Unhealthy pastors of course do exist and for some reason we seem to have a real unwillingness to acknowledge that – we just seem to think they are God’s vessels and are immune from evaluation and criticism, but that is just simply not the case.
Or we think: it was OK to evaluate pastors back in Luther’s day, and it was great of Luther to confront corruption during his lifetime – but today, that’s different. Today there are no corrupt churches or pastors – all that is corrupt is in the past.
But that is simply not true.
How do we know that it’s not true? Because the Word of God has told us so:
But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.
2 Timothy 3:13
This verse actually tells us a startling truth: If there were deceptive teachers back in Luther’s day, then today those deceptive teachers are even worse! They are more skilled at deceiving than they were in Luther’s day! They are getting worse and worse. Per God.
So if they exist, and they are even worse today than they were hundreds of years ago - what are their characteristics? How do we know a false teacher (or a predatory and unfaithful leader) when we see him? Well, inasmuch as they are not going to tell us they are predatory we must evaluate their behavior and compare it to what Scripture says.
There are wolves and there are predatory men, and as we shall see there is a scriptural and practical difference between wolves and predators, though there is of course overlap in their behavior.
We will see that the primary goal of wolves is to separate and devour; and the primary goal of predators is to gain influence (they may or may not cause a physical separation) in order to satisfy lustful desires (sexual or emotional).
Wolves are a well-known type in scripture of those who cause harm to God’s flock.
In John 10 Jesus talked of a wolf coming to destroy the sheep by scattering them:
But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. John 10:12
And if we look in Acts 20 we see that even in the early church there were corrupt men, who were not satisfied with “just” false teaching, but who wanted followers after themselves. They would separate the flock, because they had no care for the flock, because as people separated it would be easier to gain followers. Generals would call this “divide and conquer”.
For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Acts 20:29 - 30
It’s interesting that when Jesus spoke of wolves he spoke of them as those who scatter. When the Apostle Paul spoke of wolves he focused on the fact that the wolves would not “spare the flock”. Putting these two concepts together – scattering and not sparing – we see that wolves cause separation from God’s established order and the wolves do this even though it causes great, great harm to the sheep. They simply don’t care about the state of the sheep. They simply want destruction of what is valuable to God.
Let me explain.
Doth not nature itself teach you?
I like to hunt and several years ago I was on an elk hunt in Idaho and while hunting it became clear in the course of conversation with the guide that I may be able to see a wolf. I was rather excited because as a kid, wolves were these mysterious, elite, almost mythical creatures. The grey wolf was put on the endangered list in 1973 so by the time I was in kindergarten the Scholastic periodicals would feature articles on wolves to educate our young minds about them. They seemed awesome.
However, what I came to find out by talking with the guide is that wolves are hated by hunters and ranchers because they have a real bad characteristic: they kill just to kill.
It’s quite normal for predators to focus on the vulnerable and to separate the vulnerable from the herd or flock. That is just smart strategy for a predatory animal. What makes wolves so unique is that they will not only separate out the vulnerable but they will kill far more animals than they can eat. They kill just to destroy. That’s why ranchers are so against wolves and their reintroduction: wolves are not just run of the mill predators who eat what they kill. No, they are voracious killers who can decimate herds because they kill to satisfy a desire, not an appetite.
No wonder scripture uses wolves as a picture of these evil men who cause harm to God’s flock These evil men are not just hunters, they seek to destroy God’s sheep and God’s established order just for the sake of control. They don’t care about the harm it brings – they “kill” just because they can.
What Does The Work of a Wolf Look Like Practically Speaking
If wolves are predators that separate and that control just for control’s sake – what does this look like in the Church? How do we recognize a wolf?
Well, first of all they will separate. So, if we see a pastor who creates a wedge between a wife and a husband or who creates wedges between children and their father, we KNOW they are on the way to being a wolf. A godly man would not do such a thing.
And if they cause separating to such a degree that the normal course of nurturing care God designed to flow within the flock has stopped – then they have fit the definition of a wolf. It’s one thing to cause a wedge on accident; it’s another thing to not repent of it and to intentionally perpetuate the wedge. This unrepentant man is a wolf.
Some wolves may be satisfied to just devour and separate for the sake of control – to get their way. There can be wolves who cause great harm to God’s flock but yet never come into individual contact with all of the people he is harming. He may do his work through broadcasts, published books, or via a large church where he doesn’t interact with congregants individually, etc. There does not have to be a personal relationship for a man to act like a wolf and destroy. However, there is another type of false teacher and he is the predatory man. This man takes it a step further and his work is done in person – in close contact with those he is harming. These men are predatory pastors.
If we turn to 2 Timothy, we see a very interesting set of verses:
Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts. 2 Timothy 3:5 - 6
Let’s examine these verses by looking at the various phrases:
· Having a form of godliness – having a “form” means having an outline or appearance. They appear godly. Perhaps they are a pastor with a great job at a great church that delivers nice messages every Sunday. Having such a job and position confers a sense of godliness on them.
· But deny its power – that means that when you lift the hood you find out they don’t actually have godly lives. They deny God HIS power, and since that is the only power of holiness these men are hypocrites with lives far different than the appearance they hold. Whether their hypocrisy is sexual or whether they just simply don’t live by the advice and teachings that they give – they are hypocrites without the true power of God in their lives.
