"For from the least of them to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for gain, and from the prophet even to the priest, everyone deals falsely. And they have healed the brokenness of my people superficially saying, “Peace. peace,” but there is no peace." Jeremiah 6:13-14
This morning it dawned on me, I have heard sermons on just about every subject imaginable ranging from social issues, church history, doctrine, creation, gossip, anger, but I have never heard one sermon on spiritual abuse. Not even in some of the good churches. Why? The answer is relatively obvious. Pastors rarely preach on the subject because, by and large, pastors and other church leaders (including parachurch ministries) are the perpetrators of such exploitation. It is far easier to do a sermon about shared sin, like anger and immorality. It is even easier to do a sermon about how the church membership is not doing their part to build up said leader. It is much harder to talk about an issue that is primarily one-sided.
Some of us have a faulty view of Christian leadership which can hinder recovery from spiritual abuse.
Once again, we look to Barbara Orlowski’s groundbreaking book, Spiritual Abuse Recovery for some insights into this phenomenon. She says that many Christian have an inability to differentiate a flawed leadership model from a legitimate leadership model.(p.9). She elaborates “In the context of the contemporary Christian church, a deficient Old Testament leadership style can easily be developed by the fusion of a Mosaic model with that of the Aaronic/Levitcal priesthood. The New Testament model of leadership, which was taught and demonstrated by Christ, demonstrates an egalitarian servant leadership model.” (P.10)
She goes on to make s bold statement, hidden in a footnote on the same page, “A comprehensive study of this issues brings me to conclude in order for believers to recover successfully they need to adopt this perspective." For all of us who have suffered abuse at the hands of uncaring leadership, we must contemplate this provocative statement. In other words we MUST change our view of leadership if we are to be fully restored to health within the context of the Christian community.
Orlowski presents us with a number of different authors who define spiritual abuse. “Spiritual abuse is always about power. It happens when a leader with spiritual authority uses that position to coerce, control, dominate or exploit a follower.” “It comes from a place of higher power to a place with lower power. People in low-power positions can’t abuse people in high power.” (PP.12-13)
What kind of people are leaving the church due to poor or abusive leadership? Startling Revelation! Pastors-Pay Attention!
The author provides a list of the many books written on spiritual abuse. It stunned me to realize that so many books have been written but not one word has been breathed from the pulpit on this issue. Could it be that pastors are aware that this is an issue that points directly at them? Could they be overlooking a reason why the church in America is losing members?
Orlowski quotes from a study conducted by Dr. Alan Jamieson on the reasons that people left Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches in New Zealand during the 1990s. He subsequently wrote a book on this issue called Churchless Faith. Link here.
The people who left the church were not the nominal believers. In fact it was core leaders that were active in church ministry that were walking out the door. Nor did they leave quickly in a snit. In fact, the majority of those interviewed left after much deliberation over a prolonged period of time. (P.22) And why would such involved people leave? Well, according to Jamieson, along with disenchantment with the entire process, it included disillusionment with the church structure. This points directly at the leadership of the church. Here are some of the reports from those who left on their perception of leadership styles that led to their desertion of the church. (PP.23-24)
- Dictatorial authoritarian styles
- Sexually abusive leaders
- Spiritually abusive leaders
- Lack of relationship with leaders
- Hurt or disenchanted by church decisions, direction or vision
- Lack of space to raise concerns about church directions or decisions
- Legalism within church teaching and practice
- Lack of theological and intellectual depth.
Do they come back to church? Church growth "experts"-pay attention!
What is the end result of those leaving? Those with the most integrated, mature faith never reconnect with established forms of churches. They developed a clear aversion to church and claim that it became simply irrelevant to their faith and life. Most of these folks had been members, on average, for 15 years before leaving! (P. 26) In other words, these are folks who were dedicated to the church for significant periods of time.
Abusive leaders encourage silence on the part of leavers in order to continue their reign of terror.
