Recovering From Spiritual Abuse (link)
"John and I soon began to notice, however, some other things that disturbed us. First, there was the gradual and steady disappearance of the more spiritually mature people in the church. And no one seemed to know why any of them had left. Then there were the subtle beliefs that originated with the pastor. There was the belief that if you are truly serving God, either you are in “full-time ministry” or you are preparing for it, and the rest of us working folks are a disappointment to God. (Don’t ask who was funding the full-time ministries.) And that God wants to heal you emotionally or physically, but if the problem isn’t gone after we’ve prayed for you two or three times, then you must be doing something wrong. And that the best way to heal an emotional need is to get busy for God—never mind your troublesome feelings, which aren’t important anyway. These beliefs were never publicly spoken, of course; in fact, I believe Richard would have said quite the opposite, if pressed. But the actions we observed revealed his true colors.
Not surprisingly, all the ministries of the church had to endure Richard’s invasive micromanagement. And the central feature of any meeting involving the pastor was hearing him lecture for an hour or more. Then there were the self-serving claims Richard made in the church newsletters: Because the church was obeying God, he had blessed it by multiplying its numbers and enabling it to spin off several other churches and numerous highly successful ministries. A gross exaggeration. In addition, we learned that there was no one within the church whom Richard and Jill trusted as intimate friends. Whether they had intimate friends outside the church, I don’t know, but Richard’s persistent attempts to bring under his authority the pastors of other churches in the area made me wonder if he trusted anyone but himself and his wife.
Part of the overall problem was that any attempt to confront someone in leadership had disastrous consequences. Anyone who expressed an opinion that the pastor didn’t like was understood to be unsubmissive, if not outright rebellious. Worse still, the associate pastors aspired to become clones of the pastor and were afraid to challenge him on anything. But none of this was common knowledge; it happened in secret.
Stunned by what we were discovering, we tried to communicate with a few people who had left the church. But we were disappointed when they wouldn’t talk to us about their reasons for leaving or their feelings about it. We soon woke up to a startling realization: We had become members of an oversized dysfunctional family, governed by the unspoken rules Don’t talk, Don’t trust and Don’t feel."
--- Barbara Milligan is the associate editor of STEPS and the author of Desperate Hope: Experiencing God in the Midst of Breast Cancer (InterVarsity Press, 1999). You are invited to visit her Web site at www.desperatehope.com. This article orginally appeared in STEPS, a publication of the National Association for Christian Recovery. All rights reserved.