Spiritual Abuse: 10 Ways to Spot it

spiritualabuseThis topic has been ricocheting in my heart and head many years. But recently, I’ve noticed a greater influx of reader email about this topic, so much so that I felt it would be wise to address it. Although I am thankful I haven’t had an extreme experience with spiritual abuse, I have had some incidences that have scarred me and made me leery of churches and ministries that bully.

Some of my spiritual abuse experiences include:

  • A leader above me telling me that even though I was burned out and losing my health, I had to stay in the ministry because if I didn’t I would lose all my gifting to do future ministry.
  • A church that repeatedly told us they basically had the corner on the market of Jesus and that if we had to go elsewhere, we would miss God’s highest.
  • A leader who found ministry to be a vehicle for his great gain, lying and manipulating donors to earn more and more money.
  • A ministry that shamed me into throwing away all my evil music (including Lionel Ritchie and Duran Duran…oh the evil!)
  • A leader who cornered me, threatened me, and yelled because I brought up a concern that others saw. This led to panic attacks.

Perhaps you have a story to tell too.

I woke up last night at 3 in the morning with this burden I couldn’t shake. I sat down and wrote these traits of spiritually abusive ministries and churches. This is not an exhaustive list, but it typifies what happens. Often you don’t realize you’re in a situation until your health is damaged, your soul is torn, or your outside relationships suffer. My heart in sharing this is to simply shed light on unhealthy, manipulative, controlling practices.

Spiritually abusive ministries…

  1. Have a distorted view of respect. They forget the simple adage that respect is earned, not granted. Abusive leaders demand respect without having earned it by good, honest living.
  2. Demand allegiance as proof of the follower’s allegiance to Christ. It’s either his/her way or no way. And if a follower deviates, he is guilty of deviating from Jesus.
  3. Use exclusive language. “We’re the only ministry really following Jesus.” “We have all the right theology.” Believe their way of doing things, thinking theologically, or handling ministry and church is the only correct way. Everyone else is wrong, misguided, or stupidly naive.
  4. Create a culture of fear and shame. Often there is no grace for someone who fails to live up to the church’s or ministry’s expectation. And if someone steps outside of the often-unspoken rules, leaders shame them into compliance. Can’t admit failure but often searches out failure in others and uses that knowledge to hold others in fear and captivity. They often quote scriptures about not touching God’s anointed, or bringing accusations against an elder. Yet they often confront sin in others, particularly ones who bring up legitimate biblical issues. Or they have their circle of influence take on this task, silencing critics.
  5. Often have a charismatic leader at the helm who starts off well, but slips into arrogance, protectionism and pride. Where a leader might start off being personable and interested in others’ issues, he/she eventually withdraws to a small group of “yes people” and isolates from the needs of others. Harbors a cult of personality, meaning if the central figure of the ministry or church left, the entity would collapse, as it was entirely dependent on one person to hold the place together.
  6. Cultivate a dependence on one leader or leaders for spiritual information. Personal discipleship isn’t encouraged. Often the Bible gets pushed away to the fringes unless the main leader is teaching it.
  7. Demand servanthood of their followers, but live prestigious, privileged lives. They live aloof from their followers and justify their extravagance as God’s favor and approval on their ministry. Unlike Jesus’ instructions to take the last seat, they often take the first seat at events and court others to grant them privileges.
  8. Buffer him/herself from criticism by placing people around themselves whose only allegiance is to the leader. Views those who bring up issues as enemies. Those who were once friends/allies swiftly become enemies once a concern is raised. Sometimes these folks are banished, told to be silent, or shamed into submission.
  9. Hold to outward performance but rejects authentic spirituality. Places burdens on followers to act a certain way, dress an acceptable way, and have an acceptable lifestyle.
  10. Use exclusivity for allegiance. Followers close to the leader or leaders feel like insiders. Everyone else is on the outside, though they long to be in that inner circle.

Have you ever experienced this kind of situation? What did you do? How did you heal in the aftermath? And what can we do as responsible Christ followers to expose this kind of abuse? What can we do as leaders to follow in the gentle footsteps of Jesus?

  • Theresa Grant

    Two things that are implied in your list but not outwardly stated are that there is often either nepotism or cronyism (or both). This can lead to many gifted people leaving when they are not given opportunities to use their gifts to serve in the church, and people who may not be gifted in an area remain in charge as they are in the leader’s inner circle.

    • Mary DeMuth

      Nepotism and cronyism is a huge problem. Thanks for bringing that up.

  • escapee from church

    Here is my comment:

    There are a couple of problems with focusing just on spiritual abuse in the church. First, we tend to focus on the traits of the abusive church. Which are essentially the same as a cult. This then is likened to abuse within a family. Well and good and similarities are there. BUT our search is WHY we allowed ourselves to be deceived in the first place OR why we felt so much guilt or anger or whatever the feelings are to give these PEOPLE the power over our lives that God should really have (an idol)? Second, it is really not the church but a symptom of ourselves. For example, I was involved in an abusive church. However, the Lord had begun to show me (I was new into leadership) that something was “wrong”. The problem is I wasn’t sure what was “off”. So I brought it up in a meeting. Oh goodness. That was a mistake. Or was it? Didn’t this same thing happen to Yeshua? To Paul? To the disciples? It is a religious or power or control spirit that is actually at work in the man or church. But in us too. This human tendency of man was used by our Father’s purposes to cause Yeshua to martyr Himself for our sins so that if we call on His name…. we can be saved. BUT to what are we saved? To spend our time in church and following what a man says? NO! Doing the works of the Messiah which is getting people out of institutions that have added traditions and rules of their own whether said or implied. This is the problem. WE turned our hearts toward a MAN or an NSTITUTION of a man. That was in OUR hearts. That was OUR Sin. Remember sin is missing the mark of keeping a commandment. Isn’t idol worship, people, places, things etc what we actually did? We didn’t test the spirts. Maybe we didn’t know how. Back to my story: I actually got angry with God and cut my ties with Him. Disaster. You say “ric that is nuts didn’t He get you out of there?” He did. But I was wounded by these people. I was wounded that I placed my trust in MAN. SInce this time God has restored me and I no longer put my focus in men or religion or to be approved by either. I work hard to be wary of this tendency within me. I want to get a solid foundation in scripture but at the same time spend lots of time with Him in prayer and listening. Why? Because that way He is teaching me as He promised He would versus Man. It has led me to a new understanding of God’s commandments (His devine instruction to us) (remember there was no new testament when Yeshua was on the earth and He asked us to follow his commandments John 14:15. Either way, spiritual abuse is our wrong focus, we had a need in our lives for something that we tried to fill with Man. And God allowed us for a time and a season. Repent. Ask for God’s help. Even in an abusive relationship. Do the same. His power will lift and guide.

    Did you know that God will actually give you a lying spirt if you chase after a false teacher. “Hey wait ric my pastor wasn’t a false teacher.” Really? Do you know what one is? Better read deut 13.1-18 and see how diligent we are to be.
    Notice this scripture for verification that Paul says God gives us the lying spirit if we choose to follow a man or movement. 2 Thessalonions 2: 9. For the coming of that (Evil One) is the working of haSatan with all power and signs and lying wonders 10. and with all the deceptiveness of iniquity in them that perish; because they did not receive the love of the truth by which they might have life. 11. Therefore Elohim will send upon them the strength of a deception that they may believe a lie; 12. and that they all may be condemned who believe not the truth but have pleasure in iniquity. (AENT.org)
    I believe that it is for our own good that He does this. Why? It is a form of judgment on us that we get back to Him. Men will disappoint. It is in our nature. Sin nature that is! Repent and find grace. Which is the power to do God’s will by stopping to sin Titus 1:11. Grace is a fantastic teacher of Godly living.

  • Tami Drouillard

    this was sent to me by a friend it really helped me alot in dealing with alot of the nonsense that goes on in churches…..i was a pastors wife and i have seen alot of things done and said that is just a reproach until the god……some people really need to check themselves

  • Kesha

    Hi this is going on with me it’s the hardest thing because i don’t know what to do. I been recently praying and fasting and it’s for deliverance to wash me. And i decided to say YES GOD YOUR WILL. He begin to do a work in me and while in church I was getting delivered and then i heard loud noise in my ear someone speaking tongue where it was trying to get me out i can’t describe it. Well out of no where i jumped and rebuke it and the lady left me alone.This is crazy what was happening in church because it came back for me when i went into ushering for my deliverance. So I’m now caught up in Sunday coming who gone to come up to me.I’m not playing church speaking tongue that’s made up.

  • Kimberly Stewart

    Hey everything you said above is so true me and my husband have been hurt by two churches and each pastors didn’t even realizes they are hurting people and their spiritual growth. Everything above is so true because when I was reading it each section describe both pastors. Now we struck without church home. I had one minister to say that if we leave their congregation we left God. So we left because it wasn’t right!

    • Mary DeMuth

      I’m sorry this has happened to you!!!!

  • Katharine

    Yep, this is right on the money. Glad you thought to list it, Mary.
    And, yes, I did go through something similar. It was easy for me, or easier, anyway, because my husband had my back. And because of that, he was “unelected” as elder. Too bad. God had a pastorate for him in the near future and we just moved on. I did cry buckets and lose much respectability in that congregation, and almost passed out, one time, I guess in shock, but hey, what’s a bit of grief, compared to knowing your husband and your mighty God will catch you?
    Still hurts, though.
    Sighs.
    Oh, and one of my huge worries was how it would affect my teen kids. Ha. God had that one under control, too. When my accusers turned and asked me to teach a class, after all, and we were discussing it at the table as a sort of joke, (really!) my daughter said, “If you do, I’ll never speak to you again!” (still joking sort of) Good thing we’d already figured it was a no-go.
    Still hurts, though.

  • d

    My wife left me because of spiritual abuse. Her parents and the rest of the leaders of her church have her convinced if you aren’t getting closer and closer to God, you are moving further away. My spiritual abuse turned me into a pagan, and now an agnostic. She sees me as not helping her get closer to God so I must, therefore, be dragging her away. I have never had an issue with her being Christian and even tried to learn from her kindness, but now we are through. She just walked out tonight, saying if I can find her once I am of her same faith, then we will try again.
    This is twice, now, that christanity has robbed and betrayed me.
    How can I ever trust that the Christian God could ever exist and if it does, that it is good, to allow the world to be such a horrible place and to let such horrible acts to continue to be justified in the name of its will.

    • Mary DeMuth

      d, I’m so sorry this happened to you. It grieves me because Christ followers aren’t supposed to act this way.

      • d

        Is there anything that can be done? I have been prepaired to lose her for a while, but it is still the most draining, painful experience I have endured.

        • Mary DeMuth

          I don’t know. It sounds like such a difficult situation, and it sounds like no matter what you do, she won’t see it as good. :(

  • mercy

    I am going through the same now simply because am strict, didn’t contribute money, I fed a man, listen to secular music. you should see what they write about me on Facebook and am being told to apologize, am so hurt please help me.

  • Shawn Nickerson

    Thank you for your list. I just wrote an open letter to my abused brothers and sisters who have come out of mars hill church. https://medium.com/p/dbeb066b2261

  • Jbon311

    Guilt was our pastor’s poison of choice. We always went home from church feeling like we weren’t doing enough for THE CHURCH… not the Lord. We were guilted into volunteering for ministries and events…. as our “Service to the church = Service to God.” We were also made to feel guilty for not having a child… and not wanting one. We had to get out… QUICK! Then we were told “God never tells someone to leave a church” by the Pastor. I guess he’s the only one who can do that. We are still recovering!

    • Mary DeMuth

      Wow. That is so controlling. I’m sorry you walked through thar.

  • Diane Waltman

    “A SPIRTUAL JOURNAL”

    This book was written with a prayer that the truth of God will be known in your heart as you reflect on Jesus in everything He has done for you. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, plans to prospe…r you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

    It’s only by faith that I can begin to comprehend how You could take someone like me and declare me righteous. Your mercy overwhelms me. Your grace is beyond anything I have ever known. Thank you for clothing me with the righteousness of Jesus Christ and freeing me from the bondage of trying to earn my way to You.

    I know if there is anything good that comes from my life it will be You doing it in and through me. I thank You My Jesus, for the power of my salvation and keeping me close to you in Your Heart. You are my hope, my fortress, and my strength. Go to this link and it will take you right there…

    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FBUTZTQSee More

  • sketchesbyboze

    This is a wonderful post, and all so familiar. Thank you.

    • Kathy U

      Sadly, too familiar.

  • Gaston

    The “church” of my youth till I was 19 years old was everything and much more than this 10 signs! It was horrible! I see the results of the abuse in the families I grew up along side. How did I escape? I, at 19 encountered Jesus, for HE came to seek and to save me from my sin. THe journey for the last 30 years has been hard, very hard but HE is faithful! He has always loved me and is continually calling me to relationship to Himself. I am grateful! So grateful for forgiveness and grace!

    • Mary DeMuth

      I’m grateful on your behalf!

  • Pastor Randy

    Most of what I see talked about in this blog is actually the product of false teaching and out and out heresy. Sound doctrine does not allow for these types of abuses; there is no way that any of these “practices” or approaches or points of view will stand the scrutiny of scripture. Churches that hold their leadership to the accountability of scripture do not allow these types of things to take place; they are all grounds for dismissal. Any church that does not have any means of holding a pastor or elder or even a leadership circle accountable for their teaching and their treatment of people is functioning in a non-biblical church governance. That “exclusive language” that is mentioned is almost always a sure sign of false teaching. Sound doctrine is neither rare or exclusive.

    • Mary DeMuth

      That could be true, though many would argue that their doctrine is sound; it’s their need for control that brings in oppression.

  • http://hikingtowardhome.com/ Sharon@HikingTowardHome

    I know this is an old post but… Mary you nailed it!!! Every single one of these was present in our situation. So sad for those stuck in it and can’t even see it.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com/ Mary DeMuth

      i so agree.

  • Mindmelda

    This is exactly why I left Jehovah’s Witnesses.

  • Alana C

    I can also concur with spiritual abuse in a church I went to many years ago. Amongst many things that were said to me by church leaders (Some, not all) that I felt condemned by, was one of the pastors having a go at me about my competance as a wife to my abusive husband. I lived in that marriage for almost ten years out of fear that if I left, I was disobeying God and hurting the children emotionally. My ex husband screamed at our children often, physically and emotionally bullied my oldest son(his stepson) and the abuse was ignored by the church leaders. I was only a young Christian at the time, not very knowledgable on the Word and I put up with it for fear that I was not being a ‘good Christian wife’ if I ended my marriage! Afew years later. my oldest son turned to drugs and alcohol and I almost lost him to suicide on a few occasions, because of the abuse from his stepfather.I should have intervened sooner and left my ex husband sooner! Praise God, my son is coming out of that life now. Its been a long haul, but I dont believe for a second God wanted me to stay in that farce of a marriage! Im not at all saying all wives should leave their husbands. I am saying that as wives and mothers, if we are in a situation, whether a marriage or a church, if we feel intimidated or miserable through abuse, we should pray and seek ‘good, Godly and reputable’ Christian counsel, then make a decision to change things based upon the Word of God (Ephesians 5:22-33) When we go through abuse, whether it be spiritual, verbal or emotional abuse, search the Word of God and pray about your situation. God will show you what to do. Yes, the Bible commands us as wives to submit to a husbands authority, as Jesus submitted to His heavenly Father. However, the Bible teaches also that husbands have a duty of care to their wives to be gentle towards them and not bitter, and to care for them and protect them. If a husband is abusing his wife and children (Ephesians 6:4), he is abandoning his covenant relationship and the duty of care God has given to him as a Christian husband and father! The same applies to church leadership I believe. Ministers are not to laud it over their congregation. we are human and all slip up from time to time, but if the church leaders do and say things to manipulate people to their own ends,(Jesus Himself rebuked the Pharisees for such treatment of the people under their leadership) then it is not from God and we have every right to question their leadership!! God bless you dear sisters in the Lord! May He who is faithful, help you to find the answers to your situations!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com/ Mary DeMuth

      I’m so glad you’re in a safe place and that your son is doing better. What a painful situation! This is why I wrote this novel: Life in Defiance. http://amzn.to/ytvRZz

  • Vwilk

    What do you mean by “shamed” you into throwing out your music? It’s secular. Why wouldn’t you do that willingly?!

