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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  • Clifford Billings says on

    Dr. Rainer,
    As a SBC pastor in the Northwest I have faced a few cartels. I am about to have a book published on the subject, and am wondering if you would review my manuscript? I did include your blog, and I believe it is the center piece of my work.
    Thank you for the blog and for any consideration you might

  • Carla Lemoine says on

    This is exactly what is happening in our small church. It’s very sad! There are 3 people who do a few things for the church and will not allow anyone to be a part of anything. They want full control of everything. They are very unfriendly to everyone. But they are in control. Our congregation is slowly going away. Our young parents are slowly leaving. Sadly, they pretty much caused our pastor to resign and our new pastor has jumped on board with them. Unwilling to consider anyone else’s views and concerns. I am so broken by all of this. So broken hearted.

  • I would love to post this information on my Facebook account, but the last time I posted about the cartel the chairman of deacons told me I should not do it again because it upset some of the people who are against the pastor.

  • I want to thank you Tom for your amazing ministry. I heard you at our EPC General Assembly in Orlando, Florida and was greatly impressed and signed up for your email ministry. It has been GREAT and I use it with our elders and deacons all the time. Thank you and Merry Christmas to you and your family. May our Lord richly bless you.

    This article on the “cartels” was wonderful. I have fought them for 30 years in the same church…my only church since leaving seminary. The Lord just took out the last one about 2 years ago in their attempt to take over the Session (Presbyterian Board). We lost about $90,000 of money and 15-20 people, but the church has never been stronger. Clearly the Lord trims His vine and more fruit does grow, but it is HARD on the pastor and his family. I never thought ministry would be so hard Tom. Many of my friends from seminary have left ministry primarily because of cartels with sad and shocking stories.

    Pastors clearly have their issues and some of these posts allude to that. However, my guess is that 80% (Pareto principle) of these issues come from members of the church and of those people 80% (Pareto principle) are unregenerate people. So in the end, these cartels are just a replay of the Lord Jesus’ ministry. I mention that because I don’t think a pastor can ever really preach “Jesus” or understand our Lord without being immersed in this world of cartels. It is just the visible Church of wheat and tares. I don’t think the Bible teaches a “regenerate membership” as some of your posters suggest. Since the SBC is Calvinistic in theological roots, I am not sure why some pastors in the SBC believe that. It sets them up for pain. All the issues with cartels are really “Church 101” and goes with being in the Church. The Lord allows them so we can know the real Lord better and be like Him.

    I mention all of this to your posters as a way for all of us to better accept the world we live in doing ministry. I didn’t understand that 30 years ago as a naïve pastor out of seminary. I have really struggled with what I just said over these past 30 years and have thought on occasion about leaving ministry because of the cartels. I am now more of a mind that they have been created to give the Lord glory and grow the true Church to be more like the Lord Jesus. So in a way, I still struggle, but I have a different theological perspective than I did when I left seminary. I share that because I think understanding this is the KEY to surviving the cartels and staying true to our calling from the Lord.

    I hope these thoughts help your readers in some way. Merry Christmas Tom!!!

  • My heart truly goes out to all of the pastors who have been hurt by those with ill intent. I consider myself to currently serve a healthy, growing church; but there is a small group of unscrupulous members who once held considerable influence in the church. While their influence has waned over the years (due to age and loss of relevance), there are still certain areas where their malice causes bruised feelings of well-meaning members. As a fairly young pastor with under 5 years of tenure, I honestly admit that I am extremely hesitant to confront this group. Their actions are not egregious, nor have they risen to the level of distracting or derailing the overall progress of the church. My wife and I were discussing this exact issue today, when I pulled up my email and saw this blog! My family has not been attacked and I have not been publicly maligned; but quite frankly, some of these stories are quite unnerving. In my devotional time today, I read Psalm 46, in which the writer takes confidence in the knowledge that God is our refuge and strength. I admonish all pastors called by God to remain steadfast to your calling and to guard your heart and your family with great passion.
    Should I expect a “Cartel Apocalypse”? Are there any testimonies of long-tenured pastors who have not had to deal with such a hurtful experience?

