5 Characteristics of Bad Church Leaders

We have all been in a church where the pastor, elder or perhaps even the entire leadership team was - for lack of a better word - horrible.

These are the kinds of leaders that negatively impact the vibe and culture of the church to the point that attendance begins to dwindle and the vibrancy of the community of faith withers and fades. When confronted with the results of their poor leadership I have heard some of them say things like "It's only the weak ones who have left. The ones still here are strong in faith and that's what we want" or "Some people just can't handle the truth!"


The worst part is rather than admit their faults, these terrible leaders baptize them in Christian cliche's in order to excuse them. So today, I want to "unbaptize" 5 common characteristics of a bad church leader with the hopes that we, as leaders, can grow.

1. The Boss

There is a gargantuan difference between being a leader and being a boss.

Bosses don't care about their people. They have a job to do and they will twist arms and pull teeth until they get the job done. Sadly, many churches have leadership teams full of bosses. They attempt to excuse their control with things like:

  • I gave control over to others once and they messed it up/ didn't come through so now I do it all myself.
  • I know whats best for the church.
  • If I let others take control they will not be as faithful as I am.

They may not say these things but that's what they think. These types of "leaders" often micromanage things, are extremely stubborn in their views, resistant to change of any sort, get angry when they are challenged and display various levels of arrogance. This makes it very difficult to approach them openly.

Don't be like this.

2. The Footless 

Leaders need to be able to think and act on their feet. But more so, they need to be able to think and act quickly in a way that will benefit the people.

Bad leaders are indecisive and its often for one simple reason: They have competing agendas in their own head. Should they benefit themselves? Should they benefit someone who they want to impress? Should they benefit the people? These multiple competing agendas in their head makes it hard for them to think on their feet. They lack clarity of thought, often have no vision to guide their decisions and when they finally do, it's generally for self-benefit of some sort.

People under these kinds of leaders quickly lose respect for them and once respect for the leader is gone, passion for the mission begins to wane as well.

3. The Visionless.

Directly related to the previous point is the leader who lacks vision.

When a leader lacks vision it shows. They are here, there and everywhere. They are not communicating a clear and compelling message. And they are not taking their people along on a journey toward a goal. These kinds of leaders often busy themselves with maintaining the status-quo and are incapable of motivating and equipping their church for mission.

4. The Voiceless

This is a big one. It doesn't really matter how cool you, your ideas and your skills are. If you don't communicate you don't lead.

Springing things on your church board, elders team or church members at large at the last minute is a fast way to irritate people. It makes them feel as though all that matters is your decision. By not keeping people in the loop and updating them continually, allowing them to be part of the conversation, you send the message that the only thing that matters is you. When you finally fill them in, they feel patronized.

5. The Blamer

I see this one all the time.

  • The church members are not supportive!
  • The church members are not committed!
  • The church members are not spiritual!
These points are usually raised in discussions over low Sabbath School, prayer meeting or Business meeting attendance, lack of church-wide support of missional projects or people showing up later and later to church. The problem is always the same. Its "them". And what can we do about it? Nothing. So we keep on dragging along or we hope that someday, somehow the church will just wake up.

Allow me to step on your toes today leaders: As a leader you do not have the luxury of ever, ever blaming anybody other than yourself. 

You don't like that idea? Then don't be a leader.

Seriously, leadership is hard. It's painful. It's lonely. And it can keep you awake at times. Leaders don't have the luxury of passing blame. Is it true that church members are unsupportive, uncommitted and unspiritual? Maybe. But that's only a tiny part of the story. Instead of passing blame ask yourself,

  • How many of these members do I personally know and love?
  • How many of them have I had over to my house?
  • How many have I visited in their own home?
  • How many of them have I been there for in their hard times?
  • How many of them have I had open conversations with regarding the issues we face as a church?
  • How many of them have I sat down and listened to and then implemented their ideas?
  • How many of them have I invested myself in empowering and equipping for ministry? Or am I too busy running everything myself that I don't even notice the weaknesses in my own leadership?
  • Do the church members here believe I care about them deeply? If not, how can I change that?
  • How often do I seek to improve my own leadership skills through reading books, attending leadership training and asking my own church for honest feedback on my leadership?
I can go on and on, but by now I think you get the point. Church leaders often pass blame onto people and in my experience, they don't even know who those people are. We have a word for that. Its called "judgmental". Don't do it. It doesn't lead anywhere good. Instead, find how you can lead them from where they are to where you know God wants them to be. It will require you to grow as a leader because you can't lead someone unless you are capable of inspiring (not requiring), motivating, equipping and investing in people. It's a long and self-less journey, yes. But its awesome when you start to see the results.

