Headlines this week report a high-profile pastor who was removed after charges of abuse. The congregation is reeling. Some feel wounded, vowing they’re done with church, forever.
Across the country, another dismissed pastor, after spending a couple years out of the spotlight, announces he’s ready to return to church leadership. Has he changed his abusive ways? It’s not likely, according to experts.
These church leaders practice something that psychologists call spiritual abuse. This abuse occurs when people in positions of authority misuse their power and spiritual authority, in order to control or manipulate them for their own purposes. Abusers may be ministers and other leaders who abuse members–or the abusers may be members and lay leaders who abuse church staff.
Victims of spiritual abuse often feel shamed, manipulated, intimidated, and humiliated. Some actually suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. Victims typically place a high level of trust in spiritual leaders. And when that trust is violated, the wounds are deep.
Spiritual abusers often employ unspoken rules, secrecy, paranoia, and authoritarianism. They tend to be very image-conscious and averse to criticism.
Gregory Sammons specializes in counseling victims and perpetrators of spiritual abuse. He says spiritual abusers are typically very insecure people. “They depend on others to adore them, lift them up, and follow them,” he said. “They try to replace God.”
He said these leaders often deny they hurt people. “They deceive themselves,” he said. And, sadly, they’re not likely to reform. Sammons said few spiritual abusers ever seek professional help. They don’t feel they have a problem. “God can work miracles, but I’ve not seen a lot of people who are willing to give up that control,” he said.
REDUCING SPIRITUAL ABUSE
How can spiritual abuse be curbed? First, do not revere, exalt or idolize those in spiritual leadership. Love them, care for them, treat them with respect, but do not “lead them into temptation” with the kind of adulation that intoxicates them with inappropriate emotional control over others.
And, if you’re a victim–or a perpetrator–of spiritual abuse, seek professional help. Spiritual abuse can be as harrowing as other relational abuses, such as incest. Counselors can help sort out the confusion and distress found in the context of relationships where someone is in a role of representing God.
For helpful insights on spiritual abuse, listen to my conversation with Gregory Sammons in this episode of the Holy Soup podcast.
This simply means there is no God or God is simply useless or helpless since God should stop or prevent such happenings.
I am sure these pastors knew there is no God or that Christianity, like the other Abrahamic religions are frauds.
They must have know Judaism was nearly entirely copied from part of Hinduism and Jesus story was copied from Buddha’s( Maya became Mary, miracle pregnancies, birth outdoor during a journey home or from home, prophesied soon after birth, had 12 disciples with one betrayer etc).
It is time people should know all the truth about such religions and stop being ignorant and feeding some greedy people.
CHEE, In response to your comments :
1. This simply means there is no God or God is simply useless or helpless since God should stop or prevent such happenings. – You are mistaken!!! You have no idea what you are saying. Weak Christians are intimidated most of the time But not the strong. Leaders and bosses abuse their powers over others. These are all wicked people without love inside their hearts. They are selfish and care not for others. Some are even deceivers and liars. They are false Christians. This is common worldwide. But this does not means there is no God or God is simply useless or helpless. Most of them who suffer from abuse received comfort from our God like me because God is our refuge. God never fails us if we trust HIM enough to suffer all sorts of abuse because HE instruct us to love our enemy. That is why many godly Christians rather suffer than to fight back. To fight back is to be like any non Christian. When we obey God, HE will help us for sure. God has helped me many many times. Glory to God.
2. I am sure these pastors knew there is no God or that Christianity, like the other Abrahamic religions are frauds.
– You can ask any Christians in the church about this to do a survey if God is real or not.
3. They must have know Judaism was nearly entirely copied from part of Hinduism and Jesus story was copied from Buddha’s( Maya became Mary, miracle pregnancies, birth outdoor during a journey home or from home, prophesied soon after birth, had 12 disciples with one betrayer etc). – You statement is wrong. You need to do a study on every religion before you make such statements. Listen to more debates by the scholars of every religions to find answers for yourself. All religions are man made. Test all the religions. But the bible is the living Word of God. Test it for yourself. Challenge the Word of God if it is real.
4. It is time people should know all the truth about such religions and stop being ignorant and feeding some greedy people. – There will always be good people and greedy people (thieves) in every religion. There are wicked people in the church and every religious places. Do not trust people. Trust the God who can help you and save you. You will find out if you test my God. Try it out. Ask my God to prove to you. My God will prove to you things you cannot do but HE will not answer to anything that has to do with Sin – greed, revenge, murder, hate, lies, lust, filth, sex, magic, witchcraft, unholy acts and evil request.
