This blog topic is a tough one for me to write about, but honestly sometimes the hardest topics to write about are the ones that need to be talked about the most. In my own experience, I’ve dealt with a couple of instances where spiritual abuse was used on me, however over the years I have heard stories from enough people that probably deal with this on a daily basis.
Maybe you’ve heard of spiritual abuse before or maybe you are like, “what the heck is spiritual abuse?” It’s a topic that needs to be addressed because it happens more than we are willing to admit.
Spiritual abuse simply put is when someone uses their faith, religion or particular beliefs and views to try to control, damage or abuse a person.
It is just as damaging as any other form of abuse.
Some examples of spiritual abuse include:
1. Establishing a culture of fear and shame or intimidation: Often churches, or ministries that are spiritually abusive will try to create a culture of fear and shame. They will try to intimidate their followers into agreeing with them. They will call out others in sin and make them feel bad, but they won’t even admit to their own failures or sins. They will try to make you feel guilty.
2. Distorted view of respect: You know how growing up as a child you think, “I need to respect all adults or all teachers because they are older and wiser?” Yeah, so I think respect is great but respect needs to be earned. If you are in a place of leadership and you desire respect from anyone, then your life and your ministry should show it.
3. A “celebrity” like attitude”: I have literally attended churches where the pastor was treated like a celebrity. They did not surround themselves with the congregation and when they passed by they had to have “security” surrounding them. They sat on a throne-like seat on the stage. They may even flaunt money and have fancy cars and houses.
4. Taking verses out of context: Spiritually abusive churches and ministries will take verses out of context. For instance they may use verses that tell their congregation they should listen to and respect their church leaders, and they may use those verses in order to make their congregation follow them and not disagree with their views. Thus this allows them to get away with more. “Don’t question us. You should be following us as your leaders”.
5. Often involved in debacles: I’m sure at some point we’ve looked in the newspaper or on our Facebook feed’s and seen a headline like, “Pastor involved in sex scandal” or “Pastor involved in taking money from church budget”. Those involved in spiritual abuse will try to hide their sin and brush it under the carpet.
6. No grace or loving attitude: It’s either their way or the highway. There is no grace. No love. No forgiveness. You either agree and follow them. They always have to be right. It always has to be done their way. I think this goes back to a creating a culture of shame and fear. They make you so afraid to disagree, and when you do they try to convince you that every other opinion or belief is wrong and that you shouldn’t be asking questions. They convince you that they know more and you should follow and trust them.
I’m quite sure there are more examples of spiritual abuse but these are some of the ones that I’m familiar with and that I’ve seen.
So, where exactly does this come from?
We all have desires and wants that aren’t in line with what God wants for us. We all get prideful. We all get tempted and enticed by sin whether thats alcohol, sex, porn, drugs, etc. We all get hurt and feel pain. We are all human and deal with our sinful nature.
Two points I want to make:
1. Luke 16:13 “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
We can’t continue to live in a lifestyle where money, drugs, porn, sex or alcohol run our lives while trying to give God absolute control and authority in our lives. You can try, but sooner or later you’ll end up serving one more than the other.
2. 1 Peter 5:2 Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly- not for what you will get out of it but because you are eager to serve God.
Our pastors, priests, elders, deacons, ministry teams, and anyone else in places of leadership are often called to higher standards. They are entrusted to lead and shepherd us closer to Christ. We often look to them and respect them, as we should. Though, sometimes we may forget that these people are also just as prone to fall into temptation, and sin as we are. After all they are human as well. Sometimes, they may let pride get hold of them and take their titles for granted.
Both of these verses mention the word “serve”. We are called to serve God.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
We are called to serve God and others. Christ came to earth and even he served others and humbled himself. He didn’t surround himself with the rich, or the wealthy. In fact he was often surrounded by those less fortunate and outcasted by society. He served them and loved on them. Humility is a beautiful thing honestly…..sometimes people are like, “Isn’t being humble just having a negative view of yourself?” No. When you humble yourself before the cross you are realizing that it’s not all about you. You don’t have to boast constantly. It’s not about how great we are. It’s about the God we serve. It’s about placing yourself second to the cross. It in now way means you should hate yourself and not love yourself.
Knowing all of this not only should we be humbling ourselves and embracing a servant like attitude; we should be praying for and encouraging those in leadership and ministry roles. We should also know when to call out our brothers and sisters in Christ. We should also know that it’s okay to take notes of verses or even take notes of the sermons and to ask questions or do your own research if you are unsure.