6 Warning Signs: How to Spot a Bad Pastor (2023)

I want to learn how to spot a bad pastor. Over the past year I've read a series of books about incredible, powerful, visionary people who have achieved incredible things only to have it all fall apart in their own self-destruction.

I've read sobering stories of bad pastors/spiritual abusers (Jimmy Bakker), fraudulent startup founders (Elisabeth Holmes) and compulsive athletes (Tiger Woods). I have also witnessed firsthand the deeply destructive power of bad pastors and spiritual abuse.

What struck me while reading these books was that in both the "secular" world and the church, destructive leadership tends to look the same. In other words, the same things that imploded Jimmy Bakker also led to the downfall of Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos (once valued at $1 billion).

And Tiger Woods, while not necessarily a "leader" in the same sense as a pastor or CEO, imploded for many of the same reasons.

It is becoming increasingly important to be able to identify dangerous, destructive pastorsBEFOREeverything falls apart. Few things cause Christians to become more disillusioned than being torn to pieces by a really bad pastor. Few things do more to sully the name of Jesus than abusive spiritual leaders.

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(Video) 3 Signs of a Bad Pastor (Bad Church Leadership, False Pastors, False Teachers . . .)

Here are six bright red ones as you learn how to spot a bad pastor.

6 Warning Signs: How to Spot a Bad Pastor

1. A bad pastor surrounds himself with "yes" people

Divine spiritual guidance is about helping people move from where they are to where God wants them to be. It's a wonderful thing when a leader wants to see people go full throttle for God.

Unfortunately, it often happens that pastors and spiritual leaders confuse God's plans with their own plans. What often begins as good and godly ambition can boil over into corrupt, selfish ambitions.

They say they want to gather thousands of people and create massive movements and do huge things "for God." In reality, it's more about creating something that puts them in the spotlight (although they may not recognize it as such) instead of God.

The problem with this (aside from the obvious stealing of pride and glory) is that creating massive moves requires tremendous momentum. To create momentum, everyone needs to be on board and eager to make the pastor's vision a reality.

Those who challenge the pastor and the vision only slow things down, making it really difficult to pick up speed and achieve the "great things."

And so bad pastors and abusive spiritual leaders surround themselves with people who always say yes. The inner circle—the closest ones—will support whatever decision the pastor makes, no matter how destructive or ridiculous.

2. Spiritual abuse isolates critics

This is closely related to the previous point. Not only are critics excluded from the spiritual abuser's inner circle, they are also isolated. After all, the leader cannot afford to have critics talk behind his back.

(Video) 6 MASSIVE Warning Signs Of Spiritual Abuse

And so they do everything they can to isolate and discredit critics by slandering their character, accusing them of lack of faith, and speaking their mindsunderstanding of the Bibleis false and even spread lies about them. The pastor wants his followers to have nothing to do with critics and tries to discredit them as ungodly sinners holding back God's plans.

The sad reality is that those labeled "critics" often start out as close confidants of the pastor, but as soon as they start fighting back, they are cut off. Instead of being able to provide guard rails for the roaring ambition of the evil pastor, they are marginalized and slandered.

3. A bad pastor values ​​loyalty over diversity

For a church or spiritual movement to be healthy, it needs diversity of opinion. In Christ we are all priests of God, filled with the Holy Spirit and with unique gifts to build up the church.

But that doesn't work for the dangerous pastor or spiritual leader. Diversity leads to disagreements, which slows momentum and prevents him from realizing his grandiose plans. He doesn't want diversity of opinion, he wants loyalty. You're either in or out, for or against.

And if you're not quite there, you'll be accused of being disloyal. Not being a team player. Being a naysayer and a downer. Not believing in the mission.

Those who are loyal are promoted to positions of honor, those who criticize are ostracized.

A sure sign that things are going downhill is when everyone in leadership thinks, acts and even speaks the same way. Also, if the leadership team is shrinking, it is a sign that the pastor is hoarding power and nurturing only the staunchest followers.

4: Spiritual abuse refuses accountability

A bad pastor or spiritual leader doesn't like being held accountable for their decisions. For this reason, he will take measures specifically designed to minimize accountability. Often this involves creating strange governance structures where those who are supposed to hold the pastor accountable cannot do so.

(Video) How to Spot Controlling Pastors and Churches

They may be misled or left in the dark about the leader's actions. Or, when push comes to shove, they may lack the formal power to hold the pastor accountable.

The result is that he appears to be held accountable when in reality he can do as he pleases.

5: A bad pastor leads by the power of his personality

This one is a bit more difficult to evaluate and should be examined in conjunction with the previous signs. Most bad pastors don't seem like bad pastors. They are often charming, dynamic and even visionary. They are forces of nature, charismatic and able to inspire people to do difficult things.

