What is a church cartel? 3 signs your church is bullying its followers

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You've no doubt heard of drug cartels and petroleum cartels, but you may not be aware that church cartels also exist. Thom S. Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, warns that sadly, they can indeed be found in churches and Christians should be wary of them. 

"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 selfish power," Rainer wrote in an article for Charisma News.

"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."

Rainer shared the story of a popular pastor who was shocked when he was told out of the blue that he had to resign. No explanation was given as to why he was being booted out. The pastor could not understand the reason behind the personnel committee's decision, since all he received from the congregation was positive feedback.

"Some of the people on the personnel committee had been his supporters and friends," said Rainer. But the pastor did something that upset the cartel inside his church - he was leading change.

"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," said Rainer.

The pastor himself was never given the chance to explain his perspective. Rainer said he could have probably argued with the weak personnel committee and convinced everyone to go ahead with his planned changes. But the pastor loved his church too much; he did not want to cause trouble, so he resigned.

Rainer said that while it was too late for this particular pastor to address the cartel, it's not the same for other churches. He then provided three glaring signs of a church cartel that members need to address immediately.

The first is that church cartels drive away healthy leaders. "Some of these leaders are driven away by the cartel," said Rainer. "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."

The second sign of a church cartel is that they make their remaining leaders work from a posture of fear. By constantly breathing down people's necks, church officials and members often worry about how their decisions will be received by the cartel. "These leaders know the cartel will come after them if they go contrary to the carnal group's wishes," said Rainer.

Lastly, Rainer said a church cartel leaves behind the remains of a "deceased" pastor. Rainer did not mean the pastors have already passed away, per se. Rather, he meant that they are emotionally and spiritually dead because of too many criticisms or unfulfilled obligations.

"People-pleasing pastors can fast become dying pastors. The problem is that you can never please all the members all the time. If pastors try, they die," he said.