Monday, December 19, 2005

Spiritual Abuse

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:
Abusers Drive
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)



Mark said...

OK here are my thoughts.

I'm usually able to read and write at 3:45am and I don't think that today is any different. However, I'm not clear about something and I want you (soulpastor) to clarify this for me.

What exactly is your thesis? (I'm not suggesting that there needs to be a thesis, but the beginning and end of the post suggests this.)

You are of course correct that many leaders are on permanent--undeserved--ego-trips. I didn't think that this was what you wanted to be arguing for though, because after all, almost anyone who has spent much time in a church will know that these people abound.

Was the thesis that, we need to eliminate the hierarchical structure of the church? If that is the case, then you need to do more arguing because I'm not convinced of this on the basis of your post.

Is the thesis that, those who we think of as leaders--pastors, priests, elders, and other--are recognized as such for the wrong reasons. I think this is the most plausible thesis yet, given the list of features of abusers and leaders. But I'm not even sure about this. I am relatively dubious about features 1, 2, 5, and 12. Maybe it's the wording, but they just don't seem accurate.

I'm sure I could think of more candidate theses, but maybe I should just let you tell me. Maybe you will tell me that there was no thesis--as I mentioned at the beginning--, maybe you will tell me that this was just a pointily worded "observation" of the way things often seem to be. Whichever the case, I'd appreciate some clarification.

(Good seeing you again.)

SoulPastor said...

Good observations Mark B!
And it is always good to see you too!

What is the thesis? Good point, what is it?

As I said to start things off, in my world there are trigger points. It is interesting for me to see how many people are jumping on to this blog, especially people from my faith community. So, I need to be very careful with what I post because I am afraid that if I am to get more specific or pointed that someone would read into this blog and think that I am posting their story. I am not!

So what is my thesis? Ummmmm, good question…I think that it is a collection of different thoughts on the same topic…spiritual abuse…mostly by leaders in an institutional church. The most interesting thing is…I too am a leader and I wonder if people in my past/present have felt that I have “abused” or “misused” them? I think that some would answer “yes” to that! That becomes personally very interesting!

In my world, and my faith community I meet all kinds. I meet people who want to be part of a faith community but unfortunately have been so hurt by leadership that they cannot. I also meet leaders who have been hurt by “church boards” etc. and struggle when it comes to finding community that has established procedure. I also have meet numerous people who have had their life affected by a religious leader who has ….man I am thinking of four different scenarios here (None of them related) ….just made life difficult for people! When all is said and done, the leader still just continues on with life and the people are left picking up the pieces of their life. I have met people who when the ‘pastor’ had to make a decision regarding the health of the community, people perceived that as abuse, when it was not, in my opinion.

So as I look at this post I am reflecting on many different experiences all running through my head. And yet, I want to know what triggers people when I throw a post out like this. You made mention that “ I am relatively dubious about features 1, 2, 5, and 12. Maybe it's the wording, but they just don't seem accurate.”

That is great…explain your position. I would think others who check in on this blog would love to hear your viewpoint and based on their experience would give you some different insight.

Are these features accurate? I think so…there is a very fine line between when it comes to spiritual abuse and as leaders are we aware of it when we have crossed that line?

I guess this is my shotgun approach to blogdom. I pulled the trigger to see the response, now I wait to see what happens. I hope this answers your question. Does it?

Bill Kinnon said...

What if the problem isn't the "disease" but rather "the host" that feeds it? What if that host appears hardwired to promote the disease?

Let me attempt to unpack this:
One of the things that I've always found interesting in the leadership styles of many of the abusive church leaders is the way they appeal to the Old Testament. They use a Kings model of leadership, as in "thou shall not touch the Lord's anointed" (they live primarily in the KJV), surround themselves with "armour bearers", speak of "God's house" and believe their children are rightful heirs to their thrones. (They don't teach from Matthew 20 on Servant Leadership, as their idea of servant leaders is that leaders are called to be served - their favourite New Testament verses have to do with slaves obeying their masters.) Their leadership model is David, rather than Jesus.