    • Mary DeMuth

      I don’t think secular music is bad. I listen to it now.

  • licoricecat

    I have had Spiritual Abuse and Physical Shunning to the Extreme. Some of the Mega Churches are the few churches that have a Singles Group that is large. A Women’ Leader did not like me for some reason unknown to me and refused to meet with me to “work it out”. The Main Pastor of the Church refused to discuss it since she was an employee there. She had me banned from every class including the Choir after she went to each Leader and whispered, wrote notes on me in her notebook when she went from one classroom to another and soon I was banned from each class and each Leader refused to tell me why and the Sr. Pastor refused to discuss it. She also took a picture of me 1 time while I was practicing in the choir that I was banned from. She also had me Escorted out of Church after service when she saw me and the Security are usually Retired Police Officers volunteering for the Church. Within time, I got a letter from the Assistant Pastor banning me from Church and told I cannot walk on their property and all Pastors refused to tell me why. Letter stated, because I have problems and they can’t help me. I shared some of the problems initially because I wanted PRAYER and told all is confidential. (nothing binding this in Church). Be careful what you ask for Prayer about because it may not be kept confidential like they say. Usually they will tell Minister/Pastor and then the Church Staff find out and then the entire Church finds out and SHUNS you treating you like leprosy. The Singles Group became: the family I did not have, the friends, dating partners, do activities together outside of the Church like camping, pot lucks and get togethers, Bible Study, Your Support System. I get this Letter from the Assistant Pastor that states, “You are not allowed to entire the premises of this Church and the address or you will be Arrested”. No reason, just that you have problems. The Minister only met with me 1 time and told me I cannot talk about what this Women Leader is doing so the meeting was unproductive. They delivered the letter when I was at a Women’s Bible Class where I did no talking just listening. When it was over, there were 7 Police Officers from Vicinity who surrounded me, handed me the Letter and Escorted me out of the Church.

    I never went back to this day. However, this Mega Church has a large role in many Christian Large Functions in the area with many other Churches and houses some of the choir and music practices if you are in the Choir in their Building. This Church Shares their Facilities with many other Churches and when I volunteer, I cannot attend the Practices when Held at “this Mega Church”. Ministers in other Churches also ban me from Volunteering and Groups in their Church because the Main Mega Church and other Churches allow people to attend classes in each others Churches and members go back and forth–sharing facilities and they do not want me in the classes due to gossip from Mega Church. In order to keep good partnership with this Mega Church—-they Ban me from Participating in Classes or Volunteering in Any Capacity in my New Church.

    This Mega Church and other Ministers Swap Stories during Meetings and Compare Notes and my name comes up. Next thing I know, my new Church is banning me from classes and volunteering and will not let me Participate or let me help in any way. It is very important for Members or Participants to Volunteer of Any Large Group even if not a Church for a person to feel “a part of and organization”. If a person does not Volunteer or contribute and attends a group —-it is hard to feel part of that Group. I will not Join Any Church unless they allow me to Volunteer or Participate using my Talents is my Benchmark.

    The Mega Church that Banned me 5 years ago has a new Women’s Leader and stated that I cannot call there but they will allow me to write 1 letter of Reconciliation that I have typed out 3 times thus far with the details of what was done but do not know the Why’s it was done. I have not sent it yet because there are many Facts that they might not even be aware of what this Women’s Leader did that was Abusive to Me and it might bring up more vindictiveness towards me. I do not know exactly what a Reconciliation Letter is and heard Sermons at other Churches on Reconciliation and that the Church needs to Build Up the Person that was Harmed so I do not know exactly why I would be writing this to the Church that has Harmed Me. I have nothing to apologize for except that I am sorry that this has happened and I am sorry that the Leaders of the Church banned and shunned me and used the Police to ban me and escort me out. Exactly what should I address in this Reconciliation Letter that I would need to Write to the Church when it is the Church that needs to Build Me Up When I have been Devastated by their Actions. I lost my entire support system during a Crisis and Abuse Occurring in my Life and the Church Rejected Me in Every Way!

    What is a Reconciliation Letter and What Do I put In it? and will this really stop the continuous remarks from people in this Mega Church that see me at Functions. Incidentally many people give Donations to this Mega Church because they do many Charitable Deeds in World so Public Sees them but in my experience they have no Love or Sensitivity when it came to my situation of Abuse and no family and the Bible says clearly, “If you have NO LOVE and you do wonderful charitable things but you have NO LOVE you are Nothing, Just a Clanging Cymbal and He will say He never knew you on Judgment Day. What you do to the Least of My Brethren/SIster—You Do Unto Me”.

    • Mona Lisa Kent

      If I were you I would get a lawyer…

  • Roxane

    I am a survivor of domestic and spiritual abuse. I learned something eye-opening from a Christian ministry that worked with domestic violence. Statistics looked at the vocational choices of those who participated in domestic abuse. The highest numbers went to law enforcement jobs, at all levels. The second highest was pastors. Perhaps this sheds a little light on why there is so much spiritual abuse.

    My first experience with spiritual came about when I disagreed with a pastor over his ultra-conservative position on women. (He wouldn’t allow me to make an announcement about an event that I was planning for the church unless my husband stood and introduced me, and stayed beside me to demonstrate his authority over me.) This erupted after I confided in a small group of women leaders about things going on at home. The group included the pastor’s wife. I was shamed for putting my abusive husband in bad light. The pastor followed by taking my husband to breakfast and shaming him for not having control over me. He then stripped me of my service in the church.

    The second occurred after I started seminary. I was attending the same seminary that the pastor had attended, but I wasn’t good enough for his school and he opposed it. I had to go to a pastor of a different church to get my recommendation. The position of this church was to allow women to serve in any capacity except eldership. But when people attending a Bible Study that I taught wanted me to continue teaching it after the pastor started one, he changed the rules and req’d all Bible study teachers to be Elders. So my study group was ousted from the church.

    I have subsequently started a non-profit ministry in Colorado for people who have had bad church experiences or are disillusioned with the church.

    • Mary DeMuth

      I am so sorry you walked through all this, but am grateful you’re using your experience to help others.

  • irma

    Yes this I experienced from jealous church members from a chur ch. I left the Lord because of it and blamed it on God…:( the audacity of me doing that was wrong , but years have passed and now I find out that my mother has been behind all this as well :( God gave me this verse today Philippians 2: 12 and I have found that my mother and father are complete narcissistis for them there is no space to grow spiritually because they have it all figured out. They don’t need any more repenting to do. Its sickening to hear them talk about spiritual matters any ways, my mother went as far to tell the ladies from praise and worship that I was not ready to lead worship. She told me that she couldn’t take me to church simply because she did not feel like going and that I should call sister so and so to replace me!! My OWN mother was jealous of me!!! I know fr details i have given few but i had lived wi th her all times that i was in ministry at that church.she would tell me that I was a really bad daughter that why in the heck does God bless me bwith speakinh in tongues because I am not worthy of God. Whenever I would tell her to help me with sisters that were older were abusing me emotuinally she told me that I HAVE TO TAKE IT BECAUSE SHE IS MY ELDER AND SHE IS MY SISTER IN CHRIST that GOD WANTS ME TO FORGIVE EVERY TIME…this lead for me to stay in an ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP OF 2 YEARS . THEN my parents woukd tell me IT IS NOT OKAY FOR SOMEONE TO ABUSE YOU. BUT when meeting this guy…my father PUSHED me into the room where I w as not allowed to hear what he was telling him and his fam. Later on I found out that my father had told him”she doesn’t know how to do anything hse doesn’t know how to cook ( my mothrr NEVER wanted toteach me…she was always BUSY!!! ) SHE IS STUPID” and I know this because onone of his abusive rampages he mentioned this”man your father is right!! You ARE. stupid and you really don’t know how to do ANYTHING” and this resounded on my head for days and days.Then the Lord told me that he wanted me for full time ministry and I wanted to go to LABI and he said NO BIBLE SCHOOL IS NOT FOR YOU YOU WILL BE SOMETHING ELSE. And when I got 4.0 in college and in the Deans List, he said “we honestly thought you were noyt going to make it” and when Gid had told me all wss going to be differe t with him andAndy OWN parents were the MAIN spiritual abusers. Because brothers and sisters love me but once they cross paths with my parents especially my mother thise brothers and sisters become judgemental telling me that I am not taking care of my sons and dauther correctly they turn abusice and cold abiusive as in when I am givi g a testimony they look at me with disgust. It was a lot byt Gods revelatiin wil receal to you the toxic people in your life and ALL HE WANTS YOU TO RESPOND WITH IS HIS COMMANDS LOCE THEM IN CHRIST AND STAY AWAY FROM THEM BUT WITH THE RIGHT MENTALITY. because it is NOT His will that his people be CONSTANLY being trampled on like animals thank you JESUS

    • Mary DeMuth

      I’m so sorry you walked through this!

    • Beth

      How do you know it is abuse and not me being stubborn .I had severe chest pain and was crying this leader never talks to me but gives me mean looks when Iam sad broken its not how you doing its in my face shunning.I am lefted feeling rejected crying to God

      • http://www.marydemuth.com/ Mary DeMuth

        I’m so sorry, Beth. Good leaders validate pain and empathize.

  • jim

    My family and I are going through this now. My wife and I started with this Church at it’s start about a year and half ago. It has grown to over 450 people within the last year.
    At first this young charismatic pastor asked of me to be a confidant and to ” keep him in line” so to speak. All was fine until I started to ask something of him in regards to local accountability and answering some question regarding comment the pastor made to me.

    He called me and we meant and in the pastors word” I want to work this out an answer your questions but we have a fundamental problem ” and then he worked me over. I won’t go into details but to say this it was a beat down. My wife and I have since been removed from all our duties because we are ” over worked and have given so much to the church” unquote.
    Mush of the list above applies to our situation that we are in the middle of. We are unsure of what to do.
    We have been dedicated church goers since we received the Lord in 1974. Never been church hoppers. I don’t know what to do, feel or think.

    • Jbon311

      “We have been dedicated church goers since we received the Lord in 1974. Never been church hoppers. I don’t know what to do, feel or think.” My husband and I were in the same situation. It made me sick to think of going through the process of looking for another church… but we finally were forced to do so. God bless you in this time and grant you wisdom to do the right thing!

  • Amy

    My spiritual abuse came from my cohabitation partner and father of my child. He would tell me he was a better Christian than I was and that I couldn’t teach him anything. He also asked me once, “you call yourself a Christian?”

    • http://www.marydemuth.com/ Mary DeMuth

      Ouch.

  • debbie MD

    Other characteristics are the leader playing one person or group off against another; not being accountable to others in leadership (or saying, if leader of a para-church organisation ie a charity, that they don’t need to belong to a church; using manipulation, flattery, belittling,undermining, threats, guilt-inducing etc in order to keep others under his control.
    Obviously a church leader like any other has to keep order and one swallow doth not a summer make. But if a pattern of such behaviour is seen then there questions should be asked.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com/ Mary DeMuth

      Really great points, Debbie.

  • sherry

    I left!, when no one would listen to my concerns and what I personally experienced,within the church.People are affraid of a church split or utter fall if the abbuser leaves and takes many with him.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com/ Mary DeMuth

      May the Lord begin His healing process in your life, Sherry.

  • Nikki b

    I’m stunned and concerned for myself after stumbling upon this. At least five of these points directly rings bells for me.

    • Mary DeMuth

      Oh dear. I pray God’s help, discernment and peace as you walk forward.

  • Katrinaroo

    Thank you so much for post this. I feel a little less crazy about whats going on with me right now. I am not experiencing all of these things, but a few are resonating deeply with me.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I’m so glad it helped, Katrina.

  • nessa3

    I recently left an abusive church. I have had other abuse in my passed but I think spiritual abuse is the worst. It has distorted my trust and view of God.
    It seems there is no future, no hope, no vision. It was all wrapped up in God and my spiritual beliefs..
    I am distant , want to want to but that’s all I have.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I’m so sorry you walked through this, Nessa. You need time to heal, to rest, to walk outside, to re-meet grace-giving Jesus.

  • Mark Burton

    I experienced SA once and am currently dealing with it. I questioned leadership that was not following the constitution and was told “we do not follow the constitution.” Currently have been harassed and threatened for trying to bring an issue before the congregation after it was not resolved by the pastor and deacons. But now I am equipped with many SA resources, like Orlowski’s Church Exiters.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Thanks for sharing your story, mark. I appreciate it. I’m sorry you walked through this.

  • Kris

    My spiritual abuse was done by my husband (soon to be ex). I just recognized it recently and was looking for some help understanding it.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Wow that makes it very complicated and painful. I’m so sorry.

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  • Michele

    I related to this so much! I was in a church that did all of these things and more. Thankfully, got out. It has taken me quite a while to heal from all the hurt, bad teaching, manipulation and abuse. I have been attending a healthy church that does not do any of the things that my old church did. This church is known for damaging people — it’s awful. I wish the Lord would just shut them down. I cannot even count now the number of people that I’ve known that have been hurt by this church. Just thankful I’m out.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Wow. I’m thankful you are free, Michelle.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lauro-Andrea/1439990992 Lauro Andrea

    Been there done that sister. I am now free. My cancer helped me see the truth.
    That said: the cancer was more fun than the church.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Wow. That’s so sad!

  • Joe

    Your points are not well-defined and misleading. You sound like someone who is embittered by your experience(s). In short, your article seems to want to help others; and while it may or may not do so, it does In fact help you gain a forum. The simple answer to this religious-type of disharmony is to read the scriptures for yourself. That is the best way to insulate yourself from “falsehoods” no matter how they manifest themselves.

    • meripng

      Joe, thankfully it does not seem like you have ever dealt with this. Yes, we are to go to the Scriptures, but in my case I was supporting my husband. He was an associate pastor at an abusive church. I saw it and spent many hours pouring over Scripture, praying, weeping before the Lord. In the end the Lord set us free, but it takes two people to resolve an issue, humility and submission to Gods Word join both sides and repentance on both sides. Please realize there are many who truly love the Lots and His Word who are stuck in terrible situations, and out of love are led like a lamb silently to the slaughter.

  • commentgal8

    I experienced all 10 of these things in my home church when I was 16 with a charismatic young youth pastor and his wife. I was basically extracted over the course of a year. My family were leaders in the church, and I considered a lot of others in the church family, as well. The most painful part wasn’t the abuse I took from the youth pastor and his wife. It was the neglect I experienced from the rest of my so-called “family” (biological and spiritual) as they allowed a new youth pastor and his wife, no older than 25, to usher me out the back door. We never talk about it. Ever. The only time my family brought it up was years later when they told me it was time to “forgive”, “get over it”, and “go back to a church that preaches the word”. Get over what? Forgive what? What “Word”? Because you sure didn’t acknowledge there was anything to forgive when that guy and his wife crushed my spirit at 16. And the “Word” they preached and that you claimed to live by led to that abuse and neglect. On the bright side, my relationship with God has never been better since I learned the hard way that my faith and trust needs to be put solely in Him. But I still can’t set foot in a church, fundamentalist or not, without getting the heeby-jeebies.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Wow, I’m so sorry. That sounds excruciating!

  • Mel

    Everything was fine with the church I attended for 12 years until I told the pastor and senior deacon I was standing down from doing things ( deacon and co-treasurer) to look after my dad who had terminal cancer. Then I committed the cardinal sin of reading my morning tea roster incorrectly and not realising that I was on. All it involved was putting out biscuits, cups and filling 2 kettles. Well you would think I had done the worst thing ever. Got yelled at by a fellow deacon for “forgetting”. Raised the issue with the pastor who reduced me to tears and accused me of a lack of commitment for the past year, which had been how long I had been dealing with my dad’s cancer. Along with dealing with my husband’s severe depression as well. He also said :” I don’t know why you are stepping down from doing things, your Dad’s not dying yet”. Despite knowing that my dad was 80 and no longer allowed to drive, leaving me ( only child ) responsible for his doctor and hospital visits, shopping and anything else he needed. This was in April 2012. Lost my dad in November of the same year. Made to feel like utter crap by the very people who should have had my back. Another “senior” church member said to me “Everyone goes through hard times” as if to imply I should just suck it up and get on with life. I was made to feel inferior for reducing my service load in church at a time when I should have been supported. Not one person at church ever asked me how I was coping or if I needed anything during that time ( not even the pastor ). I didn’t get a single minute of pastoral care. Needless to say my husband and I left a month later and the pastor reacted very badly to this ( thankfully with my husband present ), telling me I had “issues” etc…and going on the attack. I have another loving church now that supported me through the remainder of 2012 and my father’s illness and thank goodness for them otherwise I may have turned my back on church completely.

