Spiritual Abuse Recovery: Avoid Authority Junkies

“Clearly the person who accepts the Church as an infallible guide will believe whatever the Church teaches” St. Thomas Aquinas





TWW has received a number of pointed comments recently dealing with the subject of church polity. In particular, it appears folks are trying to define how a church body should structure its governance to avoid abuse and encourage unity. Several commenters have made the valid point that it is often the intent of the individuals involved that prevent abuse. This means that every form of governance is equally likely to cause abuse if the individuals involved are hyperauthoritarian. That being the case, should we just throw our hands up in the air and bag the discussion altogether. Are there no guidelines that might make a church less likely to abuse?

A Tale of Two Pastors

Let me tell you a true story of a wonderful pastor who made a decision to proceed with an action that was entirely appropriate. However, the correct action was not handled in a judicious manner. My husband and I were aware that this could be misperceived by many people and cause problems for the church. So, we approached the pastor who did not, at first, understand our concern. Wanting to head off a potential firestorm, we then approached the elders who began to intercede. This pastor, who is a dear friend, contacted us and said, “You called my bosses. This is very serious.” To his everlasting credit, the pastor finally understood the issues, met with the aggrieved party and made things totally right. The larger church body never learned of the incident and all is well.

It is important to see this pastor’s attitude towards the elders. They are his bosses and he is accountable to them. This is not a fake accountability. He was actually concerned about how his actions would be perceived by his elders.

So, I saw an elder model that worked and thought that this was how elders always functioned. Once again, God allowed me to get smacked upside my head as I saw the reality of sin and selfishness, on the part of elders and pastors, up close and personal.

Another pastor, who we approached over a concerning situation in that church, told us that he is in charge of the vision for the church; all the hiring and firing of pastors and his elders exist to carry out his vision and wishes. He also said they had disagreed with him only twice in 28 years. This pastor was not accountable to the elders. They existed merely to do his bidding. Our concerns were rejected, we were rejected, and the elders totally supported the pastor. In fact, one might say the elders, in this circumstance, are accountable to the pastor.


People are leaving churches run by dictators.


Once again we turn to the book, by Barbara Orlowski. According to her research, she claims that people are leaving the church in droves due to dictatorial excesses. In fact, she says that most people in churches do not feel that they have contact with a gentle and caring leadership. (p128) Why is that? It appears that many of today’s leaders are stuck in the time warp of the Old Testament Moses model and have not embraced the gracious servanthood of Jesus Christ.


Look at the Trinity as a model of church functioning.

Orlowski turns, appropriately, to the functioning of the Trinity for an answer to how to look at a leadership model. She calls this egalitarian servanthood. All members of the Godhead act in a unified, loving and conciliar way while eschewing authoritarian, coercive or dictatorial methods. (p.107)



ESS as a counter proposal

However, it seems that the Reformed crowd at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is stressing a “touch not the Lord’s anointed” style of leadership. In fact, it is our contention that the current doctrine of the Eternal Subordination of the Son. Here is an article in Christianity Today on the issue entitled "Anathemas All Around". Could it be that it was dreamed up in order to negate the egalitarian model of the Trinity? This would serve two purposes. It would bolster a Moses-styled, authoritarian pastorate and it would provide fodder for the eternal submission of women to men. In other words, there are many out there who want to justify and enforce a hierarchical model of the Trinity. Egalitarianism can be too much work and it’s cooler, for some, to be a dictator


Servant leadership based on the Trinity is the key


In a book entitled Upside Down: The Paradox of Servant Leadership, the author Stacy Rinehart, quoted in Orlowski’s book on p.108, gives the following view of such leadership:

  • “Multiplicity of leaders with shared authority
  • Leaders should share both unity and diversity
  • Every person’s unique and complementary role should be celebrated
  • Relationships should be the priority, not the task of an organization
  • People should listen and discuss the merit of one another’s contributions
  • Leadership can rotate as different people take the lead on different occasions”


Jesus’ teachings on leadership


Let’s take a look at Jesus, who as the visible member of the Godhead, taught us about leadership: the good, the bad and the ugly


Mark 9:33-37 (NIV) "They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”


  • Quit thinking about and plotting your authority.
  • Do not think about yourself as someone specially anointed.
  • The real authority is found in those who give it up.
  • The greatest shall be the servant. This really means to be a servant, not a pretend servant. No, this does not mean that someone is a servant if he gets up and preaches each Sunday. Think about the life of a servant.


