- I’ve noticed a greater influx of clients I work with bringing up the topic of spiritual abuse, sharing their heart breaking experiences in vivid detail of being so disillusioned with the church and equating God with the way that they were treated in abusive church organizations… so much so that I felt it would be wise to address it.
- I have shared with you how there was a season in my life that I was addicted to ministry to enable me to escape into busy-ness so as to not deal with issues that were pressing into me at home. The unhappier I became with my 1st marriage, and the more I ignored the issues, the busier I became with ministry. The admiration I received from all the people who came to my studies and various ministries satisfied my need for self worth and validity. Of course I pointed them all to Jesus but there was still a certain satisfaction I got from the recognition.
- I see now that I wasn’t getting what I needed at home or, in actuality, from the ministry, either, it all left a sort of emptiness at my core. I was not looking in the direction of Jesus is actually the only one who can really satisfy us. The reality is what I really needed was Jesus alone. He is the only one who can meet our innermost needs.
- No one else is capable of fixing us. We all have a vacancy in the center of our being that is meant to be filled by our God. Addictions, people, work, children, or anything else will not take His place in that empty part of our heart. That is why, when we are addicted to something, we have to continue to increase whatever we are doing to obtain the original high. It is never enough. We don’t realize that addictions keep us from our total focus on God. In reality, He is our everything. With that said, in the coming few weeks I want to share some warning signs that you want to look out for if you feel you are in church organization that is leaving you feeling empty and controlled.
The first warning sign you may be in a place of spiritual abuse is if your leaders……….
- Demand constant works of their followers, but they themselves live rich, privileged lives. They live apart from their followers and justify their extravagance as God’s favor and approval on their ministry. One pastor I had made the men of the church help him build a fabulous home stating that before he could give the church his all…warning sign. Unlike Jesus’ instructions to take the last seat, they often take the first seat at events and court others to grant them privileges. Remember this is not how Jesus acted. Your leaders should be pointing you to Jesus as the one you elevate and not they themselves.
- It is mistaken thinking to say that going to the building is putting God first…God should be first in our lives every day, all day. He gave you a marriage and family that should be the next priority…. the leaders will move on to the next person after you are burned out and weary…. They blindly prey upon people who can’t say no, and then praise them for giving everything to the ministry, while their families are starving for their attention. I have seen many marriages fail in the church because of the couple’s over-involvement in church activities; pastors kept them so busy they had time for nothing else. I was one of those busy ones.
- I did not realize that, over the years, I had become as addicted to ministry as an alcoholic becomes addicted to drink. Ministry was my anesthesia. It was my coping mechanism that provided a way of escape from dealing with my real issues. The works that I performed never seemed to be enough to satisfy my inner needs as a woman. I felt despair that ministry really wasn’t satisfying me. There was a gaping hole in my heart that was not being filled. But my focus remained more on ministry works than on relationship with Him. If I would have been as busy in my relationship with Jesus as I was with trying to fill the gaping hole in my heart, I think my life would have taken another route than it did. But I never would have seen that on my own. I was getting extremely tired, and used up a lot of energy keeping myself together. And I could find no rest.
- 2nd Warning sign: The 2nd thing to look for in spiritually abusive ministries is that they hold to outward performance but seem to reject authentic spirituality in the love of God. They place burdens on people to act a certain way, dress an acceptable way, and have an acceptable lifestyle.
- Many years ago I had a sincere desire to follow God and to know Him deeper through my “serving.” I was driven to find and experience more. I was still climbing that ladder to holiness. I became a member of the “most holy people,” the elite who were much closer to the truth of God’s word than any other members of our congregation, or so we thought, just like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time. We justified our behavior by saying that the “world” doesn’t understand the things of God. It certainly wasn’t our fault that we didn’t see instant answers to our prayers. It never occurred to me that His ways are not my ways and that maybe we didn’t have all the answers. We judged, and condemned, and eventually became very discontented with the church body we belonged to.
- The third warning sign is that they 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. I learned this one well…I judged people by where they went to church.
- If you find yourself judging people and their spirituality by where they go to church, or even if they choose to not attend an organized church and fellowship with believers in other ways, you are in error and wrong.
Some of my spiritual abuse experiences include:
- A leader above me telling me that even though I was burned out and losing my health and my marriage was failing, I had to stay in the ministry because if I didn’t I would lose all my gifting to do future ministry. Like if you don’t sing, you’ll lose your voice. Not true.
- A church that repeatedly told us they basically had the corner on the market of Jesus and that if we had to go elsewhere, we would miss God’s highest. Did I ever fall into that one!!
- A leader who found ministry to be a way of milking the people for more and more money, and actually would take money that was given to my ministry that at the time was held outside the church building.
- A ministry that shamed me into not even being able to participate in regular fun things like go to a movie, or ballroom dance with my husband.
- A leader who cornered me, threatened me, and yelled because I brought up a concern that others saw. He said that I was a terrible example because I was too perfect…what?
- A pastor that got me alone in his office and verbally abused me until I was sobbing.
- Leaders that told me I wasn’t as important as they were in the clicks of leaders. I was an outsider.
Perhaps you have a story to tell too. I invite you to comment below and share your story.
- We need Jesus himself. And you can have him. Really.
You can experience Jesus intimately. You were meant to. For despite the vandalizing of Jesus by both religion and the world, he is still alive and very much himself. Though nowadays it takes a bit of uncovering to know him as he is. For to have Jesus, really have him, is to have the greatest treasure in all worlds. And to love Jesus—that is to settle the first question of human existence. Of your existence. Everything else flows from there. Now, loving Jesus will not be a problem when you know him as he truly is.
- Religion gives the impression of having Christ, while it inoculates you from experiencing the real thing.
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