So there you have it, 5 characteristics of bad church leaders. There are more, but I will stop there for now. How many of these do you see in yourself? What can you do to change and become a better leader? Comment below!


Pastor Marcos is a millennial Adventist pastor with a passion for Jesus, the narrative of Adventism and the relevancy of the local Adventist church. He pastors in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram. He also blogs weekly at pomopastor.com
5 Characteristics of Bad Church Leaders 5 Characteristics of Bad Church Leaders Reviewed by Pastor Marcos on October 15, 2017 Rating: 5


  1. Thanks for a great article! My thought is that, while you've pointed out some real problems, there's no way one could graciously print this out and hand it to his church leader. :D

    Is there something you could actually recommend for the people *under* such a leader, to encourage them in seeking excellence for the church? Clearly, praying for them -- for God's blessing and leading in their lives -- is first and foremost. We absolutely do this! Any other ideas on starting a movement from the the pews while not undermining the leadership?

    1. Thanks anonymous! I am not sure if you are the same anonymous who I was talking to in the other post, but if you are I shared some comments on our discussion there that I think would be helpful. if you are not, check out the conversation I had on this article: http://www.pomopastor.com/2017/10/my-top-3-frustrations-as-adventist.html as it may provide some good help.

      The bottom line is this: When it comes to bad leadership you usually only have 3 options depending on the context. 1) Find a way to replace the leadership via Selection and Nominating Committee. The simplest way to do this is to have a number of the church members who feel like you do to propose your name for selection com. If it gets passed, then you can nominate members of the nom com who also feel like there needs to be a change. if they get voted through then they can nominate new leaders. and then of course, the church at large needs to approve. If all goes well you have a new leadership team. The problem with this approach is it requires a bit of behind the scenes politics. That isnt always a bad thing but it can nurture division if not done properly and with the right intentions. In addition, there are lots of ifs in this process. If you get selected for selection com. if your nominations get approved for nom com. If the church at large approves the nom com report. etc. etc. Also, this process is super hard with small churches where there is not a lot of people to choose from to begin with. I generally only recommend this approach when a church has been hijacked by a particular group of people who hold power year after year and are keeping the church hostage to fanatical and unhealthy agendas. At that point, you dont have much to lose. But outside of that extreme circumstance, its an option, but not one I am too keen on.

    2. 2) Build intimacy with the leadership. Especially the "ring leader". In every leadership group there is always one main person everyone follows. If their leadership is negative, the team will be. If its positive, they are likely to follow. By building an intimate friendship with the leadership you position yourself in a place where you can speak freely to them about how you feel - friend to friend. Because most churches today run like organizations instead of families its hard to do this. Relationships are lacking and when there is no relationship, how do you empower, nurture and encourage? Its impossible. Relationships doesn't automatically make it easy, but it makes it possible to have the discussion. The downside to this approach is it takes a lot of time. You cant build relationships overnight. You literally have to change the culture of the church which is a long term commitment.

    3. 3) Go grassroots. Find out what you want to accomplish. Gather a team of others who are keen to join you. And start a member led movement. Tell your leaders about it and communicate that you want to begin a movement in your church in support of their leadership.

      These are the only 3 ways forward I have ever seen. My recommendation is a mixture of 2 and 3. Only do 1 if the situation has become unhealthy and toxic. By doing 2 and 3 together you commit to the long journey of culture change without waiting for that journey to be complete before doing something practical.

      Of course, all of this sounds easy on paper. Its definitely much harder in real life and the process has to be supplemented with different strategies as you go along. But at least start the journey. Once you do, you can confront the random obstacles as they come along.

      By next year, I will have a free videos series on this website and a complete online course on church optimization. once those are available you can spread the word so your leaders can explore the material on their own. If you havent subscribed to the newsletter yet, do it so you know when the resources become available.

      Any other questions, please shoot them my way!

    4. I am the same anon person from before. Thank you very much for these ideas. 2 and 3 are absolutely something I can work on, beginning with 2. Thanks again!


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