Five Dangers of the Church Cartel

The pastor did not see it coming.

Sure, there were some hints and signs, but nothing to prepare him for the meeting on Saturday with the personnel committee.

He was told he needed to resign. There was no explanation given. He had only been given positive reviews to this point. Some of the people on the personnel committee had been his supporters and friends.

He was shocked.

The pastor was leading change in the church. The church was growing and vibrant. But a couple of weak staff members didn’t like the direction and expected accountability. They teamed with the known church bully and went before the personnel committee. They presented their perspectives.

The pastor never was asked his perspective. He could have fought the weak personnel committee and likely won. But he didn’t want to tear apart a church he loved.

He resigned.

For the sake of the church he loved, he resigned.

He was yet another victim of the church cartel.

A church cartel is an alliance of bullies, bully-followers, carnal Christians, and even non-Christians in the church. Its ultimate goal is to get its way. It feeds off of selfish power.

We don’t like to talk about church cartels. After all, it’s not the Christian thing to do. But they exist in too many churches. And if they are not exposed, they will continue to wreak havoc.

Here are five of the very dangerous realities of the church cartel:

  1. When a cartel is allowed power, the church is already unhealthy. The cartel is, by its definition, self-centered and power-driven. A church is already very sick if members remain silent and do not confront this evil directly.
  2. A church cartel leaves carnages of wounded and dying people. If you have any doubts about this danger, please see my post on “Autopsy of a Deceased Pastor.” See the comments. See the pain and questions and defeat the cartel leaves behind.
  3. Church cartels drive away healthy leaders. Some of these leaders are driven away by the cartel. Others leave on their own accord because they want to be in a joyous and healthy church. Their departure exacerbates the problems in these churches.
  4. Church cartels cause church leaders to work from a posture of fear. Instead of moving forward in faith, church leaders often spend more time worrying about how their decisions will impact the cartel. These leaders know the cartel will come after them if they go contrary to the carnal group’s wishes.
  5. We are told in Scripture to manifest the fruit of the Spirit; the church cartel causes the church to do just the opposite. Galatians 5:22-23 is clear about the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. Church cartels bring hate, discord, anxiety, impatience, evil, fear, brutality, and chaos.

Churches that have cartels usually know they are present. They know who the bully is. They know who the bully followers are. They see them. They hear them. And they often fear them.

Courageous leaders must confront and stop church cartels. If no one is willing, the church is already on a path toward decline and death.

Posted on November 30, 2016

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Keith Sellers says on

    Sometimes “cartels” develop because the congregation may have been burned in the distant past by carnal pastors who attempted to bring too much change too quickly or led the church in a bullying manner. The cartel may have started with good intentions, but later devolved into a carnally manipulative clique. Even more perplexing is the reality that in evangelical churches either party may so force an opinion or initiative under the good intention of being “biblical” that the church experiences an unbiblical division and unnecessary decline.

    • There was no cartel in our church. Just a group of loyal hardworking servant-hearted leaders. Then the church appointed a new pastor without knowledge of his history in previous churches, which had been covered up. All but one of the leaders has managed to hang on, but all were/are severely hurt and damaged – in this case by one man, not the other way round. With the support of our denomination and the ministers serving in our regional team – who were also on the receiving end of some extreme unpleasantness from this man, the church took action and withdraw the call.

      As the son of a pastor I am more than aware that pastors can be on the receiving end. But this post is one-sided and fails to recognise that there are bad pastors as well as bad leadership teams.

  • I wonder how many ‘cartels’ are really just a figment of the pastor’s imagination. When a man runs up against opposition to what he thinks is the right thing to do, it is always easy to attribute the worst of motives to ‘the opposition’ and resent them standing in the way of what, to him, feels like the necessary steps forward.

    Maybe the problem often lies in a breakdown of communication. The paid pastor (the teaching elder) is often set apart from the unpaid church elders. There are instances where the elders regard the pastor as their paid servant to do their bidding, but there are also instances where pastor thinks his status places him above the other elders and gives him greater authority. But the long-standing church elders are often maturer in years and wisdom and knowledge, and best know the needs of the local church and the gifts and hearts of the people. The pastor who wants to control everything is in denial of the gifts that God has given to others (often never ever taking the pains to get to know the people, or to discover and utilize their gifts), and if he refuses to be accountable to his fellow-elders then he places himself above correction and rebuke and training of a group of men who love the church and have its best interests at heart. Unless the pastor and elders take time to get to know one another and develop their friendships then they are not going to build up that level of love and trust and respect necessary for working effectively together in their governance of the church.

