Facing Spiritual Abuse
When people first attend a church and then continue to attend,
it is usually because of some very positive things-- the
services, the people, the music, the message, the fellowship, or
the atmosphere. Whatever it is, there is some positive element
that makes people return and in time invest themselves in a
How shocking and unexpected it is when aspects of spiritual
mistreatment or abuse then come into view! Spiritual abuse
occurs when a person in a position of spiritual authority
misuses his or her position. Instead of serving those being led
and directing them towards God, they are used for some other
end. This can include a wide variety of behaviors, from
harshness to outright mistreatment, from subtly controlling
everything to the advancement of an agenda of the leader or the
leader's personal prestige without regard for the well-being of
People in a church environment have a reasonable expectation
that leadership will point them to God and what is right in his
eyes, not to take their honest desire to serve God and exploit
it to bolster the power or control of the leader or the church
system and leave them empty.
Other authors have defined spiritual abuse in these ways:
Spiritual abuse is the mistreatment
of a person who is in need of help, support or greater
spiritual empowerment, with the result of weakening,
undermining or decreasing that person's spiritual empowerment.
That's a broad view. Let's refine that with some functional
definitions. Spiritual abuse can occur when a leader uses his
or her spiritual position
to control or dominate another person. It often involves
overriding the feelings and opinions of another, without
regard to what will result in the other person's state of
living, emotions or spiritual well-being. ... Power is used to
bolster the position or needs of a leader, over and above one
who comes to them in need. (The
Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, David Johnson and Jeff
VanVonderen, 20-21; italics in original)
Spiritual abuse happens when a leader with spiritual authority
uses that authority to coerce, control or exploit a follower,
thus causing spiritual wounds. (Healing
Abuse, Ken Blue, p. 12)
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: "The
teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So
you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not
do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.
They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but
they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their
phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they
love the place of honor at banquets and the most important
seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the
marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.' (Matthew
This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I
come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authorityóthe
authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for
tearing you down. (2 Corinthians 13:10)
Further, it is important to note that spiritual abuse can happen
with or without the intent to cause harm. It is the end result
Beyond the basic characteristics, there are some very real
dynamics about spiritual abuse that need to be candidly
discussed. I write of these, unfortunately, from personal
Not Everybody May See the
Abuse, But That Doesnít Mean It Isnít Real
I remember my first encounter with
spiritual abuse. I was relatively new member of a congregation
and the campus minister was being forced to resign. I had
nothing but positive experiences with this man. He taught me the
Bible, he baptized me, he gave me great advice at various times
and helped me get connected in the church. There were complaints
about his methods, the place where he had received his ministry
training, and the program he was running. All I knew is that
everything looked fine to me. To make a long story short, a
church split ensued. I followed the campus minister with most of
the people I knew. I thought those who forced him to resign were
opposing God's work.
A year later, this minister was under fire again. This time, the
accusers of mistreatment were his most loyal lieutenants that
had come over from the previous church, as well as the elders
who had supported him during the split. I thought, what in the
world was going on? Did these people "go bad" too? I still
didn't see any problems and had largely positive experiences
with the minister. Another split ensued, and this time the
minister left town.
Later on, I found out much of what was going on from this
minister himself (who has seen the error of his ways since then)
and others. It was spiritual abuse-- making sure people
conformed to the system, not permitting questioning or
challenging of the system, excessive regulating of various areas
of member's lives, minimizing the negative effects of the
system, and using various control tactics like shaming,
humiliation and the like.
There are two points here. First, not everybody will see abuse.
Many people will not see a problem at all, all they will see is
the positive things and they will not be able to understand why
there is a problem. They will not believe anything could be
wrong. Second, abuse is frequently restricted to or most acute
with staff and lay leadership groups. Often, newer members will
not see the problems.
As a result, I responded to these initial incidents as most
people would-- defending the minister in question and his
system, and denigrating those who raised the issues.
Let me illustrate this phenomenon with another case in point.
Just this week as I'm editing this article, there has been news
of a prominent minister engaging in sexual immorality. Now
listen to some quotes from the story the day after it broke.