But personality is often a facade, whitewash spattered over a grave. On the surface they appear as prophets with a direct connection to God. In reality, they are scammers who don'tfear the Lord.

It is the dynamic personality that often causes people to allow destructive spiritual guidance for far too long. Unable to reconcile the bad pastor's Jekyll and Hyde nature, they endure abuse and hope things will get better.

6: Spiritual abuser refusing to believe anything is wrong

Unfortunately, most bad pastors refuse to believe that there is anything wrong with their leadership style or the direction things are going. They remain convinced that everything is great, to the point where it all falls apart.

And even if you have doubts, you certainly do not share them with others. That would be an admission of injustice, fallibility, weakness, insecurity. It would be an acknowledgment that maybe, just maybe, God isn't on their side. And so they're always full of bluster and bravado and make great claims about how buoyant things are going.

The result is that things keep getting worse and worse, to the point of total implosion. Many people get hurt, the name of the Lord is dragged through the mud, and the movement usually breaks up. Even if not, it's just a shell of its former "glory".

Do not tolerate spiritual abuse

If you suspect your pastor is a spiritual abuser, don't hope things will get better. This rarely happens, if ever.

Instead, talk to someone outside of your normal circle of friends and ask their opinion. Share details with them, including any red flags. Getting an outside perspective is helpful because it can be difficult to understand everything when you're in the thick of things. Also, bad pastors are often manipulators who can explain away even the most outrageous act.

Whatever you do, do not tolerate spiritual abuse. It will hurt, disillusion you and make you feel betrayed.

(Video) Can You Lose The Anointing? (6 Warning Signs)

God has better things for you. joy becomescome tomorrow morning.



How do you know when its time to leave a church as a pastor? ›

Here's 7 signs it might be time to leave.
  • You Haven't Found Community (But You've Tried) ...
  • The Church Isn't Doing Anything For People Outside The Church. ...
  • There Is Abuse Of Power In The Church Leadership. ...
  • You Don't Agree With The Vision. ...
  • You Don't Trust The Church With Your Money.
Jun 28, 2021

What are some weaknesses of a pastor? ›

Here are the most common problems or issues that pastors face and a few tips for getting past them.
  • Dealing with criticism. Everybody can be a critic, but criticism in the church is especially disconcerting. ...
  • Time management. ...
  • Physical and mental health issues. ...
  • Financial struggles.

How do you deal with a bad pastor? ›

What to Do When Your Pastor Isn't Very Pastoral
  1. Forgive them for failing to be honest and not acting with good ethical practices. ...
  2. Pray for them to see the error of their way. ...
  3. Get past them as your leaders. ...
  4. Look for a better pastor to lead you faithfully. ...
  5. Decide to trust again.
Jan 22, 2018

What does the Bible say about what a pastor should be? ›

The pastor is to be selfless, not self-centered. Paul reflects this idea in the following qualifications, “respectable, hospitable, able to teach…, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome…” and “have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he does not fall into disgrace and the devil's trap.”

What are reasons to leave a church? ›

7 Good Reasons to Leave a Church
  • Discerning the Good from the Bad. ...
  • The church abandons orthodoxy. ...
  • The church becomes more about politics than Jesus. ...
  • Transformation is absent. ...
  • You live too far away. ...
  • You have no opportunity to serve. ...
  • You cannot submit to the leaders. ...
  • The church is homogenous and insular.
Sep 19, 2017

What is the number one reason pastors leave the ministry? ›

Pastoral Burnout, 2021–2022 Barna

Stress, loneliness and political division are the three items that rise to the surface. Over half of pastors who have considered quitting full-time ministry (56%) say “the immense stress of the job” has factored into their thoughts on leaving.

When should you step out of ministry? ›

Reasons you should quit
  • You feel a clear call from God to a new season. ...
  • You do not resonate with the church culture. ...
  • You disagree with the overall direction of the church. ...
  • Your role is taking a significant toll on your family.

How long does the average pastor last? ›

The Bible doesn't answer that question. The average length of service for pastors in Protestant churches in America is down to about four years. For that to be a true average, think about how many pastors must serve far less than four years.

What do pastors struggle with? ›

Many pastors struggle with expectations by church members of their spouses or children. Others struggle with finding time for their families. Many pastors' families struggle with the “glass house” syndrome. Stress.

What are two things that pastors do to exploit their church members? ›

Pastors might neglect their church duties while trying to make a name for themselves online or within their denomination. Other pastors might take advantage of their free time at the church to go golfing or to surf the internet all day long.