    • Mel

      Just to add a bit more, I believe also that the church I attended had become caught in a trap of “legalism”. Found the following definition – “Rather than treating
      others with love, grace, and forgiveness, as Christ commanded, abusive
      leaders offer little grace. They communicate instead that one’s worth
      and the amount of love one deserves depend on performance and status in
      their church. Abusive leaders expect believers to make heroic
      financial, time, and emotional sacrifices for their church and its
      members.” This was certainly the case for me. I was afforded no forgiveness for making an honest mistake over morning tea, and despite apologizing was completely castigated by the pastor, several deacons and senior church members. It seemed that I was only “in favour” when I was doing lots of things. I was still a worship leader, morning tea person and projectionist and intended to continue in those roles, just standing down from deacon and co-treasurer. The treatment I got dished out to me was appalling and I was so terribly hurt by it, made worse by the personal stuff I was going through at the time. I am in recovery mode now and doing better but it was the worst experience ( and I have been a life-long church attender).

      • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

        This is so sad. I’m sorry you weren’t supported when you needed it most. And such a strange reaction to forgetting tea. I’m glad you’ve found a new church home.

        • Mel

          Me too. Thank goodness that God led me to a church family that really does care. I thought it an overreaction to the whole morning tea thing too. Very odd.

      • Jbon311

        Thank you for sharing this!

  • http://twitter.com/frognparis Rebecca Erwin

    What would the list for spiritual abuse within a family look like? Some of these elements were part of the church I grew up in, but much of what I am unlearning is a result of parental spirituality. I just can’t put my finger on it.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      That’s hard to know, but I would imagine a lot of the same things, just in a more parental way, a “because I said so” mentality.

  • kk

    this writer is in need of alot of knowledge of Gods word in understand what God requires and those types of music is evil but you may not understand this cause you need to understand how the kingdom of darkness works

  • Jen

    thank you for your article on spiritual abuse in the church. I wanted to respond to your questions at the end regarding what we can do to help prevent this from happening. One thought is to not push individuals to belong to a ‘local’ church. If there isn’t a healthy one around they may more easily fall under the obligation and instruction to find a church based on location and not search for one that is healthier. I think especially newer Christians and those who don’t know that the oppression is out there are most susceptible. I have seen very good people fall into this. Thanks for sharing your thoughts & heart.

  • gardengirl

    Oh. Yeah. Been there, done that. We were in that inner circle. How scary is that?! It’s taken us literally 15 years after leaving the church itself to really understand who was in the wrong and why. We felt SO GUILTY for even questioning things, disloyal, and if we left, it was like we were leaving God himself. It was a really painful journey.
    Truthfully, looking back, it was like leaving a cult (even though I was in denial of this for a long time). And this was a small town big church, Pentecostal, but became charismatic in practice, and Word of Faith in teaching. Only I didn’t know where this teaching was coming from until this past year or so, after doing some research. I kept thinking when I questioned things, that surely’ it’s me that’s wrong, not the church, I just didn’t have enough faith’. This is why things didn’t work out for us (prosperity, etc). Somehow, we must have failed. (and that’s a whole other story)
    It’s been a very long slow process, but after He healed me from depression (some due to wrong thinking about this), and I started reading my Bible again, with a deep desire to see it as it was written, not someone’s warped interpretation, God met me in my desire to find Him again. And I did. In a way I couldn’t imagine, because of the pain, disappointment and disillusionment.
    I am SO THANKFUL that He loved me enough to not leave me where I was, even though there was a lot of pain in the process, and I didn’t understand it along the way. Now I have a much more balanced approach, right thinking (and the Bible talks a lot about right thinking!) and attitude. I am learning Obedience to His Word, no matter what comes. It’s not about what I get out of it (material blessings, etc) or what others deserve, but who He is and Who I represent. And because He is Worthy. It’s not based on emotion, how I feel today, but by faith, because I know He is always there. I take Him at His Word. And I am learning about Self-discipline. Hypocritical thinking. Humility.
    I will never, by God’s grace, ever allow myself to get in that situation again. Am I going it alone? I was, but I know now I need the Body of Christ as much as it needs me, and my desire is to see others set free from this bondage, and wrong thinking, and to see the Truth as it is written, and see them walk in it.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Such a hope filled testimony of how God redeems. Thank you for sharing your road back to restoration.

  • annie

    i knew someone who wanted to play the drums for just one “special number” but the pastor didn’t let him while we were seeing that her (the pastor) grandchild,9 yr old,plays the drum when there is no service,the pastor’s reason to the guy was the drums can be played by those who are in the music ministry alone…though the guy knows and formerly in the same ministry in his former church.that gave the guy a big discouragement…was the pastor accountable for that?

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Hard to say since I’m not in the situation, but I would say there is a difference between a control freak and an abuser. This sounds more like the former.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dixie.diamanti Dixie Diamanti

    Mary, this so resonates with me. The book I have just released “Climbing Out of the Box” my journey out of sexual and spiritual abuse into freedom and healing, is on this very subject, only it is my story. In writing the book I realized the sexual abuse just set me up to gravitate towards these types of ministries. In the rigid confines of religion and control I lost sight of my true freedom in Jesus. If you are interested in my book you can find it on amazon. Thanks for your transparencies!!!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      That’s an interesting point about your past affecting the types of ministries you gravitate toward.

  • only_butterflies

    Several years ago, there was an HBO documentary on self-proclaimed youth minister Justin Fatica and his “Hard as Nails” ministry. I personally knew Justin back when he attended Seton Hall as an undergrad. I was a campus minister at the time, and Justin had founded a group called “The 12 Apostles.” – a predecessor to his Hard As Nails Ministry featured in the documentary. I was not surprised that the Director of Campus Ministry, a longtime priest with a very moderate, tolerant approach to ministry – refused to support or even recognize the organization, because Justin’s approach was not only fanatical, but potentially detrimental to his impressionable young adherents. The rest of us just flat-out called it a cult.

    And reading this article on how to spot spiritual abuse made me realize just how right we were. It’s disgusting to see people like him prey on the marginalized to satisfy their own narcissistic tendencies. The world would be a better place without them.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Wow, that sounds really scary!

  • Lisa Gerken

    My entire family recently have suffered all 10 of these examples in a church that we all grew up in for over 30 years~ This has been by far the hardest season of my life and I am more discouraged than EVER to raise my 4 children in church if this is what they have to follow! My trust level in leadership/church/ and yes Christians is completely uprooted and shaken! We questioned leadership with concerns and were one by one shunned….and living in a small community I cannot even go into walmart without running into people who stare and say “ugh she is part of THAT family” …. I wake up every morning shamed and guilt ridden and I have no idea what I even did other than ask questions. I have no church to go to and now have no church to raise my children in…. I have NO answers and am more discouraged than I have ever been in my life.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Lisa, I’m so so so so sorry you’ve had to walk through this devastation. Nothing I can say will alleviate the betrayal. It will take time to heal, and the best way to heal will be scary and counterintuitive. Finding GOOD community without cultic tendencies will be the salve that heals the wound. Jesus, please send Lisa one amazing friend who can love her through this trauma. Amen.

    • gardengirl

      I am not sure what denomination you attended, but I am now considering other denominations, but researching very carefully their beliefs. For example, I went to a Pentecostal/charismatic church since I was about 15. I was convinced they were the only ones who ‘had it all’. (I have since left that church) Now I know the body of Christ is spread out, including Baptists, Anglicans, Methodists, etc – and not all those attending are true followers of Christ. There are many reasons one attends church. Being hurt and rejected by what appears to be your church family can affect one deeply. But don’t let this experience define the entire body of believers to you.

      This is a great opportunity – yes, opportunity – to find yourself in Christ. To find out what the Word really says, to see what God is saying to you in this situation, to find His love and acceptance, in such a deep and true way, that what others say will start to have less effect on you. It is hard when faced with rejection by what appears to be our own, and Christ can certainly relate to that! And yet He loved them, died for them, forgave them. Does it mean you continue to accept their abuse

  • concerned

    I came across this while trying to figure out if what I’m experiencing is spiritual abuse. Its been helpful so thankyou for sharing. I work in a church and have done for a while, faithfully just trying to do what i’m here to do…it was ok for a while (although i was aware of some messy stuff going on for other people also working here, some of which i had real concerns and questions about)…but i chose to stay out of it and just try to focus on my job. at the time these others were going thru a rough time, someone said to me, “you’ll be next”. when i say “rough time” i mean being what i call unfairly treated and not respected by elders and leaders, to the point of them losing their jobs, even though these guys were respected leaders themselves. anyway some time has passed and it seems my time has indeed come. eyes have turned to me and it feels like every move i make is being scrutinized. insinuations were even made about my husband being abusive, based on the fact that i looked unhappy. but during this time i was going to counselling and it was all to do with my situation in the church. i was unhappy becasue i was being misjudged and misunderstood. anyway this pribably makes no sense. im trying to be vague because this is all current. i’ve had difficulty in the past being honest about observations i make with regard to workplace relations, and ive just kept it to myself. it seems my problems started when i began speaking up (respectfully mind you) and asking questions. it seems when you speak the truth you get ostracised. im praying every day now for God to provide a way out.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      It does sound like you’re going through it. I’m very sorry. Particularly about them being suspicious because you seem sad. That’s very paranoid behavior. May Jesus walk you through this painful situation.

  • Wcatholic2

    I wonder if this is the case in the historic, or liturgical churches?

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I’m sure it’s everywhere.

  • http://www.facebook.com/athena.dean1 Athena Dean

    Thanks Mary…this post details exactly what I’ve experienced over the last 12 years with Sound Doctrine…every single point. The scary thing is that they now own the Christian publishing company I co-founded over 20 years ago.

    As you know, I’ve come out with my story at http://www.notafraidtotellmystory.com because I realized it may help set other people free.

    It truly is amazing what people will do in the name of the Lord and equally amazing how easily we can be deceived into thinking we are following the truth, when in fact we are believing a lie. I called myself a strong believer and had even been involved in full time ministry, yet my own pain and vulnerabilities made me susceptible to deception.

    All I can say now is praise God I am free from this abusive organization, and I pray for those still blinded by their lies.

    Thank you for so eloquently bottom-lining the symptoms of a destructive ministry.

  • http://theemptynestexpress.com/ Ms. Kathleen

    I am so happy I saw this post as I was leaving my prayer request (bless you for that!). Yes, in fact my husband and I were newborn Christians and weren’t being discipled and were courted (flattery kills) by some church leaders so joined this non-demoninational church.

    We went through all the above plus some. I think the church started out fine but things started going down hill very slowly and eventually we were part of the “inner circle” but humiliation was constant (I mention a little of this in my latest blog post). We were in that church for 6 years and the last 2 were horrible. You couldn’t even go eat lunch with another church member without fear that if you said something in a “wrong spirit” of being reported and then got the phone call…or public humiliation Horrific!

    When I got pregnant with my last child (21 yrs ago) I felt such relief in not having to go to church for awhile. I had a real difficult birth, etc… And was ordered by my doc (praise the Lord) to not do anything for 6 weeks, no climbing stairs – just bedroom to the bathroom to the kitchen – It was God!

    One night my husband ORDERED me to go to the Wed night service – (unusual for him) Anway, I boldly refused saying I never wanted to return.

    One of the pastors wives (probably the most powerful person in the church – the one woman who could do no wrong)) had an affair with another pastor (in 6 yrs 5 churches were created) and the entire leadership, except me as far as I knew, were justifying her behavior. My husband came home from the service and said, “Honey, I am so sorry, you are right and we are out of there!” HE set the captives free.

    A couple weeks later PBS did a cult special due to the Waco, TX incident and we saw many of the same signs. After we left many other families began leaving but the horrific phone calls and such we received were so abusive. When the phone rang I would cringe but I bravely hung on on whoever. We made a stand. I heard the church got much worse and that 11 or more divorces occurred and the church fell apart.

    Signs I recall are 1) I could never do anything right 2) public humiliation of one or two people at a service – supposedly to deliver the person from an evil spirit 3) One person always being right, in this case the head pastors wife who really ran the church 4) phone calls saying they were praying for you and the Lord told them this or that about you… 5) Gossip – everyone told everything to the pastors wife and her “best friend” 6) Fear – constant fear of being exposed – publicly humiliated and told it was for you own good 7) Sins of the past – always brought up 8) Leadership meetings used to discuss everyone in church and would last long into the night 9) Being “ordered” to serve in certain ministries 13) Friendships outside the church were taboo… 14) Family Time Stealers – Church Sun morning and night, Tues leadership meetings, Wed church night – often Friday something church wise was going on – Saturday night prayer nights… Not counting women’s meetings… They were constantly calling about something… And you were “in sin” if you missed anything.

    And many other things you mentioned. If you left the church you were going straight to hell.

    After we left we drifted for about 3 years. I LOVED IT! I didn’t care if we got involved in another church for quite awhile. Our marriage improved, my relationship with God improved… I studied and prayed and spent time with God… Then a boy called my son and asked him to go to a Kids Crusade one summer. I ended up taking all the kids. I loved it. A new church had opened up. I went one Sunday. Then encouraged my husband to go the next. He wasn’t thrilled. Then we invited the pastors over for supper. We drilled them (I felt so bad for them later) with questions… Anyway, they just loved on us and the next thing you know my husbands on the board, I’m teaching Sunday school and leading Women’s Ministries. We loved that church and then we moved up here but they are wonderful friends to this day.

    Oh, one things about the “cult” church. They had no outside covering… no accountability to anyone so that is something I do look for in a good church. We are pretty picky about where we attend, which is good.

    Sorry this is so long. Even though it was 20 years ago a lot is still fresh memory wise but my how the Lord healed us quickly… God is so good. One good thing though was they got me reading the WORD and nothing has a better healing balm than God’s word. Today I am an ordained pastor with my own new and tiny ministry :) I do not feel called to have my own church at this time. MY marriage is stronger than ever and my only concern is that my children come fully to the Lord and fullfil their destinies. Fortunately they were pretty young when we left the “cult” church. Not the greatest nickname but it works.

    Have a wonderful day!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Wow, what a story! Thanks so much for sharing this. I’m so thankful you got out, and I’m grateful for the signs you shared here because I think they’ll help people.

  • Prairiechick

    Oy. We are in it. :/

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I’m so sorry. May the Lord bring freedom!

  • Kristine McGuire

    Yes, I’ve certainly encountered situations such as you describe. In the mid-90’s, my husband and I were part of a church which were part of the “shepherding”movement. We were literally expected to take all of our decisions to the elders for confirmation. I think it can be easy to find ourselves in these kinds of situations in many areas of life, not just the church. 

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Yes, I’ve read about that movement. I’m glad you’re free!

    • concerned

      I just read a book about that by a guy in Ireland who went thru horrible abuse in the shepherding movement. It’s called “Savage Shepherds”

  • Jody

    Wow! This sooo describes the circumstances my husband and I have been healing from the last few years. We were new Christians when we got started in thus ministry and simply did and believed what we were told. The more we studied the word, though, the more we realized what we were taught and had believed didnt line up with the word…eventually we stepped away from our leadership roles in this organization and have taken time to rest and simply “be” . We’ve been rebuilding our self image based on the word, dissociated with that entire group of people for a while to unlock our minds and hearts from it all, seek God for healing — which has come, layer by layer, slowly. Slowly, we’ve understood that we are significant not based on what we do or others’ approval but simply because we are…that all are sons and daughters, princes and princesses…that there are none insignificant in the kingdom.
    We’ve had to learn to seek God and hear from God, to study the Word (Proverbs, especially the msg version, helped so much in this) and believe that GOd is who He says He is and will do what He has promised. understanding the power and freedom in forgiveness, the danger of unforgiveness, and the duty and power in honor helped as well. We have had to work hard to get and keep certain people and their words from our minds and sometimes we fail but over time it has gotten easier since we have chosen not to dwell on the pain and since we have invited the Holy Spirit’s help….
    It still hurts and we still get mad, but we are moving on. We are actually becoming members of a church, finally,a huge step for us, and considering re-engaging in ministry. For a long time being with people, mentoring, teaching, leading was totally draining….I even purposefully answered my spiritual gifts and strengths tests improperly because the thought of doing those things that came easily to me (encouragement, leadership, exhortation, etc.) literally turned my stomach in nots.
    But, healing always comes ….