But kings require a kingdom, people willing to submit - the "willing host" if you will. In 1 Samuel 8, Samuel (in the Message) is "crushed" by the peoples' demand for a King. The Lord tells him that they are not rejecting Samuel - they are rejecting God. And then God tells Samuel to tell the people how they will be treated: 1 Samuel 8:11-20

He said, "This is the way the kind of king you're talking about operates. He'll take your sons and make soldiers of them--chariotry, cavalry, infantry, regimented in battalions and squadrons. He'll put some to forced labor on his farms, plowing and harvesting, and others to making either weapons of war or chariots in which he can ride in luxury. He'll put your daughters to work as beauticians and waitresses and cooks. He'll conscript your best fields, vineyards, and orchards and hand them over to his special friends. He'll tax your harvests and vintage to support his extensive bureaucracy. Your prize workers and best animals he'll take for his own use. He'll lay a tax on your flocks and you'll end up no better than slaves. The day will come when you will cry in desperation because of this king you so much want for yourselves. But don't expect GOD to answer."

But the people wouldn't listen to Samuel. "No!" they said. "We will have a king to rule us! Then we'll be just like all the other nations. Our king will rule us and lead us and fight our battles."

"Our King will rule us and lead us and fight our battles," indeed!

We live in a culture of hero worshippers - a celebrity driven culture. Christians are as caught up in this as much as those outside the church. Listen to them talk about their churchs, "My pastor blah blah blah", "Well, My Pastor blah blah blah". SoulPastor, when I lived briefly in your fair city, I heard a number of people from your church speak of you in this manner - and I know you don't promote that type of hero worship. (These conversations amongst Christians often sound like a 'my Dad's bigger than your Dad' schtick.) But you are their hero, the one they look to for leadership, guidance, wisdom.

Healthy "hosts" reject "disease." They don't provide the environment for the sickness of abusive leadership to thrive. They confront, correct, love and honour those that God has placed in servant leadership amongst them. They are not fooled - these leaders are but men (and women) like themselves - capable of both good and evil - fallible, weak, broken servants of the one true King. That same King that the Israelites rejected in 1 Samuel 8. And though we celebrate his incarnation this week, we Christians often reject him no less.

Mark said...

1- Abusers Drive/Leaders Lead: Leaders very often "drive" in a good way; as well, Abusers very plausibly lead, just nit in the ideal way.

2- Abusers say “I”/Leaders say “We”: There are many contexts where Abusers say "We"; namely, when it is in their favour. Also, there are many times where Leaders will say "I." For example, in situations of confession.

5- Abusers think themselves better than others/
Leaders esteem others better than themselves
: One feature that makes me unsure about this one is what you mean by "better." If you are using it in the moral sense, then I will hold off my objection to 5. However, if you are using it with respect to organizational ability, intellectual ability, social ability, or some other ability that would be befitting of a leader, then I don't see what, exactly the fault is in 'thinking' that they are better than others. Maybe you are worried that people who think they are better than others in some particular respect will flaunt it or something, but I don't think that is at all the case.

12- Abusers know how/Leaders gently and with love show how: In order to "gently and with love show how" you first need to "know how." I have no doubt that there are very good leaders who are lacking in the gentleness side. I don't think that this automatically makes them an abuser. I take it you'd agree. This is one that I suspect had something to do with the wording, but I'll let you clarify it.

That okay as an explanation of what I think is dubious?

One final point. Here's something that I think ties in with the shotgun approach. I've known a lot of different pastors in my life (so don't try to figure out who I'm talking about, there just isn't a very good chance of success). If there are two things that drive ME crasy they are: (1) a refusal to question and consider objections to their view (here I'm talking about those who just avoid any such conversation). And, (2) those pastors who play the 'authority card'. I can think of a few occasions, but one in particular where I was having a conversation with a pastor and he made a claim. I questioned the claim and gave some reasons for doing so. Without going into details, I was told: "Mark, that's not right. I'm right."

Anyone who knows me can imagine how frusterated this made me. Honestly, exchanges like that are the sort of thing that made church annoying for me. I have been fortunate enough though to go a few places where I would never receive such an answer and I feel fortunate for that.

Maybe one thing that you meant to be asking people was:

What other 'features' or those in authority roles do you think are good and what ones do you think are bad?

Vicki A. Davis said...

I "get it," soul pastor -- I think.

Perhaps what I think you are saying is summarized in this wonderful verse in

Galatians 6:3-5

"if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load."

