It is extremely important to understand that in spiritually abusive systems POWER IS POSTURED and AUTHORITY IS LEGISLATED. Furthermore, in abusive religious systems leaders always use two words to demand the allegiance of their followers. They are obedience and submission. Unfortunately, for pastors preoccupied with power "how people act is more important than what's really going on in their lives. People aren't what is loved and accepted. Behavior is the most important thing," according to Jeff VanVonderen, co-author of The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. http://www.spiritualabuse.com/?page_id=53
Today we are focusing on the second characteristic of spiritually abusive systems — a preoccupation with performance. God's Word clearly instructs us not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 8:1). Conformed means "squeezed from the outside in" while transformed means "changed from the inside out." In a spiritually abusive system, there is little focus on relational discipleship or the heart of the Christian, but rather, the emphasis is usually focused on meeting quotas, obtaining goals, and increasing numbers, and then pretending as if one's performance were the measure of one's spirituality.
Here is an illustration of preoccupation performance. A large church requires each member of its congregation to be enrolled in a Sunday School class. As is the custom of many churches, Sunday School attendance is recorded every week. The class rolls are then submitted to the pastoral staff who then report the attendance numbers to the denomination's headquarters.
In one of this church's Sunday School classes, the member taking attendance noticed week after week, month after month, year after year that certain members listed on the class roster NEVER came. She circled the names of the absentee members and asked for permission to purge the names from the class roll since these members hadn't been to the class in many months, even years. The pastor who oversees Sunday School had his secretary call the attendance taker. His response was NOT to remove the names from the roll but to call each absentee member to inquire why there were not attending Sunday School.
The attendance taker began calling these long lost members to see why they were not coming to their assigned Sunday School class. Three of them were irate with the caller and informed her that they are now attending different churches. A fourth absentee member had switched Sunday School classes two years prior to receiving the phone call, but their name had not been deleted from this list (an obvious duplication).
The leaders of this particular Sunday School class believed that these calls to absentee members were pointless because they were irritating those receiving the phone calls. If these church members wanted to be in their assigned class, they would at least come once in a while. A decision was made to remove the names of those who NEVER attended the Sunday School class. When the pastor (mentioned previously) realized that these names had been deleted from the class roster, he had his secretary call the attendance taker once again and demand that the wife of one of the pastors be added back to the list. The only problem with adding her name to the roster was that this pastor's wife served as organist for a small church in the same denomination. She would attend the service at her church, then drive to the other church and play for their service which was scheduled later in the morning, making it impossible for her to attend Sunday School class at her own church.
The pastor who oversees Sunday School at this church would occasionally brag that there was 100 percent participation in Sunday School. This is called performance preoccupation. What is important in these kinds of churches is how things "appear" on the outside. Unfortunately, this kind of religious system does not foster holiness or obedience to God. It simply accommodates the leaders' own interpretation of spirituality and their need for control.
David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen make the following point on page 65 of their excellent book: “If obedience and service is flowing out of you as a result of your dependence on God alone, you won’t keep track of it with an eye toward reward, you’ll just do it. But if you’re preoccupied with whether you’ve done enough to please God, then you’re not looking at Him, you’re looking at your own works. And you’re also concerned about who else might be looking at you, evaluating you. Why would anyone keep track of their ‘godly’ behavior unless they were trying to earn spiritual points because of it?”
On page 66, Johnson and VanVonderen emphasize the correct understanding of obedience and submission by writing the following: “Are obedience and submission important? Without question. This can be seen in Romans 13:1…1 Peter 5:5…and Hebrews 13:17. To bring balance, however, we must add to these verses an equally important passage. Consider the words of Peter and the other apostles in Acts 5:29: ‘We must obey God rather than men.’ Notice that Peter is saying this to the religious leaders he was disobeying. Out of context, obedience to leaders looks like good theology. Add the larger context, and you will see that it is only appropriate to obey and submit to leadership when their authority is from God and their stance is consistent with His.”
The authors then emphasize Romans 12:2 where Paul says: "Do not be conformed… but be transformed…" In a performance-based church or family, that verse might be applied like this: ‘Our church or leader is right; we have a truer, purer ‘word’ from God than others. Therefore, we must adhere to our formula or brand of Christianity as hard and fast as possible — so we won’t become like those out there who don’t think as we do. If I do not live up to all I’ve been taught here, I will be letting God down.’ This orientation squeezes people from the outside in. They are not transformed, they are conformed.” (p.66) The end result in the Christian's life is the EXACT OPPOSITE of what God commands through Paul in Romans 12:2. This is one of the ways Satan can gain a toehold, then a foothold, and finally a stronghold in a congregation.