From church members:
The allegations stunned church
political, right before the elections," said Brian Boals, a
New Life member for 17 years.
member E.J. Cox, 25, called the claims "ridiculous."
always saying stuff about Pastor Ted," she said. "You just
sort of blow it off. He's just like anyone else in the public
Now from a pastor at the church:
But a pastor at Haggard's church
wrote an e-mail to congregants saying "he confessed to the
overseers that some of the accusations against him are true."
Though this event is about misconduct
and not spiritual abuse, this illustrates a fact about the topic
at hand. Did you notice that the
members of the church were predisposed to ridicule and disregard
the allegations? Even though they have been quickly acknowledged
as at least somewhat true (further action was later taken that largely confirmed
all of the initial allegations). Why did these members defend? Because people
naturally defend leaders they know and like. This is a bias
inherent in churches.
Now a more difficult question-- why
didn't the members say they wanted the story investigated and
facts uncovered? Or that they wanted to just know the truth?
There is no simple answer to this. I'm not a psychologist nor a
sociologist. But to me it is obvious that there are several
The Two Worlds of
- Reluctance to challenge something that is
known and comfortable-- their view of the church and its
- Misplaced loyalty to people over truth ("don't
confuse me with the facts")-- as though love and truth cannot
- Dislike for those bringing the accusations
- Value system that rates loyalty, unity,
partisanship or favoritism over truth
experience that I want share about spiritual abuse I have
personally experienced happened a few years later. I had left my
job as an electrical engineer in the defense industry and was
serving on the staff of the church as an intern minister. While
working for a church in a large metropolitan area, I was
planting what was called a "house church" in smaller city about
60 miles to the south. We regularly commuted to the larger city
for all services and the like. In the time I was doing this, I
averaged 4000 miles per month on my car.
On staff, I routinely saw others treated meanly and harshly by
the lead minister and others in his good graces. For example, I saw staff members blamed if the attendance and baptism
statistics for their group were judged to be inadequate. These
were evaluated every week, so this was a regular part of staff
meetings. Normally, no help was offered to improve the
situation, they were just blamed and shamed for the stats and
told to make them better.
I saw people prohibited from coming to
staff meetings unless they brought a "personal visitor" to
Sunday church services the previous week.
Staff members were often pitted against
another, creating jealousy and unhealthy competition instead of
unity, teamwork and brotherhood. It was a way to keep everybody
off-balance, insecure and striving to avoid getting on the lead
minister's "bad list." People were mostly motivated out of fear.
In general, nothing that any staff
member did could ever be good enough. No matter what good things
might have been done, staff members were frequently told how it
could have been better.
I saw people routinely berated and
humiliated to the point of tears over these or other things,
often quite minor, in efforts to gain their submission or
"brokenness." And if there weren't tears, they would be
further rebuked for being "hard-hearted." It was taught that if
somebody was penitent for something, there would be tears.
During the time
I was on staff (less than a year), I saw a dozen or more people
removed from the staff for financial reasons (so was said) or
for "spiritual reasons" which looked mostly like a failure to be
adequately "broken." I'll talk more about being "broken" later,
but enforcing unquestioning control and creating an atmosphere
of fear was the standard operating procedure on the staff.
What did I do when I initially saw abuse on the staff?
Worse, I started
to imitate this behavior. Let me share a few examples of some of
the harsh and abusive things I did during that time.
- I was shocked.
- I was glad it
wasn't directed against me.
- I rationalized
that this ridiculous behavior must be what "real
discipleship" is all about, and we all wanted to be "real
- I trusted the
leadership that this type of training was what it took to
become an effective minister. After all, the lead minister
was trained and mentored by the lead minster at a large,
- I thought these
people somehow deserved this mistreatment, but that I was
not getting treated that way because I was better than
- I was afraid
that if I objected, I would be next.
Once, our house church group was playing volleyball at an
apartment complex. I let one of the guys borrow my sunglasses.
