Fair warning: this is not a crafting post or a decorating post. This post will be filed under the Faith tab. If you are here for the fun stuff, today is not the day...or maybe it is and the Lord brought you by for more than just the pretty, temporal things of this life.
I, my family, and our church have just walked through one profoundly hard year. Hearts have been broken. Relationships have been irreparably damaged-at least from this earthly perspective. Words have cut to my very core. All of it has left us tainted and spiraling downward like a bird in mid-flight whose wings were clipped by an invisible pair of sharp shears. There was no way to avoid the crash landing and we hit hard.
I could go into details of our particular experience and to tell the truth I wrote and deleted those kind of posts several times over the past year. Time and prayer has helped me to focus on the reason for writing a post on this subject at all. I wanted my readers to know why my posts have been few and far between over the past year.
More importantly, I want to to offer hope and help to anyone out there that may be serving under a spiritual abuser or for someone who has gone through it in the past and is still hurting.
Grab your bible or a bible app. I will be using the ESV for most of my references. I am not a teacher nor do I have any formal training. I am a child of God, daughter of the King, and follower of Christ. I do not want you to take me at my word. Search the Scriptures-our source of truth.
A confession: For my part, I allowed a man to be elevated in my heart to a position he could not possibly maintain. John Calvin said "man's nature is a perpetual factory of idols". Now, whether he was talking about the church or just mankind is irrelevant here as I think we can all realize that things and people get lifted up in our hearts and minds over what God would have for us or want of us. I was living in the shadow of a Humpty Dumpty I was lifting up. My Humpty Dumpty was my pastor/elder. He was the sole pastor/elder for our church.
When we forget that a man or woman is nothing more than a sinful, broken version of the what God has planned for us-even in our redeemed state- we are in danger. Scripture teaches us that we are to obey our leaders, hold our pastors in high esteem-worth double honor, and not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, putting the good of others first. All of these things I do believe and agree with. I find nothing oppressive or archaic about these things and more importantly than whether or not I agree is that God has said it is to be so.
I want to share some truth with you. Please read this verse slowly...
2 Timothy 5:7 says "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching."
For years I never saw or read those three bold words. Who. Rule. Well. Honestly, if I had I would have been afraid to make an accusation...after all, one must be very careful when going against "God's anointed".
Friends, here are some things to consider:
* Do you feel like an "insider" with your pastor, like everyone else in the congregation is an outsider or not quite spiritual enough? God doesn't show partiality so why should his people? (Romans 2:11, Romans 12:3)
* Does your pastor regularly engage in bashing other pastors/churches near you thus limiting communication/fellowship and ultimately accountability? Does he imply that because your church teaches the truth there is an exclusivity that others are falling short of. (Mark 9:40, Luke 9:50, Romans 14:4, Ephesians 4:29, Titus 3:2, 1 Corinthians 13:4-5)
-We are not talking about false teachers, cults, ect. Just churches that have a different view on the non-essentials.
* Does your pastor misrepresent facts/events/circumstances? (The bible calls this lying.) (Exodus 20:16, Proverbs 6:16-19, Colossians 3:9-10, 1 Corinthians 13:6)
* Is there a pattern of people suddenly leaving the church because of problems with the leadership? Has your pastor referenced 1 John 2:19 to explain the departures, even questioning their salvation? Did not Paul and Barnabas separate from one another and yet both continued in the faith? 3 John describes believers leaving in a good light. (Acts 15:36-40) (1 John 5:16a, Ephesians 4:29, 1 Corinthians 2:11, Salvation is God's, and God's alone, to give to whom he chooses, Romans 9:15)
* Does your pastor insinuate that those who have left are in some form of sin. Does he try to "protect" you by not wanting to discuss the details of their sin? (James 4:11, Proverbs 6:19, Proverbs 7:19, Ephesians 4:29)
* Does your pastor protect himself from criticism by placing people around himself that are loyal to him; yes-men in the inner circle? ( 1 Kings 12:8, King Rehoboam surrounds himself with and takes counsel with those who better reflected his heart's desire.)
* Do you spend much time defending (even fiercely defending) your pastor's behavior as "understandably upset" to others outside and inside your church? Scripture tells us that God is our defender and that we are to be self-controlled-especially as a pastor. (Psalm 43:1, Isaiah 54:17, Galatians 5:222-3, 1 Peter 1:5-7, 2 Timothy 1:7, 1 Corinthians 9:27, Titus 1:8, 2 Peter 1:3-11)
* Does he insist on attendance to all sanctioned church gatherings. Does he talk about those that do not attend everything he sanctions even if those people are his own immediate family? (Leviticus 19:16, Psalm 15:3, Psalm 101:5, 1 Peter 5:3, 1 Corinthians 13:5)
* Does he discipline/shame/excommunicate those who question his character or authority even though they were once close friends/family/church leaders? (Galatians 6:1, Jeremiah 12:10,Jeremiah 23:1, Ezekiel 34:4) This is not to say the discipline should never be exercised.