Perhaps the one-man pastor system where the pastor functions as the CEO (and has replaced Christ as the head) is abusive in itself. That system requires passivity and silence from the members. They are required to listen in church but aren’t allowed to express themselves in the service. This carries over into their relationship with the pastor. They are made to feel like they can’t offer feedback to the pastor. If someone gets the courage to give feedback, the pastor often sees that feedback as a threat and turns to defensiveness and sometimes even aggression against the member.
Individual pastors are caught up in this abusive system. They get their livelihood from it. The system makes it difficult for pastors to be humble, submissive, tender, and open toward the members. Pastors are made to feel like they can’t be who they are in front of the members.
Perhaps we need to get back to the New Testament and set worship up according to 1 Corinthians 14:26. This would put an end to abuse.
Yes, we need to get back to the New Testament and set worship up according to 1 Corinthians 14:26.
This would put an end to abuse.
Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear. Kick them that sin out of their church office positions.
We need wise leaders and every matured brethren to judge all things in the church.
1 Corint 14:29
– Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.
We are all instructed to judge.
Problem is who is to determine who are the matured and wise? In most cases the elite group runs the church. It should be the other way round. Let the Word of God runs the church. All of us are to be judged according to the Word of God and not by an elite group of church leaders. Judge them that are corrupt. It is our rights to judge even the top ranking leader or pastor. Every position held by anyone must be first proven Blameless. Otherwise kick them out. Then this will end the abuses. No one is above others in the church (No one is above the Law).
1 Tim 3:10
– And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being [found] blameless.
– Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.
– Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.
Abusive church leaders must be removed. This will put an end to abuse.
Sad to say that the ordinary members has no say in the church. This should not be so.
Everyone of us must exercise righteous judgement according to the Word of God.
I agree Steve. The so called ‘church’ has set up a system that encourages abuse. Jesus gave five ministries to the church that of apostle, prophet, evangelist shepherd and teacher. Where do we get this inane idea that we only need one?
In addition, the NT Church was governed by a plurality of Elders chosen from within the congregation, NOT by one man brought in from outside the congregation. Why we persist in models that have no authority in scripture escapes me.
I was involved in the Brethren for five years and then a Charismatic Brethren for 10 years and they were governed by Elders who were not paid and were chosen from within the congregation.
I have never experienced such purity in leadership and accountability. Spiritual abuse would have been almost impossible.
As a former catholic who was taught the errors of Catholicism as a new believer I agree completely Steve. What I have seen in my 40+ years as a believer in various churches is that the pastor has more influence and authority over people than any infallible catholic pope. While the catholic church has a pope over the whole catholic church, protestant churches often have a pope in every church. The system is the problem.It is thoroughly unbiblical. All authority has been given to Jesus. There is no chain of command in the kingdom of God. Our tradition based institutional church systems take men with good intentions and corrupts them with power and authority they should not have. These systems are failing and falling because they need to, but Jesus made a promise that he would build his church and that not even the gates of hell would prevail against it. He made a promise and he is fulfilling it and will fill it to the full, and the church he is building is not 30,000 protestant denominations.
Excellent points, Bob.
Brother Bob, I fully agree. There is only one body of Christ and we as brethren are members of His body joint together in Christ. Denominations has separated themselves from Christ’s Body because of False doctrines and heresies. The system of the churches are corrupt. Abuse is a crime to be dealt severely. There is no excuse not to kick that abuser out of church office. Problem is the innocent congregation are unaware, indoctrinated, deceived and misled by false doctrines and heresies worldwide. They are deceived by (many) false prophets / teachers. Catholic doctrines is the main root / source of heresies.
I wouldn’t say the one pastor is abuse in and of itself but it certainly makes it conducive for this issue to occur and it surely has many times. Good word concerning 1 cor. 14:26
What constitutes spiritual abuse? If you confront someone concerning sin and they don’t agree with you? When someone doesn’t agree with a decision or direction the spiritual leader is taking? “Spiritual Abuse” will now become another way of making trumped-up allegations against someone in ministry that you disagree with and/or want to discredit. In ministry, a person’s credibilty is everything. This article is garbage and I will be accused of being a “spiritual abuser” because of my comment!