After it got dark, he had put them down somewhere and couldn't
find them anymore. He came and told me, and though it was pitch
dark out and late on a weeknight, I harshly told him, "Go find
Another time, our group had a picnic. One of the young women in
the group playfully tossed some ice down my back, and I took it
as evidence that she wasn't giving me the respect I was due as
the leader. So I scolded and belittled her in front of everybody
Another time, I was going over the list of people who were
studying the Bible to become Christians. As the leader, I was
under tremendous pressure to convert and baptize people. Quite
of few of these people studying were not as eager to move
forward in studying as we expected, and I started calling them
"weenies" to the lay leaders in my group as we crossed them off
of the list of current studies. One of these other leaders later
shared with a group of 100-200 lay leaders in the main church
that we had a "weenie roast" and whittled down our number of
In addition, my whole leadership was about getting people to
perform, to make the stats better, to do what was expected. It
was not primarily about drawing people closer to God or
enriching the fellowship. I was on the hook for certain things,
and my leadership became about getting those people to do the
things I was on the hook for. I also maintained and enhanced my
control by regularly finding and addressing people's faults and
putting them down. I wasn't looking out for them anymore.
I remember once trying to get a neighbor to come to a church
event (bring visitors to events was one of the primary ways that
people were judged in this church). After showing some interest,
he decided not to go. My first thought was, "It's people like
you that get me yelled at on staff." Where was my concern for
this individual? There wasn't much. I went on staff because I
wanted to help people, but after being in this environment my
concern was now limited to whether or not he would come to an
event and join this church. Though I thought those would be the
best things for him, I didn't really care about what he wanted
or thought he needed. I didn't consider myself a mean person,
but I was practicing spiritual abuse.
I'm not blaming others for what I did, but the culture of abuse
just has a way of expanding. I learned it, I practiced it, and
then I passed it on to others.
Do you see what was happening? People getting more involved in
the church were becoming more worldly, not more godly. If not
confronted and uncorrected, this becomes the normal culture of
the church. And that is exactly what happened at this particular
Jesus talked about the principle of imitation:
told them this parable: "Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will
they not both fall into a pit? A student
is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will
be like his teacher. (Luke 6:39-40)
Something not normally discussed when
this text is brought up is the context. In context, Jesus is
telling us that people following those doing bad things will
also do bad things.
Paul also cited this phenomenon:
be misled: "Bad company corrupts good character." (1
But who would have thought that the "bad company" could be the
leadership of the church?
Little did I realize
that one day, the harshness and abuse would be amplified and
visited upon me. Shortly after these events, I wanted to get
some help in my spiritual life-- mostly because my house church
was not baptizing people as many people as was expected by the
lead minister, and it was "my fault." I had asked to get with the lead minister and some
trusted friends (all of whom were also on the staff) to talk. This was the expected behavior on my part, and several
other interns on the staff had already had similar discussions.
They were called "reconstructions." The meeting was scheduled
for midnight. Later I found out this was so my resistance would
be low, not just because of scheduling difficulties as I was led
to believe.This was a manipulative technique, pure and simple.
The lead minister-- the same one who was conducting the staff
meetings I spoke of earlier-- asked me to confess all of my past
sins. The sin list in Galatians 5:19ff was gone through like a
shopping list, with every permutation you can imagine and some
you couldn't possibly imagine. I poured out my heart to the
minister and other friends that I trusted. When I was finished
with this, the lead minister yelled at me like I was a bad dog--
no, worse than that. I would never yell at a dog the way he
yelled at me. He said I was not a Christian, and I was never a
Christian. I was told I needed to "get right with God" or else.
As he berated me, I was told I was hard-hearted and I was going
to "have to do it the hard way." The session lasted
several hours and ended up with me leaving as a bad dog who
needed to "repent."
At the next staff meeting, I was explicitly called out and reminded of others who
had also received this same treatment and had just been fired
from staff. I was warned that if I didn't "repent" I would be
gone too. I was told I couldn't
stay after the business part of the meeting because they were
going to do something fun and it "wasn't appropriate for me"
(because I wasn't being "penitent").
I was told to fast and pray, which I did. I was told to
apologize to the people I led in the house church group I had
started, which I had been removed from leading about a month
earlier. I did this also. I considered this reasonable.
However, I was also directed to wash the feet of certain
individuals in that group, which I did. Later on, I was sitting
in a meeting of about 100 or more other small group leaders, and
the sins I had confessed privately were told to that group for
the deliberate, specific purpose of denigrating and humiliating
me. Were they forgiven, or weren't they?
