Honors Scholars Collaborative Projects

Publication Date



The Christian megachurch is a relatively recent phenomenon, championing new ideals and theological practices for faith communities around the world. Megachurches, by definition, are Christian churches that consist of over a thousand attendees. Most megachurches are independent from a denomination – a characteristic that brings a multitude of advantages as well as challenges. One specific challenge for megachurches is the problem of potential abuse by pastors that are characterized by toxic and destructive leadership. In recent years, many Christians, as well as non-Christians, have been shocked by the number of megachurch pastors revealed as bullies, narcissists, or sexual assailants. Although incidents often impact a single church, the reasons behind toxic leadership in megachurches are often similar. By examining three American megachurch pastors, Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church, Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Community Church, and James MacDonald from Harvest Bible Chapel, one can discover how a church’s failure to govern itself properly could potentially cripple a thriving faith community in a matter of days. Evidence from recent megachurch moral failures suggests a correlation between toxic leadership and a lack of accountability in independent single leaderfocused churches. However, an accountability structure alone is not enough to stop abusive pastors – church structures need to consist of members that have both the willpower and resources to recognize destructive behaviors from leadership and take decisive action. In order to prevent such tragedies, independent megachurches must learn how to diffuse power, subject themselves to legitimate accountability structures, and partner with elders and church members that protect abuse survivors over systems that protect abusers.

Faculty Advisor

Dr. Jon Roebuck

Document Type

Honors Thesis