I have been reading quite a few posts of The Assembling of the Church by Alan Knox. In more than one post, there is mention of (and warning about) the “Rock Star Pastor”. Recently, I got the Wonderful Wizard of Oz melody stuck in my head and then thought about the kind of character the Wizard of Oz was and how some who call themselves “pastor” have some traits in common with the Wizard of Oz.
First, I will go out on a limb and figure than anyone reading this has seen The Wizard of Oz. If you haven’t, I would consider that amazing or that you are only three years old and likely not able to read this post. So, now that I have gotten my sarcasm aside, let me share what I see as the “Pastor of Oz”.
When Dorothy finally got into the palace of the Wizard, she and her friends were cleaned up and made very presentable for the Wizard. The Munchkins had great respect and admiration for this Wizard, whose audience was not easy to attain. Finally, the time came when they entered the room where they could meet the Wizard.
The room was huge and impressive. The Tin Man quivered in his tin. The Lion tried to run away. The Scarecrow’s knees quivered. Dorothy looked worried and scared, but went forward, encouraging her friends to do the same. For fun, here is a YouTube link for the scene of what they meet.
Impressive. From their point of view, this is very impressive and intimidating. The big, bellowing voice and the giant head…”I am Oz”. He speaks, makes some condescending remarks, scaring Dorothy and her friends. They were sent on a quest to retrieve the wicked witch’s broom handle. When they returned with the broom of the wicked witch, they spoke to that big green head again, but this time Toto made a discovery.
Ah, Toto. The unsung hero in this story. Where does he go? This little rodent of a dog runs over to a curtain because he sees something is going on over there. Dorothy confronts the man behind the curtain, even after the “Great and Powerful Oz” demanded they, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”.
Once confronted, the Wizard became honest about who he really was, how he landed in Oz and how the people were awestruck by him. However, he used what he knew to manipulate people who became impressed with him. They believed him to be powerful and great – even fearsome. His character, however, was actually a nice guy, although a con man, who got caught up in his new-found “power”. Unfortunately, many abusive pastors do not come clean when confronted with their abuse of power and can even be very defensive of their use of authority.
I have known and heard of pastors who are similar to the Wizard of Oz. They use whatever manipulation they can to convince people that they are the “great and powerful” pastor. No, they won’t project a giant green head and may not use sound-tech to make their voices sound giant and impressive, but they do have other tools at their disposal.
I did say they are similar, but I won’t say they are the same. The man behind the curtain, the actual “wizard”, confessed who he was and continued to be himself from that point on. Of course, he was a character and the movie had a script. The “Pastor of Oz”, however, does whatever he can to hide who he really is and continues to build the facade which keeps himself in power and the people respecting him (obeying him) and his self-appointed authority. How does he do this? Through manipulation and abuse of scripture. After all, people want to do what scripture says…right?
Let’s look at the flagship verse used to convince people of the power and authority of the office of the pastor.
Hebrews 13:17 – “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
To quote from the character, Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, “I do not think that word means what you thinks it means.” In this case, I refer to two words, obey and submit.
If you were to do a study on the word, obey, you would find that it has to do with persuasion more than the kind of obedience we are familiar with. In the Greek, the word obey comes out to, “be persuaded”. Then, if you were to do a study on the word, submit, it has to do with deferring. So, if you were to bring it a little closer to home, it might read, “Be persuaded by your leaders and defer to them…” This is not blind obedience, but a matter of allowing the leaders that God has placed in your midst to be able to share the ways of the Lord…to persuade us. We are to defer to them, since they are the ones in whom God has given responsibility to lead. We are not to do so out of obligation because they are the leaders, but we are to willfully, perhaps voluntarily do so because we recognize the gifts God has placed in them.
Leadership takes advantage of the English translation of these words. Most of them don’t mean to, as this is what they were taught. But, they don’t bother to do their own research, see how leadership acted in the first century Church or even recognize the example of Jesus as we read it in scripture. When you add all these things up, you find the balance in what is truly being communicated. But, many leaders…pastors…are content to keep pounding this verse in people’s minds in order to maintain their status. While many may not fully realize it, this is an abuse of authority, used to manipulate people who are either “young” or “weak” (and some lazy) in their faith.
In an article online from therockofoffence.com/otherside.html, Fred Handschumacher wrote a commentary, “The Discipleship and Shepherding Movement”. Here is a paragraph from his commentary.
“Twisting and redefining Scripture is normal in groups that abuse spiritual authority. Anyone with little or no previous Christian experience who receive their spiritual “foundation” from an abusive group are seriously compromised. Unless God’s Holy Spirit intervenes they will stay in spiritual bondage the rest of their life, while thinking they are on the cutting-edge of God’s end-time purposes. Leaders keep members loyal by making them feel “privileged” to hear “sound doctrine”. They emphasize that others outside the group don’t have this advantage. Many in this situation possess a “distorted” conception of our heavenly Father’s true nature. It’s hard to think of a greater tragedy–maybe because I was so deeply shaken by its deceptiveness–and by learning how easy anyone can get ensnared when their devotion to God is used against them.”
If you are under this kind of leadership…get out! Unless you are sure God wants you to remain, get out immediately. No one has the right to own you – which is what this style of leadership amounts to. You do not have to “obey” a pastor – he does not own you, you are not his child nor his dog. He does not have the right to make anyone pay for “disobedience” or remind you of his alleged authority in your life. You don’t owe him anything, no matter how he reminds you of what he allegedly did for you. You do not owe his church anything. But, leaving this type of church and leader comes with a price – most friendships will no longer exist. This can be painful, but better than being under a totalitarian leader.
Those who leave a church under a “Shepherding” style leader will likely never hear from most of the people they once considered friends. They will be considered as having abandoned that church. The pastor, if asked, will put a spin on reasons he feels the person/people left. This may include anything from accusation of alleged sin, getting involved with a false doctrine, one spouse (usually the wife) manipulating and pressuring the other to leave and probably a few other good spins. No matter what, people tend to shun someone who leaves such a church, considering them as, “no longer one of us” and, “They now go to that church, which doesn’t embrace the ‘truth’ as we do.”
Beware the “Pastor of Oz”. He is more proprietor than pastor, more manipulator than minister, and more sergeant than servant. It is worthless to confront him and nearly as worthless to talk to him and explain why you would leave. If you are going to be shunned or black-balled anyway – which you likely will – just cut your ties and leave.