Since the lead minister had decreed that I wasn't a Christian,
the culmination of my repentance was being baptized "as a disciple." I had already been baptized into Christ
several years before, but that was invalidated according to the
decree of the lead minister and the distorted doctrine of
baptism in the church. Consenting to getting re-baptized was the only way to end the extreme
pressure that was on me, and that had been made abundantly clear
to me as in the threats in the staff meeting and the like. This
being baptized "as a disciple" was code
language for someone who had been "broken" (or "reconstructed"
as they also called it) in the manner I have described. One
might think I would have felt relieved after getting baptized.
Instead, I felt absolutely terrible after consenting to this
because it had violated my conscience so deeply.
A month later, I was introduced to the lead minister's
supervisor (one of the elite "world sector leaders" in that
group of churches) with the phrase, "He asked for a
reconstruction, and he got a reconstruction." The way the lead
minister said this, it sounded like a conquest or a spiritual
rape. I don't mean any disrespect to rape victims, but the
experience was that severe. That's what it felt like. It was an
extreme exercise in domination, control and violation of my
My personality type had even been
changed by the experience. I had formerly tested as a C-D on the
scale; after this experience I was a straight C. The D (the
outgoing, determined part of my personality) had been beaten out
I had seen this done to others, and now it was happening to me.
It was a living nightmare. I came looking for spiritual help and
this is what I got instead.
I wasn't the first or last one to be treated this way. We all on
staff sat there and let this abusive minister abuse us, one by
one. Some were treated slightly better, others much worse. Why
did I tolerate it?
This "divide and conquer" pattern of
abuse was specifically designed to break down and control the
staff of the church. Period. It had nothing to do with making
people more godly, love God more, understand God's love for us
more, be more effective ministers. None of that. This church had
a warped view of discipleship and Christianity, and being
humiliated and broken down beyond comprehension was part of the
- He was in
authority. (Have you ever heard of the Milgram experiments?
People tend do what those in authority say to do, regardless
of the evidence of negative effects.)
- I thought it
was God's will.
- I saw other godly
people consent to it, so I thought it must be OK.
- I didn't want
to lose my job or "fail" in the ministry. I was trapped.
In "Influence: The
Psychology of Persuasion" the author discusses harsh
initiation ceremonies that various groups have-- sports teams,
fraternities, the Marines, etc. These groups retain these
practices because those who have been through them are now "in
the club." Indeed, those of us in this particular church
movement that had been treated in this way were "in the club."
Some club! Is that the church I read about in the Bible? No, not
But there were others on the staff who never got this treatment.
Why? Were they already more godly than the
rest? Not likely. Was the leader saving the "treatment" for a
more opportune time? In most cases, yes. In other cases, they were already loyal and under control. The
mistreatment was about control.
However, even senior staff members got some of the harsh
treatment from time to time. For example, once this lead
minister admitted he deliberately did not return the phone calls
of one of these senior ministers trying to get help leading his
ministry because he was testing him to see how many times he'd
call to "get advice." Many other times, another senior minister
in the group would be berated in front of the group for the
behavior of his son, who was about seven at the time. Still
another senior minister was berated for not having sex with his
wife on Mondays, the decreed "family day" for staff members (at
least this was in a men-only group discussion). I was stunned at
the thought that this staff of bruised and beaten-up people was
then expected to minister the gospel to others.
All of this was happening behind the closed doors of staff
meetings. The membership knew nothing of it.
Now this lead minister was an abusive
bully and being on staff (and its aftermath) was the closest
thing to a living hell that I have ever experienced. However,
the rest of the church admired him and looked up to him. He was
their hero. After services, there would be lines of people
waiting to speak to him. They thought he was wonderful. People have a natural desire to love and respect their
leaders. And he played that part oh so well.
And the church was growing. About 300-400 people were baptized
in this congregation during the year I was on staff. Things sure
looked wonderful... on the outside.
I lived in a surreal world-- the public world of "isn't this
church great" and the private world of terror from abusive
behavior hanging over my head. This abuse could be unleashed on
a mere whim of the lead minister.
It's one thing for members to be reluctant about investigating
spiritual abuse, mistreatment or misconduct on the part of
ministers. It's another thing that these perpetrators and their
defenders engage in numerous tactics to obscure the facts.
