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:
- The Beginning: https://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/01/nyregion/parishioner-sues-fifth-avenue-presbyterian-church-saying-pastor.html[i]
- The Middle: https://nypost.com/2007/07/19/lover-sues-randy-rev-for-affair/[ii]
- The End?: https://nypost.com/2008/07/09/it-was-all-in-good-chaste-randy-rev/[iii]
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.