    If anyone has any more suggestions for us I’m all ears!

    • Jeanette

       Hi Jody,  I really relate with your story. I’m recovering from 7+ years of working for a  deceptive and abusive ministry. I’m not as far along in the healing process as you describe. It’s hard to hear certain key verses without hearing the voices of my former bosses echoing in my head. All spiritual contexts tend to trigger a deep nauseous ambivalence. So – I’ve pulled back to cry, read,  write, think, ponder, talk with listening hearts in different contexts. I sense God is there in a solid sort of way – I’m hurting too much to hold on to Him but I believe He is holding on to me and little by little my heart is opening to Him in new ways. Thank you for sharing your hope and faith…  Jeanette

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

       Jody,

      Wow.

      That’s a lot.

      I’m glad you’re finding healing.

      Mary

    • http://theemptynestexpress.com/ Ms. Kathleen

      Your situation sounds similar to ours – I really just got into the word, spent time with family, time in praise and worship… let the healing balm flow and took my time… Then God sort of brought a great church to us, through our kids… God is so GOOD!

  • Amy

    I was asked to accompany a co-worker to a meeting, we both worked in the church bookstore. The bookstore ministry was very important to her following her divorce and gave her a needed break from caring for her two handicapped children. The Pastor had simply walked in one day and announced that it was being closed. They (the pastor and a group of leaders who were deciding how the room should be re-purposed) hoped that she would stay on and oversee it. She tried, but to watch it all be taken apart and sold off? It just was destroying her happiness. She asked if I would go with her while she told them that she couldn’t do it anymore. They insisted. The business manager is (I believe) who we went to talk to and he told her she had to stay and see it through. She was crying already and I stood up and told him she didn’t. I told him she wasn’t! She was going to go home and if they had any questions they could call her. (okay, who stood up and said all that really? Because it could not have been me! lol) So some care and concern would have been nice, not just we have decided to get rid of all of this.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

       Wow, that does not sound like fun, but thank you for standing up for her!

  • http://www.truth-makes-freedom.blogspot.com/ Jeannette Altes

    Hi, Mary. I stumbled across your blog and really appreciate this post.

    It took some pretty drastic behavior on the part of leadership for me to walk away from the abusive church I was a leader in. One of the things that helped a ton in the healing process was reading blogs like this one – getting some light shed on things. Another thing was to begin blogging about it. One of the posts I did early on is this one.

    • http://www.truth-makes-freedom.blogspot.com/ Jeannette Altes

       I realize I already commented earlier, but wanted to share the link – also, I am blogging under me real name now. Healing and freedom from fear. :-)

      • http://www.truth-makes-freedom.blogspot.com/ Jeannette Altes

         Okay, the program is not allowing me to post under my real name since I previously posted under my pseudonym…So, my name is Jeannette Altes.

        • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

          Hi, I see it posted as Jeannette. :)

        • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

          Hi, I see it posted as Jeannette. :)

          • http://www.truth-makes-freedom.blogspot.com/ Jeannette Altes

             Odd – on my screen, it posts as Katherine….

          • http://www.truth-makes-freedom.blogspot.com/ Jeannette Altes

             Odd – on my screen, it posts as Katherine….

  • Joanlbrown

    I appreciate your article. We are humanity, and the leaders of our organizations are equally as human. Placing them above us can be very detrimental. Respecting them is good, as we would respect anyone else in the body. The church is the family, at least in my perspective. My ‘church’ family meets in many different places to worship, but they are my close support when I need caring friends, and when we gather at my house, or in a building, we are ‘having church’ because our focus is the Lord. I also worship with a body, in a building, but the ‘church’ is the family, the body, and the support that I draw from, to refocus when I lose touch or struggle to connect with the Father. I appreciate your courage to write this out.. it will affect lives greatly. 

  • Anonymous

    I have definitely been there and didn’t realize how ‘bad’ it was until we were looking for our next church after moving. I nearly had panic attacks (nothing I’d ever come close to experiencing in life before) just walking into a new church. There are still some songs that I cannot hear without feeling that pain. I prayed every time those feelings came to the surface, I focused on truth (God wanted me in fellowship with other believers but not to be abused). Ultimately, I got in small groups  in a church that was the first to tell you they were made up of imperfect people who wanted to do the best they could at loving others the way God loved them. I also had to cut ties with many of the people from that previous church, even ones who weren’t necessarily abusive themselves, but maintained relationships with those who had been. The hard part for me now is seeing people I love in that situation who can’t see they are there. The abuse they are receiving comes out in such hate and pain to those of us around them. 

  • Jcislight4all2c

    Thanks for posting this. So many fear to touch this topic, glad you did.

  • Tonya Vander

    Mary,
    Megan DiMaria sent me your link and thought I would enjoy your post. I am so glad that you are speaking out about this; not enough is being said about toxic churches. We were in a toxic church for eleven years and then did not get the exit counseling we needed. Our whole family was almost destroyed by all this. Two years ago I was diagnosed with PTSD from attending the toxic church. It has been about five years since we left and we are now, just starting to feel normal again. My husband and I choose to go to a large church now where we can blend in without being seen. We miss the fellowship, but it has taken some time for me to be able to not be physically ill the following Monday, just from attending church. The counselor that I see is not faith based and I have benefited from her point of view, yet she allows my faith to be apart of the healing process. The Lord has shown up each session and brought healing to my heart and spirit. I was called out in public on a regular basis. My children were told publicly how bad of a mother they had and so forth. The first few years I was embarrassed to share my story because I couldn’t believe we stayed there that long. The changes happened slowly and over time the pastor became more and more controlling. In my counseling I realized that I was not a peace with myself and thus was drawn to this type of church because I believed that I was flawed and unworthy. This isn’t the come to Jesus type of flaw it is I will always be flawed that stemmed from my past, amongst other things.
    Your message is vital, knowing the signs and realizing how dangerous these types of people can be could be the key to helping someone not have to travel down a painful road. Thanks for posting this, even if I am a bit late commenting. :)

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Wow, what a difficult story, but I’m so thankful you’re free and getting healing and counseling.

  • http://christian-inspiration.net Davida

    “Leadership that Builds People 1″ by Jim Richards is a great antidote spiritual Abuse in the Church.  A great book for spiritually abused people is “You are God’s Best” by T.L Osborn; and for women – “Woman of Self Esteem” by Daisy Osborn.

  • Anonymous

    This is really great check points to measure against. 

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Thanks Jeri.

  • Anonymous

    This is really great check points to measure against. 

  • http://www.truth-makes-freedom.blogspot.com/ Katherine Gunn

    Mary, I came over from Her.meneutics…interesting. The last church I was a member of (even leader in) had every one of the characteristics, as well as the senior pastor being a serial sexual predator and several of the leaders having similar things, including child pornography. I agree that what you described in the CT post is how it SHOULD be, but oh, how far from that is really is…

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I agree. And it grieves me.

  • http://www.truth-makes-freedom.blogspot.com/ Katherine Gunn

    Mary, I came over from Her.meneutics…interesting. The last church I was a member of (even leader in) had every one of the characteristics, as well as the senior pastor being a serial sexual predator and several of the leaders having similar things, including child pornography. I agree that what you described in the CT post is how it SHOULD be, but oh, how far from that is really is…

  • http://www.distractedbyprayer.blogspot.com Shannon

    Thanks so much for having the courage to write openly about this subject, Mary.   Unfortunately, in my lifetime experience in the church, abuse is alive and well.  Fortunately, the topic is being aired more now- simply because people are refusing to put up with this kind of treatment.

    For me, the abuse has shown itself in subtle intimidation.  The person/people “in charge” have the power, and differing opinions aren’t welcome.  The tricky part is not giving in to bitterness.  Confronting in humility.  So, so tough to do.  Impossible in some cases, but in others, there is hope for change in me and in the situation. 

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I hear you about intimidation, and yes it has to be subtle. Otherwise we’d recognize it for what it is.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I hear you about intimidation, and yes it has to be subtle. Otherwise we’d recognize it for what it is.

  • Donna Carlaw

      sss

  • Donna Carlaw

    I have encountered abusive leaders in all kinds of places.  I also know leaders who have been abused.  I have also been in circumstances where the leadership has been excellent.
     
    I do not like the term “spiritual abuse”, but I know that abuse happens at times even in “spiritual” settings”, like churches or christian organizations.
     
    You have given some good pointers in how to identify an abusive leader. 
     
    I will take a risk and say why I do not especially like the term “spiritual abuse”, though there are many people that I respect who do use that term.  The worst abuse I have ever suffered was at the hands of a group of people who claimed to stand against “spiritual abuse.”  In my lifetime, I have never met a group of more mean spirited people.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I don’t like the term either, but I’m not sure what else to call it. Maybe Abuse of Power?

      Yes, I’ve had some people post anonymously for this very reason.

      • Donna L. Carlaw

        Maybe “spiritual abuse” is the best term.  I remember from the book The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse that someone in leadership can also be the victim of spiritual abuse.  So, maybe the term isn’t so bad, just because some people use it as a weapon to bludgeon others. 

        Take care, Mary. Thank you.

      • Donna L. Carlaw

        I really appreciate the wisdom you show in responding to each one who has left a comment.  Keep it up. 

        Let me just say a word about abuse on the Internet.  That is where my worst abuse happened, and it came from a group of women who claimed to be defending the rights of the abused.  I can relate to those who have mentioned anxiety and panic attacks.  I can relate to those who have mentioned not really recognizing the signs of abuse at first. 

        I have also noticed that abuse is not a gender specific phenomena, though there was a time that I believed that men had more abusive tendencies than women. I no longer believe that at all. 

        The tendency to mistreat others is a human tendency. We should never think that it cannot happen in our group, even if the group is set up to raise awareness of the topic of spiritual abuse.  Yes, it can happen anywhere. 

        I dare to say that because I am impressed and amazed, Mary, at your wisdom, here.  In fact, I find it balm for my own soul.  You do not know what your words mean to me. 

        • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

          Donna, wow. Yeah, I’ve experienced a lot of anguish at the hands (mouths) of Christian women. I pray I don’t become like that, though I’m sure I’ve hurt people with my speech.

  • Dediehamilton

    I was so glad to read this its great to know that it was not only the church i grew up in thats was like this. Now im wondering if the book Live Uncaged has more of this topic in there? I’m still “detoxing” form that church seeing as i still live in the same town and my parents kinda still attend…

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      The Live Uncaged book is about healing from the past. While it doesn’t deal specifically with church abuse, I do think you might find it helpful.

  • Ruthie Lewis

    Lead Responsibly: Avoid the Toxicity of
    Influence

    How well do you handle the power of
    influence? We’ve all heard the term “D.U.I.” to describe the condition of
    driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Driving while intoxicated can
    potentially lead to disaster. Leading while intoxicated can also lead to demise,
    with the toxic “substance” being influence.

    GOT THIS BY EMAIL FROM A NEWSLETTER I SUBSCRIBE TO.  SHE IS A FELLOW LIFE COACH; JANNA RUST WITH PURPOSEFULPARTNERSHIPS.COM.  YOU CAN ALSO FIND HER ON FACEBOOK.  THOUGHT IT VERY TIMELY FOR THIS BLOG TOPIC. Leaders become intoxicated
    when their level of influence increases beyond their capacity to process
    success.

    Without proper handling, the
    influence we have over others can give way to self-centeredness and a tendency
    to use our influence to our own advantage, rather than for the good of those we
    serve.

    To avoid the toxicity of influence,
    keep these three tips in mind:

    1. Remember who you
    serve. Leadership isn’t about being popular or being liked, but about
    doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do, keeping the big
    picture in mind.

    2. Remember to refuel.
    Stressed out, “out-of-gas” leaders have little to give to others and
    may give in to bad decisions when challenged. What are you taking in to give out
    to others?

    3. Remember your
    roots. Stay humble. There is no such thing as a self-made man or woman.
    Most everything we have or know came from someone else who took to the time to
    share.

    Since
    we are all influencers, we have the responsibility to serve others rather than
    ourselves, leading with excellence, ethics and good moral conduct.
    What do you need to change to
    lead more responsibly today?

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Really great points!

  • Climber

    I recently resigned from full time employment with a ministry that reflects in glaring ways all ten of the signs you list above. I quit when I discovered that the boss had been carrying on sexually for over 8 years with the general manager (30 years his junior) under the guise of a “fatehr-daughter” relationship. My brain and emotions are reeling and feel scarred. I’m counseling with a Christian therapist and didn’t realize the deep negative impact my involvement in this ministry was having on me. I’m so thankful God opened my eyes and helped me to get out.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Ew! Sad! I’m glad you’re free!

  • Melisa

    Thank you for sharing these insights.

    I can see from the comments how “shepherds” have changed the lives of their flock, albeit in a negative way, and that in the Name of Christ. Which is sickening indeed.

    i.
    When I go to church, I expect to grow in value as a Christian, not as a commodity to be traded in the so-called church market.

    ii.
    If I were called to be a minister, I do not expect the flock to feed me. Otherwise, did God really call me into the ministry? You don’t use a cup to fetch some water from the well.

    iii.
    If God really called me to be a minister, my flock can easily identify my features from what the Bible tells them what a shepherd is like.

    iv.
    There is this subtle deception (later manifesting as abuses) going on in many Christian churches of various denominations. I have now grown tired and weary of “religion,” especially when what you’re seeing is not the Jesus Christ that the Bible tells us about, but a really subtle manipulation of the mind and God-given free will of the flock–all being done in the Name of God or Christ. I have no sense of belonging now and none to stand on, except what the Early Shepherds left us for us to find the Truth that can set us free.

    • Ruthie Lewis

      Melisa, your feelings stated in iv are the same as many, many others. None of what I say is meant to bash the church, only shine the light on truth and how the way we do it today is way off track. What u say about mind control is true and it breaks my heart so many are blinded to it.  It makes me wonder if it’s been the enemy’s plan to gather the saints to come against “new age” (a box that everything a Christian disagrees with gets thrown in to) instead of seeing that what “new age” gets accused of is happening to them right in their church. Actually, there are some so-called “new age” teachings that are closer to the Bible than some of what we are taught and experience; and I have witnessed many people find more freedom in them than their church because their eyes are opened to the shackles that have kept them bound. Whether we hear it in church or other forums, we should always measure it against the word of God in its true form, not in the mixed up and baked form being served up and force fed by many Christians, Churches and ministry leaders.

      A couple books u might be interested in are “Pagan Christianity” and “So You Don’t Want to go to Church Anymore.”

      Ruthie Lewis
      Author, Speaker, Life Coach

      • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

        Thanks for the book recommendations!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      It is very hard to be a shepherd of people, which is why we must not step into the position lightly, but with deep humility.

  • wanda galloway

    Mary-
    I wish I could REALLY TALK about this.  My heart has been broken from ministry.  My family has been on the receiving end of church abuse.  It has affected my entire family. 
    There are no perfect people (I know this) and there is no perfect church (I know this too).  I understand both points of view (church member vs. ministry staff).
    I’m at a new place in my life right now…but the after-affect still lingers.  My husband IS NOT pastoring full-time anymore and my family has not found a church to join.  The pain is raw and the end results of what has happened still baffles my mind.
    Satan is out to wreck lives…and ministries.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I’m so sorry you’ve walked through this, Wanda. I can feel the pain in your post. May Jesus restore!

  • Anonymous

    Oh my gosh! This is like confirmation from God that I’m on the right track. My pastor is a micro-manager and he comes down very hard on those who don’t fall in line. It’s his way or no way. Majority of the church have given up and are just pew warmers. I came to Kansas to visit my boys and went to their little country church…my spirit soared. I visited a former church in a town close by and my spirit soared. It was like gallons of water to a thirst-craved dessert-stranded soul. After much prayer, I had made the decision to start looking for another church as soon as I return home. This just seals the deal.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I’m glad you found some solace in Kansas!

      • Anonymous

        Thanks…I’m feeling excited about serving Him. Began my search for a new church last week…going to tread carefully before choosing one. Just listened to a 3-part message by Beth Moore on http://www.lightsource.com/ministry/wednesdays-with-beth on a discerning spirit…very good!