Sometimes this is deliberate, sometimes unconscious, but either
way it is pathological.
After all of these experiences I described above, I spent many
years defending this movement. It's quite natural to defend
something of which you are a part and with which you identify.
However, the more I tried to defend it, the more I realized how
much it needed to change. I then spent many more years trying to
change it. For me, some minor changes had been made and I
honestly thought that if other things were just brought up "the
right way" the necessary changes would take place. I then tried
to communicate these things in "just the right way." In fact,
this website was originally started for the purpose of helping
those who had been deeply hurt and trying to address areas of
needed change in "just the right way." In time, I saw for myself
that there were some sacred cows that were never, ever going to
be given up.
Having spent years defending and addressing mistreatment and
abuse, I've been around the block a few times on diversions.
There are so many ways I've seen these diversions done, and I am
sure there are more variations. Some of these are actually quite
sophisticated. These seem to fit into 3 main categories-
minimizing, blaming the victim and creating confusion.
Blame the Victim
- Abusers can say
they are imperfect ("nobody's perfect") and therefore their
abuse is excusable.
- Abusers can
blame their mistreatment of others on how busy they are
doing "God's work."
- Abusers may
apologize for "hurts" but never take responsibility or
ownership for their part in causing the hurt; they will not
call it "sin" or "abuse."
- Abusers may
attempt to treat a series of abuses as individual instances,
fighting any attempts to view them as systemic, habitual
patterns of behavior.
- Abusers will claim that people brought these
issues up in the "wrong way" somehow.
- Abusers may
claim that those hurt are just too sensitive, not mature
enough, didn't understand what was meant, or the like.
- A clever abuser
may make sure there are plenty of people who think he is
just wonderful. He can appeal to them and make it look like
those who are accusing him of abuse are just "bitter" or
- The abused may
be accused of not strictly following Matthew 18:15-17 (bring
the matter to the person privately first). Of course,
abusers often intimidate and bully people, so there is
little likelihood that anyone will directly challenge them.
Further, these abusers are in a position of authority and
can do anything they want to any "uncooperative" people
objecting to mistreatment.
- Abusers can
claim if people had just come to them and expressed how they
felt, they would have been so sorry for the hurts that were
- Abusers may try
to associate themselves with the good work of the church, so
that holding them accountable for their actions becomes
equated with opposing or attacking the work of the church.
- Abusers may appeal to others that they are
"under the attack of Satan" when they are simply being held
- Abusers can act
hurt that these allegations have been brought against them.
They can "play the victim."
- The abuser may
appeal to the good results of his ministry-- growth,
expansion, or the like. This is an attempt to suggest that
the good outweighs the bad. But both the good and bad fruit
- The abuser may
cite Jesus' tough talks with the apostles (like his rebuke
of Peter in Matthew 16), Nehemiah's pulling out of hair of
rebels (Nehemiah 13:25) or other similar stories. The
implication here is that abusive treatment is OK and even
necessary. But was Jesus abusive? Could abuse co-exist with
Jesus' teachings regarding the leadership practices of the
Pharisees (Matthew 23)?
- Abusers may
focus on the deep frustration and hurt of abused people and
call it "bitterness." This makes them the issue instead of
the abuser's behavior and can send the entire church into
confusion. The abuser may know that if he can get others to
see how "everybody has sinned" then he is more likely to
escape consequences for his abusive behavior.
- Abusers may
have a group of influential supporters in positions of
subordinate leadership that provide favorable treatment.
They engage in a quid pro quo (this for that) type of
relationship that works something like this: the supporters
deflect all concerns raised and even do counter-attacks on
questioners as needed, and the top leader in turn
persistently endorses the positions of influence of these
influential members. When there are no checks and balances
but rather favoritism, honest and legitimate questions
somehow never make it anywhere.
- Abusers can
appeal to the concept of grace and expect forgiveness for
what they have done, without ever acknowledging wrongdoing.
