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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

When You Should NOT Submit to a Church

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All of us will, at times, 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, 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 often 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 which always, somehow, improves 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.

This post is taken from Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman, © 2010, pp. 118-19. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.