What to do if you’re in a spiritually abusive situation

Oct 13, 2011Heal from the past

A little bit ago I wrote about spiritually abusive ministries and how you could spot them. I had a lot of interaction there, particularly people telling me their stories.

As I thought about it, I realized I raised an issue without giving some feedback about how to better the situation. As one who wants to live and emulate an uncaged life, I have thought a lot about what might be helpful for those of you walking through a difficult church or ministry situation. Here are some ideas. These six ways of coping aren’t exhaustive, but they’re biblical. I hope they help.

One. Take your commitment seriously.

So many times we take the convenient way out. If someone hurts us, we are easily offended and don’t want to take the time to work through the issues in a healthy manner. God calls us all to our local body of believers, and our covenant with those people (who are sinful just like us) is a serious, important one. We should not take lightly a desire to abandon the fellowship God has brought us to.

Two. Ask God if it’s time to confront.

Matthew 18 delineates when we should do this, and the manner in which we should. If we’ve been hurt by someone, we are to go to them in private and share our perspective. If the person refuses to listen, we bring witnesses. And after that, the leaders of the church. Confronting in love is one of the hardest disciplines in the Christian life because it requires deep humility on our part (to take the log out of our own eyes first), and it is risky. When we dare to bring another’s sin to light, we risk relationship, misunderstanding, slander, and all sorts of painful things. But, if God calls you to bring up an abusive situation, you must obey. Not simply for your own peace of mind, but for preventing other people from becoming victims of the perpetrator’s behavior.

Three. Refrain from chatter.

Gossip and hearsay destroys ministries and churches. Rise above that. Keep your circle small. While it’s okay to discreetly search out a discerning friend to see if you’re crazy in the midst of an abusive situation, it’s not okay to alert everyone. Keep things under wraps before during and after a confrontation. God’s beautiful body is the church. We don’t want to do anything that makes for disunity. (That is not to say we shouldn’t confront, but in doing so, we need to keep our mouths quiet.)

Four. If attending or being a part of this body is hurting your spiritual life or damaging your family, consider stepping away for a period of time to gain perspective.

Take some time away to renew, refresh, and seek God to see what He has for you. Sometimes when you’re in the midst of an abusive situation, you can’t think clearly about it. Removing yourself from it for a period of time will help you clarify your position and give you time to heal.

Five. Keep the body of Christ in high regard.

As I mentioned earlier, God is zealous for His Bride. Folks will know we’re Christians by our united love for each other. Satan’s schemes are always to divide and bring disunity. Do not be privy to or a part of his ways. If you’re deeply hurt, find a way for Jesus to shoulder that hurt. Seek counsel outside the church that’s harmed you. And pray for the protection of that body. Don’t contribute to its malaise.

Six. Sometimes you have to permanently break ties.

If you’ve walked through most of these steps and still you sense God saying to move on, then do. Not with fanfare or ire or angry words. Once you’ve said what needs to be said to the right people, leave. Spend time working through your pain. Seek counseling. Ask God for discernment for the next ministry opportunity He places before you. And also be willing to be an agent of healing for others who may leave the abusive situation.


Have you had to leave an abusive situation? What helped you the most? How has God healed you?