· From such turn away – these men are insidious and harmful and as soon as we sense we are in their presence we should cut off access with them and leave their church.
· Creep – if they “creep” they are proceeding very carefully. As a hunter you would creep up on game in order to be undetected. You creep slowly and methodically with a very specific target in mind. You don’t creep mindlessly – it’s hard work to creep – and so when men creep they are doing it intentionally.
· Into houses – I am not a Greek scholar, but according to the resources I have consulted I believe this word “house” has the sense of not entering a physical house as much as entering into a family structure, a social unit. The word “household” may better give the sense.
· Lead captive – again, Greek scholars tell us that the thought here is to “subjugate, to bring under control”. That is, these men seek to influence these women in order to bring them under his control. They are not leading them away in chains as captives, but are subjugating her to his thoughts and control.
o I am aware of a pastor who participated in separating a wife from her husband, made very little efforts to reconcile the two, and eventually became a wedge between them. This pastor told the husband that since the woman left the husband, she was not accountable to the husband but rather now to him , the male pastor, and a female counselor. This would seem to be exactly what “leading captive” exactly is.
· Silly women – again, according to Greek resources this has the sense of women who are weak-willed and gullible. They may not even be aware of the insidiousness of this man. Or they might be aware and just not willing to resist it.
· Led by various lusts – these men might be led by sexual lust for other men’s wives as well as lust for power and control. They could have various (multiple) lusts that lead them in their course.
What Does The Work of a Predator Look Like Practically Speaking
We have looked at these two verses in Timothy section by section, but now let’s consider what this would look like “in the real world”. How would this actually play out?
As a layman, not in ministry full-time, it is helpful to consider what OTHER PASTORS say are hallmarks of predatory pastors. These are the men who work in ministry and so have had the chance to witness this perversion firsthand, or learn far more about it in practical ways than I could as a layman.
Here is what one pastor’s view of the path to predatory behavior. ( Again, I want to emphasize that predatory behavior does not always have to be sexual. Emotional affairs and emotional predation are just as real and painful to the counterparty as sexual affairs.)
I want to provide some comments on some of these characteristics:
o Plan it out – these men develop a relationship with their target women slowly, over time. Very slowly. It may take months. While scripture does hold women accountable for the emotional and intimate access they give other men, these men are wise enough to know that if they advance slowly their chances of success are much higher.
o Seek vulnerable members – these men go after women who are hurting and who are separated (whether emotionally or physically) from their husbands who are the God-given protectors. The insidious ones will orchestrate that very separation to create a vacuum.
o Seeks those infatuated with them – these men are experienced, and they know which women “have a thing” for men in authority, and these wolves then emphasize their authority to the woman which just increases that woman’s view of him
o Offer to pray and become a mentor or guide – these men, especially with the husband removed, now offer to provide help or oversee the help provided to this vulnerable woman and family. He is now becoming a surrogate father and husband.
o Feigns concerns for victim’s family – what greater way to a mother’s heart than to offer help to her children? The worse this man can make the God-given husband and father look, then the more important his own services appear.
o Justifies position on biblical grounds – I am personally aware of a church where a husband has deep concerns about a pastor’s possible predatory ways towards his wife and family. When this man sent a letter of concern, the pastor didn’t even respond. A similar letter was sent to the elders of the church and they responded that they would not answer questions because the man was under church discipline. This is tyrannical behavior and at odds with the Apostle Paul who let the man under church discipline in Corinth to have full voice about his treatment. Refusing to answer questions means they will not subject themselves to the word of God and its limits and guidance – It sounds spiritual to say you won’t answer questions because of being under church discipline but they are actually just providing cover for their abusive ways. If they had good consciences about their behavior they should not fear examination.
o Abuse their position of authority – as already alluded to, they will use their authority to create wedges in the God-given structure of the family. If they can use “church discipline” as a ploy to effectively remove the man from the scene, then even better.
o They have low self-esteem – I am aware of a pastor who sought a Ph.D. so that people would quit arguing with him. Wut? Not being able to handle dissent shows not only a lack of moral power, but a lack of confidence in their own positions. . When they have to resort to a title and education they realize they are not backed solidly by Scripture and wisdom.
o Repeat offenders – If there is one, there is likely more of them somewhere.
We need to be honest about how prevalent these situations really are. Whether the predation actually goes into sexual deviance or whether it is “just” emotional predation, it is all abusive and supplants God’s design for the structure of marriage and its physical and emotional satisfaction.
Here are some other websites to consider:
Sadly, this is often done with the knowledge of others in the organization:
As these predators advance they eventually like to talk about their sexual habits and deviances with those they are preying on. Again, this has the appearance of being humble and transparent, but in reality these men have no business discussing their sexual transgressions with other men’s wives. This has the effect of the lowering the bar of resistance in these women and makes their minds go places dictated by the predator.
In Spotlight, a movie about the Catholic church sexual scandal, one of the victims talked about how the predator priest would share a dirty joke and that it had the effect of creating a bond with the eventual victim. These men know what they are doing.
This is some sobering stuff and I personally never thought I would encounter it.
One thing is clear: these men will not self-proclaim as wolves or as predatory pastors and so we must be on our guard and when we find them do whatever is necessary to bring light to the situation.