Posts Tagged ‘spiritual abuse’

There have been few things more damaging to the church’s witness than how it has handled moral failure among its leaders. Not simply that there has been moral failure – that is damaging enough – but how it is then handled by the church. Too many times it has simply added to the pain and disdain. Whether pedophiles, serial adulterers, or those who misuse church authority and discipline, headlines and blogs are filled with outrage and indignation over not simply the acts, but the church’s response. So why do so many churches bungle moral failure among leaders?

Many churches today are experiencing numbers that are declining and conflict within itself because its leaders exercise a level of authority over the members that Jesus himself urged not to be so. This has resulted in members becoming frustrated and apathetic about their role in the body of Christ.

A wise man once said, “If you’re a leader and no one is following, you’re just out for a walk.” Success rises and falls with leadership. A church leader must be involved with his or her people. If involvement does not take place, the Church will not grow. I have seen too many instances where leaders have become more concerned with authority, power and control than how they can be a servant and true shepherd to the people who are a part of their flock. Members become frustrated; they don’t really feel that their opinions really matter because they have no say in what happens.

The most dangerous leader in churches is the person, who by reason of insecurity or lack of leadership skills, demands a particular level of authority and control over the church that was never intended. In fact, Jesus prohibited the use of this kind of authority. Anytime you hear people talk about “not speaking against God’s anointed,” watch out! Just because a person is a church leader does not qualify them as God’s anointed! If you have used those words, please consider what it might mean. God may very well call a man to a special office and give him a special anointing to carry out that office. But the role of the pastor is to be a shepherd who leads, and not one who drags the flock, or pushes them. Yes, they may need to spiritually prod according to God’s Word, but never are they instructed to Lord over the flock. (I Peter 5:3)

Who’s voice are you listening to?

True leadership is about influence, not authority. As Jesus said, “The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” (John 10:3-5)

When sheep hear a shepherd’s voice they know it will lead them to cool waters, green pastures and his protection at night. They know their shepherd “goes on ahead of them.” He doesn’t drive them like cattle. It’s interesting that right after Jesus said those words in John 10 about shepherding, John commented on the fact that “Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.” (v6) Sadly, too many leaders today don’t understand it either. If you’re a pastor and wondering why you seem to be embroiled in constant conflict and your members don’t seem to be following you, Jesus gives the answer: “They don’t know your voice!”

We need to know Him

There are two Greek words for “know”. The word “ginosko” speaks of a surface knowledge, a simple understanding. But the other word “horad” speaks of a deep, intimate knowledge. I have many friends and neighbors who “know” (ginosko) me, but my wife really “knows” (horad) me. She has a deep, intimate knowledge of me that very few other people have.

The first century Church had this deep, intimate knowledge of God and grew at breakneck speed. Yet at the same time, the level of personal care and love for their fellow believers grew also. “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. ” (Acts 4:32-35)

Can the same be said of the Church today? Are we growing, both spiritually and numerically, as the early Church did? Sadly, in most cases, no. So back to my original question, “What has happened to the Church today?”

The problem is that too many people have only two ideologies about the Church today. If your ideology is worldly, you’ll have a set of core values that are probably pretty warped, and focused on the pleasures you can receive in life, reflected in your beliefs, actions and experiences.

The other option is having an ideology of the Church as an institution. For too many people their ideology of the Church has changed from the Church as the body of Christ, to the Church as an institution. If your ideology is the Church as an institution, the core values that you develop will eventually lead to overpowering controlling leaders, negative atmospheres, declining numbers, maintaining the status quo and uninvolved members who are content to sit through stiff and lifeless worship services. You’ve seen it. You might even be experiencing it right now.

So what’s the answer? We need to get our focus, our ideology, back to Jesus, our Messiah. When we do, our core values will change. We will begin to value serving others, living to please God, and understanding that we have been uniquely gifted for ministry. We will begin to see the Church as one body, and not as just belonging to our own particular denomination. Our worship will take on a whole new meaning, our involvement will become a natural expression of our desire to please God, and our leadership will become focused on shepherding a body of believers rather than managing them.

Once our focus comes back in line where it needs to be, our churches will no longer be a diverse group of denominations, but we will truly be on our way to true revival and becoming the Church that God intended!

Some of the most well-known and widely accepted religious cults have been accused of using mind control to bring their followers into mental and emotional bondage. It sometimes becomes so powerful that the followers seem to lose the ability to think for themselves. Many mainstream denominations warn its members to be wary of groups that they consider to be religious cults.

Below are some warning signs of a religious cult that are posted on several “Christian” websites:

PRIVATE REVELATIONS AND INTERPRETATIONS WITH GOD’S WORD: Private revelation and interpretations are added to the Word, and sometimes substitute it. Passages contradictory to the orthodox beliefs are twisted and taken out of their context. Strong emphasis is placed upon certain passages making them their thrust in ministry. While other pertinent scriptures on essentials and practice is completely ignored. Bible scholars who give a different interpretation from them are ignored or ridiculed.