Mark 10:42-45 (NIV) "Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”


  • Do not exercise authority liked the Gentile high authorities
  • Give up your life for others
  • Be a slave to others


The Last Supper/Foot Washing John 13:1-17


Jesus was under duress. His supposed friend was about to sell Him out. He was going to endure awful pain and humiliation. Did he fuss and complain? Did He chastise His disciples? Did He spend time thinking about how bad it was? No, He thought of the others and washed their feet.


Matthew 18:3-6 (NIV) "And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”


  • Be like a child who has no power in society.
  • Welcome and hang out with those who have no power in society
  • Don’t do anything that would cause one of these powerless ones to lose the faith
  • In fact, if, in doing your job, you think you could hurt the powerless ones, get out of that position.



Paul tells us about the body of believers.

1 Corinthians 12:8-11 (NIV) “To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines”.


Everyone has a vital role in the church and everyone has been given the ability to participate in discerning what the Spirit of Christ is saying in a community. (p.114)


What is the New Testament view on church governance.


Recently, there seems to be an awful lot of emphasis on authority, usually, in my opinion, by those who would desire it. In fact the word, “authority” rarely appeared in the writings of Paul. (p.113) However, according to the author, there seemed to be no exact, unitary pattern of church government. There was evidence of democratic elements, as previously discussed, monarchichal elements (apostles appointed and ordained officers and instructed the churches, and elders. (p116). So there seemed to be no one size fits all. As the author says, “We want to be a New Testament church” is not the question. In fact, the correct response would be “To which New Testament church are you referring?” (p.117)

She says there are some common elements to consider. (p.117)

  • 1 Corinthians placed value on order. Total individuality is not desirable because we are to function in some form of unity.
  • It is helpful to have certain persons responsible for certain ministries. An example would be those who ministered to the widows.
  • There is a priesthood of all believers.
  • Each person is vital to the functioning of the whole body


Therefore, the author suggests the following two-part model p.118)

  1. “The congregational form of government merely fulfills the above common elements which take seriously the principle of the priesthood and spiritual competency of all believers and it also takes seriously the promise that the indwelling Spirit will guide ALL believers.
  2. " Simultaneously, the need for orderliness suggests that a degree of representative government is necessary. Therefore, in some situations, leaders need to be chosen in order to take suitable action on behalf of the group.”


However, according to the author, it appears that many who assume the leadership role in many churches tend towards the “command and control” style of leadership. We will return to this subject next week as we examine how to spot a Biblical leaders and avoid “authority junkies.” For now, here is Lesson 1.

  • Do you feel like your pastor and leadership want to listen to you?
  • Do they even know who you are?
  • Do you feel like a valued member of your church?
  • Do you feel like your talents and time are well used?
  • Do you think the church would be weakened if you left?


Lydia's Corner: Numbers 21:1-22:20 Luke 1:26-56 Psalm 57:1-11 Proverbs 11:9-11




Spiritual Abuse Recovery: Avoid Authority Junkies — 15 Comments

  1. Notice: Undefined variable: button in /home/guswo2wr8yyv/public_html/tww2/wp-content/plugins/quote-comments/quote-comments.php on line 127

    This post brought to mind the following quotation by Lord Acton:

    “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

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    This post immediately reminded me of the following quotation by Lord Acton:

    “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

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    I like basic egalitarian democracy in the church body, with committees appointed by and reporting to a monthly church meeting, deacons or elders elected by the body for spiritual ministry (concern about the spiritual health of the congregation and individual members) and caring for those in need, and staying out of the business affairs of the church as a deacon or elder body. In churches like that, there will always be minor disagreements, but learning how to love while disagreeing on small things can be critical to surviving when there is something major, like the pastor leaving or a staff member erring. Everyone loved a couple in one church we belonged to who always brought up that once in the plate the offering belonged to God and we must be good stewards of it — whereupon they objected to coffee service on Sunday without at least an implied charge per cup — they always lost, and always were faithful, giving beyond a tithe from their retirement.

  4. Notice: Undefined variable: button in /home/guswo2wr8yyv/public_html/tww2/wp-content/plugins/quote-comments/quote-comments.php on line 127

    One thing stood out to me in this article,

    “It is helpful to have certain persons responsible for certain ministries. An example would be those who ministered to the widows.”