Also, Jesus discussed sitting at the lower table and letting others exalt you rather than self-promotion and self-exaltation.

Pride is such a creeping, sneaky thing. We often forget that it is the Spirit within us that is accomplishing great works and we are simply the vessels.

I agree 100% that often pride becomes a hindrance. In that pride, we promote ourselves to judges and masters over our brothers rather than a brother or sister.

"We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer." Romans 6:2

Pride is a sin. Legalism too profits little, "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing." Galatians 2:20-21

I want to encourage Christian commenters to include Scripture in comments -- it is the only basis for authority in meaningful discussions.

I am often bothered by how little Scripture is used in many Christian blogs, particularly comments. That is our litmus test - our basis of discussion.

I enjoyed this blog, soul pastor. It is thought provoking.

Merry Christmas!

Jordan said...

Hey. A question
You said " 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?"
I was looking at your last line there... "Can they be Christians and not go to church?"
I think that its all good EXCEPT the bible tells us that we need to have fellowship with other believers for instance:

1) 1 John 1:1-3
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
2) Hebrews 10:25
Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Do you not agree that we are to meet with fellow believers? I think the bible makes it Pretty clear.

I was wondering what you thought about this...

filletofsoul said...

Hey Jordan, I liked your answer.
If we make the assumption that a person is not a Christian because they do not attend a church, then my question is, shall we assume that any person who does attend church is a Christian? I don't like the question because it will almost always lead to some type of legalistic answer. I think the real question is, can a follower of Christ survive in our world without some kind of attachment/involvement to the body of Christ (the Church)? According to scripture, you are right Jordan, we do need to meet together as believers. Why?... for fellowship, accountability, learning/teaching, sharing our spiritual gifts, encouragement ...and the list goes on. Can this only take place on Sunday morning in a "church" building from between about 9 - 12pm? Well that can be debated.

For people who Soulpastor described as "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" The last sentence makes me wonder about the actual depth of these former church members spiritual walk. I have been tempted to leave the church scene at times as well. One the reasons that I haven't done so is because if I look at my "grievances" I can always trace it back to a person within the church and not to God. All humans have flaws. If I claim to love God and want to serve Him, I must realise that I need to "love my neighbour as myself". I'm not perfect either so why shouldn't I be able to forgive and look past another persons faults, even if they have hurt me. To leave any place with unresolved bad feelings and issues is not a good thing. Bitterness that is held on to will only destroy whatever faith a person has.

Mark said...

I just read Jordan's and Filletofsoul's posts and I want to be clear about what the question we are asking is.

I thought it was: "Is it possible to be a Christian after (1) having left the church and (2) having no intention of going back."

To this, I think that the answer is obviously "Yes." Let's put off discussion of this until we agree what question we are answering.

From reading these comments, it seems like the question is something more like: "Is it OK to be a Christian who has (1) left the church and (2) has no intention of going back."

I'm not sure I have such a straightforward answer to this. But, I want to know what question we are answering first. So, tell me please Jordan and Filletofsoul!

The Krow said...

Firstly.... I concure with your line of thought SP. I too get fired up when it comes ot misuse of scripture. I think this is a sickness we have in the church. Using God's word to manipulate the actions/reactions of others. Also Your point on use of titles to set apart pastors rings within me. Using such a label seems to imply that as a pastor you are different, almost better than. Then when we use the title to accend above the congregation and truely become set apart. But looking to Jesus he humbled himself to our level. He didn't care to be refered to as rabbi, pastor, elder, whatever title... he simply wanted to be equal with all of us.

As for your question is it possible to be a christian outside church. I would suggest yes. However our faith is enhanced and challenged by being in a church. Faith is not just a private matter, we need to be in constant communion with others to grow. I would imply my view of church here... no we don't need to be part of a traditional sunday service oriented church. But church to me is grabbing a coffee at starbucks and sharing life and speaking into the lives of other believers, church is sitting in a living room with a group of people sharing love, church is sitting in my car talking on my cellphone with another "brother/sister" and seeking to enrich and be enriched by God speaking through us. Church is Jesus sitting on a beach serving fish to the tired disciples... we cannot survive as christians outside this context.. but we can survive and be christians outside the typical idea of what church is.

filletofsoul said...

