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Demigod Leaders

Description

Joseph Mattera explores the socio-psychological reasons behind church leaders who behave like celebrities.

The church has seen the rise of celebrity cult-status pastors who act like spiritual divas.

In this article, I define demigods as those who act as little gods and who believe they are above everyone else.

These leaders walk around with an entourage, bodyguards, are inaccessible to even high-level staff and peers, and are unaccountable islands to themselves.

Furthermore, no matter how much these demigod leaders violate biblical ethics, they still maintain their leadership positions because most of their followers are blinded by devotion.

Many of these leaders started in ministry for the right reasons, but because of undealt with emotional dysfunction related to their youthful experiences in fragmented families fraught with abuse, neglect and anger, they carry these dysfunctions over into their ministries and church families.

There are some social and psychological reasons for this aberrant behavior, both from the vantage point of these leaders and their followers.

The following are some of these symptoms and reasons:

Why followers fall for demigod leaders:

  1. Many Christians come from dysfunctional family backgrounds and need male hero figures to emulate as father figures. Some folks view their Spirit-led leaders as surrogate fathers. Hence they will be protective of their leaders to the point in which their emotional connection and loyalty clouds biblical truth.
  2. Many Christians have no identity of their own and live vicariously through their leaders.Those without a healthy self-identity gravitate towards strong, confident leaders with a compelling vision to the point in which their own individuality is subsumed or fragmented. This creates a vacuum of being and essence which makes them vulnerable to charismatic leaders. For example, this is how false prophet Jim Jones was able to lead 900 well-educated followers into committing corporate suicide in Guyana in 1978.
  3. Many have a strong sense of failure and live through the success of their leaders. Many people live boring lives without purpose and feel they have more meaning when vicariously living through a person they deem successful.
  4. Many followers lack their own intimate knowledge of Christ and are ignorant of Scripture. Unfortunately, most Christians are Bible illiterate and will believe anything their leaders teach them, even if it is heretical. Hence, their leaders can live lives or lead their churches in ways that are not congruent with Scripture, and they wouldn’t even know it!
  5. Many stay connected to their leaders primarily because of their social communities. After being in a church for several years, folks usually assimilate into that particular faith community (which is a great thing in most cases) and build their social networks around their church lives and ministries. If they leave their churches, they will have to cut off many of these social ties. Thus, many will continue in a church even if the leader is living an ungodly life full of pride, abuse, or manipulation.
  6. Many are connected to demigod leaders because it gives them religious status. There are many people I have met who attend certain churches only because those churches have many members, even if they are not being discipled or ministered to in a personal way. They remain in these churches because the celebrity status of their leaders gives them status with other Christians in their cities.
  7. Many have low self-esteem and don’t recognize when they are being abused or manipulated.Those with low self-esteem will allow others to abuse, disrespect, and even manipulate them because they don’t have enough self-dignity to disapprove, or even recognize it. Many of these folks were abused or neglected at home and live with a sense of guilt and feel an unconscious need to have authority figures who act the same way as their parents did. (This satiates their feelings of guilt in some cases.)

Why leaders become demigods:

  1. They have a sense of entitlement. Some folks think of themselves more highly than they ought and believe in their hearts that they deserve better treatment than any other human being (Romans 12:3).
  2. Because of their celebrity status they think they are above the law. When celebrity leaders (who could be celebrities in small churches as well as large churches based on the adulation of the people and their own self-deception) get used to having sycophants around them, they become used to getting what they want, when they want it! Hence, they push aside boundaries and live lives that satisfy their fleshly inclinations.
  3. They are unaccountable because they don’t think anyone is qualified to speak into their lives. Some pastors and leaders think they are so spiritual and successful that they have reached a point where no one is able to speak into their lives and teach them anything. They may ask in their minds questions like, Is this person as wealthy as me? or Do they have as many people in their church as I do? before they even consider hearing what others have to say!
  4. They are aloof because they don’t trust anyone. Many demigod leaders are really projecting a false self of confidence and aloofness because they don’t trust anyone enough to have intimate relationships—including their spouses and children.
  5. Their self-identity is subsumed by their ministry identity. Some start off okay, but eventually their success–fueled by their driving ambition to be respected and known–becomes the primary way they view themselves. Thus, they lose their core essence and live through a false sense of success and power.
  6. They become narcissistic to medicate the pain of their past. Many demigod leaders abuse their leadership privileges by manipulating others for their own advantages, and/or are involved in substance abuse, adultery, excessive entertainment, frequent vacations, and others lusts of the flesh to medicate their undealt pain from the great responsibilities, intense life, and other pressure-cooker items that make them feel trapped with no outlet. Thus, they succumb to temporary fixes that give them a reprieve from their miserable reality.
  7. They erroneously believe ministry anointing equates God’s favor. Some believe that because they preach great messages and experience the power of God when ministering that God’s favor is upon them, even if they are not living lives of holiness. Scripture teaches us through the life of Samson that, eventually, putting anointing before the fruit of the Spirit and walking with the Lord will catch up with us, and we will miss our destiny or have untimely ends to our ministry effectiveness.
  8. They preach Christ without a cross—a gospel centered on self rather than on sacrifice. Some demigod leaders believe and preach a rights-centered gospel that is centered upon self rather than on Christ. This results in living lives of indulgence that have no boundaries, which limit their desires for the physical amenities of life.
  9. They associate with other demigod leaders who reinforce a demigod leadership culture. The old saying “birds of a feather flock together” is a truism. People tend to congregate mostly with others who believe like them and reinforce their belief systems and lifestyles, which can either be a force for good or evil. 

Demigod leaders tend to associate with other spiritual divas and even have them preach in their churches because they don’t want any dissident voices that would call them to account and bring a standard of holiness.

 

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