P. Mike, here’s a description of spiritual abuse from Jeff VanVonderen and David Johnson, authors of The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse (Bethany House): “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. 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.”
You’ll also benefit from listening to the Holy Soup podcast with Gregory Sammons.
Spiritual abuse is messing with a persons beliefs and emotions and taking advantage of that. It’s using fear, guilt and intimidation to push someone to willingly choose to do something like give money for personal gain. For example, getting someone to give their entire savings to the church in the name of God because you made them believe God is going to reward them ten fold either here or in heaven. Another example is those people who call pretending to be the IRS and use fear and intimidation to get them to willingly send them money. Basically the same scam. We have a more subtle abuse/fraud going on with climate change world wide.
Ryan, you are right. Tithing is the main wrong teachings that the greedy false prophets (thieves) are making merchandise / gains out of innocent Christians worldwide. Christ is now our High Priest forever and the OT Levitical priesthood system was abolished by Christ at the cross (nailed at the cross).
That definition is full of big words with little objectivity. “Undermining or decreasing that person’s spiritual empowerment.” What does that mean, what is “spiritual empowerment?” Seriously, anyone can claim a pastor is controlling them or dominating them if they are dealing with a situation they don’t agree with. Do you see that? Especially if you claim to base your definition of sin– what the Bible says VS. culture’s subjective definition of right and wrong. What I feel is right VS what you feel is right. Who’s right? Scripture is certainly right. There’s so much NOT SAID by this article and to leave the reader with the thought that pastors are undercover “spiritual bullies” getting high with their God Complex- please don’t feed them. WOW
Here’s the qualifier “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.” So if a person is uncomfortable or feels bad enough they can claim “spiritual abuse.” “What my pastor said to me…” “You wouldn’t believe what just happened to me…” When things don’t go your way, how do you respond? Would you agree that sometimes even when you are wrong you feel you are right? When someone goes through something they were not expecting do you think their world turns upside down for a while? It happens! People lives can become miserable when living in SIN. Come-on… if you cannot see the problem with these statements I do not know what else to say. And the picture the author chose to portray a “spiritually abusing pastor”… sensationalize much?!
Rick commented on Facebook: “Another excellent article by Thom Schultz. Interesting, though, is that when the same behaviors are exhibited by high level executives in secular companies, it is seldom described as abuse.”
Kelli wrote on Facebook: “I am a victim of spiritual abuse. I write about my healing journey here:
“How can spiritual abuse be curbed? First, do not revere, exalt or idolize those in spiritual leadership.”
NO. You are reinforcing a culture that makes spiritual abuse seem normal. Your advice blames the victim for their own abuse. “Do not lead him into temptation” is the same advice given about sexual abuse: “you shouldn’t have dressed/acted in a way that someone might find attractive.” Stopping spiritual abuse is like stopping rape: the responsibility belongs to the potential perpetrator.
Having said that, this is a point in favor of denominational structure. It’s harder to misuse your power when you’re meaningfully accountable to someone else. It’s much harder to work your way back into ministry when someone else has to vouch for you. (It’s not impossible, of course, as any number of high-profile cases will attest.)
Want to prevent abuse? Hold abusers accountable. Believe victims. Stand up for someone who may not have the strength to stand up for themselves. This is gospel work.
I can think of at least two routes to abusive leadership.
1. Ignoring the leadership of Jesus as “servant of all” which turns authority on its head so it flows from service. The other way round doesn’t work so well. If the mindset of the leaders start from an anchorage of the exercise of authority within the body it soon grows to be about control, just like any other social group. Nothing good flows from that.
2. Conflation of corporate structure and governance with spiritual leadership. This IS a size issue. If church growth that includes centralization, additional staff, and more assets also encumbers the leadership with organizational processes and non-profit corporate governance. The Body of Christ becomes a business. And leaders start to behave like businessmen.