Hi Mark

I think we all agree that it is possible for a person to be a Christian and not attend church, if we see that only as something you do on a Sunday morning. It does seem by the answers given that most people would agree that some kind of involvement with other believers is necessary for spiritual life and growth. How that happens may be accomplished in various ways. So, I would say the real question we are debating is, "Can a person be a Christian if they choose not to fellowship with other believers?"

filletofsoul said...

I'd just like to throw this out there..............I am not surprised when I see pastors/evangelists abuse their authority. They have egos too. What does shock me is the number of people who still choose to follow these men/women. I know tv preachers are the easiest to attack but I will use them as examples anyway. Dateline/60 Minutes has had shows dedicated to showing us how some of these "preachers" misuse money given to their ministries. Scripture and "healing shows" are used to accomplish their own purposes and glorify themselves. In our own cities I'm sure we can all think of churches that do similar things. The church members themselves enable this. The prosperity doctrine and the "you need to have enough faith to get want you want" thinking has damaged a lot of people. After thinking about this, I have concluded that SOME of the abuse that happens within the church has to do with the McChurch idea. I believe some people are willing to accept/overlook certain types of abuse (scriptural misuse, misused funds, arrogant preachers, etc.) to get want they want out of the christianity that is being offered. It is the price they are willing to pay to have their ears tickled. Thoughts?

Anonymous said...

I am posting anonymously to protect the guilty. I have worked for a number of different pastors and what soulpastor said about pastors who are sincere, well meaning and misguided, but are abusers. Made me think of the Pharisees of Jesus day. The missed the whole point. They were so busy building their own image and kingdom, that they forgot who they were working for. GOD!!!!!
In my experience abusive Pastors are like anyone else they have issues with insecurity or hurts that drive them. Bill I have to agree it drives me nuts when Pastors shout "don't touch God's annointed" to protect themselves and do not use the verses on servant leadership. But Christians use this approach all the time. We use a Scripture to justify our decision without even touching the other one that brings balance to it. I know someone who doesn't give to charity because Jesus said "the poor will always be among you."
Bill I strongly feel that we have to respect the church leadership that are put in place and that they are commissioned by God. I had to struggle with that I was at a church where some disgruntled members asked if I would stay at that church if they forced the Sr. Pastor out. I had to think about it and pray about it. God clearly told me to walk away and leave it alone. This pastor was abusive it wasn't the system. The other two Sr. Pastors I had at that church were not abusive, in fact at one point the church council was abusive to the pastor. Abusive people will always find a way to work the system, not the other way around. There were 3 things in soulpastors list that characterized this individual.
1. They wanted to served but truly didn't serve others. They expected people to follow before they had any credibility and any traction with the people they were supposed to lead.

2. They refused to esteem others. Mark, it is ok to be the best person in the room and even to know it. John Maxwell talks about leadership and how people are drawn to the strongest leader, and rarely if even does a stronger leader follow a weaker one regardless of position. To me this is where the discipline of submission is practiced. To lead a church I believe that the Pastor should develop there skills more and more. Leadership may be a gifting but the best leaders are one who work at it. Leadership is about involving others. It is allowing people to grow and even surpass you. In a church the strongest leader in the room is not the pastor but should be Jesus Christ. I think that Pastor's who are insecure think that they have to be Jesus Christ to people. They need to lead and have their hand in everything. Pastors need to grasp that they are on "Team Jesus" not the owner of Church (insert name here) and have a role to fulfill but do not call all the shots. I see more as captain on a hockey team rather than a coach. Who should pastors pattern there ministries after. John the Baptizer, not about building our church but THE CHURCH.
By not esteeming others we keep them from growing and we maintain control. Many pastors i know who abuse don't do this out of malice but out of insecurity. Because they are the same Pastors who complain that they can't ever find volunteers.
Finally this person was about the blame not the solution. This pastor told the church, when they had a budget problem, that this isn't my mess, it is your problem. Continually complained about what they had inherited from the previous Pastor.
This concludes my rant, the nice thing about posting anonymously is that you can abuse people without fear of reprisal. I am just kidding I don't read anonymous notes passed to me at church, I just want to write as someone who has experienced this kind of abuse without having to name names. Merry Christmas

Mark said...

Okay, so suppose the question is:

"Can someone be a Christian and choose to not commune with other Christians?"

