Reflections of Grace 35: Becoming Spiritually Healthy – Recognizing Spiritual Abuse

Often you don’t realize you’re in a abusive situation until, your soul is torn, or your outside relationships suffer. My heart in sharing this is to simply shed light on unhealthy, manipulative, controlling practices.

Spiritually abusive ministries…

  1. Have a distorted view of respect. They forget the simple adage that respect is earned, not granted. Abusive leaders demand respect without having earned it by good, honest living.  Remember the pastor who tried to control me by telling me I had to prove myself to him?  I had another pastor tell me that if I thought I heard from God I needed to pass it by him because he is the only one who can discern whether I am of God or not…  Red Flag!!
  2. Demand allegiance to themselves as proof of the follower’s allegiance to Christ. It’s either his/her way or no way. And if a follower deviates, he is guilty of deviating from Jesus.
  3. Use exclusive language. “We’re the only ministry really following Jesus.” “We have all the right theology.” Believe their way of doing things, thinking theologically, or handling ministry and church is the only correct way. Everyone else is wrong, misguided, or stupidly naive.
  4. Create a culture of fear and shame. Often there is no grace for someone who fails to live up to the church’s or ministry’s expectation. And if someone steps outside of the rules, leaders shame them into compliance with no love whatsoever. Seldom do they admit failure but often searches out failure in others and uses that knowledge to hold others in fear and captivity. They often quote scriptures out of context about not touching God’s anointed, or bringing accusations against an elder. They often confront sin in others, particularly ones who bring up legitimate biblical issues. Or they have their yes people take on this task, silencing critics.
  5. Often have a charismatic leader at the helm who starts off well, but slips into arrogance, protectionism and pride.  They start off being personable and interested in others’ issues, he/she eventually withdraws to a small group of “yes people” and isolates from the needs of others.
  6. Can be a cult of personality, meaning if the central figure of the ministry or church left, the entity would collapse, as it was entirely dependent on one person to hold the place together.  This is not of God…. We are all valuable and we all have gifts and God is not limited to one person to do His work.
  7. They cultivate a dependence on one leader or leaders for spiritual information. Personal discipleship isn’t encouraged. Often the Bible gets pushed away to the fringes unless the main leader is teaching it his way.  The church I attended had a few women who were the cogs behind the wheel and many ungodly things transpired within the congregation of mind control and idolatry.
  8. They Buffer him/herself from criticism by placing people around themselves whose only allegiance is to the leader. Views those who bring up issues as enemies. Those who were once friends swiftly become enemies once a concern is raised. Sometimes these folks are banished, told to be silent, or shamed into submission
  9. Use exclusivity for allegiance. Followers close to the leader or leaders feel like insiders. Everyone else is on the outside, though they long to be in that inner circle.  Have you ever wanted to be friends and be a part of what is happening at church and just felt like you couldn’t penetrate the clicks of the more spiritual people?  This is so real and so often damaging to tender souls needing to feel the love of Jesus.
  • We need him!   And we need Body life. But As valuable and enriching as authentic body life is, if we make it a substitute for God’s daily presence working in each of us it will become an obstacle in the journey instead of a blessing to it.  He alone is our strength and shield. He alone is our refuge. He wants to teach each one of us how to live totally dependent upon him. Our relationship with each other must encourage that process not supplant it.
  • Body life naturally results from people learning to live in daily dependence on the presence of the Father. We are people on a journey to greater relationship with him and greater trust in him. We can help each other go further together than most will go alone but we must never forget where we’re going. Body life flourishes where people are learning to depend on God for everything, and their relationships support that growth.
  • Read Matthew 6 and learn what Jesus is saying about each of us living in the absolute security of the fact that God will take care of us and lead us into his life. This is something we each must sort out in our own relationship with him.
  • While we can encourage each other in the process we must take care not to subvert it by trying to rely on each other instead of on him. When people lose the passion to cultivate a growing dependence on the Father, the best they can produce by human effort is an illusion of body life.
  • Imagine how different it was for Paul after Jesus had captured him with his penetrating love. He drew Paul to himself and changed him from one who was confident in his own abilities, into one who knew that only Jesus could accomplish anything that would endure. He’s the one that draws people to the truth. He’s the one that changes lives. He’s the one that connects his body in ways that further the purpose of his kingdom.
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