Signs of Spiritual Abuse, Part Two
Pastor, Author, Director of Foundation Ministries
- Crosswalk.com - Power Positioning
There is certainly a place for biblical teaching on spiritual authority. But
if a pastor preaches on this subject every Sunday, constantly reminding everyone
that he is in charge, you can be sure that trouble is around the corner.
an unhealthy church, the pastor actually begins to take the place of Jesus in
people's lives. Commonly, people are told they cannot leave the church with God's
blessing unless the pastor approves the decision. The implication is that unless
they receive pastoral permission, not only will God not bless them, but they will
also be cursed in some way, resulting in sure failure. Controlling spiritual leaders
use this kind of reasoning to manipulate people.
We must understand the process
a church goes through to reach this point of deception. Because many pastors measure
their success through church attendance, they may become disappointed if people
leave their church. If they are insecure, they may actually develop a doctrine
in order to stop people from leaving. They may preach sermons about unconditional
loyalty, using the biblical stories of David and Jonathan, or Elisha and Elijah.
By using examples like these, the leader can actually gain "biblical"
grounds to control even the personal areas of his parishioners. A controlling
leader may also attempt to instill a sense of obligation by reminding his congregation
of everything he has done for them.
This kind of preaching causes church members
to seek a position of favor with the pastor rather than a proper desire to "please
God and not man." Jesus also condemned such man-pleasing when He told the
Pharisees, "I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me. How
can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor
that comes from the only God?" (John 5:43-44).
When we pursue the honor
of men, we do so at the expense of our relationship with God. If we continue to
do so, gradually men will take the place of God in our lives. An unhealthy soul
tie is created, and our sense of confidence is determined by our standing with
those in leadership. This kind of control will destroy people spiritually!
healthy church will not allow genuine pastoral concern to cross the line into
manipulation or control. A true shepherd will use his influence to draw church
members into a close relationship with Jesus, who is the only "head of the
church" (Eph. 5:23). A true shepherd realizes that the people in his congregation
don't belong to him -- they are God's flock.
In an unhealthy church, it is considered rebellion when someone questions decisions
that are made or statements that are said from the pulpit. Granted, there are
those who constantly question the leadership in any church -- but often such constant
questioning comes from an individual's critical attitude. Pastors must learn to
deal with such questioning in a compassionate, positive manner. However, in an
unhealthy church, any and all questions are considered threats to the pastor's
"God-ordained" authority. Members who do dare to question their leaders
or who do not follow their directives often are confronted with severe consequences.
A man from one church told me, "We were told that it is more important
to obey leaders than to question what they are doing." He went on to say,
"It was unthinkable to question the motives of the pastor."
one couple, members of a church on the West Coast, decided to take a family vacation.
This couple purchased their airline tickets and finalized the rest of their plans.
They were looking forward to their long-needed time off. Once the pastor discovered
their plans, he rebuked them for not getting his permission first and warned them
not to go on the trip. They went anyway. Shortly after they returned, they were
visited by some of the church's leadership. They were informed that by going on
vacation against the pastor's wishes, they were in rebellion. To enforce the pastor's
authority, there had to be some form of punishment applied. This couple was then
informed that no one from the church was permitted to speak to them or have any
contact them for a time determined by the pastor. Even their children were not
permitted to play with any of the other children from the church.
under a spirit of control are often convinced that they are the only ones who
can accurately hear from God. Under the constant exposure to this spirit, members
often become convinced that they indeed need their pastor to think for them. In
essence, their personal fellowship with the Lord has been abdicated for a relationship
with a man. As a result, they lose their confidence in being able to discern the
will of God for their lives.
An Atmosphere of Secrecy
a church member surrenders to a system of control, the leader gives limited information
to each individual, carefully monitoring each relationship. As a result, each
member is only able to relate to other members based on the information he receives
from the leader.
