There are always trigger points to this blog and now it is time to change the subject because I have been pulled! So here it goes…I don’t know about you, but I am increasingly alarmed at how pervasive the problem of spiritual abuse is in the church is and how often it is accompanied by overt and covert forms of legalism. I am also increasingly concerned at how frequently I meet de-churched Christians, those that have simply dropped-out of church. I have discovered that there really are spiritually battered Christians who do not go to church and who have no intention of doing so. They are usually former church members who readily cite long lists of grievances… BUT can they be Christians and not go to church?
Why do Christian leaders abuse others in the name of the Lord? I am convinced that most religious exploitation stems from well-meaning, though certainly misguided, church leaders. Regardless of the purity of their motives, spiritual domination and repression still causes injury and sometimes it is permanent.
The modern church, seems to insist on venerating its leaders -- or perhaps, more accurately, leaders venerate themselves -- to exalted offices. Why do ministers assume elitist roles? Why do “studied” leaders regularly corrupt terms like "the anointing," "the calling" and "authority" to infer that their offices and spiritual giftings are an exclusive biblical gift and that they, because of some special empowerment, are somehow exceptional?
It is interesting that ministers have, over the centuries, set themselves apart from regular people from simple things such as vestments and collars, to designer Armani suits with Versace neckties. To further reinforce an assumed privileged status many commonly employ, self-inflated, titles as "Reverend," "Bishop," " "Elder," "Prophet," even "Apostle" or, my favorite "First Lady." While there is probably nothing wrong with using such terms to identify one’s function or ministry, using them as titles of special rank does after all Jesus said (Matthew 23) "Don’t ever let anyone call you ’Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are on the same level as brothers and sisters. And don’t address anyone here on earth as ’Father,’ for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. And don’t let anyone call you ’Master,’ for there is only one master, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." I don’t know about you, but that seems crystal clear to me.
Another even more disturbing common denominator identifying spiritually abusive churches and leaders is their paranoid penchant for concealment. They often hide executive decisions and operations behind masks of secrecy. Financial records and administrative decisions are often hidden from questioning minds.
Loyalty to the leaders and conformity to the rules of the organization are repeatedly stressed and all decisions regarding expenditures and policy are left to the wisdom and discretion of the "anointed" few. Clear lines of authority, complete with flow charts, are drawn and reinforced, usually by the person at the top of the list.
But for me, the more serious still is the flagrant and frequent misuse of scripture used by leaders to support their claim to privilege. This, despite the New Testament’s clear instruction that those who lead are, first and foremost servants. "We don’t go around preaching about ourselves; we preach Christ Jesus, the Lord. All we say about ourselves is that we are your servants because of what Jesus has done for us." (2 Corinthians 4.5).
The misuse of scripture for one’s own selfish ends invariably cultivates a climate of legalistic control and, sadly, fosters unnecessary, and sometimes destructive, guilt among members who fail to attribute proper "honor" to their leader.
Brennan Manning, in the Ragamuffin Gospel delivers a knockout blow to the modern Church when he writes, “No great sinners exist than those so-called Christians who disfigure the face of God, mutilate the gospel of grace, and intimidate others through fear. They corrupt the essential nature of Christianity.” Ouch!
Here is a profile that may help you to better recognize spiritual abuse:
Leaders Lead (John 10:11-15).
Abusers say “I”
Leaders say “We” (1 Corinthians 3:5-9)
Abusers insist on being served
Leaders Serve (Matthew 23:11)
Abusers govern by guilt and fear
Leaders create trust (1 Thessalonians 2:10-11)
Abusers think themselves better than others
Leaders esteem others better than themselves (Philippians 2:3)
Abusers control by guilt and manipulation
Leaders influence by example (Philippians 3:17)
Abusers reply on the power of authority
Leaders rely on the power of Servanthood (Matthew 20:25)
Abusers make service and ministry a grind
Leader make the work worthwhile (Nehemiah)
Abusers serve themselves and their goals
Leaders serve others (1Corinthians 9:19)
Abusers wield authority
Leaders empower people (2 Timothy 2:2)
Abusers fix blame
Leaders fix mistakes (Philemon 18-19)
Abusers know how
Leaders gently and with love show how (Exodus 18:17)