Toxic Leadership in the African Methodist Episcopal Church

Toxic Leadership in the African Methodist Episcopal Church


The African Methodist Episcopal Church has exceptional ways of electing its leadership from bishops, general officers, and connectional officers to conference and local church officers. The Doctrine and Discipline of the AME Church outlines processes and procedures required to elect church leadership. Since the General Conference sessions are held once every four years, the Discipline confers authority to the Council of Bishops to carry out the oversight function on behalf of the General Church, in between sessions of the General Conference. While on the one hand, general officers, connectional officers, and bishops are accountable to the General Board. This means that the average pastor and lay member does not have any direct influence on the General Church leadership other than in his local church where members and leaders interact on a regular basis. At both General Conference and Annual Conference, the member’s voice is represented by delegates elected to attend the constituency sessions or through the judicial procedure should a member independently file charges against the affected leadership or through petitioning the Council of Bishops when having complaints or grievances against the presiding bishop as enshrined in the Discipline.

I am compelled to indicate that this approach of governance is not unique to our beloved Zion only but it does pose some serious challenges concerning oversight and accountability. How should bishops in their various Episcopal districts be held accountable, whether at the conference level or Episcopal meeting? Who is responsible for making sure that such function is carried out? Although the Council of Bishops is empowered by the positive law of the church to act on behalf of the Connectional Church membership between regular sessions, accused bishops within the Council of Bishops are—in essence—part of the leadership and not just an oversight body. It is itself part of the leadership that members would expect it to “oversee,” which could be seen as a conflict of interest.

My view is that this approach poses accountability challenges. Unless the leadership itself is willing to be transparent to the membership, it would be difficult for concerned members to exercise any other form of oversight.  The truth of the matter is, there are times when questions of corruption, stealing, maladministration, purging, victimization, disregard, disrespect, pomposity, lack of accountability, and unscrupulous activities are perpetuated by the bishop and rise to the surface. In light of the above, it is the expectation of those concerned or affected members that structures conferred with authority, in terms of the positive law of the church, should take concerns raised very seriously.

When this does not happen, members conclude that church law, procedures, and processes are manipulated or circumvented at will by those in charge. It is in this instance, we see members resorting to other means in an attempt to call the attention of the Connectional Church leadership to be accountable or transparent about issues of concern, in their endeavor to expose legitimate grievances with which the highest office is perceived to be unwilling to deal. This situation promotes toxic leadership in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. By toxic leadership, I mean ongoing, deliberate, abusive, abrasive, demeaning, unreasonable, demanding, destructive, and intentional actions by leaders to undermine the sense of dignity, self-worth, and efficacy of pastors and lay members of the church.

It is, therefore, my appeal to all leaders in the AME Church—at all levels—not to forget that the members ARE the church and not the leaders themselves.


The Rev. Dimpho Gaobepe is senior pastor at H. J. Bryant AME Church, located in the West Conference of the 19th Episcopal District.

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  1. I agree with your statements so much Since the tradegy we are having toxic leadership in Mother Emanuel A.M. Church

  2. “Toxic Leadership in the African Methodist Episcopal Church” by The Reverend Dimpho Gaobepe is more than worth reading. It is a call to action. All too often we experience the behavior of a seemingly entitled leadership style at all levels in our Zion that causes emotional and spiritual harm to others without consequences. Clearly, this behavior is not attributed to all, yet it is alive and well. It is our responsibility also as laity to be courageous and call out such behavior and require and expect positive change; thus, holding all leadership accountable from the local level all the way to the Council of Bishops. Thank you, Reverend Gaobepe.

  3. I am concerned about the lack of a formal standardized method to evaluate all leaders in our church. It appears to be good old boys system of politics. Should our church operate as our government?

  4. What an excellent starting point for a discussion long overdue! In an era where many of our churches struggle to survive and membership is on the decline, such an examination is not only warranted, it’s essential. No structure is above constructive criticism. Question is where do we go from here?

  5. Eye opener. We are the members that keep this Zion going!!! Put your trust in no man but the God that is the head of the church!!! Love your article Pastor. We need to revamp some things in the AME Church

  6. A very timely article. We as a church and members need too know their are people in the pulpit that are seeing, hearing, and understanding the heart of the Laity. Thank you, for your insight Rev. Dimpho Gaobepe.

  7. Very informative and thought provoking! Now. I wonder if the church will now respond with a call of action by way reform. Or if this too shall remain toxic and the fiber of the AME church. Now that our consciousness has been provoked or awakened… will any one welcome change? How God shall we respond… ?

  8. Toxic leadership is whats clearing pews across this country. I know one case a old church over 70yrs sold the church to pay back bills including pastor my question where was the pe ? Then bishop how could you go to africa claim to do work there but cant help a church in the us.

  9. As a proud AME, failure of governance is the biggest crisis facing our Church. This is the real crisis, at all levels of our Church. This calls for a total overhaul of our Church governance systems. The Rev. Dimpho Gaobepe, thanx for your bravery, and shaking the grounds for such discussions.

  10. So true…The good old boy network is killing the church, especially in rural areas. Now, we have identified a part of the problem, what is the solution? In my opinion, the first step is to recruit younger pastors. In my district, there are very few pastors under the age of 50! Look at churches like Empowerment Temple AME lead by Rev Jamal Bryant. From a far, it looks like he has more control over how he “does church” and that has allowed his congregation to grow, despite his personal shortcomings. We need new energy and new leadership. The older clergy and laymen and women are tired. Now part of this is their fault. I can’t speak for every church, but in my church, the young folks were not taught how to run the church. We have no control over who our pastor will be, but we do control the programs in our churches. The AME church needs an outside group to come in and help change the dynamics of the organization. There are great things about the AME church that I love, but we need to move in a better direction.

  11. Passionately and well-written as well as a timely reminder that we are all to be about God’s agenda, not our own.

  12. Well written Sir. I totally agree with you. The A.M.E. church has changed drastically over the years. The old saints are gone and now there young leaders are put in the pulpit with their own agenda with no regards for the members.As .long time member we should have the right to speak about our church problem without being look over if you are not large congregation. Toxic leaders sad but true. We have to get it together AME’s. God is not pleased us. Bless.

  13. Very enlightening, goes along with my thought pattern, we are all humans, who can and should think for ourselves, and understand that in the final analyst we will be seen by God as a person who has kept his commandments and lived according to his word, rather we are leaders in the AMEC or not.

  14. God is calling us (leaders) to a higher calling, and accountability. The church must be the church, the light of the world, and the example for the world. There is nothing hidden that will not be uncovered. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but we must not continue in sin, and greed is a sin. So what are we going to to say? Should we continue sinning so grace will multiple? Absolutely not! All of us died to sin. How can we still live in it? (Romans 6: 1-2 CEB)

  15. Very well written. We will have to account to God for everything we have done here one on earth and in this earthly body, May God have mercy on those who are not following his word and doing his working in a Godly manner.

  16. Great incite and a well written article. We talk about the good old boys network in our Zion, what about the family dynamics that continue to plague our growth and development. We could be a much better church if appointments were fair and not politically and family driven. Family members pastoring before finishing seminary. We have a rich history yet money and greed continues to be our demon. The leadership gets elected and they never come in with new ideas on how to grow our churches only how to collect assessments. When will we be concerned about ministry.

  17. It is especially toxic in a volunteer environment. Our members attend, participate and contribute on a volunteer basis. They have options.

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