10 Signs of a Cult Church

5. The line between “look at what God is doing” and “look at what our leader is doing” is almost nonexistent.

In other words, God isn’t getting the glory, an individual is.

6. The name of the leader and the name of the church are inseparable.

The leader is as much of a brand — or even the brand — as the ministry.

7. Image is paramount.

Clothes, camera angles, prepared one-liners, manipulation of media; the leader is presented, handled and then “performs” as a carefully handled celebrity.

8. There is no sense of team leadership, team teaching or team mentality.

There is a single person or leader, and then there are implementers. No one is to question the leader’s vision. It is seen as God-given, sacrosanct, and thus anything the leader says or does in pursuit of that vision is never to be questioned.

9. The person travels in an entourage.

Often with personal security, and is seldom accessible.

10. Their speaking/teaching often revolves around themselves.

(There is even a name for it — “narcisgesis” instead of “exegesis”). Guest speakers feel compelled (and sometimes are compelled) to laud the leader as part of their presentation.

Some of you are scratching your head, saying, “Really? This exists? People are actually engaged in ministry leadership like this?” More than you might imagine, and yes, it’s repugnant.

Let’s state the obvious. Pastors are to be honored, revered and treated with enormous respect. Scripture tells us to give them double wages for their labors, and that no attack on their character or work should be entertained without enormous documentation. But … Christian pastors are servants, not rock stars.

They equip people for ministry, as opposed to basking in the adulation of others watching them perform.

But even more pressing is that all glory and attention should be on making God famous, not a person. Fame should not be cultivated in the name of “influence”; if anything, it should be feared in view of pride coming before a fall.

Finally, the signs of a cult church can lead to heresy creep. With a leader firmly entrenched in people’s minds as God’s superstar, there is little practice along the lines of the highly-commended Bereans.

Remember them?

Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11, NIV)

Here, people were commended for checking out what an apostle, no less, had to say in view of the Old Testament scriptures.

Few cults of personality end well, and when they don’t, the wider church and Christianity itself suffers a black eye. So let’s abandon any and all cults. Not just the ones you’ve associated with Jim Jones, the Moonies or the Branch Davidians.

But the one you might be part of yourself, and unknowingly, even propagating.

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James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.