The post by 'the krow' suggest that the answer is no and the post by filletofsoul implies that the answer is no--after all, if it really is necessary to commune with other Christians, then it follows that there is no way that someone could be a Christian and not commune with other Christians.

I disagree. Let us be clear what I need to show in order to defend the other answer--namely, yes. In order for me to defend the yes answer, I need to describe a case where someone either doesn't have any communion with other Christians and yet continues to be a Christian or where someone chooses to not commune with other Christians and continues to be a Christian. (Note, that if I can describe the a case that satisfies the second disjunct, then I will have also described one that satisfies the first.)

Describing someone who satisfies the first condition is very easy. Imagine the Christian hermit or the isolated Monk. We can easily imagine both of these individuals having a very close and intimate relationship with Christ (that is what it means to be a Christian right?). But, by circumstance of their isolation, neither the hermit nor the isolated Monk communes with other Christians. (If you want, it is easy to imagine that both of these individuals choose this life of isolation.)

Describing the person who is not isolated from other Christians, chooses to not commune with them, and yet is still a Christian is a little harder, but not very hard I think. I'll give two cases. (1) There are many people who struggle with depression. In fact, there are many Christians who struggle with depression. It doesn't seem very difficult to imagine that there is a person who loves Christ and yet can't motivate themselves to get out of bed other than for work. So that you don't say: "but that is not them choosing to not commune with other Christians" let us also suppose that the reason this person can't be motivated to get out of bed is that the thought of talking to others about Christ is too much. I don't see any reason to say that this person is not a Christian simply because they have this disposition. I'm not defending the rationality of this decision, just that there could be such individuals. (2) We can imagine someone who loves Christ and yet has a hard time loving the Christians around her. Suppose that our subject is a very attractive and intelligent woman and that, by circumstance she has ended up in a community where all of the Christians are men who happen to also be very dim (intellectually) compared to our subject. Not only are these men dim, but they are shameless as well. When our subject comes around, they all want to "pray" with her and talk to her about her "faith." I can easily imagine such a woman choosing to not commune with these Christians; in fact, I'd recommend to her that she not.

If these examples are possible and you agree that the individuals in them are Christians (if you don't agree that they are, then I really really want to see an argument for why they aren't), then you should not claim that comuning with other Christians is necessary.

This is basically the reason why I thought that the question should be: "Is it OK to be a Christian who has (1) left the church and (2) has no intention of going back." Before answering this question something needs to be said about what we mean by "OK" here. For example, do we mean "morally OK" or do we mean "not harmful" or do we mean something else. This is actually what I'm not sure about. I think that I can give a good answer for any one of these disambiguations of, "OK," but I really don't know which one people are interested in. So, that's what I want to know.

XinaH. said...

To respond to Mark's question "Is it OK to be a Christian who has (1)left the church and (2) has no intention of going back" I will give three interpretations of 'OK', one at a time, and then answer the question in light of the given interpretation.

If OK means "the Christian will not lose his/her salvation" then of course the answer is yes. In order to be saved you need to confess and repent of your sins and believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. There is no requirement to remain in a community in order to retain one's salvation. Thus you can be a hermit monk and a Christian, as was mentioned above.

If 'OK' means "It is not sinful to do such and such" then the answer is much more difficult, because the answer depends on your motivation. In the cases you mentioned (the depressed Christian, and the intellectual Christian Woman surrounded by a bunch of male morons) these people obviously have good reason to not go to church (although the depressed person should definitely seek SOME help SOMEWHERE). But what about people who leave the church because they don't want to be told that they are doing something wrong? They are avoiding the church so they don't have to change--in such cases it seems that such people are 'not ok'. (This is not meant to criticize those who leave the church because they have been hurt by hypocrisy or some awful behavior by the other church memebers--although they cannot draw conclusions about the nature of EVERY church on the basis of ONE or a few churches).

If "OK" means "Not harmful" then one needs to consider (1)potential harm to oneself and (2) potential harm to others. As far as (1) goes, by cutting oneself off from other Christians, one is potentially losing major benefits such as mutual encouragement, a loving environment, and a supportive structure to help one through hard times (notice that I said POTENTIALLY, because many churches are not anywhere near this sort of environment). As far as (2) goes, one could be a potential stumbling block (why should I go to church if you don't go), plus other Christians could miss out on one's unique talents and insights into one's relationship with Christ. In short there seem to be a number of harmful consequences that can result from permanently leaving the church. In the cases that you mentioned above however, perhaps the Christian is justified in not communing with other Christians, but they are certainly not better off than those Christians who belong to a healthy church environment like the one I mentioned above.

