Because of my background and education in classical rhetorical theory, I follow and read many articles and publications involving the topic of “argumentation.” One of the individuals I follow is Douglas Walton, who is a prolific writer in the area of legal argument. 
As I read one of the most recent posts that came across my inbox, I was reminded that “pastoral argument” also deserves examination and scrutiny. There are at least three primary tactics that show up over and over when you read the accounts of the “misuse and abuse” of people by pastors and/or their leadership, whether it be that of Mark Driscoll, Rav Zacharias, or the most recent example, Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
There are ministries, large AND small, that use, misuse, and abuse God’s people. That was true in both Old and New Testament days — shepherds and churches which operated in self-serving ways, operated for their own personal and institutional advantage and not for the advantage and health of the sheep.
Over time, as you read these accounts, there are at least three prevalent patterns that repeatedly stand out . . . .
#1) Flip The Script
#2) Disguised Intimidation
#3) Weaponize Scripture
#1) Flip The Script: The same passages that teach us godliness can be and are used in ungodly ways to quiet the wrong and wrong-doing of those who weaponize those very passages.
After failing to show such graces as “love,” “kindness,” “showing grace,” “seeking peace,” “humility,” “patience,” “fairness,” or “long-suffering,” they are now all enlisted into the dispute. They are now virtues that are used to marginalize the words of the critics, though sorely absent in the handling of God’s people.
“The script is flipped,” and NOW the argument being made is that those who are offering legitimate criticism about the actions and attitudes of leadership are being unkind, unloving, ungracious.
Now, that might be accurate. It might be absolutely true! But the leaders and/or pastors who exhibited that same failure are NOT the ones who ought to be heard! Their voices ought not be the ones that influence the fairminded and/or frame the argument. “No, No! You lack the same credibility that you claim regarding others.”
I said “might be” accurate or true, because criticism, or calling out wrong-doing, real or imagined, is not automatically a failure to exhibit those Christian virtues. That is exactly what those who use, misuse, and abuse God’s people would like the listeners to believe.
Those who use, misuse, and abuse others in ministries or local churches “turn everything on their head” and point the finger at those who call out wrong-doing, after having they themselves have done exactly what they claim is being done by those who call them out! They “flip the script.”
#2) Disguised Intimidation: The goal of intimidation is to make others feel uneasy about speaking up. While we see that in bold print today with the cancel culture, it is merely a means of quieting voices in almost any setting.
- The typical and obvious example is seen by the use of the pulpit to “preach” against such “unbiblical” criticism — “The message today is from the book of Self-Preservation.” Woven throughout the sermon are illusions to those who have or are challenging the leadership’s decisions, actions, or attitudes.
- At other times, a message on love and unity precedes the quarterly business meeting.
- Another and more direct approach is seen when the deacon’s meeting begins with a brief devotional of pastoral authority.
- Of course, there is always the far less disguised personal intimidation. Those who support the decisions or actions of this-or-that ministry leader or pastor, sincerely or naively, personally challenge the questioner or critic about speaking out — “I don’t think it is appropriate to say that publicly!” “You should (or should have) speak to them personally and privately, not in such a public manner.”
Intimidation is the argumentative tactic being deployed to quiet the voice of any who might speak up. As wrong-doers well know, allowing people to speak up has a consequential impact — it makes others aware that they are not the only ones who have misgivings about what has or is happening. Once someone stands up, others who are equally intimidated realize that they are not alone!
#3) Weaponise Scripture: The same passages that teach us godliness, can be and are used in ungodly ways to quiet the wrong and wrong-doing of those who weaponize those very passages. Legitimate criticism is characterized as “gossip,” “sowing discord,”  “slander,” and/or “backbiting.”
People are not allowed to talk to other people about their concerns — legitimate or illegitimate, without it being called “gossip” or “sowing discord. Now, don’t be confused; the leadership is allowed to talk about you and others.
We all know that we talk about decisions, actions, policies, etc., because we seek to get our footing, clarity in thinking, and/or a perspective on what takes place. We talk to our spouse, a close friend, a co-worker, a deacon, and even the pastor. Why? Because we are trying to understand and even change or modify the decision or action.
When someone asks me, “Have you talked to others about this?” My answer is . . .
“Of course I did. I am not foolish enough to think that my thinking is right and that of others is wrong. In the counsel of many, there is wisdom!”
. . . . AND so did the ministry or church leaders! Unless they are foolish enough to believe that they alone have the right thinking about this-or-that decision, action, or policy.
Nevertheless, when you talk to others, it is characterized as “gossip” or worse, because . . . .
- this is not about working together for the best policies and practices within the ministry. This is about control.
- this is not about working towards a more effective ministry. This is about control.
- this is not about working through differences among a variety of gifted people. This is about control!
There is legitimate and illegitimate criticism. Even illegitimate criticism needs to be discussed to determine its illegitimacy. Yes, there is illegitimate criticism that is proffered for the sole purpose of discrediting or damaging another. That will become more and more obvious to most all involved when a fair-minded discussion takes place, not when it is suppressed.
It will also become progressively obvious that it is legitimate when there are attempts to wrongfully control that discussion by flipping the script, intimidating people, and weaponizing Scripture.
1. i.e. — Argument from Expert Opinion asLegal Evidence: Critical Questions and Admissibility Criteria of Expert Testimony in the American Legal System
2. When leadership becomes patently inconsistent in dealing with problems, issues, legitimate concerns within a ministry, institution, agency, or local church, it is the leaders who are the ones who are sowing discord!
A Ministry Killer: IOnconsistency — LINK