  • Anonymous

    Hi, I meant  to say disagree and I was not able to edit my last post. 

    Tim

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      No worries! Typos happen.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Mary,

    I really enjoy your writings and receiving your updates. but on this post, I have to digress. I believe that if a person’s identity is built on the Love of God for them, then it is impossible for someone to be emotionally or spiritually abused. Their acceptance that they have been abused is a sign that they do not have a deep enough revelation of the Fathers Love for them. Can you imagine Jesus experiencing spiritual abuse. No, because he walk in the revelation of the Fathers Love for him and he lived out of that and not what people felt or thought about him. Bless you.   Tim

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Yes, but not everyone is perfectly connected to Jesus. We’re all so frail. I used to think I had great discernment until I walked into a ministry situation that really rocked my world (and the folks abused us). In retrospect, I believe God actually led us into that so that we could remedy a bad situation. But we were hurt in the process. In this world we will have trouble.

      • Anonymous

        Yes, as we grow in the revelation of his love we need to be at the point where nothing offends us. Unconditional love is never offended, Love does not seek its own. I am 55 and this revelation has just hit me. Totally changed how I disciple people and a man name Dan Mohler has lead me into these insights and their practical application. I have a series of long talks called Becoming Love that has rocked my world and he is also on you tube.  Cheers

        Tim

        • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

          True, the longer we love Jesus, the more we let roll off.

          • http://theemptynestexpress.com/ Ms. Kathleen

            In our situation we were brand new born again Christians needing discipleship and were “courted” by these church leaders. I really promote prompt and proper discipleship of new Christians in good solid Godly churches today. It was I believe my honest love and seeking of God in how quickly we healed and also how I saw signs and refused to return…

    • http://www.churchexiters.com Barb Orlowski

      Hi Tim,
      Yes, you have made a good point.  When I was considering aspects of spiritual abuse for my doctoral research project I came up with the concept of ‘Mar Factors’.  I began to consider the mar factors in the lives of Christians.  One huge factor was people not grasping their ‘identity in Christ’.  And as you have stated, fully understanding God’s love for them.  Basically, not understanding that our Christian life needs to be fully resident in God’s abundant GRACE for each one of us.  Churches that ground believers in this rich teaching end up having healthier Christians.  Let’s keep telling the Gospel the way the Apostle Paul did, with no reservations.  Thanks Bro.

    • Dorci

      I disagree.  We may not have to allow ourselves to be victimized and shamed by someone else’s behavior, but that does not ever give a person, especially one in a church leadership role, the right to treat others in an ungodly or abusive way.  For someone to use their church leadership role as an opportunity for elitism rather than to serve as Jesus taught us, and as a way to treat others in an unloving, rejecting, uncompassionate, ungodly way is abusive.  It’s an a abuse of power that is sinful and will hurt others no matter where they stand in Christ.  Jesus did not emotionally take on the abuse but that doesn’t mean that he was not lied about, rejected, and abandoned, and that was by his own apostles, pre-Pentecost, of course.  Matthew 25 tells us that how we as believers treat others is how we treat Christ.  We need to use discernment and much prayer when choosing a church.   Unfortunately, not all people in leadership have a good grasp on how to live out the role of  a godly leader.  Heck, not everyone in leadership is even saved.  Many a pastor has gotten saved at a pastor’s conference.  I know my role in Christ as well as I can right now, but I had an abusive childhood and early adulthood and satan has known how to get to me through leadership by further belittling and picking at those deep wounds.  But they allowed themselves to be used in that way by choosing some very ungodly behavior.  I am searching for a new church home and the healing has finally begun in mid-life.  I say shame on anyone who would use their position to elevate themselves and hurt another person.   

    • Dorci

      I disagree.  We may not have to allow ourselves to be victimized and shamed by someone else’s behavior, but that does not ever give a person, especially one in a church leadership role, the right to treat others in an ungodly or abusive way.  For someone to use their church leadership role as an opportunity for elitism rather than to serve as Jesus taught us, and as a way to treat others in an unloving, rejecting, uncompassionate, ungodly way is abusive.  It’s an a abuse of power that is sinful and will hurt others no matter where they stand in Christ.  Jesus did not emotionally take on the abuse but that doesn’t mean that he was not lied about, rejected, and abandoned, and that was by his own apostles, pre-Pentecost, of course.  Matthew 25 tells us that how we as believers treat others is how we treat Christ.  We need to use discernment and much prayer when choosing a church.   Unfortunately, not all people in leadership have a good grasp on how to live out the role of  a godly leader.  Heck, not everyone in leadership is even saved.  Many a pastor has gotten saved at a pastor’s conference.  I know my role in Christ as well as I can right now, but I had an abusive childhood and early adulthood and satan has known how to get to me through leadership by further belittling and picking at those deep wounds.  But they allowed themselves to be used in that way by choosing some very ungodly behavior.  I am searching for a new church home and the healing has finally begun in mid-life.  I say shame on anyone who would use their position to elevate themselves and hurt another person.   

      • Amy

         Yes, it is very difficult for me to trust people because of my childhood and to see another being told she must stay and keep working at something that was clearly distressing to her, tore me up. I left that church as well staying only until the bookstore was closed. I just couldn’t listen to what he had to say anymore my distrust for him is too much for him to be my pastor.

  • Vania

    I think we need to look out for ministries that are not quite all-out spiritually abusive, but are on that trajectory. I’m currently phasing out of involvement with a young adult ministry that’s starting to show signs towards becoming spiritually abusive. Looking back now, I see how almost cult-like it has been. There has been a consistent problem with the leaders becoming offended when young adults don’t join the group, judging “outsiders” (i.e., people who don’t belong to the group) by their outward behavior, and there being an exclusive “in” crowd that leaves the rest feeling disenfranchised.

    I think that nipping this from happening starts with us consciously keeping our prideful attitudes in check in the first place. Spiritually abusive ministries are comprised of prideful, spiritually abusive people.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      That’s what scares me. I don’t want to become that way and have to ask Jesus to check me. I want to remember to humble myself.

  • http://www.sarahfotopulos.com Sarah

    Mary, you must have been sitting in the next pew of the church my family left several years ago!  The last straw for me was the pastor stating from the pulpit, “God is doing great things here.  If you’re not on board with what God is doing, we need your seat.”  I had to pick my chin up off the floor before I could whisper to my husband that it was unequivocally time to leave.  This, after months of canned pop-psychology sermons he bought off the internet, telling the congregation he couldn’t be personally involved in our problems and that “we have people who do that here,” totally ignoring me when I went forward one Sunday for prayer about a heart-wrenching decision I was struggling with, as well as altering the church structure to set himself up in a position to have ultimate authority over everything, including his salary and benefits, was finally enough for me to have the courage to leave.  Shame on me for not having a backbone sooner.  The damage he and his worship leader wife caused in many lives is still not undone.  They were finally ousted and have started their own church.  Every time I drive by, I pray for the light of God’s truth to penetrate their hearts and the hearts of their congregation.  Only the truth will set any of us free, but I’ve discovered that truth isn’t merely a clear insight into a situation and its causes, but the ultimate truth of who God says we are.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Wow, that’s a brash thing for the pastor to say!

  • Linda Jo Jenkins

    I have been following this post and
    the comments and it breaks my heart to all the hurt that has happened. If it
    breaks my heart, I know it breaks Gods heart even more. I would just like to
    remind all of us—this includes me, we are in a battle. In Ephesians 6 the
    Apostle Paul writes that our battle is not with each other but with the enemy
    of God. That every day we need to place on Gods armor being as we are His warriors.
    By placing on His armor we will stand firm and strong in the battlefield. By
    placing on the belt of truth—His word, close to us and within easy use to which
    we find instructions, The breastplate of righteousness—shining out God light
    unto the world by being a worthy example to the world around us. That the world
    will come for the preservative of salt—by hearing His truth from us and seeing
    the shining examples of God in our lives. Our feet fitting readily with Gods sandals
    to move forward into the battle and the path He has called each of us. Bringing
    the gospel of peace towards each other since our battle is not with each other
    but with the true enemy. Surround ourselves with the shield of faith—faith in
    the knowledge of our Heavenly Fathers love and acceptance of each of us. That
    each of us in a relationship with Him is worthy to be His warrior. The faith we
    have that with God we can distinguish the enemies attack on not only ourselves but
    also others. Placing the helmet of salvation onto our heads of grace—the grace
    that God has bestowed unto us—that we in turn bestow on others and even grace
    in ourselves by forgiving ourselves. Then finally draw out our swords of the
    Spirit—that is Gods word memorized in us so that when battles come we can fight
    and be strong in the battle. We need to be like-minded in our battles, be alert
    and watching. Praying always for each other—standing strong with our battle
    buddies in the fight. Remember, as in any battle the risks of being hurt—and sometimes
    in those hurts—we will need first aid. But we must not linger in the first aid
    tent or cover our heads of the war ranging around us. We all have a purpose and
    it is not about ourselves. We need to stand strong covering our brothers and
    sisters when they are hurt and cannot get up. We need to rally forces against
    the enemy that wants to destroy this army. As Darrell Beebe shared with me this
    last year, (He is a minister in Washington State. He and his family have been
    through some horrid experiences as missionaries. They could have easily turned
    away from God from what they experienced. You can read about it in his book “Darkness
    at Dawn” You can get a copy from his web site 2bforging.com.) He shared that
    about a year after the incident God said to Him “I was very concerned for Jesus’
    physical health and safety, and what men did to him, broke my heart. But I was
    less concerned for his physical health and safety then I was for the spiritual
    condition of the world. What happened to you in Palou broke my heart, but I was
    less concerned for your physical healthy and safety then I was for the
    spiritual condition of this lost and dying nation.” We need to remember that
    God sees and knows everything—this includes what is to happen in the future. He
    knows that some things happen that He does not like that bad things happen, as
    any Commander in Chief knows, but it might be necessary for what is to happen
    in the future. Gods love and desire is for EVERYONE to come into a relationship
    with him—it is not about us but it is about everyone. We need to remember that
    in the battlefield, injuries do happen to all of us—what matters is what we do
    with those injuries. How we help each other through those injuries. How we
    enlighten others to the enemies schemes. Yes, sometimes we are so deeply hurt
    that it takes time to heal. But heal we must—moving forward in helping others
    to not fall victim to it and help other to heal from it. Helping the world to
    see a caring loving Father that wants a relationship with everyone He has
    created. Finally, I leave with you Jesus’ new commandment He gave us ““A
    new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love
    one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love
    one another.” John 13:34-35. Jesus
    sacrificed himself for the world to become into a right relationship with God. As
    any warrior in a war there are sometimes sacrifices needing to happen. We do
    not understand why—it just is. I personally can see many others ways it can be
    achieved J however, I am not God and I do not see
    the future years to come. The people I will be in contact with—or make an
    impact on by my influence on them or through them on someone else. God does
    though and He knows what is best—that is trust—trust in Him that He knows what
    is best. I am working on being the willing vessel for Him to use to achieve His
    goals here on earth. And sometimes it is being a sacrifice—baring the pain and
    hurt by the enemy. 

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      You wrote, “We need to remember that God sees and knows everything—this includes what is to happen in the future.”

      That’s where I love to rest–God’s sovereignty.

  • Liz R.

    Amen! And sadly, I think most of us have either experienced or seen spiritual abuse in action in some point of our lives.
    In all of the places-church-where you are to feel loved, protected and accepted.

    Sometimes I wonder if things like this make God cry.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I would imagine these kinds of things grieve God’s heart.

  • BVan

    I still miss some of my “evil” music I was influenced to get rid of a long time ago. The Eagles, Elton John, Queen…oh for the days when THAT was “evil” music! Of course, they were on vinyl…I don’t have anything to play them on anymore. :)

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      That’s too funny.

  • Pritchett4

    (Full Disclosure – I am a pastor of church – better, undersheperd to the Chief Shepherd of His flock!) I am grieved to hear the stories and it was a good exercise and reminder for me. It reminded me of an occasion many years ago where I wanted to see something get done by a certain date and so had asked one of our dear, faithful folks to do it. They hesitated because of their schedule, and I tried to apply a little pressure for my timetable. It took me a few hours and I realized what I had done and went to the individual and asked forgiveness. I am sure that wasn’t the only time I have been out of line, but I’m working on it! My experience with Jesus’ Church has been very positive. My ties were to a small Independent Baptist Church in Kansas, we spent years in the Philippines where my parents were involved in church planting (different situations, certainly). We came back to the US and have been involved in churches for which I am extremely grateful. The church is God’s plan. A passage that undershepherds need to focus on is 1 Peter 5:1-4. One day we are going to have to give an account to the Chief Shepherd of how we have handled His sheep, sheep for which He died, which is an awesome passage. I have the privilege of pastoring a great flock (not necessarily large). We have had struggles as any church family would at times, but have dealt with those and gotten back to our responsibilities before God.  Please  pray for pastors to shepherd Jesus’ flock rightly. The world needs to see the reality of Christ and His transforming work in the lives of His people. What an opportunity we have. How tragic when we as pastors promote our agendas. To those who have been burned, pleased don’t give up on the church – it is Jesus’ bride represented in local bodies of believers. Look for a local assembly where you can grow, and contribute with your gifts and abilities so that His body grows and functions properly (Eph 4). God has a place for you in His local body. PS. Don’t forget that these bad experiences can actually help you serve and minister more effectively for Him. 

    • Janet

      Thank you for sharing this.  I know there are some great pastors and churches out there and it can be very easy to focus on our bad experience(s).  The church my husband and I are attending now is a wonderful church.  The church should be helping not hurting people and the church where I was at was doing more hurt than help but I was letting that experience coupled with a couple other ones blind me to the good happening in churches.  The church I am attending now has renewed my faith in the local church because of their honesty, integrity and vulnerability.  They really are helping people and desire to lead them to Jesus and health.  Thank you for being another positive testimony about the local church.

    • Janet

      Thank you for sharing this.  I know there are some great pastors and churches out there and it can be very easy to focus on our bad experience(s).  The church my husband and I are attending now is a wonderful church.  The church should be helping not hurting people and the church where I was at was doing more hurt than help but I was letting that experience coupled with a couple other ones blind me to the good happening in churches.  The church I am attending now has renewed my faith in the local church because of their honesty, integrity and vulnerability.  They really are helping people and desire to lead them to Jesus and health.  Thank you for being another positive testimony about the local church.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I love your high view of the church. We are the body, and we, together, reflect Jesus to a needy culture.

  • Janet

    This is a link to a wonderful book about healthy churches:

    http://www.amazon.com/Emotionally-Healthy-Church-Strategy-Discipleship/dp/0310293359/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1317382541&sr=8-1

    Peter Scazzero has some wonderful books about emotional health especially in the church

  • Janet

    This is a link to a wonderful book about healthy churches:

    http://www.amazon.com/Emotionally-Healthy-Church-Strategy-Discipleship/dp/0310293359/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1317382541&sr=8-1

    Peter Scazzero has some wonderful books about emotional health especially in the church

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Thank you!

  • Bonnie Leon

    Thank you, Mary. Throughout the years I’ve witnessed spiritual abuse and was part of a church that taught me a lot about spiritual abuse. I could see it and feel it, and knew it wasn’t of God but it took me a while to see what it really was — abuse. That experience prompted me to write The Heart of Thornton Creek, which is about this subject.

    Sadly, there are many who walk away from church and Christians because of this and some never return.

    Grace and peace to you.
     

  • Bonnie Leon

    Thank you, Mary. Throughout the years I’ve witnessed spiritual abuse and was part of a church that taught me a lot about spiritual abuse. I could see it and feel it, and knew it wasn’t of God but it took me a while to see what it really was — abuse. That experience prompted me to write The Heart of Thornton Creek, which is about this subject.

    Sadly, there are many who walk away from church and Christians because of this and some never return.

    Grace and peace to you.
     

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I think we have to view our negative experiences not as roadblocks to further growth, but as cautionary tales to learn from.

  • MP

    Buffer him/herself from criticism by placing people around themselves whose only allegiance is to the leader.
    Views those who bring up issues as enemies. Those who were once
    friends/allies swiftly become enemies once a concern is raised.
    Sometimes these folks are banished, told to be silent, or shamed into
    submission.

    This happened to me.  It left me so shocked, I have been unable to read the Bible any more.  I’m no longer part of any church community.  That was six years ago.  Thank you for writing about this. 

