Of late, church leaders have been under scrutiny as they have been displaying despicable behaviour evidenced by many of them being dragged to court for various crimes.
This has raised questions on the authority and influence of the leaders.
Exactly how much power should church leaders exert over their followers? And how do they come to command such enormous influence over their followers’ thoughts and actions? Where should the pastors’ power and influence over his followers end?
A survey conducted by this paper showed different views from people, with some citing the mushrooming of independent churches as bringing in a new breed of charismatic leaders that purport to speak for the Lord, but deceiving their unsuspecting followers.
Tichaona Kanyama of the United Methodist Church said the role of a pastor was to govern the church along with elders and focus on spiritual matters, but some were taking advantage of those who trust them, abusing their authority.
“Our pastor, being the overseer of everything at our circuit, has the mandate to see that we move in line with the laid principles of our church and consult other elders for any decision-making issues.
“However, there are new independent churches cropping up every day with pastors that are not accountable to any authoritative board leading to the risk of pastoral abuse being high.
“Many people submit so much to claims of prophecy, thus limiting their use of common sense. And sadly for them, God’s love becomes conditional and comes at the price of abuse,” Kanyama said.
Most people said that future-telling and prophecy have become a staple diet in many churches and people do not look at these prophecies with any suspicion as they are made by “Men of the Cloth” and it is such naivety that that makes people vulnerable and open to abuse .
Gladys Kamudyariwo, who attends Johanne Masowe weChishanu (Mutoko), said they were to submit to their leader at all times without questioning his authority.
“We are to abide with everything our church leader says as he is a true messenger of God. In most cases, he tells us what happened in our past and our future which gives us no reason to doubt him”, said another apostolic church-goer who identified herself as Nyasha.
She added that, however, in cases where they did not agree with what the Man of the Cloth said, they could not dispute as they were often threatened with great suffering and poverty.
Owen Tigere from Chitungwiza, who has been a member of several churches, said that heresy had taken root in most churches today and they were saturated with false teachings.
He accused the leaders of manipulating the Word, blinding people and subjecting them to their own beliefs.
“Pastors have no extra authority besides to teach the Word of God, but I have realised that most of these church leaders take their time to study their followers and know how to get a strong influence,” Tigere said.
“People are seeking answers to their lives’ challenges and rely completely on what their church leaders teach and say, yet they do not preach even a single word of truth, but have bombarded their followers with lies. Hence they cannot open their eyes to discern the true Word of God,” he said.
Tigere added that people, especially women, give pastors so much authority to interfere in their lives or marriages and even place their pastors above their husbands, which makes them more vulnerable to abuse.
“These church leaders are masterminds who have studied their followers’ needs and sadly women usually fall prey because they give them too much authority and believe every word they are told,” Tigere added.
Nyasha Pindura, a member of one of the Pentecostal churches who is studying theology, said she submits to the will of the pastor as he was the spiritual head.
“I believe everything that is said by my pastor as long as it is biblical, I should submit to his will,” she said.
Jimmy Jones, who was the most charismatic cult leader, in 1978 proclaimed himself the messiah of the People’s Temple and ultimately led his followers into a mass suicide, killing about 900 people — known as the Jonestown Massacre.
Jones employed mind control techniques, separated married couples, banned communication from the outside world and his followers were unsuspecting poor people who sought spiritual fulfilment and an end to their lives’ challenges
What is most disturbing is that the most purveyors of deception are within the church where doctrines of uprightness and holiness should be taught, now men, women and children are reduced to objects and subjects and are being deceived and abused by people who are masquerading as men of the cloth.