Scripture would seem to indicate that mature pastors should engage these church leavers. You know, like the Shepherd who hurries after one sheep that is lost? However, it appears that the particular type of pastor who contributes to the leave taking is not they type of person who would reach out to said leavers. In fact, they would be more prone to give these sheep the right boot of fellowship-swift and hard. Orlowski quotes another researcher, Marilyn Cudmore. “The conspiracy of silence in the Church may be in invitation for narcissistic leaders to be emboldened to continue their abusive practices.” (P.29)
TWW has discussed how this control is achieved. The pew sitters are told that they must not gossip about anything negative because that's what it says in the Bible. Actually, this is a distorted view of gossip. You can read about this at this link to our post titled "Shhhh! Don't Talk. It is imperative that leave-takers speak of their experience, if only to help those left behind to identify and understand the pain of being under the leadership of an abusive narcissist.
Why are some pastors vengeful to those who question their leadership?
According to Cudmore, “leaders who have narcissistic traits have achievement-based orientations requiring constant approval in order to maintain self image.” (P. 31). What does this mean in reality? These leaders cannot accept what they perceive to be negative comments, or even new ideas, because they must be the ones who are always right or to be the one who has thought of a new idea first.. As Rush Limbaugh is fond of saying (tongue in cheek) “I was born to speak; you were born to listen.” I personally know of one pastor who brags that his elder board has only disagree with him twice in 28 years! (I have always wondered what happened to those poor souls who did disagree-are they still allowed in church?)
Orlowski quotes (P.31) from Len Sperry in an article entitled “Leadership Dynamics: Character and Character Structure in Executives” found in the Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research 49 (1997): 268-80 says the following
“As long as no one criticizes, competes, or attempts to share their glory, they can be encouraging, supportive, and fun to work with and for. However, if this unwritten agreement is breached, they can react with vengefulness. Finally, they can function effectively in the mentor role provided that those under their tutelage are perceived as loyal and noncompetitive.”
CEOs are running many of the churches-not servant leaders.
I am amazed at the number of pastors who claim they are servant leaders and yet live the lifestyle of the rich dictator. Talk about cognitive dissonance. Orlowski brings (P.36) up the book by Robert Webber entitled The Younger Evangelicals. Weber quotes Glenn Wagner who wrote, Escape from Church, Inc.” “Why is it that the only continent in the world where the church is not growing is North America? Because we have bought into gimmicks and programs, the razzle dazzle Las Vegas syndrome of Christianity, all flash and lights and gaudiness. But we have forgotten to do the church and to do ministry.” He then quotes another pastor who says “the megachurch movement of the last twenty years has been led by superstar pastors who are now dying out or burned out without having mobilized lay people for ministry. As a result, the church, which should be an army, looks like an audience.”
Quick digression for Ed Young Jr watchers, in the current Issue of Christianity Today, 2/11, on P.9, Ed Young Jr. says, “It’s a bit cheesy but cheese works.” Why? Get ready folks, it can get worse. He is now using 3-D videos in the service. Who are the members who are paying for this nonsense???? End digression.
Instead, we have professional CEOs masquerading as pastors and exhibiting the traits of Donald Trump, including the clothes, cars, homes and hair. (I couldn't resist)! Yet the Reformation, under Martin Luther, introduced the concept of servant leader, which was quickly supplanted by a hierarchical structure. (P.36).
Spiritual covering or special pastoral “anointing”- one more method of control
Orlowski states, “Spiritual covering is a misbelief in which the chain of command flows through those on the top to those on the bottom. Those lower on the chain are then expected to look to those above as their covering and submit to them as they would to Jesus. (P.41). There is no sound Biblical basis for such a command structure, which seems to overlook the entire New Testament. Christ is the head of the church and “He did not delegate authority over people to anyone.” (P.41) Frankly, this whole subject of spiritual covering by a human leader is a bunch of codswallop and I am flummoxed that some educated Christians buy this silliness without questioning the Biblical justification for such a concept in the New Testament church. (Whoosh-I need to slap some cold water on my face and maintain.)
We are left with the pain of orphaned Christians who no longer see the church as the Bride of Christ. They see the church as a shriveled version of its former glory. Instead of the magnificent, risen Christ at the helm, former members see egomaniacs who are using the church for personal gain, be it monetarily or psychologically. The church in America is losing members and some of its self-proclaimed leaders are crawling all over one another, desperately trying to grab as much of the remaining share of passive, gross tithers as possible. Instead they should be looking in the mirror and saying “we have met the enemy and it is us.”
Lydia's Corner: Numbers 11:24-13:33 Mark 14:22-52 Psalm 52:1-9Proverbs 11:1-3