I find it extremely hard to write this piece. I am a pastor and have been for over 25 years. I have served in both the small and mega church spheres. A pastor is a shepherd, one who has been called by God to lovingly care for His flock. So as I pen the following words, I do so with a desire to shine the light of freedom and not to throw stones of anger or judgment. I will use a term that sours my stomach to the point of sickness, but the term is what it is and it will not cease to be simply because we ignore it or pretend it isn’t there. It’s the pink elephant rampaging the pulpits and population of our churches. That term is “slave pastor,” and like “slave church,” is an oxymoron.

Slave pastors always lead slave churches. A slave pastor cannot lead a church filled with blue bloods (sons and daughters who know their identity in Christ), and neither can a blue blood pastor survive in a slave church. They are oil and water—night and day—a recipe for disaster. Conflict will take place at some point when one confronts the other.

Slave pastors lead small, medium, and mega-sized churches. The size of the church has nothing to do with it. Don’t allow tremendous growth in a church to fool you. A small church can grow into a mega church with the right location, program, or preacher. Size has nothing to do with slavery—the faulty mindsets and belief systems we have discussed in earlier pieces determine slave or free.

The slave pastor is a control freak. Slaves crave control because their lives seem out of control and they fearfully desire the boundaries someone else will implement and enforce. Some might call this type of pastor a person with personal ambition, a sense of purpose, or a strong drive to succeed. I prefer to call them slave pastors—slaves to their own ambitions, dreams, and self-constructed kingdoms. By the way, one person cannot build their own kingdom: They need laborers and slave pastors can spot strong backs and weak minds immediately.

Many depend on their denominational pedigrees to open doors. Slave pastors often serve in slave denominations (nothing but a partnership of slave churches all wanting to be first). Openings and opportunities are meted out to those who have come up through the system—paid their dues and are sworn to the party line (even if it diametrically opposes the truth of Scripture). Slave pastors, though they hunger to be in control, are often subjugated by slave pastors who are a rung or two higher on that proverbial ladder of success.

The slave pastor has learned the organizational techniques, corporate leadership skills, and the art of manipulative preaching with twisted contextual biblical passages to create a smooth machine that from all outside appearances seem to have the markings of God’s favor. But in reality many would not recognize the presence of God if He walked in and sat on the front row. In fact, that church, wherever it is located, is in slavery because in the past someone relegated the Holy Spirit to the back row because He was a bit too rowdy for their own personal taste. Their vocabulary is sprinkled with the buzz words of faith but there is little faith in the God of the Word.

Sermons carry the familiar phrases of the Zion to arouse the excitement of the crowd, but excitement alone can never evolve into holiness. Holiness is a word bandied about, but quietly dismissed, as it often leads to freedom, and freedom is the last thing a slave pastor wants. Free people think for themselves, and heaven forbid, we cannot have that in church.

They come dressed in slick suits and tee shirts with designer jeans. Media graphics and carefully coined verbiage become substitutes for broken hearts and contrite spirits. With these tools and host of others at their command, they purport that the power of God is in the house. Cutting edge techniques—that next great show Bro. “So and so” is having success with—fuels their ministries and their mission. Their prayers are, “God bless what I’m doing” rather than “God show me what you’re doing and where you’re doing it, so I can join you.”

Fear, manipulation, and arrogance mark their behavior, while their sermonic offerings either beat down the sheep or inflate their heads with feel-good gas. The Word of God is used as a tool to get what they want, when they want it, and without any regard for the lives they might damage. Often the sermon topics they rail on—that hobbyhorse they love to ride roughshod over the congregation—mask the sinful bondage their own pharisaical souls are chained in.

This, my friend, is a worst-case scenario, but sadly it is the reality of so many pastors and churches. God help us if this poisonous mindset and pervert skill set is not eradicated from the Body of Christ. The apostle Paul’s question to the Galatian believers seems rather appropriate at this point.

But now that you have come to know God, or rather be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? (Gal. 4:9)