    According to the book co-authored by Jeff VanVonderen, “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse”, he emphasizes “Authority vs. Responsibility.” Many authoritative churches such as the one that I came out of, responsibility is assigned to the congregants such as Sunday school and leading bible studies, but they are not given the authority. There is a tight control on what messages are given. Those who have been given the responsibility of the task (even though they never signed up for the job in the first place) are given prescribed messages by the elders or the pastor.

    Unless a Sunday school teacher is preaching heretical doctrines, I do not believe they should be controlled on what messages they give since they too are led by the Spirit. Not just the leaders.

  5. Notice: Undefined variable: button in /home/guswo2wr8yyv/public_html/tww2/wp-content/plugins/quote-comments/quote-comments.php on line 127

    I’ll share the same view here that I’ve shared in other threads. The kind of church government a church has does not matter. What matters are the hearts of the people in leadership positions. Even at a pastor led church (Moses model) so long as that pastor’s heart is in the right place and he is a servant leader guided by the Holy Spirit, there will be no abuse. He/She may screw up. That’s the human thing to do but they will be convicted and correct. That’s the Spirit’s job.
    Highly democratic churches arn’t neccessarily such a good thing, and in fact I’ve begun to question whether they are even Biblical. The reason is that it becomes exceedingly hard to get things done especially in churches with lots of commitees. It easily becomes a microcosim of a secular government and we all know how well that works.
    There is no perfect system of church governance. Which does not mean we swear off church. Any form of government can work if the peoples hearts are in the right place. If they aren’t we should work within the system to correct the situation and if it continues then leave the fellowship.

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    The reason that some people do not like democratic governing churches is because the process is messy. However, there is a possibility that we have taken on the values of our culture in wanting things “to get done.” In fact, I have one pastor who says that God is far more interested in the process than the end result.

    I actually am moving away from the Moses model to more of a democratic viewpoint. I think that such a thing is very Biblical.It allows for the serious input of everyone in the process.In order to get things done, we are forced to hear other people, carefully express and convince others of our goals and wishes.

    Compromises take place and everyone is a little uncomfortable because people have to give up a little bit.We are forced to hear the Spirit speaking through both the leaders and the least of these. If we really buy that the Spirit dwells in each believer, it stands to reason that each believer will have something to add.

    In the end, the church is about fellowship, not programs. We are not the military, conducting a war, but the Body of Christ experiencing one another. The least of these could have just as much insight as the really smart business man.We learn more about unity when we struggle together than we do with a boss man telling everyone what to do.

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    I am beginning to think more and more as you do. There is beauty in dissension. In fact, there are some who think that dissension is not unifying. I actually think that there is far more unity involved in learning to hear the Spirit speak through the mouths of those who do not think like us. But for some, anyone who disagrees with them is a potential enemy because they do not have enough faith that there really is a Spirit who speaks through everyone. They want one answer, by golly, and it better be the answer that they think is correct.

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    Amen and amen. Well stated. First of all, no one should tell someone what to do.Each individual should think through their gifts and bents and find a place in which those are utilized. The should do something they enjoy and should be encouraged to try. Responsibility and authority must be given to the individual of they do not feel trusted.

    I still remember when my wonderful pastor, Pete Briscoe, asked me to teach a course on the Reformation. I am a bit of a history junkie. I was shocked and told him I didn’t think women could teach. Well, he disabused me of that notion. I was delighted to have a forum to share my thoughts. I continue to teach from the time forward. Pete was my biggest encourager. When I moved away, his last words to me were, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t teach.”

    That is the role of leaders. To spot gifts and to cheer people on, giving them the support they need to grow. There are not many Petes in this world.

  9. Notice: Undefined variable: button in /home/guswo2wr8yyv/public_html/tww2/wp-content/plugins/quote-comments/quote-comments.php on line 127

    Dee I hear ya. I’m just saying I’ve never come across much Biblical evidence that NT churches should be governed in such a way that everything is up for a vote. That’s a 16th & 17th century ideal sprung from the Reformation that has found traction in modern western civilization. It’s sure as heck a good and fair way to run a country (at least I think it’s the best way anyone’s yet to come up with, even though it’s messy). I’m not convinced it’s the best way to run a church. Like I’ve said before even at churches where there is no vote the members still control the power of the purse. They can’t make me write them checks.
    Let me ask you this. Let’s take Moses model church A. We can call it Jerry’s First Moses Model Unreformed Former SBC Church. I know it’s catchy but real hard to fit on a sign.
    Anyway let’s say it’s pastor led, elder advised and the members don’t get to vote. Provided those leaders are led by the Spirit like they’re supposed to be, alert to and sensitive of the needs and opinions of the members like they’re supposed to be, about the bussiness of the Kingdom and humble servant leaders like they’re supposed to be; then what would be wrong with running the church in that way? I’m just saying it’s more about the people a church has in it’s leaders than about the form of the church government.