In this way, if the church staff or pastor determines that
one of the members has become a "threat," they have a strategy in place
to maintain the control they believe is required. Consequently the church can
sever relationships when necessary and keep this process cloaked behind a veil
This is not limited to members of the congregation. I know a pastor
who did this with his staff. In casual conversations he would make a comment that
would result in one staff member becoming suspicious of another. Or he would say
something to cause one staff member to feel superior.
This atmosphere fueled
selfish ambition and competition among the staff. It became the pastor's way of
maintaining control and ensuring that his staff could never challenge his authority.
In time, the assistant pastors discovered what was happening, and eventually they
Secrecy may also cloak the area of finances. Pastors may make brazen
appeals for money, yet offer no assurance that the finances of the church are
handled with accountability and integrity.
I have actually heard pastors tell
their congregations that the financial decisions of the church do not become a
public matter because "the congregation doesn't have the spiritual insight
or maturity to understand the dynamics of church finances." Have you heard
this line of reasoning?
Some pastors actually preach, "It doesn’t
matter what we do with your money. Your responsibility is simply to give."
However, the Bible commands us to be good stewards -- and part of good stewardship
is making sure that proper systems of accountability are established to handle
tithes and offerings. (See 1 Peter 4:10.)
It is very simple -- money represents
power. Ultimately, control comes down to issues of power. Therefore, it should
be no surprise that controlling leaders will use unbiblical means to manipulate
people into giving.
As good stewards, when we become aware of financial mismanagement,
we are responsible for where we sow our financial seed. I can't imagine anyone
choosing to continue to give money after becoming aware of the misuse of funds.
However, if the approval of those in leadership is more important to a person
than financial integrity, that person might still feel compelled to give -- even
if misuse of funds was involved.
An Elitist Attitude
deadly trait of elitism produces an "us and them" mentality. A church
with an elitist attitude believes "no one else is really preaching the gospel"
except that church. Or at least, no one is preaching it as effectively as they
An elitist spirit discourages church members from visiting other churches
or receiving counsel from anyone who doesn't attend their church. If anyone visits
another church, he is viewed as a dissident.
"Everything you need can
be found within the framework of our group," this spirit says, adding, "Everything
you need to know, you will receive from the pastor and his teachings." Consequently,
there is little respect, if any, for other denominations or church groups.
individual, in speaking about the elitist attitude within his church, said, "Although
we didn't come right out and say it, in our innermost hearts we really felt there
was no place like our assembly. We thought the rest of Christianity was out to
Another man from the same church said, "When a well-known
evangelical speaker was preaching in another church in the area, the leaders would
discourage us from attending. Also, if the leaders found out that members were
considering visiting another church for any reason, they were called in and chastised.
'You don't need to be going to those other churches,' they would tell us. 'The
ministry here is rich enough. Isn't the Lord feeding you here?'"
church respects and celebrates the other expressions of Christ's many-membered
body. A Jesus-centered church realizes that no one denomination or local church
can win a city, regardless of how large it is. Christ-centered leaders who are
clothed with humility recognize that the small church is as significant as the
large church, the Baptists are as vital as the Charismatics, and every racial
group has a place at the Lord's table.
A healthy church will promote other
churches in the city, rather than simply promoting its own events and agendas
all the time. A healthy church will promote spiritual renewal in all churches
rather than further the idea that it has some kind of doctrinal superiority. A
healthy church will exude the attitude described in Philippians 2:3-4:
nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind
let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only
for his own interests, but also the interests of others."
Signs of Spiritual Abuse, Part Two
Signs of Spiritual Abuse, Part Three
your copy of "Exposing Spiritual Abuse" by Mike Fehlauer
More from Spiritual Life
© 2001 Mike Fehlauer. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Mike Fehlauer's book, Exposing
Spiritual Abuse. Mike Fehlauer is pastor of Tree of
Life Church in New Braunfels, Texas. He is also the founder and director of Foundation
Ministries. He travels extensively throughout the United States and the world,
sharing God's message of love, hope and restoration. More from Crosswalk.com.
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