* Does he use Scripture to warn about not touching "God's anointed" or bringing accusations against an elder thereby refusing the counsel of or accountability to fellow believers. (2 Peter 3:16 warns of those who twist Scripture for their own purposes. )
* Does he refuse 3rd party arbitration (a pastor from a neighboring church or someone not connected with his congregation) to hear matters of concern that aren't getting resolved. Does he systematically discredit a church member that seems to be having an issue with him? Does the member end up leaving the church before biblical resolution can be reached? (Proverbs 10:17, Proverbs 20:3, Matthew 18:16, Ephesians 5:21, 3 John 9-11)
* Have you lost touch with/thought ill of someone you once loved as a brother or sister, because they left under a cloud of suspicion your pastor has perpetuated? Have you cut off believers as if they were dead because they dared to leave the church? (Galatians 6:10, Ephesians 4:29, Ephesians 4:32, 3 John 7)
* Does you pastor paint himself as a humble martyr, bearing the "attacks of hate and malice" by those who've fallen into sin. Does he stir up others' emotions of allegiance or demand votes of confidence? (Acts 6:12, Colossians 2:23, 1 Corinthians 13:7)
* Does he keep others from positions that would put him in submission to them or on equal footing? He may do this by making the qualifications unattainable by anyone other than Jesus or by putting so much work and demands on the applicant that they eventually give up. (1 Timothy 3:1-13 lists only character qualities for leadership positions-not matters of academia, tithing, reading certain authors, ect.
* Does your pastor keep files on congregants like he was J. Edgar Hoover with FBI dossiers? (Matthew 6:14, Mark 11:25, Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13, Psalm 103:12)
* Do you feel you'll never measure up spiritually in your pastor's eyes no matter how much you give, serve, provide for him, ect. Is there a culture of fear and shame? (2 Timothy 1:7, 1 John 4:18, Isaiah 43:1, Proverbs 29:25, Romans 10:11, Romans 8:1)
* Does you pastor believe or has he expressed that if he ever left or stepped down your church would fold or cease to exist? This makes it paramount to support him for fear of losing your church family. (Isaiah 47:10, Matthew 16:18, 1 Corinthians 3:17, Galatians 6:3, Ephesians 1:22, Colossians 1:18) THE CHURCH BELONGS TO CHRIST!
* Does your pastor refuse to repent of sinful behavior or suggest that he has privately repented? (Galatians 6:1, Romans 2:4, 2 Corinthians 7:10, Proverbs 28:13, Romans 2:5, Ephesians 5:23-24 (not to stir controversy over wives submitting here))
Friends, these are all characteristics of a spiritual bully; an abusive leader. It is not an exhaustive list nor does every bully embody every point here but if you recognize some of these in your pastor consider these things. An angry man will stir up strife and controversy. People who lie and gossip are angry and often abusive people. Scripture is clear that we will become like them if we have fellowship with them. (Proverbs 22:24-25, Corinthians 5:11) You can only fool people for so long and then the facade will crack and little by little the truth will be made known; God is not mocked. Things done in secret will be revealed. This sort of man is brutish. In Scripture this word means to burn, kindle or set on fire in his anger. Jeremiah 10:21 KJV, "For the pastors are become brutish, and have not sought the LORD; therefore they shall not prosper, and all their flocks shall be scattered." Throwing a public temper-tantrum or emotionally venting is not godly, pastoral, or loving.(Proverbs 29:11) If you are in this type of relationship seek outside counsel immediately.
Repentance leads to restoration. This is not a platitude, it is a biblical principle. It is the principle by which we are saved. If we do not repent before the Lord of Glory we are not saved, redeemed or restored. An earthly, fleshly sorrow does not restore relationships. We have the example of Judas Iscariot who hanged himself in his despair. By contrast, we have the example of godly sorrow that leads to repentance in Peter who denied Christ and who lived out his days strengthening his brothers and sisters after being restored. (Luke 2:32, Matthew 26:75, Accounts of his life are documented in the New Testament, his inspired authorship of 1&2 Peter.)
Dear ones, people have been damaged by spiritually abusive pastors and church members! Maybe this describes you. You are not alone. Nothing has escaped the eye of our God. Your pain and tears are not in vain. (Psalm 56:8, Romans 8:28, Psalm 34:18, 2 Corinthians 1:3-8)
The Lord has brought me to a place of repentance and confession for my part in seeking the favor, supporting, and defending such a man. It did not come without cost, though. It has required that I recognize and repent of my prideful heart. It cost the loss of my church family and my friends of 15 years which has been literally nauseating. I know there are some who have found themselves in this place that have never bounced back. I don't know that I will completely bounce back either-nor do I want to. At least not in the sense that I return to what I was-a man pleaser and Humpty Dumpty supporter. By God's grace I have moved out of that shadow.
Here is another truth though you will not find it in the bible: You have no choice but to live in the shadow of Humpty Dumpty when you are the one holding the Humpty Dumpty up. If you choose to move out from that supporting position the Humpty Dumpty will fall. The nursery rhyme tells us that all the King's horses and all the King's men couldn't put him back together again.
Does the Humpty Dumpty even know he is broken? In my case, no. He does not desire to look into the mirror that was held up to him. Moreover, his supporters (who are mainly family) are refusing to acknowledge the brokeness and subsequent mess. They refuse to see that anger and lack of self-control are characteristics of someone who is, according to Scripture, unqualified to hold the office or pastor/elder.
Only God can mend what is shattered. Only God can take these messes and make something new.
Have you been shattered by a an elder that has abused his authority? Were you a Humpty that got dumped? Are you a shadow dweller? Jesus Christ has called us into the light and He can heal you! Run to Him, fall on His mercy and grace and cling to this promise from 1 John 1:5-9:
"God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in
the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us
our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
As a result of the past year, I and those who left after our family have committed to memory 1Corinthians 13. Do you know it? Do you practice it? It is a hard and beautiful passage. I would encourage you to learn it and preach it to yourselves often.
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