A Screwtape Letter to a Senior Pastor, Part I

A guide for pastors looking to split a church…

C.S. Lewis’ masterpiece “The Screwtape Letters” was originally published in 1941 in The Guardian, a religious newspaper. In 1942, the letters were compiled and released as a book. Written as a defense of Christianity in a satirical format, the work contained 31 letters in which Screwtape, a seasoned devil, instructs a younger devil, Wormwood, on effective strategies for tempting humans and ensuring they remain on a path to eternal destruction. It would be fair to say Lewis’ Screwtape Letters characterize well the human tendency toward hypocrisy, a lack of self-awareness and introspection, and offers insights into what motivates people corrupted by sin. 

What if such a letter was written to a pastor? Below is one such letter obtained by The Midway Guardian. Stay tuned as the Editorial Board is pleased to present this and additional letters as a series:

“Screwtape”, © Philip Wagner

My Dear Pastor,

I write to you now concerning a most audacious task – a task of critical importance to the One Below. He has urged me to impress upon you the seriousness of his desire to sift the people of the Holy One as wheat. The task to which I am referring is of course the urgent matter of dividing the people of the church. You, my dear pastor, must act to split the church. I will try to remain brief but do, my friend, pay close attention as there are many steps you must consider and follow explicitly or you may not succeed at the task. 

Remember always that humans are most allured by the ordinary. The status quo. All of the steps I describe for you must be followed, but done so in a manner that keeps many unaware of what is happening to their church before it is too late. Until then, you must always preserve an aura that everything is normal, and you must dismiss those who express concerns with the ever comforting reminder to submit and simply trust the church leaders under your control… but I am getting ahead of myself. 

To split the church successfully, one must begin with subtlety. Any large scale sudden moves will awaken the faithful to our plans. Remember, my dear pastor, big things have small beginnings. A small flame must be nurtured carefully if it is ever become a raging fire. So then, start with a small group of church officers. Let your efforts smolder underneath until it reaches critical mass. You have met this objective when you can safely and consistently hold meetings outside of the church, dinners and lunches – where I warn you please hear me on this point – flattery must be your primary weapon. Continued and steady flattery is how you lure these unsuspecting officers to support your cause. Who doesn’t want to be liked and favored by their pastor? Strive to build loyalty to yourself and not the “mission” of the church’s ministry. I don’t have to tell you that to focus there might achieve the opposite outcome of what we desire. 

You will know you have succeeded at achieving critical mass of your supporters among the officers when you can safely assure yourself that you always have enough votes to win and pass any motion consistently – no matter how outlandish. Each measure passed must be promoted by you, but I beg you, never bring certain motions yourself openly in a meeting, you must use a middle man, or as I should say, a fall man. If our plot is discovered, how easy it is then, to just shift the blame to him. You must protect yourself at all costs. Each time those you control vote the way you prompt, it is an open manifestation of your power and control. Once you have obtained power and control – feed that flame. Let nothing inhibit it. Maintaining it at all costs is your primary directive.

I do not mean, my dear pastor, to make this sound easy. It will take years of hard work and dedication. You will spend countless hours grooming your officers over bourbon and cigars…But I know you are up to the task, or the One Below would not have sent me to you. 

There will, of course, be those pesky “principled” ones that may oppose you. There is no need to challenge these fools openly. Rather smile at them and reaffirm to the leadership of the church that you are a strong leader. Maybe even find some church rule books, or better yet, your own books on church government to assert that you have been charged by the Holy One to lead as you see fit, and cannot be slowed down or troubled by achieving consensus. Twist the rules to essentially say you can do whatever you want. Make sure your controlled officers affirm this and repeat it often. 

Hear me dear friend on this point, it matters not if there are those that oppose you as long as you know you have the majority voting for you. In this way, your supporting officers can police the troublemakers on your behalf, keeping your hands clean. This is best achieved when these other supporting officers think they are serving the Holy One as they dispense with the troublemakers who, need I remind you, oppose the status quo. Building this foundation is critical if any of the remaining steps are to be achieved with any success. Take your time, and get it right! You will need your supporters to discredit and push forward the remainder of our agenda. If that means “packing the court” locally – so be it.

Those who oppose you will likely be officers at first. Their discernment may prove to be your greatest obstacle as your supporters won’t have any, which is of course, why they are susceptible to supporting our cause in the first place. You must control the dialogue and processes to squelch the efforts of discerning pests. Jargon – not argument, parliamentary procedure – not discussion, is your path. Don’t ever argue with them. They have the truth on their side and that is the one thing that could undo us. If they ever do accuse you, shift the blame and change the subject. 

Ensure your supporters are ready to gossip that the officers opposing you are trying to change the church (status quo). Appeal to the emotions of the well meaning conservatives in your midst. You may think that these conservative minded parishioners will oppose you on principle. Trust me, dear friend, experience has taught the One Below that the conservatives will fold if you appeal to their emotions with the crafty distraction of fear. These humans fear trendy ministry gimmicks, contemporary music, and homosexuality. Seed the idea that these officers want to introduce these things into the church, and you will find allies in the well meaning conservatives of the church. But, above all my dear pastor, you must apply the most damning term of all to these officers who will oppose you. Your supporters must condemn those who oppose you as having the character flaw of liberalism. You cannot apply the term “liberal” enough to these truth bearers. 

Now, my dear pastor, that you have assassinated the character of your opposition, you must not stop meeting on the side with your supporters. Reward them. Appeal to their sense of serving the Holy One by supporting you. Keep your bourbon and cigar dates on the side and your private meetings before the actual meeting to keep your supporters in your corner. You are, after all, not wasting time. Please remember that you get your salary whether you spend time securing your political position or if you focus on the “mission” of the ministry. In fact, if you can find clever ways to profit financially from ministry speaking engagements, books, or conferences at the church – by all means. These actions not only enrich yourself, but enhance your brand as a pastor.

Please work diligently on these tasks just as I have instructed you. I must go for now, for I have many other letters to write to my numerous other friends who require my guidance. In the meantime, remember – subtlety and flattery, always flattery at this stage of the process. You will hear from me again very soon with further instructions.

Your Affectionate Counselor,


This is Part I of an ongoing series presented by The Midway Guardian. You can read Part II here.