    • Heather

      Please, please remember that the bible is written to show the truth. Take the time to sift through those lies and do not forgo that which was provided to us through the wirtten word. I had turned away from the church for many, many years and then I read a little book called, “Forgiving When You Don’t Know How”. It brought to my attention who needing the forgiving in my situation of spiritual abuse. It was PEOPLE who distorted the truth to benefit themselves. Not God’s  word in the bible who directed these people to distort and manipulate His word. 

      • MP

        Heather, I agree with what you are saying.  I think what I want to describe is that, just as when someone close to a person dies, a person doesn’t want to eat, I simply can’t bring myself to want to read the Bible or get involved in a church.  Heaven knows I’ve tried, but I can’t seem to get past it. Spiritual abuse has done something horrible in my life.  I accept, though, that it is my responsibility to keep working at the problem

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I’m sorry you walked through this. May Jesus woo you back toward His grace, His life giving words, and His healing. I know the aftermath is hard.

  • Martha

    I agree, Mary.

    These are probably disjointed thoughts, but they are just my observations.

    No church is immune from the danger of spiritual abuse because no church is immune from the influence of sin, whether it is in the membership or the leaders. 

    Spiritual leaders don’t belong on a pedestal.
     
    A characteristic of the abuser is often that he/she is not genuinely accountable to leadership in the church and/or in a denomination. That’s very close to what you said. But I also see it as a strength of belonging to a connectional church.  Connectional churches are also not a guarantee that there will be no
    abuse, but they are a hedge because there is usually help outside the
    local church. 

    The Bible does not support a pastor as “church boss.” 

    One litmus test is whether the pastor and other leaders are practicing servant leadership or  are leading from a position of superiority.
    The servant leader, like Christ, sacrifices himself for the sheep.

    I guess I see this as the central issue, the one to which all the others relate:  A church which practices spiritual abuse is almost always one in which the grace of the gospel for all of life is neither understood nor taught.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I do think teachability, humility and accountability help prevent this from happening. Well said.

  • Ginny

    Mary–I too, have experienced many (if not all) of these situations you describe.  I have been wanting to write about it, but am fearful of the ‘fall-out’ of it. SO many different ways….what I can say and see now, is that a LOT of my blindly following this kind of leadership and authority is that *I* came from childhood abuse and was not able to clearly delineate where the boundaries were and are.  What broke the camel’s back for me is leadership telling me NOT to report sexual abuse that happened to my children, in my home…that ‘it would be dealt with’, but never was, and then when I asked my husband to leave our home to get help, I was told *I* was the one wrong and had to allow him back home.  God began showing me my whacked sense of being under authority and staying the victim.  I am still reeling from the treatment I get from ex-fellow church members that cross my path on a regular basis….God continues to heal me in this area and you writing this post and acknowledging that this IS an issue…..its HUGE.  Thank you!

    • Ginny

      One thing I neglected to add….is that as misdirected as I was, that the ones who were leading the way they were, were also coming from their own filter of abuse, neglect, teaching, etc.  I am learning to pray for them and to have grace toward them, because I know HE has shown me so much grace as I have walked this out.  

      • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

        Yes, there is grace for those (as is there is grace for all of us). However, we’re all responsible to chase healing, not for our sakes but for the sakes of those who we influence.

  • JCnessa

    Now that I think about it, I did experience being told that if I had more faith, I’d be physically healed. That was very upsetting. Thankfully, I didn’t stay in that church for long.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      God’s ways are not our ways. He may choose to heal. He may not. (We all die, so ultimately none of us are “healed.”) So to equate our healing with our faith seems to diminish God’s sovereignty.

  • Lisa DS

    If we have been through it, we know it. When hurt people, hurt people. Thanks Mary!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      You are welcome.

  • http://www.reflectionsofhisgrace.com Joan

    Great post, Mary and one that needed to be said.

    I became a Christian at an early age, but I turned away from God (as I look back now I was really turning away from church and legalism). I also was made to feel guilty about the type of music I listened to and heard things such as, “How can you be a Christian and listen to …” In addition church became more of a set of rules, “you can’t do that,” or “you must do this.”

    Finally, I found a church that teaches grace…not condemnation. This is not to say they are soft on sin, but for the first time in my life I am beginning to realize what grace truly is.

    Blessings,
    Joan

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I think that’s a good point. We don’t need cheap grace where sin isn’t dealt with as sin, but we do need grace in light of our sin.

  • http://www.mustardseedyear.com Jason Wert

    WOW.  Reading this, I could tell a lot of stories about a lot of people.  I think it would be better to keep most of them to myself.

    I would just add another abusive cycle is exclusion of certain members because of disabilities or some other status that doesn’t fit the church image.  They run a church that claims everyone’s welcome or that they are for everyone but if you’re in a wheelchair you’ll never been seen in any photo connected to the church.  The continual reminding that you’re not part of the privileged people within the church. 

    • JCnessa

      When I said “print this,” to Mary & I thanked her, I was refering to her article, not stories of bloggers, here! — just in case your 1st sentence is in response to me. If not, sorry for the misunderstanding. Thanks & God bless you. :-)

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Thank you for pointing this out!

  • JCnessa

    I’m going to print this page on spiritual abuse, Mary — thanks for writing it! It’s good to know what to look for. I had just skimmed through it, but now as I more carefully read, I see the part about shame. Shame is 1 of Satan’s most evil schemes. I have experienced that in other abuse. As for the music, I did go through a period of my own shaming & legalism, & so I got rid of country music & Star Wars! Boo hoo, I love Chew Bacca – hee hee. But me & my husband have watched the series since then through Netflix. I feel like where I’m at now is the freest I’ve ever walked, but I know I need to continue to grow. “In the Spirit there is freedom.” Anyway, Mary, you are absoluely one of my favorite writers now — I can even say my fav, period. You’re helping me write truth, & I know that’s part of your mission. God bless you, I love your transparancy! Vanessa

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I love Chewbacca too.

  • JCnessa

    Here’s is a great book about spiritual abuse. http://www.amazon.com/More-Jesus-Less-Religion-Relationship/dp/1578562503. I’ve never encountered it, but I still got this book & love it. “More Jesus, Less Religion,” by co-author Steve Aurterburn — what a great titlle!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Thank you!

    • Janet

      thank you for sharing this link!

    • Janet

      thank you for sharing this link!

  • http://rillasvilla.com Rilla

    I grew up in a spiritually abusive church and I could list off multiple experiences that fit under all 10 points. When I was 23 years old the pastor found out I had broken one of his non-Bibilical rules, and publically excommunicated me – I was sitting in the pew while it was happening. He also asked my family to shun me, but thankfully they refused.

    I am 35 years old now, and have struggled to find peace within a church community. For the past couple of years my husband and I were not attending a church, but instead were praying with our son daily, teaching him about God, and doing our best to nurture his (and our) relationship with God. My husband and I have visited a number of churches because we both missed the community aspect, but it has only been in the last two weeks that we have finally found a church where we feel safe and embraced.

    The one thing that I have the most gratitude for is that my personal relationship with God has never been contingent upon the church I am attending. His Grace has brought me through some pretty intense spiritual abuse, and I have never lost faith in God. Faith in spiritual leaders, yes. Faith in God, never!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I’m so glad God has helped you heal and move beyond that. I can’t imagine being shunned for breaking a non-biblical rule. Ouch!

  • pastorp

    My fear with many of your comments – being a pastor and all – leading a church and all – is that some of these comments sound self-righteous.  It is easy to point fingers and never look at our own hearts.  We tend to crush pastors under a weight they can’t bare.  They are sinners in need of grace just like you. They need places to be honest with their own battles and addictions.  

    The problem is – once they open up people don’t respond with grace, forgiveness, and prayer – they run, and could never be around a church with broken sinful pastors.  When I read the Bible I am amazed at how God uses messed up and incomplete people.  Peter, Paul, Moses, David – these are not perfect leaders by any means.I am not condoning spiritual abuse, or letting pastors live in habitual sin. If your church is not dealing with sin issues biblically – then get out. But, I am also suggesting that for those of us looking for perfect churches and perfect leaders – you will always be disappointed.  It’s like finding a unicorn.  Ephesians 4:32 is always encouraging.  We are to love and forgive as Christ has forgiven us.  Did any of us deserve salvation and forgiveness?  No.  Then if we did not deserve it, nobody deserves it, then we should extend it the same way Jesus does us.I know I have hurt people.  I know you have hurt people.  But, we are called to love the “bride of Christ” the church.  If we don’t love the church even with all its flaws we probably don’t really love the God – Jesus-who died for it.  Hang in there… pray for your leaders… pray for their spouses… pray for God’s people…  

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Pastor P, please know that’s why I said this represents a small amount of ministries and churches. I would hate to leave the impression that if we have conflict, we should bail. Or if our pastor has flaws, he’s abusive.

      This is not the norm, thankfully. I attend an amazing church with terrific leaders. Flawed, yes, but not abusive.

      Yes, let’s continue to pray for those in leadership. Having been a church planter myself, I know how wearying the position can be.

      Thanks for bringing this point to the surface. I appreciate it.

    • Janet

      I understand what you are saying but there is a huge difference between pastors who are flawed and do and say things they regret and those who abuse and never admit what they are doing is wrong..  There is a big difference between abuse and just having problems.  When someone abuses you yes you need to forgive them and I am still in that process but when a pastor or anyone doesn’t own up to or even seek help and even lies about it and plays people like a con artist it is a very different story. I know I am very strong in what I am saying but everything is still fresh from experiencing it from the inside.  I am/was a pastor’s wife and what I experienced I equate to a husband’s abuse of his wife.  The wife doesn’t leave because she feels like she is at fault. The husband isolates the wife just like the pastor tried and succeeded with where I was at.  When you have a staff who experience a similar abuse and even still happening and no one can persuade them of the truth it is very scary, frustrating and painful to watch people go through what you went through and you can’t help them because they are just like an abused wife who can’t leave.

      • Ruthie Lewis

        It’s exactly like that, Janet.  It’s why I said what I said.  Abuse is abuse and the mindset is the same a a wife who is beaten physically but keeps going back.  When you’re in the middle of it, you cannot see it as abuse.  If women who are beaten can’t see it, how can we expect others to recognize it as abuse.  Exactly why it is so dangerous.  We are taught to not dare confront spiritual leadership, especially not a woman confront a man.

        Stand for truth and speak it no matter what, it is making a difference and we have to be willing to sacrifice getting shunned or lost relationships.  If Jesus was willing to speak the truth no matter what, so must we.

        Blessings to you,

        Ruthie Lewis
        Author, Speaker, Life Coach

      • Ruthie Lewis

        It’s exactly like that, Janet.  It’s why I said what I said.  Abuse is abuse and the mindset is the same a a wife who is beaten physically but keeps going back.  When you’re in the middle of it, you cannot see it as abuse.  If women who are beaten can’t see it, how can we expect others to recognize it as abuse.  Exactly why it is so dangerous.  We are taught to not dare confront spiritual leadership, especially not a woman confront a man.

        Stand for truth and speak it no matter what, it is making a difference and we have to be willing to sacrifice getting shunned or lost relationships.  If Jesus was willing to speak the truth no matter what, so must we.

        Blessings to you,

        Ruthie Lewis
        Author, Speaker, Life Coach

    • Byfaith007

      My heart goes out to all pastors.  And also to those of us who have been touched by the evilness of abuse.  I believe that one of the main aids available to help keep us “all” walking in the right path is accountability.  Accountability first to God.  Than to each other.  Do we fail?  Yes.  Can we do better? Yes, with God’s help and a few godly individuals who always point us to the word of God and ultimately back to a relationship with God by His Spirit.  This process should always lead us to ultimately ask the question – “What would Jesus do?” –  than we need to really take the time to figure it out.  I think this is always a good place to start.  It seems rather simple, doesn’t it?  It also helps to remember that – forgiveness is for all.  Healing is for all.  Deliverance is for all.  If we pray and ask God, He will answer.  I too have been a victim of abuse, and as such have been on both sides of the coin. If you have suffered abuse, you probably know that we have the propensity to abuse others. (Very much akin to “hurting people, hurt people.)  I thank God that over time he has healed my soul, realigned my sense of what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is not true.  He’s taught me how to rightly interpret and apply His word.  Did it happen over night? No, it’s been a journey.  One that I’m still travelling.  Be encouraged Pastor, stay open to the Spirit of God and be governed by the Word of God.  God Bless You.

    • sherry

      Pastorp,

      It’s been a while since your post,but the one doing the abuse in the church I attended would never ever confess any wrongs on his part,even though they are very visable.People are to sit down and shut up or get out.There is nothing selfrighteous about needing to protect myself and my family from further abuse.This man has been called down several times when something would go terribly wrong,everything was handled by other leaders in private,so his wrongs would not get to the congregation.If I had not been in leadership myself I would not have known what I do know.I don’t have a selfrighteous heart,I have a protective heart from the wolf in sheeps clothing.

  • Diane Ramirez

    This too, Mary, has been rolling around in my heart for a long time. You did a wonderful job writing this. I think this is a subject that is not talked about often enough. Some people are so hungry for acceptance that they crave any attention the leader will give them, thus putting that man or woman on a petistal. This only feeds the abuse. I’ve also noted that abuse comes from the unhealed hurts of these types of leadesr.  You wrote, “They often quote scriptures about not touching God’s anointed, or bringing accusations against an elder,” I’ve had this happen to me. These types of ministers are autocratic, controlling, will stick up for other pastors who are in sin, will call you friend but treat you as an acquaintance unless it fits their agenda, feel they don’t have to answer to a soul. Great orators nonetheless, yet struggle to see and deal with their own shadows. They hurt people and don’t understand why people leave their churches. It’s sad and we wonder why some prefer to stay out of church . . .! So glad you had the courage to write this . . . I do hope many will read and find encouragement. 

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      May the Lord bring deep, long healing from your experience, Diane.

  • Linda Jo Jenkins

    Mary,

    You do not know how badly I needed
    your prayer and this article today. Almost two years ago, I walked away from my
    ministry because of the shameful behavior I was seeing—not even at that time recognizing
    it as abuse. Actually, I did not put that name to it until I read your post. It
    is abuse. You are further correct that when you are in it and experiencing it
    you do not see the abuse. The sad thing is it is corporate, the leader starts
    it and then the followers join in because—well if the leader says it then how
    it is done. I have found this behavior is pervasive in our Churches today. It
    is doing many un-seen damages and your article is right on target and so very
    much needed all to hear.

    When I walked away, I started to
    write a nonfiction book, helping the reader to get into a close relationship
    with God and help the Christian and non-Christian get back to the basics of Christianity
    without all the baggage that the Church is placing on humankind. I will not go
    into all the details of these last two years however, what I am writing and
    what you just wrote I feel are the stepping stones to others coming forward—standing
    up stronger—and saying no-more. That they are truly loved and valued by our
    Creator, God. That Jesus came and is working in each of His believers and we
    need to allow Him to do His work—not dictate to Him on how we are to bring
    others to Him.

    The times that God has woken me up
    in the middle of the night with something that He wants said—are so very
    precious to me—as I am sure it is for you. I am so glad you are listening and
    following His directions, God Bless.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I’m sorry you had to walk through all that, Linda.

      We’re all such flawed folks. And I do believe we’re broken. When we don’t face our brokenness and cry out for healing, we run the risk of hurting others.

      • Linda Jo Jenkins

        You are so right we are all flawed and broken.  Forgiveness needs to be exercised and given to all those whom have hurt or offended, even if they are not seeking forgiveness or know what they have done.  Jesus being our example– on the cross asking God to forgive the people because they did not know what they are doing. Prayer for the offender/s and leaving it in His capable hands is the only answer–not retaliation or striking back on our own. The bravery of this article and addressing an issue facing us still today is crucial. We need to be aware that this is happening–no not everywhere–there are so many Churches and believers that are following Jesus and treating others with the respect and dignity that any other person deserves.  However, we do have a long way to go to make awareness to unhealthy environments out there–with people not even realizing they are involved in an unhealthy environment–that is why this article is so crucial. Thank-you for writing it. 