MISPLACED LOYALTY: Loyalty is nurtured and even demanded. Loyalty for Christ is replaced by an organization, church or leader. Because authority is usually from an individual or a group, one is asked if they will be loyal to God confusing the member that to be loyal to a person or group means the same.

ISOLATION:Members are discouraged to have contact with other ministries or Christians that could influence them. And are discouraged to read other books if they oppose their views. Members are kept so busy that they don’t have time for life outside of the cult. A cult leader will try to persuade you to reduce or eliminate altogether outside friendships and even family. Many times the leader or cult group will drive a wedge between the family unit by coercing them into separating them from family activities.

MOTIVATIONAL TEACHING: Techniques designed to stimulate emotions, usually employing loud speaking or music with group participation, group dynamics are used to influence responses. You become overwhelmed with smiling faces and handshakes and hugs with unconditional friendship. Those who were newly invited will be asked how they liked it and told how much fun they have and what they have to offer. They will immediately become your best friend and want to know when you’re coming back.

A DOUBLE STANDARD: There is one standard for the followers and another for the leaders. The leaders are allowed to do almost anything wrong while others will be rebuked and made examples of if they do the same things. Cult leaders exalt themselves, requiring the followers to serve them or the church’s program.

RULES OF SILENCE: They do not allow members to disagree with the church authorities — especially the pastor or your spirituality and loyalty will be questioned. Silence becomes a fortress wall of protection; many will shield the pastor’s position of power from any scrutiny or challenge. If one questions what is said or the rules they are seen as being against them and God.

PRIDE OF THEIR CHURCH: We are the only ones who are right. If you are not one of us, then you are destined for hell. Correct doctrine is used by them alone to the exclusion of any others; they alone have the truth so one must join them to be saved.

DISTORTED RULES ON TITHING: Members are asked make a commitment to give and keep their obligation. More and more money is needed to attain higher degrees of spirituality and submission to God. Give to get back from God, the more you give the more God will give back.

INTIMIDATION:  Intimidation and accusation are the most often used. For example, any questioning of authority is treated as rebellion, and not trusting. They suppress questions and encourage members to conform to the group’s behavior. Critical thinking is discouraged being called prideful, sinful or rebellious. No independent thinking is encouraged and they may reply with comments like, “Satan is the cause of all doubt; he is keeping you from the Truth.”

Controlling Leadership: For abusive cults, the key word is control, control, control. By submitting to the leadership – leaders tend to be the absolute end. It can take time for them to gain power over the new convert, but it will eventually be there. Control is usually overwhelming and can cover most aspects of the followers’ lives: Dress codes, activities, finances, time, possessions and relationships. They can dictate to the member who to see, what to do, what the right thing to say is, and how to say it. Various degrees of control can be experienced, from subtle manipulation to blatant ordering.

These “cults” will expect rigid obedience of the members’ time and activities – involving their followers in physically and emotionally draining activities leaving little time for privacy and reflection, or questioning their authority. They expect, (and at times demand) that members show up when everyone else does, and everything is usually done in groups. The methods of control which are used are usually fear of displeasing God, the leader, or both. Fear of rejection, punishment, losing one’s salvation, missing the rapture, going to hell. Guilt, fear, and intimidation are weapons used to maintain their loyalty and devotion to the group.

Members may experience:

  • A marked mental or emotional weakness, compliance, and a sense of servitude.
  • Flattery that is used to puff up in order to make them feel accepted and valued.
  • Being asked to spy on other members and report on their lives.
  • Manipulation of their emotions and downplaying their feelings as unimportant or in error.
  • Being unable to visualize a positive, fulfilled future without being in the group for fear of punishment or consequences.
  • Being reprimanded for not participating in every meeting or activity for fear that their loyalty will be questioned.

You may have noticed a lot of similarities between the tactics mentioned above and the church where you worship at. Unfortunately, these tactics of spiritual abuse are not limited to only religious cults but are also used in many churches that are considered by most to be mainline denominations.

Spiritual abuse is a growing trend in many religious organizations across the country. There are many reasons that religious leaders would stoop to these tactics: Lust for power; spiritual delusions; or fear of losing their congregation are only a few. But whatever the reason, we must be on guard so as not to fall into the spiritual abuse trap.

The Lord Jesus does not want you to participate in a church where fear and intimidation is used. From scripture we know that his desire is for us to freely choose him as Savior. What kind of relationship would the Lord have with you if you felt forced or coerced to love him?

The Lord wants us to live in freedom.

“I will say to the prisoners, ‘Come out in freedom,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Come into the light.’ They will be my sheep, grazing in green pastures and on hills that were previously bare.”   – Isa 49:9

“I will walk in freedom, for I have devoted myself to your commandments.” -Ps. 119:45

 “For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” – 2 Corinthians 3:17

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” – Galatians 5:1

“He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.” – 1 Tim. 2:6

So how can you protect yourself from becoming involved in spiritual abuse?

  • Study to know the Bible.
  • Question and compare all teachings to the Scriptures.
  • Be sure all the teaching and practices are in agreement with the Scriptures.
  • If you find yourself in a place where spiritual leadership is abusive, then walk away and find a place where the true Gospel is taught.

In Galatians 1:6-9 we read, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”