  • I think we have to be careful about what we label as “cartels”. Some (and please note that I said “some”) of these comments sound like legitimate disagreements that simply spiraled out of control. Unfortunately, church members are often too quick to assign motives to the opposition in order to justify themselves. Attacking someone else’s spirituality to get your own way is a form of manipulation that has become all too prevalent in modern churches.

    Granted, some people on this site have clearly been victims of real cartels. Remember what Dr. Rainer said: the key characteristic is malicious intent.

  • Kathleen Mancuso says on

    Cartels might also be led by pastors, or encouraged by them. This is true of narcissistic pastors who gather adoring followers around himself, and use them as his ‘hit men’ to do his work. Any who might speak up are marginalized and/or pushed out.

  • Jeff Jones says on

    Thom does a great job defining all the problem and reasons these religious social clubs will never accomplish much of anything. However, there are never any strategies to change the culture in these places. Most every guy I went to seminary with either submit to the church club and play the game for a paycheck or totally leave the religious social club to make a real difference in the world! After all, shouldn’t we be in the world making a difference? God is not wringing His hands waiting on some denomination to get their act together. Le’t go and make real change that matters!

  • If you want to see a church cartel in full bloom, find a rather large church that is underperforming. A church that was once huge but is now barely holding on is a sure sign that they still have a church cartel. The cartel wants to keep the church small because it is easy to control a smaller group of mixed believers. It is about fear. The cartel members are afraid that if the church grows, they will lose power because they are truly ineffective leaders. They lead from the bully position. That is NOT where leadership comes from.

  • a couple of weak staff members ,the known church bully, the church cartel- an alliance of bullies, bully-followers, carnal Christians

    Haven’t read all the comments yet, so maybe it’s addressed, but you mean by those named above, even those who are part of who the Lord’s calls “God’s flock; the flock of God among you that is under your care; part of the church of God which He purchased with His own blood, ” ?

  • I was a lay leader of a sub-ministry and got eviscerated by the cartel of lay leaders, some in the governing ministry. The pastor was in a tough position, but she backed the cartel, not because they were in the right, but because it was more expedient for her politically. I felt sacrificed. This was three years ago. I felt like I got the wind knocked out of me and it hasn’t come back. I resigned from the ministry because there was no way to go forward. It was sad because we were doing really high quality work. I didn’t leave the parish, I love too many people there. But I am loath to ever take up leadership there again.

  • This is assuming that the change the pastor was initiating was positive, which is of course subjective. Maybe th church didn’t want his changes, and maybe if he didn’t like the church the way it was he shouldn’t have accepted the pastorate.

  • “…nothing to prepare him for the meeting on Saturday with the personnel committee… he needed to resign… no explanation… people on the personnel committee had been his supporters… shocked.” There is nothing Godly about this way of handling employment issues in a church, especially not in light of what Jesus taught us in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

    There is a possibility, however, that the personnel committee might have been following this pastor’s example. I say this because, as an associate pastor, I have been treated in exactly this same way by a senior pastor. It was a sneak attack rivaling Pearl Harbor, with no warning, no explanation, no opportunity for discussion. It was accompanied by a threat that a very modest severance package would be provided only on the condition that neither I nor my wife would discuss anything related to this matter with anyone in the church. (There was also no accusation of immoral or dishonest behavior, poor work ethic, bad theology, disloyalty, or lack of being a strong team player; the pastor just wanted “to go a different direction.”)

    This kind of sneak attack is wrong, but it is no more wrong by a church cartel than it is by a senior pastor. Pastor, teach your people how to deal with you in the way you deal with your Staff. “For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:2

    • Pearl Harbor! Perfect illustration. I lived through the same thing with a Sr. Minister, and with a congregation. They could have saved a lot of people a lot of grief if they just would have been honest. “We’re moving in a different direction and I don’t have confidence that you will fit in to that. Here are my reasons ……. We will give you 6 months to find a transition (either in the church or with severance), and we can move our direction and you can move yours.” HOW HARD WOULD THAT BE TO DO?

  • Reminds me of the book ‘The Devil in Pew 7’ by Rebecca Alonzo.

  • pastor mbang emmanuel tasah says on

    Really impressed with your views brother Thom. I have heard and seen terrible things in the church because i am forcing that the church must be going out for missions. There is a key church leader( secretary) who has built a terrible resistance against the idae and is constantly confusing illiterate church members into his camp. Your article has really helped me. Thanks and be blessed.

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