However, forgiveness demands that the offense be recognized
as sin-- if something isn't a sin, there is nothing to
forgive. What abusers often mean by "forgiveness" and
"grace" is a lack of accountability for what they have done,
that past events simply be re-written or expunged from
history. If such "grace" and "forgiveness" are not given,
abusers or their unwitting defenders will speak about how
"we all need to forgive one another and if we can't do that,
we're not very Christian."
- Abusers can
implicitly or explicitly threaten staff members. Staff
members will know that if they raise questions or object to
certain behavior, their positions are in jeopardy.
Therefore, staff members may defend the top leader or the
system out of intimidation or self-interest. This doesn't
mean that staff members who defend the top leader are
corrupted, but the possibility of being compromised has to
- Abusers can say
if they are disciplined or removed for their actions, then
who will lead the church? This is an attempt to frighten or
blackmail the church from taking action.
abusers may position themselves as the solution to any
problems that their behavior has caused. For example, if the
church is discouraged by the results of their behavior, they
will claim that if they were given "free reign" they could
encourage the church and make things better.
Of course-- what matters is not all of these diversions, but what
actually happened. Do not let diversions obscure the facts.
Recently, a teacher from my daughter's
high school was arrested for assault. He is alleged to have
struck a student with a meter stick (that's a metric yardstick).
Now this teacher has taught thousands of students over his
career. Many probably found him helpful and inspiring, and there
are probably thousands of students that he didn't hit with a
meter stick. But that doesn't mean this particular incident
didn't happen or that there shouldn't be consequences for the
It is sad, but sometimes the world has a better sense of justice
and righteousness than the church. Can you imagine hearing some of these
excuses mentioned above in a court of law? "Yes, your honor, the defendant is accused of murdering
the victim. But there were hundreds of people that he clearly
did not murder. So how could he have committed this murder?
Therefore, we move for a dismissal of the charges." This might
sound absurd, but this kind of thing happens in unhealthy and
abusive church situations all the time.
Does God Sometimes Use Abuse for Good?
This is a hard section to write. I'm not condoning abuse,
and I don't believe God condones it in the least. But God
sometimes uses abusive people or situations for good. The story
of Joseph in Genesis is a primary example from the Scriptures.
Romans 8:28 also comes to mind-- God works all things for the
good of those who love him.
Personally, I was baptized in an abusive church, though I didn't
see the abuse. Later on, God used abusive treatment directed
towards me to break me of my abusive approach to ministry and
leadership. One might also say I simply reaped what I'd sown and
came to my senses.
Abusive churches or individuals may do many good things.
However, we must be very careful to attribute good results from
abusive situations or behavior to God and not the abuse. That
is-- "God used an abusive church to reach me," not "an abusive
church reached me for God." Don't give abuse credit for God's
work. Doing evil so that good may result is not of God:
Why not say--as we are being
slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we
say--"Let us do evil that good may result"? Their condemnation
is deserved. (Romans 3:8)
The Church Must "Wise Up" About Abuse and Deal With it
I've only briefly touched on my personal experiences with abuse.
I've been the naive one, the abuser, the abused, the defender,
the one trying to bring about change in the "right way" and the
advocate for the abused-- and finally the one who left because
the things that needed to change didn't change. I've
participated in this abuse thing from just about every possible
angle. Now, I seek to help the church address this problem. One
of the goals of The Barnabas Ministry is to educate people about
this phenomenon and give them tools to recover from it and
So here's some straight talk about what to do about abuse.
For the church or its leadership to look the other way on
matters of abuse and mistreatment is utterly, unbelievably
unconscionable. The weak among God's people cry out to leaders
and the church for justice and protection. It is their
obligation to act on behalf of the mistreated:
- Learn to love the truth and seek the truth. Mistreatment or abuse
might be an ugly truth-- but if it is the truth, it demands
action. The church cannot just look the other way.
- Both those who
are abused or mistreated and those who can't even conceive
that there is a problem with mistreatment or abuse need to
recognize that each other exist, and neither one is lying.
This is a critical step if a church is going to be able to
address the problem effectively.
involved must sort out the good from bad and not succumb to
black and white thinking-- that something or someone is
either all good or all bad. This is an act of maturity.
- Do not think
that those who received such treatment are different from
you. Just because it hasnít happened to you personally
doesnít mean it hasnít happened. Don't kid yourself--
it can happen to anyone, it can happen to you. In fact, you
could be next!