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    I think that one of the reasons people get hung up on what the New Testament teaches about church government is that we’re looking for answers to questions that weren’t being addresses in the New Testament.

    If you look back to the New Testament descriptions of what took place when the church met, and what we know of the earliest church history, you see very little, if any, specific commands in regards to form, but rather various descriptions regarding functions. You see churches with every member using their God-given gifts to contribute to the routine functions and activities taking place in each meeting of the congregation. You see multiple persons who, based on their evident and acknowledged spiritual maturity, are designated (appointed, either by apostles or by the congregations themselves) to provide oversight (godly counsel, encouragement, instruction). You see simplicity, informality, and spontaneity, with just enough order to avoid chaos, self aggrandizement, or favoritism, and just enough structure to ensure that they are able to accomplish the primary functions of the body as an organic unit and as bearers of God’s light to the world (fellowship, meeting one another’s needs, teaching, prayer, worship, baptism, communion, evangelism). Underlying all of it, you see a heart of service and a commitment to the well-being and growth in Christ-likeness of others, all motivated by love.

    What you do not see in the New Testament references to church are buildings, or budgets, or staff, or salaries, or programs, or pastimes. While those things are neither commanded nor forbidden in the New Testament, the total lack of reference to them ought to tell us something about their relative significance in the grand scheme of things. And when you all of those things from the equation – things that we focus on so much in churches today –then what does “church government” start to look like? What sort of decisions need to be made, when there is no carpet or heating and air conditioning unit to replace? How would it impact our thinking about “who’s in charge” when how “the church’s money” is spent isn’t a primary consideration?

    I believe that concerns about church government, no matter the form, have a lot more to do with our culture’s priorities and values (especially in regards to money) than with biblical doctrine.

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    Jerry of the First Moses Model Unreformed Former SBC Church (I would come to a service just out of curiosity-bet the doctrine would be wild)

    I am neutral on the concept. Here is why. Expediency is a human trait. I think it would be best to slow it down and have conversation, debate, etc. The reason this seems so impossible is because Jerry’s FMMUMSBC church is a mega with thousands of members who don’t know each other from Adam and may have met their pastor only once in a line to shake his hand. I think this is appalling. We don’t have the Body, we have a stadium.

    No wonder pastors make decisions and elders are chronically recycled big time givers. Who has time for Nancy, the overweight,single mother with 3 kids who lives in subsidized housing and must be a bit of a loser if she couldn’t keep a husband and live in a $300,000 house(dripping sarcasm, btw)? Problem is, Nancy is hearing from the Holy Spirit but she is not one of the movers and shakers so she is not listened to.

    We are not unified because we don’t have time to get to understand and know each other. The programs are the mission and the people like Nancy are merely spectators and rather unimportant in the big picture (sarcasm again).

    Leaders are merely men (usually no women are asked for input unless they are married to one of the movers and shakers who give big money) who will become expedient. I say that expediency is the problem. I like the idea of a messy, slow process in which Nancy has an equal voice to Elder Jim Bob who owns the big car dealership in town.

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    FMMUMSBC is not a mega. Only the name is large. You are quite right I’m not sure why anyone would want to attend one of those huge churches. It’s like mass marketing for Chritianity.

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    “I think that one of the reasons people get hung up on what the New Testament teaches about church government is that we’re looking for answers to questions that weren’t being addresses in the New Testament”

    Good stuff, junkster.

    Frank Viola said something similar to this. I had one pastor tell me I am arguing from silence on this issue of church government. :o). In truth, he is reading into it what is not there. there is no prescribed, standardized church polity model for all the ekklesia in the NT. Except for perhaps Diotrephes and we know he was in sin. :o)

    And yes, ‘functions’ within the Body are discussed and/or described in the NT. But, alas, sinful man made them into “offices” for a professional and paid clergy class.

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    “Dee I hear ya. I’m just saying I’ve never come across much Biblical evidence that NT churches should be governed in such a way that everything is up for a vote.”

    I don’t have time to look it up now but when checking the Greek on the word “appoint” the description was “hand stretching” as in voting. I am not saying that is the only definition but I was astonished it was there at all.