12 Characteristics of a Cult Leader
According to many studies, cult leaders are people who tend to be narcissists and they generally exhibit sociopathic and abusive characteristics. In most cases cult leaders do not lead a legitimate Christian church, but instead they lead a cult or cultic group which they themselves created or founded. (read – What is a Cult? What are the Characteristics of a Cult?)
Within Christianity they are hardly shepherds, but instead they are actually wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15).
The Bible speaks of false teachers existing in the world and the cult leader is a type of false teacher who exists within the religious realm.
Many cult leaders will claim to be Christians, but in fact, they are deceived instruments of satan who seek to deceive their followers for personal gain and for demonic motives.
2 Corinthians 11:13-15 says the following:
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.
Throughout the world, many cult leaders will exhibit the same character traits and employ the same manipulative and coercive techniques. By nature, a leopard cannot change its spots. A bad tree will always bear bad fruit (Matthew 7:15-19).
Below are at least 12 Traits or Characteristics of a Cult Leader:
1. A Spiritual Abuser
The cult leader is a false teacher who not only teaches false doctrines, but he also seeks to intimately control and spiritually abuse the lives of his followers. For example, he can control who you should and should not marry; he separates members from their families; he destroys marriages; No major personal decisions are made by various cult members without consulting the cult leader or without his knowledge; He brainwashes his members to perform unethical activities on his behalf or on behalf of the cult.
The cult leader is obsessed with manipulating and controlling his followers through authoritative leadership style and coercive techniques. This ultimately leads many members of the group into a state of spiritual bondage.
2. They Twist The Scriptures For Personal Gain
Cult leaders will constantly twist and misinterpret the Bible in order to justify their scandals or justify their sinful lifestyle. For example, many cult leaders are known to twist the Scriptures to their followers in order to justify their sexual immorality or polygamous relationships. Some will also twist the scriptures for monetary gain or for demonic mind control purposes.
2 Peter 2:3 says “And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”
3. Narcissistic Sense of Self
Cult leaders basically believe they were born to be better than others. In fact, they are tempted to believe that nobody can be better than them. They are basically arrogant and are driven and motivated by a spirit of pride.
Eventually cult leaders tend to claim or insinuate to have power, position and authority that is exclusively godlike. They not only claim to speak for God, but they believe and teach their followers that disobeying the leader is equivalent to disobeying God. Matthew 24:24 speaks of the rise in false christs or false messiahs. This scripture does not only refer to people who claim to be Jesus Christ, but it also refers to narcissistic people who will claim to have equal authority to Christ. (see article: What Does The Bible Say About Narcissism?)
4. Superficial Charm & Charisma
Cult leaders are actors and pretenders. They understand that discovering your weaknesses, needs and desires are a gateway to putting you in bondage. Projecting superficial charm and charisma to members or potential followers is a method of disarming people from seeing the true deceptive and controlling nature of the leader.
In their mind, it’s essential that they draw followers to themselves and therefore they feel the need to stand-out and be noticed because inwardly cult leaders consistently crave attention and recognition from their members. Therefore the charm offensive is an important part of a cult leader’s act to gain trust and admiration from unsuspecting followers.
5. Lack of Guilt or Remorse
The cult leader is sociopathic by nature and is therefore incapable of showing genuine empathy, guilt or remorse for any sinful behavior. For example, a cult leader may feel no remorse for destroying marriages or for exploiting and abusing his members, because cult leaders are generally proud and arrogant at their core. Sociopaths are generally known to be incapable of showing genuine love or empathy. Instead they project superficial “love” and emotions which always has the deceptive motive of desiring something back in return for their own personal gain and agenda.
1 Timothy 4:1-2 makes reference to false teachers who are hypocritical liars and have a seared conscience. This alludes to the fact that false teachers are incapable of having a good conscience because they feel no sorrow or guilt for sinful behavior. They also see no need to repent as a result. Instead a cult leader usually projects his faults on others such as his own members. Therefore their conscience is so seared or so deceived that they cannot truthfully differentiate between right and wrong.
6. Pathological Liars
Cult leaders are very skillful speakers and they are never at a loss for words. However, they are also pathological liars. Lying and deceit is part of their inbuilt nature and culture. Hypocrisy is their second nature. Deception is integral to achieving their objective of power and control over others. Even Jesus said of the Pharisees (who were religious leaders) “You are of your father the devil who has been a liar from the beginning” (John 8:44).
In Matthew 23:1-38, Christ also addressed the culture of lying and the hypocrisy by the Pharisees. He not only exposed their deception but He warned them of the consequences of their wickedness.
Therefore a culture of lying, hypocrisy and deception is common among cult leaders.
7. Authoritarian Leadership Style
Cult leaders are always authoritarian in the manner in which they lead their members.
