Charting a Way to Good Leadership – Part One



Charting a Way to Good Leadership – Part One

Episode Five: Charting a Way to Good Leadership 1

How do we guard against the pitfalls of abusive leadership?

CRAIG: We have to be honest here and say that manipulation that happens through events and in meetings are most common within pentecostalist and charismatic churches. Pentecostalism has its founding narrative in the events of Azuza Street, and branches of it seem to be prey to an addiction to anything that resembles power and glory which breeds the kind of revivalist ministries that put individuals on platforms. Other abuses happen most easily where there is a clear hierarchy or where any kind of separation is enforced between those leading and their followers. 

My PhD looked in depth at the early days of the charismatic movement which was characterised by a confident expectation of the manifestation of the Spiritual Gifts mentioned in the New Testament. I was particularly studying the rise of the new (then called Restorationist) churches which placed great emphasis upon the five-fold ministries of Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor & Teacher. Sadly, some of the men whose charisma led to them being singled out as apostles and prophets went on to fall from the pedestals upon which they had been placed. 

I also remember spending hours sorting through the archives of the Fountain Trust. The FT was an agency formed to promote charismatic renewal through its Renewal magazine and popular biennial conferences. The FT arose and flourished because of an experience, stories of which became the subject of many books and talks in the 60s and 70s, which its proponents called the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. The purpose of the FT was to explain and promote the experience which some equated with being ‘born again’. Others believed they were promoting a gift that God wished to give every Christian and which came with numerous supernatural benefits. The numerous letters and minutes of meetings held in the archives provided a fascinating portal into some pretty fundamental debates. Were conferences being run in order to enable renewal to spread, or were they encouraging the already convinced to become experience junkies? Were they putting on money spinning events just to keep the show on the road? Was God renewing the institutional church or was a more fundamental restoration of church structures needed for growth and revival?

I include the example of the Fountain Trust because it illustrates the dilemmas faced by all organisations. The FT was well run and, internally at least, was attempting to be honest and open as it questioned the reasons for its existence. If the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a necessary part of the experience of being born again, it follows that those who have had the experience should feel obliged to share it with others. If the experience is necessary in order to bear good fruit, it would be selfish not to share it. What did not happen for a very long time was the questioning of the nature and origin of a set of experiences that had been confidently labelled as gifts of God.

If God is involved, who dares question it? If churches are growing, how can it be bad? If God has gifted certain people with leadership gifts, that is his prerogative.

Which, for me at least, raises the question of why certain people rise to the top of organisations. Very few of us would subscribe to a theology of the Divine Right of Kings in the realms of politics, and yet we are willing to submit to similar logic whenever we look to ‘anointed’ leaders who are able to woo crowds and get things done. The model of a crowd looking to God to raise up a powerful or gifted individual whom he then anoints for a distinctive calling is not found in the New Testament. Jesus is the chosen one, and every one of his followers is similarly anointed. (2 Corinthians 1:21; 1 John 2:20).

I think the most obvious antidote against poor practice will always be to return to best practice. Most of Paul’s letters were written to churches that were having problems, and his first letter to the church in Corinth addresses all the issues we have been writing about. The glorious chapter on perfect love, although it is most frequently read today at weddings, was written for a church which was experiencing all kinds of tensions and set in the midst of instructions to the whole church body:

Chapter 9: On humility and servant leadership.

Chapter 10: On personal discipline and seeking the good of others.

Chapter 11: On wholesome and harmonious relationships.

Chapter 12: On unity, diversity and the need for everyone to participate.

Chapter 13: Sacrificial love always trumps charisma.

Chapter 14: Gatherings should be orderly and eagerly expectant.

The churches Paul was writing to were nothing like most of our churches today. They took their inspiration from Jewish synagogues which were more like extended family gatherings than public meetings. The typical ‘church’ we know of today, with its professional clergy, approved liturgy and didactic style was adopted as Christianity became the established religion of the Roman Empire. As a Christendom mindset began to form, the church experienced a seismic change in its worship and theology and this diminished its impact on the wider world. The influence of the Empire enabled powerful and vainglorious leaders to rule the new institution [Paul uses the word kenodoxos in Galatians 5:26 & Philippians 2:3 to warn the church NOT to allow this sort of attitude to take root]. Platonic philosophy began to sweep through the church through Augustine and subsequent church fathers, and the forms of church we still see today became the dominant symbols of the Christian faith.

Open your bible and read these chapters again, trying your very best to forget church as you know it. There was no golden age in Christian history when everything was pristine, but there was an age before the church was reconfigured into an institution that could be controlled and domesticated. The imagery Paul uses of a human body with all parts having equal value, and gatherings where the Spirit might bring gifts for everyone to be delivered by anyone he chose is both simple and potentially profound. 


If you’re concerned about a person or situation in a church context and need information or support, the leading experts on church abuse are

Whatever your concern – recent or non-recent, if it relates to safeguarding or even if you’re not sure –  Mon you can call Thirtyone Eight – Fri, 9am – 5pm, on 0303 003 1111.

In an emergency, especially if someone is in immediate danger of harm, you should always call 999 straight away and ask for the police.

Image Credit: Dall-E

Picture of About the Author

About the Author

Simon loves helping individuals, churches and organisations through times of change and re-envisioning, and bringing together the people and resources needed to turn dreams into reality. He is also a gifted teacher and preacher and a member of the British and Irish Association for Practical Theology.

More Posts by Simon Hall