Ok I'm typed out. I'm sure there are problems with what I said. Let me know.

SB said...

On the subject can you be a Christian and not go to church, We can look back to early examples from the early church in the form of Monasticism. One type of Christian monasticism was Eremetic Monasticism which meant "Solo Worship" These people were refered to as hermits and they led lives away from people praising and worshiping God by themselves and not in a community setting. This form of monasticism thrived and essentially kept the word if God alive through times of great persecution.

Sometimes i think the church is filled with so much Sin that it would be alright to live a life like this, a life that is truely devoted to God. I know the church is there for the forgiveness of sins but so is God. I dont see why we need church to be in relationship with Jesus. We dont need the church to be in community either we can be in community outside of the church as well. When you are in community at church, besides for the singing before the message, the only talking people do is about the things that happened the night before or how the job is going. Rarely in my conversations with people do we talk about God. So is this community any different than normal daily life, and if it isnt then why would we have to go to church then?

Right now i have no idea if i should go to church or not. Im finding that what i learn in church i can learn in the Bible, i can dig deep into the bible at home, i cna be in community with people at school and at work. To christians the interpretation of the Bible varies from persons to person based on how deep someone percives what it says, it seems that the Bible is one book with a Billion interpretations. Is the Bible right becuase of what i percieve it to be or is it right accroding to what my pastor percieves it to be. He is no higher than i am so what interpretation should i take.

Lately i have been struggling with the concept of what Christianity really means. So many christians with so many beliefs that vary from christian to christian, it seems that there are starting to be more and more faiths popping up. I guess thats where Denominations came about :)

But it seems people in one demoniation have varying views on what their denomination follows and believes, it is very strange.

I dont know if i am the only one who thinks this but some insight would be nice, thanks.


SoulPastor said...

Umm..... SB
I sometimes let this blog handle itself...but here is some food for thought in regarding your comment that "what you learn in church, you can learn in the bible."

So, what you are telling me is that my 11 plus years of biblical study is useless? That I should just quit being a pastor and go into the medical field and be a dentist because I found a text book and everything I need to know is in a text book?

I don't know if I am the only one who thinks this but some insight would be nice, thanks.

mb said...

As I have been reading these postings there is one question screaming in my head. How can healthy churches help these people?

The reason I ask is because I know what it feels like to try to re-engage a church after having fled from a bad church experience. I didn’t find resources within churches to help me heal from this. I would hear things such as “just forgive.” Forgiveness is certainly part of the process but doesn’t bring healing in and of itself. No one would ever counsel someone who had experience another type of abuse that way.

I don’t blame churches for struggling with this. In abstract, spiritual abuse seems pretty clear cut. However when you start talking about actual churches and actual people it isn’t as black and white. Everyone responding to this blog posting has been very careful not to identify the churches they are talking about. So when someone comes into a new church the leadership struggles to acknowledge what happened was wrong because they don’t want to speak badly about another church, or they don’t ask enough questions to separate someone who has been through this kind of experience from those who are just being consumers.

All of the people I know who have left a faith community because they perceived an abuse of power have not been able to really successfully reintegrate into another church community. They have either not gone back to church or they remain on the fringe, not fully engaged. They walk around silenced because no one will really listen.

To me a great line of defense against this is to have these people healed from this experience and helping to fight against it. Isn't there a way to help people process this in a more healthy manner? I think churches need these people back.

filletofsoul said...

to sb....
I have had many struggles with the christianity thing as well. Why are there so many interpretations of scripture? Why are certain books/letters included in the Bible we have today and not others? Why does traditional christianity have certain doctrines that I can't clearly see in the Bible but have been taught to believe? Here is what I can share with you though...

The church is not for the forgiveness of sins. Only through Christ can our sins be forgiven. The purpose of the church is to glorify God. Within the church body, teaching is given, encouragement is shared among fellow believers and corporate worship strengthens our faith. Although there are some negative things that may happen in a church, the postive influence a healthy church provides far outweighs the bad.