What is considered a good pastor? ›

A PASTOR MUST BE UPRIGHT (Titus 1:8) — He has integrity in his relationships and in how he treats others. He is truthful, fair, open and transparent. A PASTOR MUST BE HOLY (Titus 1:8) — His life is devoted wholeheartedly to Jesus externally and internally. Christlikeness in everything.

What are the top three responsibilities of a pastor? ›

Their duties include preaching sermons to their congregation, organizing charitable activities and church events and meeting with members of their congregation to help them strengthen their faith or overcome significant life changes.

How long does it take to replace a pastor? ›

A good rule of thumb is to take a month for every year your former pastor was with you to find his successor. In the churches I have served as interim it has taken anywhere from twelve months to two years to find a pastor. It may take less time for your church, but my guess is, that is about standard.

Can a pastor be toxic? ›

There are many toxic pastors and toxic churches in the world today. It's sad that so many people are being hurt by them. It's so contrary to what they are called to do. In many cases, these pastors need to be confronted.

What does the Bible say about following your pastor? ›

Follow Your Pastor in Humility

He charges pastors to exercise “oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:1-3).

What are the characteristics of a good preacher? ›

10 qualities every pastor should possess
  • A deep love and burden for people and souls.
  • A clear, personal love for Jesus.
  • A warmth in personality that people respond to well.
  • A unique ability to understand and explain God's Word.
  • An ability to emotionally engage people both public and private.
  • A clear communicator.
Apr 9, 2020

What are the rules of a pastor? ›

Be Trustworthy
  • in leadership. Model the trustworthiness of God in leadership to encourage and develop trustworthiness in others. Use power and influence prudently and humbly. ...
  • with information. Guard confidences carefully. ...
  • with resources. Be honest and prudent in regard to personal and ministry resources.

How do you gracefully leave a church? ›

7 Steps for Leaving a Church Wisely
  1. Make Sure You Have Valid Reasons. ...
  2. Be Honest About Your Own Motives and Failings. ...
  3. Affirm the Good in Your Church. ...
  4. Resolve Outstanding Conflicts. ...
  5. Talk with Your Leaders. ...
  6. Say Goodbye to Friends. ...
  7. Commit to a New Church.
Oct 15, 2017

What stops people from attending church? ›

Twenty percent say they dislike the sermons, and 11 percent say they do not feel welcome at religious services. About one in four (26 percent) cites logistical reasons for not going to religious services, such as not having the time or being in poor health.

How many pastors have affairs? ›

Clergy abuse is remarkably common--in one study, 12% of pastors admitted to having sex with a parishioner, and only 23% of victims ever reported misconduct to church officials. The Hope of Survivors organization provides support, hope, and healing for the victims of pastoral sexual abuse.

What is ministry burnout? ›

The point at which a pastor, church leader, or missionary gives up, unable or unwilling to continue in the ministry.¹ The daily pressures of ministry can sometimes overwhelm a Christian leader and leave them feeling worn out and without energy to carry on.

How long can a pastor stay in a church? ›

Pastors need to teach that love is patient enduring service. This is best taught by taking a new church every four years. The average stay at a church for a senior pastor is about four years. Youth pastors last about three.

How old is the average pastor? ›

The average age of an employed pastor is 51 years old. The most common ethnicity of pastors is White (68.3%), followed by Black or African American (11.7%), Hispanic or Latino (9.0%) and Asian (6.6%). Pastors are most in-demand in Argyle, TX.
Pastor Gender By Year.
9 more rows
Sep 9, 2022

How many hours a week should a pastor work? ›

But most pastors do not fit this assumption and will work more than that because of the demand of a religious professional (as opposed to an hourly employee) which is to work until the job is done. Some estimate this range to be 50 to 65 hours per week.

What do pastors do all day? ›

A pastor, also called a minister or vicar, tends to the spiritual welfare of a Christian congregation or church. This often includes preaching and teaching from the Bible and providing counsel primarily to those within the congregation. A pastor may be part of a ministerial team or might have a senior leadership role.

What is a good salary for a pastor? ›

The average Pastor salary in the United States is $103,987 as of January 26, 2023, but the range typically falls between $85,465 and $117,856. Salary ranges can vary widely depending on many important factors, including education, certifications, additional skills, the number of years you have spent in your profession.

What is the salary of a church pastor? ›

The average Pastor salary in California is $116,153 as of January 26, 2023, but the range typically falls between $95,464 and $131,646.

What personality types are pastors? ›

The average Pastor tends to be loyal, supportive, and helpful. They can be a stabilizing force in a group and will likely invest lots of time building relationships with their peers. They will probably work best in a serene work environment, avoiding chaos and sudden change.