  • Janet

    My husband was a pastor at a church where the senior pastor and his wife were abusive.  I would have to say they don’t fit into any of these categories although they could have a combination to an extent. Manipulation and illegal use of funds would be the category for them.  My husband and I have moved away and do not communicate with them.  We didn’t recognize the warning signs because we were so enthralled by the pastor’s vision.  The pastor led us to believe we would be a different church, one that had authentic relationship and would be a relational church.  We had been friends for a long time or at least my husband and he were friends.  I could never get his wife to talk much about anything but about ministry.  He never admits to being wrong and he appeals to your ego and pride but is hidden under the guise of doing good. He prides himself on being a rebel, unlike other stick- in- the- mud pastors who are concerned more about politics and rules. He appeals to the dream you have that you believe is from God. For example, having authentic relationship among each other as staff and those attending the church; and helping each other through a myriad of ways like small groups, counseling, etc. but this never happens because he isolates you from the rest of the staff.  Later, after moving we found out he isolated everyone so no one could feel they could trust anyone else.  We felt so alone because we believed we, as staff members were friends and would grow in our friendships and in turn help others but in the end we were all turned against one another and felt we could not trust one another.

    I know I am not explaining this right but it is very confusing because no one on the “outside” believes anything is going wrong on “the inside”.  When a pastor continues using your husband’s ss# and credit card and  making purchases after he is unemployed there why doesn’t the board recognize this is wrong?  There is no one to go to except God to get justice because there is no one who will believe those who are no longer at the church but have been abused by pastor.  Let’s just say he is a very, very, good liar and a persuader who appears to be one thing but is another thing entirely when you get to know him and her.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      It kind of sounds like a dysfunctional family that looks amazing from the outside, but is crumbling on the inside.

  • Ruthie Lewis

    Mary, thank you for this article. You nailed every point, almost all of which have happened to me. It is one of the most ignored, dismissed and accepted practices, and way underestimated in the damage it does.  One area of spiritual abuse concerns what is taught about marriage.  We have accepted dictated roles for both men and women and can be blamed for the divorce rate among Christians being slightly higher than the overall rate.  It is the premise by which women are judged – how much they’ve sacrificed; how much they are willing to submit.  As a Life Coach, I have been privy to many things women have been told, most of which completely takes all choice from them. I have seen the double standard; for instance, it is much more acceptable for a man to yell but if a woman raises her voice, she’s a nag, witch – all the words we’ve heard.  I have witnessed  a huge amount of marriage counseling end making the woman take on guilt that she didn’t love enough, endure enough or pray enough and that somehow she is the reason for her husband’s behavior. 

    Sorry, I’ll get off my soap box.  Just needed to add this to your list because I feel it is more ignored than even the ones you listed. Spiritual abuse is a fascinating and tragic subject and I thank you again for bringing it up.  When I speak, the subject is always brought up and is woven into the plot of my novel.

    Blessings,
    Ruthie Lewis,
    Author, Speaker, Life Coach

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I think you have a point, Ruthie. Having walked alongside a woman in crisis, I see how this kind of advice can be so hurtful and bewildering.

  • Green123

    I’ve attended many worship services where it seems ministers were bent on pounding the congregation with law, but completely forgot about the grace part of the equation. Why do people put up with this? Maybe they don’t know they’re missing the grace. But I think many people have very low opinions about themselves and their worth in God’s eyes; thus, the message of grace can be bewildering and uncomfortable. In contrast, a message of law coming from the pulpit may match their own opinions of themselves. It’s a familiar message, so maybe it’s more comfortable.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      On the flip side, often we don’t like messages about counting the cost. Both are important: discipleship and grace.

  • Eleanorswan

    Dear Mary,

     I always thank God for you and the way in which He uses you to bring healing and encouragement to the Body of Christ. I am sorry that you could not sleep, but stand in awe of  the way God works. Indeed this list of spiritual abuse so comes alive and I could relate to many. I am even going through some of it at this moment, being sideline because I do not support those kinds of behaviours, sidelines especially more so now because I have been selected to attend Lausanne and the Pastor thought it should be him to be selected. I often think of your list and wonder, who can one share with, and how do you deal with those kind of abuses.  I say to myself many times, “I will not take it personal because I am seeing it happen to so many dear honest children of God”, but in reality it is painful and sad and burdensome, hence the Lord woke you up with such reflections.  The question as you rightfully asked, what do we do about it? Finding the courage and openess to do exactly what you just did is definitely one of the answers, Pray for the spiritual abusers andyourself as a leader least you fall into the same devil’s trap, and as much as possible keep your eyes on the one who called you (JESUS) and listen to His voice because in the mids of the abuse He is speaking.

    I am so encouraged and blessed by your article and your prayer for me is so much appreciated.  I feel the love of God in your sharing.  Thank you for sharing and for being obedient.  You are anointed to do damage to the devil’s kingdfdom.

    God bless you my dear Sister,
    Love, peace and happiness,
    Eleanor

    PS. I love your honesty!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I’m sorry that happened to you, Eleanor!

      Yes, what do we do about it? Expose it. Pray for our leaders. Be humble ourselves…

  • Imadeitbygrace

    This is oh so true!  It is a shame but it really does happen.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Again, I don’t want to give the impression that this always happens, but sometimes it does, and it’s painful.

  • Mjsplint3

    My husband and I had attended a church where the leader was clearly doing something shameful and against God. His actions were confided to me by the leader’s wife. I, in turn, told my husband, looking for his guidance. My husband took it to the elders who, unfortunately were your #8’s. The leader’s father in law, who had originally founded the church, was so ashamed and embarrassed by his son in laws shameful deed, that he left the church. So sad.
    This happened a couple of years ago now, and I don’t know that we have completely healed from it yet. We are not sorry we acted on this, but it has brought us much grief.
    I remember saying to my husband when we had started to attend this church; “The Lord is going to use us here”; I just know he had spoken this to my heart. I had no idea of the way he was going to use us.
    We continue to walk with our heads high, knowing we did what the Lord wanted us to do; painful as it was. The Lord used us, a good  number of people left the church because of this, and our obedience to Him is utmost.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Wow, yeah. Sometimes God calls us to do the very hard thing, to call others to account. I’ve been there, and it is truly excruciating. But I’m grateful you chose to listen to Jesus and do the hard thing.

    • Song

      I feel very sad about what happened to this leader’s wife and the people in the church that were affected by this leader’s behavior and the way his behavior was exposed as described in your first paragraph.  When the leader’s wife confided in you, and that confidence was broken, I can imagine she felt betrayed and re-victimized by that break in confidence. Rather than supporting her and helping her grow to discover a way to bring things into the light herself, she experienced the pain of betrayal of trust with someone she trusted.  This sounds like #4 above, but instead of it being the leader behaving that way, it was your husband.  I in no way condone what this church leader may have been doing, and whole heartedly believe it needed to be dealt with.  I also do not believe the act of betrayal as described above as being how the Lord would have wanted it handled. The fallout is evident in the pain you are still experiencing, the shamefulness experienced by the father-in-law, and the good number of people that left the church.  There are healthier ways to handle confronting a leader, the first one being to have been an encouragement, support, and safe place for the wife who is experiencing her husbands behavior so intimately, and then helping her get help. Helping this woman to do the hard thing she needed to do doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t have been hard or difficult, or people will not feel shameful or embarrassed, or hurt, or wouldn’t leave.  It means that helping her learn how to do healthy confrontation would have given room for her growth, healing and, if possible, restoration of relationships to take place, and if not, then a healthy letting go of the unhealthy relationships.  Doing the “right thing” the wrong way can be as destructive to relationships as doing it the wrong way.  

      • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

        Song,

        I think we need more of the story before we can come to that conclusion. It’s hard to see, but maybe she was trying to protect the wife from criminal activity; in that case, it would be right to protect her.

  • Margaret

    Since Easter of this year, I have been attending a church in the community of which I live.  Each Sunday, I have noticed how awful I have felt after I left the service.  I kept returning, hoping I would get a better feeling.  I also thought the problem was me and my perceptions.  Finally this past month, I took a different stance at things.  When I first met the pastor, he outright bullied me after a softball game.   I once confronted him about something that he did, and, ever since then, there seems to have been a battle between us.  It doesn’t stop with the pastor.  The church leader will not talk to me about an issue tat is important to me.  I think it is because it might dampen his Pollyanna perspective on life and the Christian walk.  My past is part of this issue but, with the church leader and his followers, grace is not.  Gossip is.  Where is Christ in all of this?  Needless to say, I started to fall into a depression these past few months.  As I began to explore the roots of this depression, I realized I was in something very dysfunctional so similar to childhood and even when I was married.  I realized the problem was being in this church, and I was experiencing dysfunction.  I hadn’t put the name spiritual abuse to it, but it sort of fits.  I have been away from this church for awhile now and hope to get back to feeling good again soon.  Thanks for the article, Mary.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I’m sorry you walked through this. A bully in the pulpit is not a good thing!

  • Margaret

    Since Easter of this year, I have been attending a church in the community of which I live.  Each Sunday, I have noticed how awful I have felt after I left the service.  I kept returning, hoping I would get a better feeling.  I also thought the problem was me and my perceptions.  Finally this past month, I took a different stance at things.  When I first met the pastor, he outright bullied me after a softball game.   I once confronted him about something that he did, and, ever since then, there seems to have been a battle between us.  It doesn’t stop with the pastor.  The church leader will not talk to me about an issue tat is important to me.  I think it is because it might dampen his Pollyanna perspective on life and the Christian walk.  My past is part of this issue but, with the church leader and his followers, grace is not.  Gossip is.  Where is Christ in all of this?  Needless to say, I started to fall into a depression these past few months.  As I began to explore the roots of this depression, I realized I was in something very dysfunctional so similar to childhood and even when I was married.  I realized the problem was being in this church, and I was experiencing dysfunction.  I hadn’t put the name spiritual abuse to it, but it sort of fits.  I have been away from this church for awhile now and hope to get back to feeling good again soon.  Thanks for the article, Mary.

  • pastorpelton

    I am a pastor and this hits home.  Pray for me and our other leaders that we will lead like Jesus- serving, loving, caring, and trying to get out of the way of what God is doing in the lives of people.  I have been on the other side of spiritual abuse -when I was a youth pastor.  Almost left the ministry because of it.  Pray for our leaders because they are sinners in need of grace – like all of us!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Thank you thank you thank you for your sweet words. I so agree that we all need prayer. And that the subtle lies of the enemy entice even the godliest leader. Let’s all be sure right now to pray for our pastors and ministry leaders.

  • Michelle Major

    It takes courage to acknowledge spiritual abuse is real and it has happened/is happening and moreso, to bring it out into the light.
     
    I was in an abusive marriage with a husband that had been threatening to kill me if I ever left him. Of course, I never told anyone. My husband and I were both very good actors and we were leaders in the church’s music ministry program. My husband finally broke down during a moment of prayer with our pastor that he was using drugs and abusing his wife. In response to this confession, my pastor told us to go home and play some music together. Spend time doing things we love to do. The one and only time either of us had shared our secret of violence behind the doors of our home, and nothing was ever done to follow up.
     
    Two weeks later, my husband attempted to murder me by strangling me to unconsciousness as our 5 week old baby slept next door.
     
    As my healing began, I resumed singing in our church choir. My abuser threatened to kill me once released, and when he was free on bond, I began living in hiding and in fear for my life. I asked the same pastor for help in insuring church leaders were familiar with the protective/restraining order in place preventing my attack from being in the same area as me (ie. church). My pastor’s response was “if what you say is true, and apparently you believe it is, then you need to take care of those issues.  You have no idea how many folks attend this church that have baggage and we can’t take care of them all.”
     
    During this same time period, I approached my church for monetary help. There was an emergency fund for members who needed help. I retold my story, submitted medical reports for the numerous doctor’s bills I had accrued due to my injuries, and I was rejected.
     
    I was, in many ways, a widow.
    My newborn daughter, an orphan.
    My husband-her father, was gone to us as though dead, forever.
    And I was rejected.
     
    I had been devalued by an abusive husband.
    I was devalued by my pastor and my church that I faithfully served.
    However, I was never devalued by my God.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I wish that didn’t happen to you on so many levels. I’m sorry about what you endured, and very grieved that your church didn’t take pains to listen or protect you. A shepherd’s job is to protect his sheep, not demean or holler at them.

    • Anonymous

      I can so relate. My abuse was mental…verbal, but just as destructive. I felt compelled to remain faithful to my vows until, after 32 years he threw me out without anything but the clothes on my back. There has got to be better support and understanding from the body of Christ. There are so many of us out there and the church turns the other way and tells us to be a Godly woman and pray for him and he will change…not.

      • Ruthie Lewis

        NOT is right lindagma. exactly what my first comment was talking about.  seeing abuse in marriage perpetuated by the church is a travesty and became the crux of my ministry.  The guilt and defeat and loniliness of this situation is so difficult to overcome. A great resource for this specifically is “Man of Her Dreams, Woman of His” by Joel and Kathy Davisson. 

        Ruthie Lewis
        Author, Speaker, Life Coach

        • Anonymous

          Thanks Ruthie. I will look for that book. It is unbelievable the number of women I have met who’s husbands have left them stranded in retirement years…all of them Christians. At best, their church stood silently by. I have to say, I do know a pastor’s wife who helped a younger woman to a safe place and was available on her cell phone no matter where or when. Granted, pastor’s wives cannot take on something like this for all women, which addresses the fact that a similar ministry needs to be in our churches. I want to write a novel following an older woman in similar circumstances, what she must struggle through and how God opens doors and provides for her triumph. My concern is sounding bitter and bad-mouthing churches. Thinking I will attempt to deal with it thorugh humor and still point out the need for this ministry…a fine line but one that needs to be walked. There are too many of us not to deal with it and our churches are where we should be able to turn.

          • Ruthie Lewis

            You’re welcome. Yes, it’s amazing how many middle aged women are left with nothing.  It so happens, I saw something on TV last night stating a statistic that only 10% of single middle aged women have any savings at all.  I have long said, these are the widows or our day. 

            I actually have written a novel touching this subject; “Fireflies” which will be released in Jan.  It was also my concern that bitterness and cirticism would be sensed but I feel I found the fine line between revealing truth without any overtones except trusting God through the most horrendous circumstances of standing for truth. It is also what I speak on.

            Ruthie Lewis
            Author, Speaker, Life Coach

          • Anonymous

            A fellow soldier…how great! I will keep an eye out for your book.

    • licoricecat

      The Church CANNOT Relate to Abuse because it has not happened to them and they Have A Deaf Ear and Blinded Eyes to It and Frankly Do not Want to Understand Because Abuse is Messy. Go to Police, Go to Underground Abuse Havens for Women and GET OUT! Protect You and Your Child and Forget about the Material Things you are Leaving Behind! Get OUT! Safety is #1 and this Shelter will help you get on your feet. Then when you Get on your Feet, GO Back to the CHurch that would not help you and Ask the Minister if you could have a Ministry for Abused People and Reach out to them and Refer them to the Shelters that are usually funded by the government or private donations. Do not go to a Church that will not adhere to Orders of Protection. GIve the Minister a copy. The Bible does say to “ADhere to the Laws of the Land” and Orders of Protections are Legal Laws of the Land. Educate and Share your Story with others who are suffering and possibly have a support group in your area and use a Church building to run it at. Many are open to support groups and You know have the experience to help others.

    • J. Collins

      awesome testimony

    • Tami Drouillard

      my heart goes out to you im so sorry

    • bluntposter

      My heart truly goes out to you. This may not be of much assistance but maybe it might not be a bad idea to consider leaving that church. I do not intend to sound cold if I come across that way. I wish you the best in whatever you decide.

  • RNhesteban

    I too have experienced spiritual abuse as a trickle down effect from my father. This started for me as a child and lasted (or should I say lasts as I comment on this blog?) well into my current adulthood. Though am well aware that we are all responsible for our own choices that we make in life, I realize that my father, who had never healed from an abusive past, was taken advantage of financially and spiritually when he sought advice and healing. The list above could easily be a check list for the “ministry” that he found himself tangled in and abused by. I struggled tremendously with my faith as I grew into adulthood, as distorted messages that my father carried into my original family home played like broken tapes in my head. Twisted is the only word that comes to mind to sum it all up. But I am fortunate that the truth prevailed during a major crisis in my life. And with perserverance (combined with an admitted huge dose of caution, fear and trembling), I now understand with a whole heart what Christ truly offers to each of us. It is unfortuate that my family of origin iis fractured as a result of a distorted foundation of faith. I can only implore those who stil live in the negative experience of an abusive minisrty still perservere and peel back the layers to find the truth. And only they can walk that path. No one will do it for them. They owe this not only to themselves but to their children (should they have them) and the other people to whom their lives influence.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I’m so sorry you walked through this.