I figure you are talking about the kind of abuse where the pastor will call out the sins of certain members in the congregation while giving others, including himself, a pass. He stands up there believing he is God’s judge. It starts out mild and escalates from there. I once saw a form of it where a young son was disobedient to his dad and the pastor made a big deal of having the kid apologize to his dad in front of the congregation. That kid was traumatized. No one has a right to do that, I don’t care what his position is in the church. I was young then myself, and stupid. Now, I’d have stood up and told the pastor to back off, then I’d turn and tell the dad to handle his damn family at home. I don’t put up with that crap anymore. Of course, a church like that would promptly show me the way out. I had a pastor once stop a bible teaching when I came in looking depressed. He said, You know, some people when they come to church, come in with a dark cloud. They kill the spirit right away and just make everything difficult. People like that should just stay home. Everyone knew he was talking about me. I wished I’d have stayed home. He didn’t last very long as pastor. I wonder why. This is the kind of BS people put up with in churches and it’s spiritual abuse. No one is perfect, no one is without sin, esp the guy standing up there professing to be God’s judge in your life. Grrr.
This spiritual abuses in the church worldwide will never cease nor go away. Beloved, learn to be subtle as the serpent and harmless as a dove. Love your brethren as your family but trust not the false brethren. You will know the false brethren by their deeds like Judas that betrays. Give not holy things to dogs nor cast your pearls to swine lest they turn and bite you. Do not trust anyone unless he or she is tested and proven trustworthy. Test and poof all things. Do not assume anything. The days are evil and perilous. Learn to discern deeds of the spirit and what is of the flesh. Separate yourself from those living in the flesh for they will persecute you. Our Lord was persecuted by His own people, the Jews. Likewise people (of the flesh) in the church will betray and persecute us. Watch as the hour is near. Shalom.
I see more real discipleship going on almost everywhere outside of the Church. At work, playing sports, in secular clubs, and just getting together as friends. Older men teaching younger men, older women teaching younger women, in all areas of life. Look for it yourself and you will see it. I am by no means saying everything is perfect outside the Church, but too often today, the one word that describes Church leadership would be hubris.
There was organization that I was a part of called Gospel for Asia, the president was very charismatic and exercised unchecked spiritual authority, this led to a number of unhealthy results both in the United States, Canada and in places like India where the work of Gospel for Asia is carried out by their denomination called Believers Church. Some of the people that were affected by this abuse tell their story here:
Some of the stories are quite harrowing, especially for people like Troy and Pam, or Lenny and Tiffany. Many of the staff who have left have had to seek out counseling. It was an environment where senior leadership was mentored by one man, the president, and they have basically carried out the same patterns of authoritarian rule with no accountability, the very same patterns and attitudes the president instilled in them. It’s kind of like an unhealthy version authority. Without a doubt there are good aspects of authority, yet when there is no accountability, or if someone is viewed with a “special anointing” and “they can do no wrong”, that’s when things go awry both for people under the leader and in the spiritual realms as well.
Things came to a head when there was much revealed about the ministry of Gospel for Asia and their financial dealings. They were booted from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability in 2015 (on many counts) and many documents were revealed about their true colors. GFA lost a number of different types of memberships, like the National Religious Broadcasters membership and others too.
In 2015 a significant number of staff left. You can read a little about the dismissal from the ECFA in this Christianity Today article about Gospel for Asia and Believers Church.
The saddest part about this type of abuse is that there are many victims and often times the depths of the effects of spiritual abuse are not seen clearly by the church at large. You can usually see the bruises of physical abuse, yet the effects of spiritual abuse are not quite as easy to see.
Many former staff are still recovering through things they experienced at GFA, especially those who worked closely with the president and senior leadership. Most staff who didn’t work closely with the president or senior leadership will not understand the depths of things experienced.
We can only pray that the Lord will reveal all things and bring healing to many, and that He will bring things to light that need to be brought to light for true healing and true reconciliation within the body of Christ.
We’re not asked to have faith in spiritual leaders, we are asked to have faith in Jesus Christ. An awful lot of these problems wouldn’t happen so often if people were not so gullible. Sorry to be harsh, but it’s true all the same.
I agree people can be gullible, but in some churches if you aren’t in complete agreement with the pastor and his inner circle you are treated like one of the apostate and frozen out. Doesn’t matter how long you’ve been with the group there, the people you have loved and trusted will be encouraged to turn on you and you either get with the program or leave. It is sad and creates disillusionment with faith in general. Many just quit believing altogether. The leadership doesn’t care since total devotion to their interpretation of doctrine is the main agenda. It is sickening. yet it goes on in a lot of faith based ministries..
I think all Christians, regardless of what situation they are in, have to remind themselves we are followers of Jesus Christ, not popes, pastors, reverends etc. That’s the bottom line for me. Not always easy I know.