What causes depression in pastors? ›

Failure to take time away from the church or place of ministry. Workaholism leads to burnout, and burnout leads to depression. Marriage and family problems. Too often pastors neglect their families as they try to care for the larger church family.

What is a pastor syndrome? ›

Normally, the immune system makes antibodies to fight off germs. But with Goodpasture syndrome, the immune system mistakenly makes antibodies that attack the lungs and kidneys. This condition can quickly progress to an inflammation of the kidneys (glomerulonephritis) and kidney failure.

What are some examples of disunity in the church? ›

Gossip, backbiting, slander, and venting can all create ripples of disunity that ultimately lead to severed relationships, shattered ministry teams, and wounded Christians. Scripture says love always protects. When tempted to say something, we must ask ourselves: Am I protecting this other individual?

What is slander in the church? ›

Slander is the sharing of speculation and hearsay about someone that results in a negative depiction of another person and a decline in their reputation. This can result in broken friendships, divided families, and fractures among a local church.

What is corruption in the church? ›

Corruption is a form of dishonest or unethical conduct by a person or group of persons, entrusted with a position of authority or an activity which involves financial or any other resources, outside his or her own, often with a view to acquiring personal or group benefits.

What are the four roles of a pastor? ›

Job Responsibilities of a Pastor

Your duties include preparing weekly sermons, preaching and conducting worship services. It's your responsibility to interpret biblical scripture for the congregation. You also provide care and counseling to church members and assist them in crisis situations.

How do I find the right pastor? ›

6 Simple Steps To Finding Your Next Pastor
  1. Form a search committee. Your first step should be to form some sort of Pastor search committee or search team. ...
  2. Create a communication plan. ...
  3. Create a job profile. ...
  4. Begin networking for candidates. ...
  5. Screen resumes. ...
  6. Begin interviewing.

What is the heart of a pastor? ›

Far greater than preaching, and certainly preaching is the heart of every pastor, it is the love that radiates and permeates in the life of God's servant.

Why do most pastors quit? ›

Barna, a Christian research organization, reported that stress, isolation and political division are some of the issues factoring into pastors' desire to quit. As of March 2022, 42% of pastors considered quitting, according to the data.

What are the qualities of a healthy pastor? ›

10 qualities every pastor should possess
  • A deep love and burden for people and souls.
  • A clear, personal love for Jesus.
  • A warmth in personality that people respond to well.
  • A unique ability to understand and explain God's Word.
  • An ability to emotionally engage people both public and private.
  • A clear communicator.
Apr 9, 2020

What is a pastor supposed to be like? ›

Pastors frequently interact with other community leaders and attempt to evangelize the public in addition to building relationships with the members of their congregation. They need to communicate well, earn trust and develop relationships with many people.

Which personality type is least religious? ›

The top ranking types who said they definitely did not believe in a higher power were:
  • INTJ (23.1% say they do not believe)
  • ENTJ (14.6%)
  • INTP (11.1%)
  • ISTP (9.9%)
Sep 26, 2016

Can a shy person be a pastor? ›

The pastor as an introvert

It's isn't until they get thrown into the job that they realize how much energy-zapping interaction is really required of them, and often these interactions are sprung on them with no warning. But despite the obvious challenges, introverts can shine as pastors.

What is the average lifespan of a pastor? ›

The average age of an employed pastor is 51 years old. The most common ethnicity of pastors is White (68.3%), followed by Black or African American (11.7%), Hispanic or Latino (9.0%) and Asian (6.6%). Pastors are most in-demand in Argyle, TX.
Pastor Age.
Pastor YearsPercentages
20-30 years5%
2 more rows
Sep 9, 2022

Why do pastors gossip? ›

Pastors gossip to promote themselves.

Trust is earned through faithful, effective work over time. Sometimes pastors attempt to bypass the taxing process of earning trust by sharing information that should not be shared.

Do pastors get PTSD? ›

But according to a study at Danielsen Institute at Boston University of pastors across denominations, 35% of clergy met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis.


1. How to Spot the Narcissist Pastor - Traits and Behaviors
(Revolution of Ordinaries)
2. 6 Warning signs your church culture is toxic (CNT)
(Christian News Today)
3. 16 Signs of a False Pastor: How to Spot a False Teacher: Exposing False Prophets with the Bible
(ApplyGodsWord.com/Mark Ballenger)
4. 6 OBVIOUS Signs That It's DEFINITELY Time to Leave Your Church!
(THE BEAT by Allen Parr)
(RC Blakes, Jr)
6. Warning signs to look for in pastors
(Church in Culture)


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