Is Your Congregation Being Held Hostage?

The dynamics of a congregation can be complicated. Dealing with people and personalities is not always easy. We are all flawed individuals and these flaws sometimes appear in our dealings with others. Church leaders need to understand this, so they do not allow unhealthy practices to live and thrive within a congregation. Church leaders must be sensitive and graceful towards all people, but at the same time they cannot give into immature or unhealthy behavior.

One practice that plagues congregations is that of being held hostage. This is when a person uses their power or influence to try and get what they want. They are not in the majority, but they know if they complain loud enough or pester the leadership enough, then they will get their way. Instead of dealing with what they perceive to be an issue in a mature way, they play church politics and try to get the majority to bend to their will. It is difficult to tell a person like this no, but if you don’t, the problem will only get worse. It will also have a negative impact on the congregation. They will become frustrated, and they may even turn to immature behavior because that is what the leadership is responding to at the moment.

Weaker Brother

The issues that congregations are held hostage over are often things that don’t matter. They may include worship style preferences, eating in the building, times and place of worship, observance of special days, etc. Minor issues have always plagued the church. In Romans 14, Paul writes at length about minor issues. He makes reference to a brother or sister who is weaker in the faith, and may have certain opinions regarding dietary laws or special days (minor issues). He commands the stronger brother or sister “never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another” (Rom. 14:13). This argument is sometimes used by those who want to hold a congregation hostage. Paul’s instruction in Romans 14 is essential to church life, but sometimes it is abused. The heart of the discussion is about maturity and growth. Some newer Christians or younger Christians are not as mature in the faith as others, and those who are mature should not do anything to cause them to stumble. The problem is that sometimes people who have been Christians for 30, 40, or 50 years claim to be the weaker brother or sister. This should not be so! Another problem is that the Christians who appeal to this argument perfectly understand it. They know what Paul is saying, and they have no intention of trying to grow. They are simply using this passage to get what they want.

Abuse of Power

We must also be aware of how power is used within a congregation. People gain power in several different ways. A person may have been at the congregation longer than anyone else, or they may give more money than most people. This sense of power sometimes gives individuals the idea that they have more of a say than others. The problem is that the Bible teaches the opposite. In James 2 we are reminded that poor and rich are to be treated alike. A person who has more wealth does not get a better seat or more influence simply because they can give more. Jesus teaches us an important principle in Mark 10:42-45. The church does not operate like the world. People within the church are not to use power to get what they want. The church should be leery of anyone who seeks power or uses power to obtain things. This is not the way of Jesus. Instead, we are to serve one another.

The Mind of Christ

The key to all church problems is found in Philippians 2:3-11. Having it my way should never be a part of the Christian mindset. Humility is at the heart of Christianity. Following Jesus means we think less of our own wants and desires and consider the needs and desires of others. Jesus was continually thinking of others and making sacrifices on behalf of others. He left heaven and came to earth. Throughout his ministry, he continually served others. He willingly went to the cross. He did all this for us, but he also did it to leave us an example of how we are to live. We are called to have the mind of Christ. We are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Holding a congregation hostage to get what you want is contrary to the mind of Christ. It is not following in the footsteps of Jesus. We must seek to be like Christ in all that we do, and we must not give into religious people who want to use coercion or power to get their way.

Scott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. He enjoys writing about the Christian faith and posting the occasional film review. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications.

  1. Reply
    Barbara Barnes October 28, 2015 at 11:35 am

    Thanks for the article. I have experienced this in congregations that I have attended. The sense of entitlement, giving more with strings, member longer and so on as you stated in your article. There is a need to treat others, especially the new or weaker members, better and with much love so they will grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Never to esteem self above others. I really think you said it best and I will just say thank you again.

  2. Reply
    Wenona Scott October 28, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    This is an empowering article to the reader. My wish is that by reading it, eyes will be opened and empower us to recognize these strategies in our respective congregation. Unfortunately, churches have been held hostage by folks using these manipulative techniques for personal gain. Thank you for sharing it with the world.

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