Tyranny and Democracy and Church Leadership


Unfortunately in the church — especially in churches where there is anxiety and “concern” and a lack of maturity — we often start to cater to squeaky wheels in order to ‘keep people’ or ‘keep the peace.’ What that does is give far too much power to minority voices that squeak and clatter (sometimes they have a valid point and are healthy but in my experience most times they are not). Doing this throws things off balance when it comes to a church trying to get healthier. We are afraid to call it what it is. Yet, on the farm, with one of our machines, if we discover a part is clattering and squeaking because it has worn out and doesn’t fit right, we do not hesitate to replace it so the work can continue. But in the church we seem to want to stop the machine completely, and quiet the noise with smoothing, quieting grease, in the belief that will somehow ‘fix’ the problem. And yet, those who work with machines will know immediately this will only be a temporary fix, and one that may lead to greater breakdowns in the future.

Now, the church is not a machine, but is a living body that is Spirit-and-Word led, we know that, so comparing it to a machine is less useful than comparing it to an organism, a living body. In the human body, if the body has bent too much, nerves can get pinched and cause pains in parts of the body that are in fact OK. This is similar to the pain some squeakers express. The real problem is elsewhere, yet no one knows how to get to the real problem. So we put a bandage on a finger that is throbbing, but really the pinch is somewhere in the shoulders. And we know we haven’t really fixed anything.

My experience is that very often “people who are hurting are often hurting people.” Because of some hidden pain they lash out and cause hurt. But greasing or bandaging the issue that is presented will do nothing to resolve the original pain. At some point I intend to write about how we can begin to learn to name and address our deeper hurts.

The thing to learn is to identify in the church when that kind of hurt-driven manipulative tyranny is going on, so that we can know what is happening, and recognize we don’t need to bow to it but need to find other ways of addressing it. We need to learn how to keep the body functioning in a balanced way, where each organ or part does what it is intended to, rather than one taking over and another being ignored.

Summary Statement: Bending to accommodate unhealthy squeaking can disable the whole body with discomfort and pain. It allows a tyranny of an unhealthy minority to rule the day.


Another way we get unhealthy is a result of the belief that democracy is a Biblical concept. I’ve written about that before. It is not. My favourite example to get people thinking about this is: Imagine you are congregation Israel, just freed from painful slavery to Egypt. A few days out the food is lousy and congregation Israel begins to complain and call for new leadership. What is the best thing for leader Moses to do? Does he call a congregational meeting? If he did, and allowed a vote, where would Israel have gone?

Do you see what I mean? See Exodus 16 and Numbers 14 to get a sense of this mentality. Democracy is not the best way to run things in the church.

In the church, we have an ordained leadership who has the spiritual responsibility for the congregation’s health and wellbeing, somewhat like Moses did. It’s a huge, difficult responsibility. It can only be fulfilled if taken very every seriously and undertaken prayerfully. The leaders are wise to ‘inform’ and ‘consult’ the congregation via votes, but the responsibility is theirs to do what they believe God is showing them is right. If they are afraid to do so, they are not leading well. Moses, in the crisis, consulted God each time, and came back and said “We need to keep going forward.” Sometimes those who had objected to moving forward, even a majority, were denied access to the promises of God. Unfortunately, we sometimes allow a tyranny of the majority to rule and even overrule the appointed spiritual leaders. That is not always good for the church. It does not help it fulfill God’s plans, and in fact reduces it to a social club self-directed by the people’s will.

Summary Statement: The democratic majority in a congregation my be exercising a tyranny of the majority and may keep a congregation off track from God’s purposes.

What then? If tyranny of either a minority or majority is not good for the body of Christ as it gathers into congregations, what then? Well, I’m in favour of Word-and-Spirit and prayer-shaped discerning insight coupled with healthy Christ-like leadership. I think the Apostle Paul knew about this as well. Here is one statement he made about it:

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” — Philippians 1:9-11

This is one small part of what we are working on together as an STM, Elders and Deacons, and congregation: Healthy, courageous, discerning, humble Spiritual leadership. WIth God’s help, and with our ears and hearts open and cooperative, it can happen.

Pastor Pete

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