- If you are not
on staff or in some form of leadership, you probably won't
see the abuse.
- Abuse can
flourish on a staff, because people would have to quit their
job to get away from it. Leaving isn't an easy option,
especially to those with children or those who have limited
- If you are
friends with or loyal to someone accused of mistreating
others and you yourself haven't been mistreated, can you
look at the allegations objectively? Do you love the truth
more than your friend?
- Ethical, godly
ministers don't deliberately abuse any people. And if they should mistreat
anybody, they will be terribly sorry for having done so.
- The church
cannot demonize those who report mistreatment. What kind of church
culture is it when the mistreated or abused are ostracized
for reporting it?
- Those who have been mistreated or abused by
those in positions of spiritual authority often suffer
terrible damage and scars that can stay with them for years,
perhaps even for life. Do not minimize or underestimate how
hurtful and damaging this is to people and to a church.
- If you have been mistreated or abused by
someone in spiritual authority, get some help. Another
minister might not seem like an attractive option-- if that's
the case, consider a secular counselor that a doctor, trusted
minister or friend might recommend.
- People who
report mistreatment or abuse are risking their entire
identity in the organization.It takes a lot of courage to
bring these matters forward-- these people love truth and
the church more than the approval of others. These people
are heroes, not villains. They deserve respect, support and
love, not to be torn down or have their motives questioned.
- People who
leave the church staff reporting mistreatment should be
listened to. They have seen the inner workings, and have
effectively committed professional suicide by speaking up
and leaving. Their testimony comes with a real and
significant cost that cannot be ignored.
- Churches need
explicit policies addressing spiritual abuse. Church staffs
and lay leaders should be regularly trained in spiritual
abuse awareness, just as secular companies train employees
about sexual harassment and discrimination.
- Every church
needs a clear process in place for addressing these issues
quickly and fairly. If at all possible, unbiased/uninvolved
but spiritually mature parties should investigate these
matters (1 Corinthians 6:4, Galatians 6:2).
- If abuse or
mistreatment is proven, abusers should be relieved of their
duties immediately and the matter more thoroughly
investigated. Depending upon the severity, dismissal and/or
church discipline may be in order.
- The body does a
grave disservice to abusers when it is not uniformly
resolute in addressing the problem. Abusers need the truth
about their behavior to ever have a chance to change and
can sometimes take place between the abuser and the abused,
but it may take a long time. Other necessary steps should
not be held because this takes a long time.
- Abusers can be
forgiven, but neither reconciliation nor forgiveness should
be confused with re-establishing the trust necessary for
spiritual leadership. Trust that is broken takes a long time
and a track record of trustworthy behavior to be restored.
- Abusers should
be helped once they admit the abuse and recognize the need
for help. Most abusers have been abused in the past. For
example, I later came to find out that the lead minister who
abused me was abused himself in his own ministry training.
- Abusers need
straight talk, not coddling or excuse-making by defenders
who will speak about all the good they've done, ignore the
facts of abuse or play politics with the issue.
- Some abusers
may have serious needs that are manifesting themselves in
their objectionable behavior.
Blessed is he who has regard for the
weak; the Lord delivers him in times of trouble. (Psalm 41:1)
Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain
the rights of the poor and oppressed. (Psalm 82:3)
You have not strengthened the weak or
healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought
back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them
harshly and brutally. (Ezekiel 34:4)
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they
were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
The Lord answered, "Who then is the faithful and wise manager,
whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them
their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for
that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. I
tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his
possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, `My master
is taking a long time in coming,' and he then begins to beat the
menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk.
The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not
expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to
pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. (Luke
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead,
make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in
your brother's way. (Romans 14:13)
... so that there should be no division in the body, but that
its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part
suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored,
every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:25-26)
We put no stumbling block in anyone's path, so that our ministry
will not be discredited. (2 Corinthians 6:3)
Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I
do not inwardly burn? (2 Corinthians 11:29)
Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners,
and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were
suffering. (Hebrews 13:3)
It is my hope
that wherever you are in relation to spiritual mistreatment and
abuse you will find this useful in broadening your understanding
of this topic.
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