10 Characteristics of the Best Bad Church Leaders I’ve Ever Known

In the past, I’ve written about characteristics of the best leaders I’ve ever known. Today, I write about church leaders I’ve known who were strong leaders on one hand, but poor leaders on the other. Here are some of their good and bad characteristics: 

  1. They had a great vision but assumed others would follow them only because of the vision. They were sure vision would trump anything, include things like personal integrity and godliness. In fact, they couldn’t imagine why anybody would not want to be on their team.
  2. They demonstrated preaching and communication skills but were unwilling to consider any need for improvement. After all, why should they worry about improving when their track record already proved their skill?   
  3. They built a great leadership team but didn’t see that the team didn’t want to work for them. They sought, recruited, and secured other great leaders – but those same great leaders for various reasons grew tired of following them.
  4. They publicly promoted godliness but privately lived otherwise. Their hypocrisy was behind closed doors – as it most often is. 
  5. They bragged about their staff but failed to realize they were disconnected from that staff. Everybody else seemed to know it, but the leaders themselves somehow missed it. The staff thus felt unappreciated even while they heard their praises.
  6. They emphasized relevance and change but fought change in their own office. It’s funny sometimes how leaders will tell others what they must do while completely ignoring that application in their own world.
  7. They stressed family values but failed to see the pain in their own family. In fact, some of these leaders wrote on the topic even while their own home was falling apart.
  8. They pushed missions but refused to go themselves. And, their refusal was for no reason other than they simply didn’t want to travel that far. “Do as I say, not as I [don’t] do” was their missions motto.
  9. They understood the importance of confrontation but used their staff to do the hard confrontations. In fact, they often confronted others only through email or public articles – while avoiding face-to-face discussions.
  10. They had infectious passion for their work but allowed their passion to devolve into rudeness and impatience. They so badly wanted the job done that they sometimes ran over people to get there.  

Let me be honest: even as I write this list, I see myself in far too many of these characteristics. How about you?  

Posted on June 30, 2020

Dr. Chuck Lawless is a leading expert in spiritual consultation, discipleship and mentoring. As a former pastor, he understands the challenges ministry presents and works with Church Answers to provide advice and counsel for church leaders.
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  • Kelley says on

    So good, Chuck! Thank you for sharing. A great reminder to take caution on any of these areas we have fallen into in the past.

  • Bruce Hachey says on

    As I read the message I was impressed by it’s content. Yes, so many of us are leaders but, do we want to lead or walk as #1.? Yes, we all make mistakes but we must remember that God is leading us and guiding us .I ,like others have made errors but with God.,s help have come through and for His Glory. God bless you all. Pastor Bruce Hachey.

  • Bob Myers says on

    Wow. Courageous of you to write this. But very insightful. I cringe at a few of them as well as I can see my own tendencies.

    • Chuck Lawless says on

      I see too much of myself in some of these, too, Bob. This post wasn’t the easiest to write.

  • Could you give a little more insight to number five? What has to be done to fix this? How do we know if we are guilty when we feel like we are doing our best to be their champion? What are the indicators to look for, and then what are the solutions?

    • Chuck Lawless says on

      Sure. What comes to mind are leaders who publicly praise their team but spend little or no team with that team outside of obligatory meetings. They might tell others how great the team is, but they’ve not had a personal conversation with the team members for some time. They seldom stop in a team member’s office, and their praise is ultimately only from a distance. How to fix this? Intentionally spend time with the team members. Know their stories. Know the names of their spouse and children. Grant them permission to be honest with you if they have any concerns. I hope this response helps, Christopher.

  • Yep. Good wake-up call.

  • Wayne Burns says on

    Good read…I guess there is some good and bad in all leaders. To be a leader one has not to be successful…but willing to fail.

    Thanks for challenging and inspiring us! Keep up the good work.

  • Thanks Chuck, and I definitely agree with your closing statement about identifying with “far too many of these characteristics,” but I appreciate you stating them for contemplation and recognition of them!
    As now serving as a DOM, I am requesting permission to share your list with our pastors in the association. I often forward articles that I believe will be helpful for the personal growth and improvement in ministry.
    Thanks again, and blessings to you,

  • gene king says on

    Good article. After decades of pastoral ministry, I confess that I am guilty of some of these. I believe most pastors, if honest, would confess the same. The important thing is that we learn from our failures and seek to improve. I have seen pastors, who started well, but did not learn from their failures and short-comings. This article should give each pastor food for thought.

  • Great insight Chuck.Thanks for the post.

  • Paul Kucera says on

    “They pushed missions but refused to go themselves. And, their refusal was for no reason other than they simply didn’t want to travel that far.” Yes, that is a shame. And there is a difference, I think, between refusal and reluctance. I pastor a smaller church (60+ in worship). I am the big ticket item on the budget. We have, for our size, a generous mission budget, and members have expressed a willingness to do a mission trip. I’m reluctant for the congregation to “pay for my mission trip,” though. Could I raise funds through other means? Of course, and I probably should look into that.

  • I have seen some promote and only represent factions, such as married couples with children, elderly people, etc. Those leaders were a group’s personal representatives and if you were not in that particular group, you would be ignored at best and sold out at worst. I recommended once that the younger people go recruit one of those special people much like you would hire a lobbyist to advocate for them.

  • Thank you so much for sharing this. This article will help us to determine which church leaders we should listen to.

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