  • This is the first time I heard the term “Church Cartels”. From the posts, It looks like the problem is in several places – even the Bible Belt area churches. It looks like the stronger that church leadership is – the more persecution they receive (from outside and inside the church). In my own church, I have seen sinful politics leak into the church – and the bad things it stirs up. Fortunately, we had leadership which stood up to those forces and shut them down. Seems like Pride is behind a lot of these problems – when we fail to submit to God’s word and church leadership. Personally, I want a church that encourages me to do the right things – even though I sin and miss the mark. I had enough of being lost when I was in the world – I now want God’s direction. Do we ever need to pray for our churches!

  • I pray wisdom for all who must face the cartels.
    I faced a similar scenario in a congregational church that I loved. After prayer, I refused to resign and asked the deacons for a special called meeting at which they could lay their case before the congregation and allow me a defense. (Our constitution says the congregation is responsible to the Lord and the deacons to the Lord and the congregation.) They opted out, accused me of trying to run the church, and left. That was in 2009… I still pray for those men and their wives.

  • Thom, thank you for telling the truth! Church cartels DO exist, and it doesn’t matter the size, denomination, race, nationality, or culture of the church. We have to pray for wisdom, and confront head on these type hindrances. Because that is exactly what they are – hindrances.

  • Brother Anonymous says on

    Great post. It was like you interviewed me at my last church. When I became pastor at the first board meeting of every year I gave a devotional study on Matt. 18 — If you have a problem go to that person first…. Anyway, every year for 7 years I gave that study the first meeting in January. By the end of February of my last year the cartel sat me down and asked me for my keys, and told me to pack my office on Friday – we will have people here to help (watch). Apparently they had had 5-6 meetings off campus and never once asked me for anything. One lady complied a book with everyone’s gripes, lies, misunderstandings etc. and I was never given an opportunity to address any of the issues. And, yes, there were a few valid points, things I could have done better etc. But in a normal world, you would talk about them, deal with them and move on.

    Needless to say, I lost my house, my friends and my family. I’m done with the church. I’m in a para-church ministry today and couldn’t be happier to be away from it. I have been called a number of times from some of our congregations to lead elder’s training. They heard my story about the church, and I have led elders training titled “What the pastor can’t say to the elders.” And, let it all out, and put it on the table. What has been most surprising is that in most of those training events after my initial story, examples, and commentary, I have looked up at those who were there, and many times they all are looking down at the table or their lap.

    Is it any wonder that so many churches are dying, and they’re doing it to themselves. Suicide on the installment plan. I have found some hope with “House Church” settings where believers gather, talk, argue, pray, eat, forgive and celebrate with wine and bread. We don’t have boards, elders, deacons, committees etc. We encourage one another in our ministries, pray for each other, offer help, encouragement, and finances for them to do the work of Christ. I don’t believe the “church” today is anything close to what Jesus had in mind. I’m done.

  • Anonymous says on

    I’m not putting my name on this because we are in the middle of it right now. My husband is on staff at a church that is getting ready to spend at least 10 million dollars on a new ‘campus’ that is less than 2 miles away from our current campus. Although it has been promoted as a community center, it is essentially a move to a more desirable side of town. My husband and I have prayed and prayed over this and both feel this is an enormous waste of money, money that could be better spent on the poor or on missions. He was told in his yearly evaluation meeting to ‘pray until you agree’ and that his disagreement ‘can open the door for Satan’. Essentially be a ‘yes’ man or leave. So we are now praying and seeking other opportunities. And this was done by a church staff person because “others have expressed concern that you aren’t on board”. At this point, we will probably not consider another ministry position. My husband is searching for real world ministry opportunities. When churches are run like businesses we have a definite disconnect with the Scripture.

  • Hi Tom. Thank you for posting this.

    I am a church renewal and replanting catalyst here in California and I also serve as a pastor in a local church.

    I am very thankful that the people I serve with are amazing and we have no church cartel to worry about. In fact, for Pastor Appreciation month, the gift given to me by our small church was your book “Who Moved My Pulpit.” When I asked if this was a hint, the response was “Lets Do It.”

    Sadly, as I talk with pastors with many more years of experience than me, I have lost count the number of great pastors who resigned and stepped out in the same way described here.

    Is there any way to encourage pastors to stand up to these bullies, refuse to resign, and lead their churches the way they are meant to lead?

    I know this means forcing a “church cartel” to actually fire their pastor or get out of the way. But, I wonder if more damage is being done when a pastor resigns instead of standing up to the bullies.

  • Sometimes the leader of the cartel is in the pulpit.

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