      It proves the importance of all of us getting our hearts healed by Jesus, particularly if we are to embark in ministry.

  • http://www.faithinbetween.com Brittany

    There is such truth here, Mary. A common theme in abusive churches and ministries seems to be allegiance/service to the leader instead of the Lord. I experienced this kind of situation in a church I attended while in college. I believe there are times we may be called to act, but after a lot of prayer, I decided to just separate myself from the situation and move churches. I could feel conflict building—and not the healing or restorative kind. The whole experience did awaken me to the importance of remembering our service as leaders is a blessing and a privilege from God, and we must set on our hearts on making much of Him, not of ourselves.

    Thank you for this powerful article! I pray those who have been scarred by bad church experiences will turn those scars over to the Healer & find a loving, God-glorifying community to plug into! T

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Yes, I agree. There is no one way to deal with this. Sometimes God calls us to leave quietly. Sometimes we are to confront (not fun). Sometimes we’re to be a part of a redemptive solution.

  • Cheryl

    Wow.

    I thought that I was the only one caught into the cesspool of spiritual abuse.

    My sister and I ended up at what we thought was a loving church after dealing with the effects of a difficult childhood. I quickly realised that they more you gave, the more they wanted and while ‘being under spiritual authority’ was purported from the pulpit, no one dared question who he was accountable to.

    I still lament the three and a half years I lost in that desert of deception and I am praying that God does heal me from the wounds of spiritual abuse – which in my mind – is the worst possible kind.

    Eventually you buy into the lie that is them and God against you and the people that we once your ‘family’ shun you as if you were a leper and everything that you thought that you believed in falls to pieces.

    I honestly cannot do ‘church as usual’ anymore – its a growing global trend that church leaders can’t ignore.

    I just thank God that I am free from that ‘crazy place of spiritual turmoil and morbid hypocrisy’ although my family members are still stuck there.

    I asked God the other day: “Doesn’t all this just totally break your heart?” To see the way your children are being abused by those who profess to be representing You!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I’m sorry you had to walk through that, Cheryl. Ouch. And I’m sure it does break God’s heart.

  • Dgiese85

    Hi Mary,
    I read through your list with eyes wide in shock that things like that actually happen, until I got to numbers 5 and 8, which made me a little nervous. Being close enough to that “inner circle”, I know things are not always the way they look from the outside at my church. I think part of the answer lies in prayer, and in remembering that God knows that person is there and what they are up to. Would it be naive to say that the person modeling this behavior is under spiritual attack, because we know that Satan is not creative and doesn’t have any new tricks. I think that people in charge, especially influential “charismatic” (not in the religious sense) are prone to falling for their own hype.

    Thank you for opening my eyes to this. I don’t feel like I am in a situation of spiritual abuse, even for a minute, but I do see where we are teetering on the edge of a ditch of deception. I will step up the prayers for the leadership of my church, that they would see any issues for what they are, lies and tricks of the enemy. As always, I appreciate your transparency and ability to get me to think beyond what I feel like, lol.
    Debbie

  • Dgiese85

    Hi Mary,
    I read through your list with eyes wide in shock that things like that actually happen, until I got to numbers 5 and 8, which made me a little nervous. Being close enough to that “inner circle”, I know things are not always the way they look from the outside at my church. I think part of the answer lies in prayer, and in remembering that God knows that person is there and what they are up to. Would it be naive to say that the person modeling this behavior is under spiritual attack, because we know that Satan is not creative and doesn’t have any new tricks. I think that people in charge, especially influential “charismatic” (not in the religious sense) are prone to falling for their own hype.

    Thank you for opening my eyes to this. I don’t feel like I am in a situation of spiritual abuse, even for a minute, but I do see where we are teetering on the edge of a ditch of deception. I will step up the prayers for the leadership of my church, that they would see any issues for what they are, lies and tricks of the enemy. As always, I appreciate your transparency and ability to get me to think beyond what I feel like, lol.
    Debbie

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I’m not saying every church is abusive, of course, and some may have these tendencies. The abusive organizations tend to be the ones where all these things are in place and that a culture of shame, power, and fear permeates the members.

      I agree that we all need to be spiritually alert to these things, particularly in ourselves.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1210057443 Anna Popescu

    Mary, thank you for writing this and sharing it with us. Sadly, I believe that if we are Jesus followers long enough, we will somehow fall prey to some kind of spiritual abuse from those whom we trust to feed us with the Word. Your post is well put and obviously comes from the heart. Thank you again!

    Blessings,
    Anna

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1210057443 Anna Popescu

    Mary, thank you for writing this and sharing it with us. Sadly, I believe that if we are Jesus followers long enough, we will somehow fall prey to some kind of spiritual abuse from those whom we trust to feed us with the Word. Your post is well put and obviously comes from the heart. Thank you again!

    Blessings,
    Anna

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Thanks Anna.

  • Joan Cimyotye

    This is a super heavy subject. I am a cradle catholic. As much as I love my church there is so much I don’t love. It would be very difficult for me to be involved with another church group. There is enough well publicized scandals modern and historical. I love that Peter was the first pope. I love the church’s ceremonies and prayers. I feel the presence of Jesus in church. I love the art. Sadly, I do have issues with some of the church dogma, too much to get into. I had not been attending church for many years. One sunday night I started watching Joel Osteen. He hit the nail so many times I tuned in on Sundays. He’d say,”Get yourself involved with a good bible based church.” I started going back to mass. But recently local politics in the church turned me off. Too many things to mention. I feel that I’m in a quagmire. I caught myself watching Joel again. :^)

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Joan, Jesus’ affection for you is assured. He loves you and is wooing you. Wherever you end up in terms of meeting with other Christ followers, I believe He will meet you there.

  • http://www.facebook.com/learning2serv Michael Hale

    A very necessary article, Mary. Grateful to join you this morning by way of Jezamama, a wonderful, inspiring lady I met through her blog.

    I was fortunate enough to spend only a couple of years in a truly abusive church, and then the Lord opened a door for me to enter the military. The next church I went to was young and had abusive tendencies, and I was involved with the leadership there. I was sent to another duty station and it would be years before I would really “connect” with another church.

    My little church isn’t perfect. In fact, I fought God on staying there for a couple of years. I’ve come to realize that the current pastor  (and assistant pastor) is as faithful as they come but he inherited a bunch of mess, mostly in the form of cliques. And the why of being here became plain: agents of healing. Not an easy job; would be far easier to break camp and roll out, but I trust God.

    So your post was timely, and I will share these kinds of things with our church as the time comes.

    And to you who have survived such things and are healing/healed, your prayers are greatly needed and appreciated.

    Mary, thank you again.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Lord, be with Michael as he navigates church. Heal him from past wounds. Give him joy as he loves people.

  • annieology

    We left a church after the lead pastor had his assistant call to ask if he could put a blog post I had written on his personal blog. I was honored to have been asked, my super cool pastor thinks I’m spiritually cool enough to be on his blog. Well what he did was copy and paste my post on his blog and did not even so much as mention me. He rejected all my comments, would not take my calls and then preached about how blogging was a waste of time if it wasn’t 100% all the time promoting Jesus. How his blog was all Jesus all the time and he had to reject comments all the time because people would just use the comment section of his very popular blog to try and gain traffic for their own. The thing is, he’d called me lots of times before, but I realized those calls were always tied to our bonus check tithe. Realizing that face time could only be bought, we left hastily. and unfortunately ended up in a place where my husband was often reminded that Jeaus wanted men to be spiritual leaders and his wife was out of control. I know people are human and imperfect but Gah

    • Sophiahammel

      As a writer, anything you write belongs to you. If you wish that pastor to take down your content, send him an email or registered letter stating as the owner of the written content, you did not give him permission to remove you as author. I had this happen to me but a stranger took one of the articles I’d been paid to write for a publication, removed my name and put it up on her blog. I immediately contacted her and told her to remove it. She refused. The violation fine (first time) for using someone’s work without permission is $750. 

      I sent her an invoice. She refused to pay. I contacted the company that had paid me to write the article. Since they had first NA rights, they tried to get her to remove it and she refused. I contacted someone I know that helps writers fight for their rights and very shortly after the woman was contacted by this other person, she removed my article. 

      Stealing is stealing whether the person is a pastor or not. 

      • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

        Yes, you’re right.

        By the way, anyone wanting to post this article has my full permission, as long as you cite me as the author and provide a link back to this site. Thanks!

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      That is stealing, plain and simple. I’m sorry you had to walk through this. Ouch.

  • Kelly Stern

    Where do I begin in my fifty years of evangelical church experience? Let’s see…
    1. My youth pastor tricked me into being alone with my ex-boyfriend who was violent and suicidal. I fled and was rebuked for not obeying the pastor (who later left his wife and kids to “find himself”).
    2. The senior pastor accused (yes, accused) my college pastor husband of being a shepherd, not a rancher. This was just one of many comments that caused my husband to doubt his ability to serve. A year later when we were far away from that toxic pastor, we realized that Jesus was also a shepherd, not a rancher.
    3. That same pastor told my husband to steal leadership from other college groups in the area because the leaders we had inherited weren’t “the right kind”. We invested in those men and women anyway.
    4. Same guy rebuked me for discipling a young woman who stuttered because he thought she wouldn’t be able to disciple others.
    5. Our intern was rebuked for discipling a young man with a horribly scarred face from being burned (see above reason). This “misfit” according to the pastor was an incredible evangelist, and grew faster than any other student in our group.
    6. We were only allowed to disciple someone for ten weeks using material created by the pastor. Then we were to cut that relationship off and move on. We didn’t follow this edict.
    7. My husband was rebuked for working with other churches in the area to combine college groups for an evening of Bible Study and Music every week. Each group was tiny, but together the gathering was large. The college pastors took turns teaching, and each one signed a contract that he or she would not steal sheep. It was the most awesome expression of church unity I’ve ever experienced.
    8. My husband was rebuked for taking our group on a retreat that lasted through Sunday because they couldn’t be counted in church that day.
    9. My husband was told to double (yes, double) the size of our group in two months or he was fired. Note: we were already the biggest group in this pagan area. We support church growth, but not growth at any cost.
    10. The senior pastor gave my husband the choice of being fired and having no further contact with the students or resigning and working with them for another month. So he resigned in order to serve them a bit longer.
    To this day, we volunteer in our church, but the thought of returning to paid ministry still gives us shivers. I reviewed a good book on this subject on The Book Blog at bookcenter.dts.edu.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      This just makes me MAD. I’m so sorry you walked through this! I can see why the thought of paid ministry shudders you! Note that almost everything the leader said to you had to do with externals.

    • http://www.churchexiters.com Barb Orlowski

      Hi Kelly,
      How neat to read your comments here.  Yes, I appreciated your Book Review.  People can read your review of my book:  Spiritual Abuse Recovery:  Dynamic Research on Finding a Place of Wholeness on the DTS site:  http://dtsbookcenter.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/498/

      All the best,
      Barb

  • http://profiles.google.com/fridaydreamer Shaunie Friday

    Oh Mary, you have hit this nail on the head–the stories I could tell.  We are currently (again) looking for a new church after leaving one afflicted with some of these characteristics.  It is damaging, and so difficult to keep any kind of desire to stay connected to a church when if feels so much safer to just stay away.  Obedience requires us to reconnect with the Body of Christ, but it’s very difficult to want to open up to yet another church that we can’t know ahead of time.  We always seem to have to find out the hard way.  You have provided a good list of red flags.  I wish I knew what to do to change church culture in general.

  • http://profiles.google.com/fridaydreamer Shaunie Friday

    Oh Mary, you have hit this nail on the head–the stories I could tell.  We are currently (again) looking for a new church after leaving one afflicted with some of these characteristics.  It is damaging, and so difficult to keep any kind of desire to stay connected to a church when if feels so much safer to just stay away.  Obedience requires us to reconnect with the Body of Christ, but it’s very difficult to want to open up to yet another church that we can’t know ahead of time.  We always seem to have to find out the hard way.  You have provided a good list of red flags.  I wish I knew what to do to change church culture in general.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      I’m so sorry you’ve walked this journey. It’s an excruciating one.

  • http://twitter.com/underhiswings83 jenniferwhite

    Thank you for having the courage to post this, Mary.  I am hesitant to even comment thinking that someone I know may read this.  We were in a church for over 2 decades and involved in several ministries over the years, but the one time we began to question the direction the church was going we were told that we were being led astray and told that perhaps it was time to go somewhere else. This has pretty much stifled my writing.  We haven’t wanted to bring malice to these people.  We haven’t wanted to act in anger, spite, or revenge.  The Lord has and continues to work and grow us.  There continues to grow false prophets, as the Lord said there would.  We need to be thinking and discerning.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Thanks for being brave. I agree, there are many false teachers out there, folks who do miracles but do not know Jesus.

  • http://twitter.com/underhiswings83 jenniferwhite

    Thank you for having the courage to post this, Mary.  I am hesitant to even comment thinking that someone I know may read this.  We were in a church for over 2 decades and involved in several ministries over the years, but the one time we began to question the direction the church was going we were told that we were being led astray and told that perhaps it was time to go somewhere else. This has pretty much stifled my writing.  We haven’t wanted to bring malice to these people.  We haven’t wanted to act in anger, spite, or revenge.  The Lord has and continues to work and grow us.  There continues to grow false prophets, as the Lord said there would.  We need to be thinking and discerning.

  • http://twitter.com/r_diamond Rebecca Diamond

    Excellent article, Mary! I attended church the first 32 years of my life, and honestly, there’s only been one period of less than 2 years in there where I wouldn’t consider it to have been a spiritually abusive environment.
    At this point in time, my little family is in a church-detox…I’d love to find a place to worship where abuse wasn’t present. Given my past experience, I’ve kind of given up hope of finding it.
    As for recovery? I’ve been blogging my way through it. It’s been years since we’ve left the wort of the churches (over 13!) and I still find it comes back to haunt me in various ways.

    Perhaps the worst, most blatant example of brainwashing and spiritual abuse? The moment my mother in law told me she was praying for Jesus to kill me and my husband.
    Why?
    Because we were contemplating moving away, and she genuinely believes that the Rapture will only take place in our little village, in her little church. Even though we haven’t gone there for *years*…she was holding out hope that if our bodies were buried here, mercy might be extended.

    ::sigh::

    http://therealrebeccadiamond.com/keeping-up-appearances-a-study-in-holiness
    http://therealrebeccadiamond.com/the-good-the-bad-and-the-really-really-ugly

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Thanks for sharing your link and your heart. It’s such a painful, bewildering journey.

  • http://jezamama.blogspot.com Jezamama

    Oh boy, Mary. This just makes me weep at the number of years I bought in to this crap. And that’s exactly what some of this stuff is horse manure. I praise God daily that he opened my eyes to see, gave me courage to speak and the strength to walk away.

    I think there are a lot of people that need to read this… because when you are in the middle of it, you think you are crazy.

    What we do to each other in the name of Jesus Christ and Church is disgusting.
    I pray for that one person who needed to read this and finally find that backbone.
    Thank you.

    • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

      Hooray for courage! And I agree, the most frustrating, painful thing is when we are taken advantage of or abused by those in spiritual authority over us.

      • http://www.churchexiters.com Dr. Barb Orlowski

        Hi Mary and All,
        A colleague sent me the link to your site.  Enjoyed your post on spiritual abuse and this discussion.  This is right up my alley.  :)  You might be interested in my doctoral study that focused on spiritual abuse and recovery. 

        My book is entitled:  Spiritual Abuse Recovery:  Dynamic Research on Finding a Place of Wholeness. 

        My website is:  http://www.churchexiters.com.  Information about my book and other articles can be found on my site.

        People can contact me at:  info@churchexiters.com.
        @churchexiter:disqus 
        All the best as you continue to raise awareness of this dysfunction in the Body of Christ!

        Dr. Barb Orlowski
        Langley, B.C., Canada

        • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

          Barb, thank you so much for giving this information to all of us. I’m so thankful there are resources out there for those suffering from spiritual abuse in the past. 

        • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

          Barb, thank you so much for giving this information to all of us. I’m so thankful there are resources out there for those suffering from spiritual abuse in the past.