You said, "Im finding that what i learn in church i can learn in the Bible, i can dig deep into the bible at home,..... the interpretation of the Bible varies from persons to person based on how deep someone percives what it says, it seems that the Bible is one book with a Billion interpretations. Is the Bible right becuase of what i percieve it to be or is it right accroding to what my pastor percieves it to be. He is no higher than i am so what interpretation should i take."

Read this:

"Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." Acts 17:11

These people were listening to PAUL and they still checked to see if what he was saying lined up with what Scripture said! I love that! I'm so happy that line is included in our Bible. We need to check with the Bible to see if what we hear lines up with God's Word. I think it is great that you can dig deep into your Bible at home. Here's the catch....are you studing your Bible at home? There is no substitute for personal study of the scripture. Unfortunately, my guess would be that most "Christians" DO NOT make personal Bible study a priority in their lives.

Having said that, I would also guess that most pastors would be overjoyed if some of the people who attended their services (OOPS! "Gatherings") would come prepared with a bit more knowledge of the scripture. How many times do you see people in church without their Bibles? (side question) They are not there to only give us information, but also to challenge and or confirm to us what we already have gleaned from scripture. The insight and wisdom that come from a pastor who has devoted years of his life to study and personal spiritual growth are invaluable. Even though I do know what my Bible says and have taken time to study many different ideas and topics presented in the Bible, I do not consider that equal to what the pastor of my church has gained through the years he has invested in formal education of the scriptures. Besides, even if you could possibly get all the info you wanted from the Bible on your own, listening to another person can open up opportunities for you to maybe see something you have read before in a new way. It can challange you to re-evaluate what you believe and it can assure you that how you perceive what you have read is accurate. I passionately believe that God speaks through the leaders/pastors of my church. As a result of the teaching I hear I am motivated to continue to study and learn more. I hope that is the conclusion you will come to as well.

johnniecomelately said...

Getting in on this a bit late... but let me go back to the original post on spiritual abuse. I have enjoyed the diverse opinions expressed on this blog.

I have been working in the corp. world for years as well as having spent considerable time in full time christian service.

Have seen many of my colleagues, (in their persuit for power) begin to substitute their lack of "influencial leadership" for "positional leadership" in order to impose their (abuse) will on their subjects... something that happens in the board room as well as behind pulpits.

John E.E. Dalberg, in one of his historic quotes... said that "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely".

I believe that many of us have struggled with the "touch not the annointed" scripture that Bill eluded to earlier. Oft-times scripture is used as a tool... mis-quoted, as a means to an end.

We, of course pray for our leaders, asking God to impart devine wisdom on them, protecting their hearts. However, after many years in christian service, it is clear to me that the pursuit of "power" is an addiction just like any other, and is just as destructive... if misued.

Soulpastor, I refer to an article sent to me by one of your regular contributors, where-in the author describes a disorder called narcissism... (an addiction/love for ones self.)

As I read these lines, I self examined my own values and motives in leadership... and identified with issues that seem to be more apparent today in church, corp. & govt. than ever before, (Q)...or are we simply more courageous in voicing our observaions? (THOUGHTS)

Prefex: I am a firm believer in local church and pastoral leadership...

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Author: Sam Vaknin
Published on: May 1, 2004

The narcissist is the guru at the center of a cult. Like other gurus, he demands complete obedience from his flock; his spouse, his offspring, other family members, friends,, and colleagues. He feels entitled to adulation and special treatment by his followers. He punishes the wayward and the straying lambs. He enforces dicipline, adherence to his teachings, and common goals. The less accomplished he is in reality - the more stringent his mastery and the more pervasive the brainwashing.

The - often involuntary - members of the narcissist's mini-cult inhabit a twilight zone of his own construction. He imposes on them a shared psychosis replete with persecutory delusions, "enemies", mythical narratives, and apocalyptic scenarios if he is flouted.

The narcissists control is based on ambiguity, unpredictability, fuzziness, and ambient abuse. His ever-shifting whims exclusively define right versus wrong, desirable and unwanted, what is to be pursued and what to be avoided. He alone determines the rights and obligations of his desciples and alters them at will.

The narcissist is a micro-manager. He exerts control over the minutest details and behaviors. He punishes severely and abuses whitholders of information and those who fail to conform to his wishes and goals.

