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Church Leadership

Alpha Male Pastors

I long to see this as a caveat for ministry job openings: Dominant alpha males need not apply. Dear Lord, let it come soon!

I had three different conversations with or about lead pastors Thursday. Two were horrible and one was exhilarating. All three encounters lead me to express my frustration with alpha male senior pastors. How do these people stay in ministry? Oh yeah, they are allowed to fire people…

Define term alpha male pastor please.I’d love to. Obviously, they are male. And they are the big dogs at a church. They lord their power over everyone. (Mostly behind closed doors.) One word description, dominant. They lay in bed and dream of themselves as Mufasa over their church kingdoms. They would like to think that everyone shudders at their brilliance when they hear their name. Every single one of them thinks they are brilliant and that they will one day write a book that sells more copies than Purpose Driven Life.

Situation #1 I exchanged emails yesterday with a church staff member sharing his frustration with his AMP. Well, he wasn’t really sharing frustration with me, because that sort of disloyalty isn’t allowed in Mufasa’s pride. He contacted me about a very practical problem but within a couple of short exchanges the truth came out that his AMP wouldn’t let him lead the youth group. So let me get this right, a church hires a man… calls him a pastor, grades him on his ability to lead the youth group… then is hamstrung by an insecure AMP from doing his job they called and paid him to do? Brilliant. I’m sure that the AMP will feel completely justified when that guy quits, his life devastated. I wish it weren’t true… but I think I have this same conversation with one church staff member per week.

Situation #2 I had a conversation with a church staff member sharing a complete lack of human decency by his AMP. Of course, this staff member couldn’t tell his AMP that he was being a jerk because that was ultimately questioning the virility of the AMP. Questioning an AMP about any of his habits, practices, and especially blatant sins is a challenge that is always met with snarled teeth and threats of being expelled from the pride. At the end of our conversation I was left with the impression that this staff member’s boss thinks he is a more important person than the rest of his staff. It’s as if Jesus’ words didn’t apply to him. Matthew 23 says, “Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Nope, that only applies to lowly associate level pastors and other non-AMPs who make the day-to-day stuff happen when the AMP isn’t bestowing his 30 minute message from the mountaintop. When heaven opened and Mr. AMP appeared on the scene… Jesus didn’t call that guy to servant-leadership. He’s better, bigger, more powerful than his staff members. You know, because he’s the preacher.

Situation #3 (For those skimming –> This is the good one) I had lunch with my new friend and pastor. As a parenthesis to this– I was so relieved that the lunch meeting came with no agenda. We had lunch and shared life, a novel concept that more church leaders should consider. Stephen has all the skills and background to be an AMP. And what I love about him is that he intentionally chooses not to for the sake of the Kingdom. Something that blew me away about our conversation was this, he’s perfectly fine not getting his way in a theological discussion. (Something an AMP would see as a weakness is really a strength!) The mere fact of the various staff backgrounds proves that out. They are a hodgepodge group of denominations completely sold out to the concept that personal preferences don’t really matter. I’d say he and I see eye to eye on “high 90s” of things. But those few percentage points of difference don’t matter at all.

What should AMPs do instead of dominating local churches? Fix the auto industry! Go get a job at a car dealership and bully people into a gas guzzler.

Want to know the secret to defeating an AMP? Hint, you don’t have to commit a felony even though you want to.

By Adam McLane

Adam McLane is a partner at The Youth Cartel, co-author of A Parent's Guide to Understanding Social Media, blogger of 10+ years, and a fan of all things San Diego State University Aztecs.

7 replies on “Alpha Male Pastors”

Funny thing about #3 is I had a quick phone call with a dad in church yesterday that was similar. Hadn’t seen the family in a few weeks, so I just called the guy I’ve recently gotten to know just to check in. When I said, “I’m just checking in on you guys, hadn’t seen you in a while, I have no real agenda”.

He just laughed because he told me when he saw my name on his caller ID that pastoral baggage went through his head as he answered the phone call wondering about the plans I had for him.

I think it’s not just senior pastors. There is a certain personality type drawn to ministry for the affirmation and pedantry. The inherent sexism doesn’t help either. It’s not everyone, of course, but I understand your frustration.

There are a few variations on this theme, you’ve got the AMPs and the PALs (passive agressive leaders) to round out the dysfunction. I’ve worked with both kinds and have been able to leave without being fired, and even repair relationships after some time. It isn’t easy, and I’ve met far too many people left for dead after being chewed up by church leaders like those.

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