The story goes that Little Red Riding Hood is exploring in the woods and goes to her Grandma’s house. She knocks at the door and her ‘Grandma’ is in bed. The girl recognises that Grandma’s features have changed .She says ‘ My, what big eyes you have’ , ‘What a deep voice you have’ and so on. She knows that something is not quite right and her intuition tells her so, but she cannot tell you what. Her Grandma is wearing the same clothing, but what has changed ? In the ending, one version of the story tells of how the little girl is gobbled up alongside her Grandma. In the Germanic version, a hunter kills and opens the wolf and the Grandma and girl emerge unharmed. In my analogy, Little Red riding Hood represents everyday people who have been drawn into this church unknowingly. The wolf represents the sinful desires of the heart and false identity traits that he tries to cover up in an attempt to win over his victims. The Bible says that, ‘by their fruit you will recognise them’ (Matt 7:16). I am hoping to open your eyes to spiritual symptoms you may come across in a dysfunctional church and to be very cautious when choosing where to worship. The ending of this fairy tale is a happy one, because the innocent victims managed to escape unharmed. Likewise, God can rescue us from these dark places. ‘Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves’ (Matt 7:15). I have outlined seven symptoms that ineffective leadership can bring to a church if the wolf is left to his own devices for too long and has become ravenous.
1) Impaired vision
I used to work as a teacher and during my training placement; I had to do hundreds of lessons plans. When constructing a lesson plan, the spine always consisted of aims and learning objectives. The students were aware of expectations and how to achieve goals. Without these key ingredients, students can become unmotivated and stray from their targets. Every school has a learning statement or motto and from these values vision can be built. Likewise, if a church has vision and clarity, people can share in the mission, feel energised and ‘own’ it together. Vision MUST be the driving force behind any successful organisation. Martin Luther King’s vision rung out across Mississippi, ‘ When all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” this was born out of prayer and changed the whole of America for the better. Bill Hybels talks about vision being the ‘core of leadership’ .Proverbs 29:18 ‘Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained’. If you notice a leader trying to solely place the responsibility of change on the congregation, he or she is trying to run away from the truth, that the leader needs to initiate change to get everyone ‘on-board’ and steer the boat out into choppy waters. To be an effective leader of vision you must have passion and a deep sense of the spirit directing you for God’s glory and his purpose only. This passion is not born from selfish ambition and desires but from a wisdom that comes from heaven ( James 3:17).
If a leader is looking ‘squeaky clean’ and seems to convey the image he has got his life ‘sorted’, chances are he is probably in it for his ‘own good’ or just ‘pretending’. Apathy may have set in after a time. A mark of authentic leadership is someone who shows compassion, shares in the struggles of the people and endeavours to bring justice to situations. This leader does spiritual battles with the armour of God (Esp 6:10-18).
In our society, you can be stigmatised for making a mistake. In God’s world, having weakness is allowing yourself to be vulnerable . When we show vulnerability, we can open up to each other and be made ‘perfect’ in God’s grace (2 Cor 12:9). If a church leader is willing to admit to failure and does not have a self-righteous attitude, I am more likely to trust in his authenticity.
The story of the Shepherd who spent hours looking for one ‘lost sheep’ highlights the importance of ‘being found’ (Luke 15:1-7). We read throughout the Bible that Jesus was the hospitality guru! He welcomed all, whatever background, culture or race. Jesus was always inviting the ‘unwanted’ for dinner, much to his disciples disdain! For example, my old church used to host ‘Bring and Share’ lunches on regular basis (Hebrews 13:2).These lunches provided opportunities for deeper relationships and having fun! Pastoral care is vital in order to ensure everyone is in good order! Ezekiel 34 gives us a clear picture too of why the shepherd needs to care for his flock.
3) Members Only
It may have become too comfortable and complacent to reach out to new people. It has become an exclusive club for ‘members only’. This may be something as subtle as not being connected to other Christians through Facebook or WhatsApp or having limited access to the members’ website. This can isolate and devalue you as a person. I worked as an outdoor instructor for about 10 years where ‘in house’ training was very common place. These ‘in house skills’ are very site specific but when you try to transfer them to another centre they are regarded as ‘useless’. Similarly, when you do ‘in house courses’ all the time, you are learning about an element from a certain perspective. You may be attending conferences that are run by the same people with the same agenda . Unfortunately, this agenda can cloud your vision. A sign of a flourishing church is the promotion of a wide range of courses accessible to everyone. Learning outside your own church such as Theology/mission courses can give you a better perspective too.
4) Confinement of Freedom
A spirit of feeling trapped or inhibited to say anything openly in the fear of being judged . ‘Now the Lord is the spirit, and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom’ (2 Cor 3:17). Ever had that feeling that during the worship you could not voice what the spirit was telling you, due to the control being exercised in the worship. Have you been given the opportunity and space to share God’s voice to build up others? Are the same leaders, taking control of the situation and supressing the quieter voices of God? If so, this is an underrepresentation of God working through all to build the body of Christ . (1 Cor 12:12).
5) A body that is incomplete
Each of us has gifts and talents to use within the body of Christ. If a body is incomplete then it does not function properly. ‘The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you’ (1 Cor 12:21) . Likewise in a church atmosphere, only investing in people who appear to be ‘confident and outgoing’ may be overlooking someone who has a trait that completes ‘the body’. It can be damaging to assume that a person already possesses a ‘skill’ or that because he or she is showing enthusiasm does not mean they are appropriate for that specific role. When we are ‘equally’ involved in furthering the kingdom of God and this means that both men and women are involved in various areas of leadership across the church. When both genders have this freedom, it can deeply enhance the richness, spirituality and diversity of worship, bond the team together and the spirit can truly ‘break in’ and change things. This includes involving our children too. In allowing our next generation to explore their spirituality and gifting, we won’t miss the treasure they can bring to unify the body of Christ . So let’s encourage our young people to be involved in more worship leading, speaking, drama, dance, prophecy and much more.
6) Breaking of Bread decentralised
If sharing in the Communion of Christ has taken the backseat in church, we are actually saying this is all about ‘us’ not Jesus. We are outwardly mocking Jesus dying on the cross. We need to be reminded of his grace and reconciled with God on a regular basis. It’s in Jesus that we gain our strength and in that moment of eating and drinking his ‘body’ and ‘blood’ that we are sharing in his suffering . When I worked in community, we broke the body of Christ at least weekly. We are reaffirming that Christ is central to everyone’s beliefs; it also shows solidarity amongst believers through the struggles and joys of life.
Accountability is very important. Perhaps, there are specific meetings that clearly outline how finance is being handled . This ‘red flag’ should warn us to be extra prudent in how we give our money . If the church are being transparent on money usage, we should be able to see a tangible difference in the local community. I have unfortunately seen poor people overlooked in a church and then money given out to someone in another country doing mission elsewhere (1 John 3:17).