The narcissist does not respect the boundaries and privacy of his reluctant adherents. He ignores their withes and treats them as objects or instruments of gratification. He seeks to control both situations and people complulsively.

He stongly disapproves of others' personal autonomy and independence. Even innocuous activities, such as meeting a friend or visiting one's family require his permission. Gradually, he isolates his nearest and dearest until they are fully dependent on him emotionally, sexually, financially, and socially.

He acts in a patronizing and condescending manner and criticizes often. He alternates between emphasizing the minutest faults (devalues) and exaggerating the talents, traits, and skills (idealizes) of the members of his cult. He is widly unrealistic in his expectations - which legitimizes his subsequent abusive conduct.

The narcissist claims to be infallible, superior, talented, skillful, omnipotent, and omniscient. He often lies and confabulates to support these unfounded claims. Within his cult, he expects awe, admiration, adulation, and constant attention commensurate with his outlandish stories and assertions. He reinterprets reality to fit his fantasies.

His thinking is dogmatic, rigid and doctrinaire. He does not countenance free thought, pluralism, or free speech and doesn't brook criticism and disagreement. He demands - and often gets - complete trust and the relegation to his capable hands of all dicision-making.

He forces the participants in his cult to be hostile to critics, the authorities, institutions, his personal enemies, or the media - if they try to uncover his actions and reveal the truth. He closely monitors and censors information from the outside, exposing his captive audience only to selective data and analyses.

The narcissist's cult is "missionary" and "imperialistic". He is always on the lookout for new recruits - his spouse's friends, his daughter's girlfriends, his neighbors, new colleagues at work. He immmediately attempts to "convert them to his "creed" - to convince them how wonderful and admicable he is. In otherwords, he tries to render them sources of narcissistic supply.

Often, his behavior on these "recruiting missions" is different to his conduct within the "cult". In the first phases of wooing new admirers and proselytizing to potential "conscripts" - the narcissist is attentive, compassionate, emphatic, flexible, self-effacing, and helpful. At home, among the "veterans" he is tyrannical, demanding, willful, opinionated, aggressive, and exploitative.

As the leader of his congregation, the narcissist feels entitled to special amenities and benefits not accorded the "rank and file". He expects to be waited on hand and foot, to make free use of everyone's money and dispose of their assets liberally, and to be cynically exempt from the rules that he himself established (if such violation is pleasurable or gainful.)

In extremem cases, the narcissist feels above the law - any kind of law. This grandiose and haughty conviction leads to criminal acts, incestuous or polygamous relationships, and recurrent friction with the authorities.

Hence the narcissist's panicky and sometimes violent reactions to "dropouts" from his cult. There's a lot going on that the narcissist wants kept under wraps. Moreover, the narcissist stabilizes his fluctuating sense of self-worth by deriving narcissistic supply from his victims. Abandonment threatens the narcissist's precariously balanced personality.

Add to that the narcissist's paranoid and schizoid tendencies, his lack of introspective self-awareness, and his stunted sense of humor (lack of self-deprecation) and the risks to the grudging members of his cult are clear.

The narcissist sees enemies and conspiracies everywhere. He often casts himself as the heroic victim (martyr) of dark and stupendous forces. In every deviation from his tenets he espies malevolent and ominous subversion. He, therefore, is bent on disempowering his devotees. By any and all means.

The narcissist is dangerous.

More about this topic here:

Soulpastor, how do we handle families that feel caught in similar situations?

Often our contemporary/emerging church leaders resist traditional form of accountablility (even those leaders who have elected advisory boards.) Many leaders simply feel that people can vote with their feet - and if they don't like it, they can simply move on.

(Q) Should they move on... or should they prayerfully and courageously champion change? (THOUGHTS?)

I have, in past, taken courage from Ezek: 34 (read the whole chapter)... in particular vs's 11 - 17. two cents / maybe three.

Paula said...

I went to an abusive church for ten years before I realised it wasnt healthy, I have since left that fellowship and am now attending another church but am really struggling with it for many reasons, I am about to give up, and have been suffering with alot of depression, How do I get better?

SoulPastor said...


It is important that you receive professional counselling. There are some great Chirstian counsellors out there who can help. Too often people try to control thier situations and they just can't. Get professional help and find a safe, caring Christian community.