David was a wise and experienced warrior. He was a man anointed of God to lead Israel in battles both spiritual and literal. David knew when to fight and when not to fight. He knew the difference between retreat and strategic withdrawal to regroup the troops. He knew that ultimately, the most important outcome was not who won which battle, but who won the war.
Though my tenure as overseer of a wonderful group of churches and ministers has ended, I find myself still fielding phone calls, text messages, and in counseling sessions with anointed and called leaders whose congregations are being attacked by men and women with what I identified long ago as “the spirit of Absalom.”
It seems every church of any size in existence for very long today has experienced some level of uprising. Most of the time the spirit of Absalom is behind it. It is not the result of poor leadership. It cannot be blamed on the pastor, nor his wife, nor his children. There is always someone – or some family – or some group – with a hidden agenda. For the Book of Acts church there was Ananias and Sapphira – “a certain man with his wife.”
There seem to be two predominant spirits that attack churches today. The spirit of Jezebel is a spirit of control. Jezebel can get into the worship department, or into the intercessors, or pulpit, or other departments. The spirit of Jezebel is often after the finances, acknowledging that whoever controls the purse strings controls the power of the church. The Absalom spirit is a little different. It is a take-over spirit that has an ultimate objective of taking off a following, a separating from the body. It is a spirit of division and discord.
Absalom was the favored son of King David. In all probability, David might have been actually grooming him to take the throne. Absalom was impatient. Like the prodigal son, he didn’t want to wait for his inheritance. He wanted it now. Nearly seven decades ago, my pastor taught me, “A man too big to do little things is too little to do big things.” Individuals should be given opportunities in small things to prove their loyalty, dedication, and ability then find promotion into areas of leadership in ministry.
When Satan sets about to destroy a church, he goes for the leaders. Leadership staff at a church of any size must be warned: Satan targets people who show potential. He will send discouragement. When that works, he’ll let them spread their disappointments and discouragement and sow discord. “We need to pray for our Pastor. He just doesn’t get it.” When this spirit shows up – in the earliest of stages – it should be confronted. It is a strategy of Satan to plant destructive seeds in rising leaders.
When we read the story of David and Absalom we see what a strong conspiracy was created. “For the people increased continually with Absalom.” I call it a conspiracy because, at least at first, David and the other leaders didn’t know what was happening. Absalom worked behind their backs. I’ve seen it happen in churches. The pastor goes on vacation and leaves a trusted man in charge to come back and find the church ripe for a split. The spirit of Absalom has been at work. We have to remember that Kingdom work is not flesh and blood but “principalities and powers.”
Bill Gothard said,
“Disloyalty can develop over a period of time if certain attitudes are allowed to find a place of habitation in the spirit of a person with responsibility. No one wakes up one morning and finds himself disloyal. Disloyalty is an attitude that develops through various stages before it fully manifests itself.”
Disloyalty does not begin with a massive conspiracy – it goes through stages. It starts as a little seed –frustration, discontent, critical over little things – length of service, message, who sings. Absalom just wanted to be made a judge – or so he said. In churches today, it seems to eventually come to a point where the man or woman with the spirit of Absalom begins to think he/she teach better, counsel better, move in the gifts better. And, who knows? Maybe that’s true. However, he’s not the called anointed leader God has put in place.
There seem to be stages in the Absalom spirit that are readily identified. It starts with an independent spirit. An Absalom spirit will not submit to the leader. It begins to maneuver to gain personal recognition from people. There is nothing servant-like about this person. God anoints men and women with submissive hearts. Luke 16:12 tells us that if you’ve been faithful in keeping what is another man’s, God will commit to you what which is your own. Joseph had to buy into three other dreams before his own came true.
The next stage in the Absalom spirit is self-promotion. The man not only wants recognition, he wants praise and promotion. Every move is a strategic attempt to be seen and approved. We find, in the story of Absalom, that for several years he had been weaning people away from David with a long-range plan to take the throne from him. Satan always has a long-range plan. Just like Absalom wanted to go pray – the Absalom-spirited one always has a “spiritual” reason behind what they do. Absalom had 200 men who accompanied him from Jerusalem; innocent people who did not know what his ultimate plan actually was. In a church setting, innocent people always get sucked in and become the casualties of war not of their own making.
Then, with the recognition and praise they have garnered for themselves, spiritual pride shows up. They start believing their own hype. “I am the best . . .” From that invariably comes an offended spirit.
In one church somewhere between the north and south poles, the ushers got offended because the pastor stopped the church from paying for the donuts being brought to the usher’s office each Sunday morning. Half of the ushers quit. All I can say is, if you get offended enough to quit over donuts, there wasn’t much holding you there in the first place.
As the Absalom spirit takes a stronger hold, you’ll encounter a critical spirit. Every decision is questioned. Every statement challenged. From that, a competitive spirit is born. It will begin to question whether or not the Pastor even hears from God. The more you decrease, the more Jesus will increase. By the same token, the more you increase, the less of Jesus there will be. The wise man of Proverbs said, “Confidence in an unfaithful man in a time of trouble is like a broken tooth and a foot out of joint.” It cripples the body of believers when you’ve got men who have this kind of attitude. The body can’t walk on that kind of crippled foot.
Absalom’s spirit brings with it the sowing of division and strife. Complaints will abound over everything imaginable – how much money is spent, what it’s spent on, who sings, who doesn’t sing, who teaches, who doesn’t. Absalom feeds followers on his own critical and fault-finding spirit. With increasing boldness, there is gossip against the leader – and usually, his family as well. Eventually there is open disloyalty and division.
When Absalom is ready to move, he moves with swiftness. A man with an Absalom spirit will embarrass the pastor in a public forum – a church service or a board meeting. Those of like spirits will gather to him. Like Absalom, they will become bold – call meetings and gather the innocents; focusing people on the minor issues, he splits the church either literally or psychologically.
God has a plan. Absalom met his end. He rode a mule and got caught under the thick boughs of a tree. The vehicle that was carrying him left him and he was hung. His head – or his authority – became his downfall. He was caught by head in a tree. Terrible judgment on his life. Finally, he was stabbed to death by 10 young men.
Absaloms need to repent of the criticism, to forgive if they think they’ve been offended, they need to seek your blessings even if they leave your church. I’ve known of Absalom’s that underwent a chastening of the Lord, paid the price, and came out all right – but it’s a terrible price.
So, what can we do? As a pastor, try and spot an Absalom in the earliest stages and always provide a place for restoration. An Absalom that has been restored can be one of your most loyal members.
As a church member, when you see (or hear) that spirit of Absalom, refuse to be a part of it.