When the church is at its healthiest, many people contribute to the life of the body with gifts they’ve been given. One of those gifts is “pastoring”, or care-taking. Mixed with all the other gifts in the body, the whole community is healthy, alive, free, and an expression of God’s love in the world that is obvious and undeniable.
But this is very rare among church gatherings.
Much more often, the group is dominated and defined by the personality of one person: the Pastor-god.
The Pastor-god is not merely a contributor within the body; he is the voice, the face, and the authority in the church. He is the boss, the CEO, the example, the teacher, the father-figure.
In the Cult of the Pastor-god, they are called “God’s anointed”. They are the one who communicates God’s word to the followers. They are the mouth, while the church is the ears. Their part is to provide care and discipline to the people; the people’s part is to listen, honor, and follow.
And in many churches, this model works flawlessly. People really want someone to lead and protect them—without it they feel vulnerable and lost. And of course there are no shortage of people willing to assume this role of the Pastor-god.
The Pastor-god claims to not want adulation and adoration from the people, but inwardly they crave it. The people claim they don’t believe their pastor is a god, but they treat him like he is. When the pastor makes them proud, they heap accolades. When the pastor does not live up to his god-like standard, they look for ways to take him down.When the Pastor-god is there, the people feel safe. When the Pastor-god goes away, the people are devastated.
Of course this is nothing new—people are afraid to be leaderless, as was the nation of Israel when they demanded a leader:But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” (I Samuel 8:19-20)God reluctantly gave them their leader, an outstanding young man named Saul. Their craving for a leader was satisfied, but it was wrong; what resulted was anxiety, strife, war, madness, and death.
One of the reasons churches suck today is because they are much less like the body of Christ and much more like the Cult of the Pastor-god—or "the cult of personality." More and more within the church are recognizing this disturbing reality:“...evangelicalism is not so much a religion as a series of fast-moving personality cults.” ― Frank SchaefferThinking about this, I could not get the image of an old Star Trek episode out of my mind. It’s called Who Mourns for Adonais and it’s about the Enterprise crew coming face to face with Apollo, one of the gods from earth’s ancient culture.
Remember this one?
As the episode goes, back when the gods (turns out they were actually aliens) came to earth, the primitive people saw their power and naturally fell down to worship them. Under their authority, people felt cared for--and the gods were happy to have the attention. It was a comfortable, but immature and ultimately dysfunctional relationship. The gods’ part was to provide care and discipline to the people; the people’s part was to listen, honor, and follow…
…just like in the Cult of the Pastor-god.
In those days, to defy the gods was a fearful thing—as Captain Kirk discovered when he dared to defy Apollo’s authority:Kirk: “Apollo, we’re willing to talk, but you’ll find we don’t bow to every creature who happens to have a bag of tricks.”Apollo: “Agamemnon was one such as you, and Hercules--pride and arrogance. They defied me, until they felt my wrath.”Have you ever been called “proud” or “arrogant” by a pastor-god when you questioned their authority? If you have, you have come face-to-face with the Cult of the Pastor-god.
Apollo expected these people to fall down and honor him just like people did in the ancient days. But Kirk, recognizing the dysfunction of such an authoritarian relationship, continued to defy—and the conflict escalates:Apollo: “I could sweep you out of existence with a wave of my hand, and bring you back again. I can give life or death. What else does mankind demand of its gods?”
Kirk: “Mankind has no need for gods. We find the one quite adequate.”Apollo: “We shall not debate, mortal. I offer you eternal rest and happiness according to the ancient ways. I ask little in return. But what I ask for I insist upon.”The one thing he cannot handle outright defiance; he can only insist on its authority, and promise judgment upon the one who dares defy them. If you do decide you need to escape the cult, understand one thing:
There is no gentle way to get out of the cult of the Pastor-god.
If you are struggling to get free from a pastor-god cult, please re-read that last sentence a couple more times. This will be a battle of wills.
Eventually, Kirk and his crew had use force to disable Apollo’s source of power. Apollo was reduced to his true, powerless nature.
In the end, Apollo lost everything and is reduced to tears:Apollo: “I would have cherished you, cared for you. I would have loved you like a father loves his children. Did I ask so much?”
And there’s the thing. Even people who have been raised life-long in a pastor-god cult are realizing they can no longer give outright honor and obedience to a religious authority figure. And they shouldn’t. Our leader is Christ, not the one up front with the loud voice and the big platform.Kirk: “We’ve outgrown you. You asked for something we can no longer give.”
More and more people in the body of Christ are finding true “body life” outside of the Cult of the Pastor-god--but it hasn’t come without a price. The emotional turmoil that comes from separating from an old authority figure can be intense, even devastating.
I’ll repeat: There is no gentle way to get out of the cult of the Pastor-god.