play favorites.
- Punish those who disagree.
- Employ extreme forms of communication (tempers, silent treatment).
- Recommend courses of action that always, somehow, improve the leader’s own situation, even at the expense of others.
- Speak often and quickly.
- Seldom do good deeds in secret.
- Seldom encourage.
- Seldom give the benefit of the doubt.
- Emphasize outward conformity, rather than repentance of heart.
- Preach, counsel, disciple, and oversee the church with lips that fail to ground everything in what Christ has done in the gospel and to give glory to God.
Source: Jonathan Leeman, Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus, 9Marks (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 118-19.