David Mitchell is the best pastor I know. He’s been the senior pastor of Woodlands Church, Bristol for over 15 years and has been ministering for many years before that. It’s an absolute privilege to have a guest post written by him. Here’s some of the wisdom he carries for people who are in leadership or church ministry. 


The Dark Side of Leadership – by David Mitchell

The dark side of leadership is not so much what you do, or what is done to you, but what you can do to others or who you can become. Here are some dangers, and some remedies against colluding with the dark!

The Dangers

Ego identification with ministry?

It can happen that your ministry becomes an extension of your own ego and that critical self-awareness becomes diminished in the process. It’s more ‘your thing’ even though you say it’s God’s thing. And of course my thing is the best thing in town, so I become small-minded.

What is your Secret History? Your devotional life?

The danger of professional Christian service is that the ‘above the waterline’ activities of public devotions are not balanced by a private spirituality for an audience of one. Indeed one’s secret life, the inner life of the soul can be consumed with escapism or destructive thoughts.

What about Control? A religious spirit? Spiritual manipulation.

I find the desire to control, for things to be done my way ‘because it’s the right way’ are things to battle with. I recognise I can control people and use people for my cause by making them feel guilty. I can celebrate my (relatively recent) traditions because I’ve established certain practices which are not the same as eternal values.

Mistaking my will (for you) with God’s will.

I can impose my ambitions on you, or conversely restrict you because I don’t believe in your potential as much as God does!

What is the unique danger of being put in a position of being on a pedestal? What about being accountable?

We can put leaders on pedestals to their detriment. It’s not good for people to be idolised. And we can put ourselves (or be put) above contradiction, and not really have anyone speaking into our lives.

What about your sexuality? Alpha Male /Alpha female?

There are attractional undercurrents between men and women in collegiate leadership or ministry roles with one another. Good friendships may feel great but have inherent vulnerabilities if they conflict with spousal loyalties. Beware of the power of sexual energy (via porn or other routes) to provide a quick fix to depression or tiredness.

Is ministry the validation of my need or impulse to rescue others?

Many church leaders are rescuers and we can enjoy dependent relationships and feel validated by them instead of empowering people or being strategic about (or delegating) pastoral care.

The cult of business – justifying our existence.

If people are watching me, or paying me do I need to look busy all the time? Do I celebrate a martyr spirit, sacrificing myself on the altar of the Church?

Fear of evaluation – including self-knowledge.

We can avoid really asking the hard questions about the fruitfulness of our ministry, or whether we are still on track. We can avoid asking the hard questions about our own motivations.

Hype (and the need for success).

The need for success can cause us to exaggerate what’s actually happening (in terms of conversions, healings, growth etc.). Ultimately claiming more than we are delivering breeds disillusionment for our congregations and a hollowness about our ministry style.

Competition (toward those inside and outside of your church).

It’s so easy to compare yourself and compete with other churches and ministries locally. We can feel diminished by other’s success, we can worry that we are not as popular or gifted as another colleague. We can envy other Churches especially if they are attracting people in our target group (or congregation). We can fail to celebrate what God is doing in others.


Hardness towards the flock or individuals. ‘Those people’. Can we keep childlike in our willingness to believe that God really does work in amazing ways. Can we choose to interpret people’s motivations in the best (not worst) possible light?

Too many late nights.

We need to look after our bodies and not get into the habit of working late or lonely late night times, especially when married.

Some Remedies

1. Church & Ministry. Hold it precious, hold it lightly
2. Cultivate a positive Spiritual history.
3. Positively listen to other people’s Church stories and bless them
4. Care for the poor. It’s good for you. It softens our hearts
5. Find a spiritual parent. Find true, not just ‘structural’ accountability.
6. Take a good day off and regular retreat times.
7. Never behave with someone of the opposite sex in a way your partner would be uncomfortable with.
8. Flee controlling behaviour. Ask why it’s there and be ruthless with it.
9. Be confrontable and seek 360 review.
10. Jesus said ‘learn this. I desire mercy not sacrifice’