Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

What Not To Do

Written by: on February 7, 2019

In a way . . . I am very lucky.

My first call involved a church situation that could have been detailed as a case study, or even its own chapter, in the second section of Tourish’s work, The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership.  I have written somewhat about this before, however these links below tell the story far better than I could ever rehash the saga in a weekly blog post:

Sadly, a lot of what can be said about this period in the life of this one particular church was that it lived into a period of experiencing first-hand the dark side of transformational leadership.  A scandal involving a charismatic pastor, a struggling member, numerous ministries of the church, and the press, resulted in a crisis, division and a plethora of spiritual wounds.  Over an eighteen month period half of the staff resigned, retired, or found other employment.  Those that stayed were tasked with providing critical spiritual care.

I say I am lucky, because in my very first professional ministry experience, I witnessed the damage that can be done when leadership goes awry.  Many factors were at play throughout the entire ordeal, but one of them was a clear issue with pastoral leadership.  As Tourish states, “many charismatic leaders are narcissists – that is, people with an inordinately well-developed self-image, in which they take great pride and on which they reflect frequently.”[iv] This was certainly the case.  In fact, the issue became that as the leader’s image, charisma, preaching and “greatness” was lifted up, the overall sense of each member of the church having and bringing their own unique gifts was made inconsequential – and further elevated the level of awe that surrounded him, and the “just follow” mindset for many on the congregation.  The results were very damaging, and the wounds that the ‘dark side’ created are still felt among the membership and those most greatly impacted.

However, I began this blog post saying I am lucky, and I still believe this to be true.    Tourish writes of the prospects of cult like practices arising around certain transformational leaders.[v]  I have sadly seen this when people decide to worship and follow an individual instead of God.  This reminds me to always point the congregation I serve to the Living Word, to prayer, and to the divine best experienced in and through community.  Tourish writes of the silencing of voices that can happen when a transformational leader does not provide ample opportunity for feedback.[vi]  This reminds me to continually challenge myself to listen before speaking, and to provide structures in and through the church that support opportunity, equality, and inclusivity.  I am lucky because I have seen far too much pain, I have learned from those mistakes, and know that I never want anyone to feel that type of spiritual pain again.



[i] Anemona Hartocollis, “Parishioner Sues Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, Saying Pastor Seduced Wife,” New York Times, November 1, 2005, https://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/01/nyregion/parishioner-sues-fifth-avenue-presbyterian-church-saying-pastor.html.

[ii] Dan Mangan, “Lover Sues Randy Rev. For Affair,” New York Post, July 19, 2007, https://nypost.com/2007/07/19/lover-sues-randy-rev-for-affair/.

[iii] Dan Mangan, “It was all in good chaste: Randy Rev.,” New York Post, July 9, 2008, https://nypost.com/2008/07/09/it-was-all-in-good-chaste-randy-rev/.

[iv] Tourish, Dennis. The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective, Routledge, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/georgefox/detail.action?docID=1154334. 25

[v] Tourish, 14.

[vi] Tourish, 79.

About the Author

Rev Jacob Bolton

6 responses to “What Not To Do”

  1. Karen Rouggly says:

    ooooooh boy. That must have been an “interesting” time in the life of the church. Thanks for your vulnerability in this post. I’ve been a part of organizations going through similar transitions, and it was in my first ministry role as well. It rocked me to my core. Your post reminded me of that time. It was hard, but you’re right – I’m lucky that I got to witness that, and by God’s grace I can recognize it in others now. Well done!

  2. Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Looks like I am in good company then Karen. For better or worse, you and I are stronger because of those dreadful times.

  3. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Jacob, Thanks so much for sharing your pain and what you have gained from these troublesome experiences. I agree that we are fortunate when the Lord can take these painful experiences and utilize them to transform us to focus on healthy spiritual (leadership) practices for ourselves and all those He has placed within our circle of influence. While we are never fortunate to go through these experiences, we are always fortunate to see the Holy Spirit redeem these experiences for our good and those around us. Many blessings on you, Dear Friend, as you continue to grow, learn, and lead.

  4. Mary Mims says:

    Jacob, thank God that you had this experience early in your career as an example of how not to lead! It is so easy to get caught up in one’s success. I do think the era of television ministers helps fosters the dark side of transformational leadership with so many adoring fans. Like you said, you are lucky (and I would add, blessed).

  5. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Jacob, thank you for adding another case study. Unfortunately there are far too many and when it happens with a “spiritual leader” the wounds are deep and often cause a crisis of faith in many. I appreciate your humility to see it as an early lesson and have determined to keep watch over yourself for the sake of others.

  6. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Hey Jacob. Like you I’ve witnessed and been on the receiving end of some terrible leadership. Not all of it has been Transformational Leadership. Normally it’s just leaders behaving badly. Transformational Leaders usually subscribe to a clear and honest process which works well, when applied well. However, I’m not sure it works well in faith contexts unless the entire congregation subscribes to ‘Man of God’ theology. And even then I have doubts. Being an ex-Baptist (NZ flavour), I still believe God speaks through the laity which requires listening for direction rather than deciding the direction and imposing it through groupthink and predetermined outcomes. However, there is a fine balance between the leadership of a leader and the non-existent leadership of keeping the crowd happy. Transformative leadership is one of the many leadership mechanisms.

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