For example, some cult leaders demand obedience from their members at the expense of obeying the scriptures. Cult leaders will also equate obeying them as being equal to obeying God, therefore insinuating that God and the cult leader have equal authority. It creates fear within the cult members so that they live to please the cult leader instead of living to please God. Cult members are taught to obey the leader even if he is wrong. The cult leader therefore creates the false perception that he is infallible and that his teachings and wisdom cannot be challenged even when he is wrong. For example, many cult leaders will also lean towards teaching authoritarian and submission false doctrines such as spiritual covering theology or shepherding movement doctrines (see article: Who Is Your Spiritual Covering? Is It Biblical?)
8. They Take Sexual Advantage of their Members
The issue of money, power and sex are intertwined within a cult. When cult leaders have unquestioned power and authority, it is evident that a cult leader will begin to take sexual advantage of his members.
Cult leaders often have a history of extramarital affairs or sexual misconduct. Therefore adultery and many different forms of sexual immorality are very common among cult leaders due to their grandiose sense of self and the imbalance of power that exists within the group.
With various cults, sex or sexual immorality is used as a method of control. Therefore the cult leader will have sexual relationships with his own followers as a method of emotional and psychological control over his members. For many cults, sexual immorality is also used by cult leaders as a method of initiating new members into the cult or for purposes of supposedly “bonding” with cult members (see article: How Cult Leaders Use Sex To Control Followers and 4 Causes of Sexual Misconduct by Church Leaders)
9. Cult Leaders Lack Boundaries & Exploit Weaknesses
2 Timothy 3:5-6 speaks of men who have the “appearance of godliness” but yet they take advantage of “weak women”. Paul tells Timothy in verse 5 that such people should be avoided.
Cult leaders do not respect individual or relationship boundaries. They feel entitled to impose or worm their way without any respect for the personal or relationship boundaries of others.
They are always looking for weaknesses in an individual’s life so that they can manipulate for their own personal gain.
Cult leaders also tend to look for followers who are gullible, easily exploited and weak minded.
10. They Use Sycophants to Ensure Compliance from Members
Sycophants are informers and self-seeking cult members who usually praise the cult leader in order to gain advantage. The cult leader uses them to spy on other members and to ensure that members are complying with the cult’s values and traditions. Sycophants pass information upwards to the cult leader about who is complying and who is rebelling within the group. They also update the cult leader about what individual members are saying, feeling or behaving within the group.
11. Cult Leaders View Outsiders as Enemies or Inferior
Cults generally have an Us versus Them mentality where anybody who is outside of the cult is seen as inferior to the cult. This mentality also forms the basis of why cults generally tend to promote themselves under the deceptive guise of “evangelism” as they feel that anyone who is not part of the cult is not fully enlightened. Therefore cults believe that people require the cult’s specific indoctrinations or to be recruited into the group.
The cult leader therefore projects himself as the “best” among preachers and he presents his doctrines as the “best” among other religious groups and anyone who is not part of the cult is considered to be “lost” or unenlightened.
Any non-members who disagree with the cult leader’s theology are seen as potential enemies and likewise cult members are not allowed to associate with any outside religious groups or individuals who are likely to discover the cult’s true deceptive nature.
The leader therefore isolates his group from ex-members or from families or from religious groups that are likely to discern and expose the true nature of the group.
12. They View People as Assets & Objects
Sociopaths do not really view people as friends. Instead to a sociopath, people are assets; people are victims; people are accomplices; people are fools who can be conned for his own personal gain.
Just like a sociopath, cult leaders are interested in only achieving the objective that meets their personal and selfish gain. As a result, a cult leader views his cult members as inferior to himself and as people whom he is meant to control, manipulate and dominate.
Conclusion: You Shall Know Them By Their Fruits
Jesus said that false teachers are inwardly like “ravenous wolves” by nature. He also said that we shall know false teachers by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20).
The character and nature of cult leaders clearly reflects that their fruits are demonic and ungodly. Ultimately the majority of cult members become deceived and fall into spiritual bondage as a result of following cult leaders.
It’s important to note that cult leaders are self-deceived individuals. They are also spiritually and psychologically dangerous. Based on the strange activities and tragedies that happen within many cults such as mass suicides, mind control techniques, cultic behaviour, family separations, scripture twisting, sexual scandals and a culture of lying and deception – it is clear that cult leaders are either demon possessed or demonically inspired in their actions.
Cult leaders do not represent Jesus Christ and they preach a false gospel that is filled with false interpretations of the scriptures. Even though they read or preach from the Bible, it is important to realize that these type of false teachers are used by the devil in an attempt to deceive, distort and destroy the Body of Christ.
Titus 1:16 says the following of false teachers: “They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work”
It’s therefore very important that people be vigilant and aware of the false deceptions and the many deceivers who now exist in the world.
1 John 4:1 says: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
If you have been reading this article and believe that you are part of a cult and have thoughts of leaving it, please also read our article How To Leave and Recover From A Cult and 6 Ways to Heal & Recover from Spiritual Abuse.