1. What are some Faulty Perceptions about spiritual abuse and why people leave their home church?
- Isn’t spiritual abuse what happens to people in cult groups? If people get caught up in groups that don’t preach the Gospel clearly, then they are bound to get sucked into a faulty belief system and experience being spiritually abused. That’s to be expected.
- It is widely felt that people who leave church must be ‘backsliding’ or just too busy for God. People who enjoy attending church find it hard to grasp that there are valid reasons why people have faced the inevitable decision to leave their home church.
- Some people think that it is a perception problem—meaning that vulnerable people seem to ‘perceive’ that they have been spiritually abused. Besides, there is too much being made out of the term abuse today anyway. It is just a matter of perception, they conclude—after some minor incident that has happened in the church. It could just be a matter of communication or it may simply be a personality conflict with a leader, or whatever.
A Better Response.
- It is important to work hard at trying to help church leaders and congregants to understand some of the valid reasons why people have made the decision to leave their home church.
2. How prevalent is spiritual abuse?
There are numerous incidences of spiritual abuse happening in Christian churches today—maybe more than most church or denominational leaders would like to admit.
Since many people think that spiritual abuse is only found in cults or cult-like groups, it is a shocking reality to be informed that: spiritual abuse can be found in many Bible-believing churches with orthodox doctrinal statements. It is, therefore, not so much what people believe, but
how they practice
- what they believe–
- that is the issue.
- More Christians are beginning to recognize the harmful effects of this leadership behavior on individuals and couples.
- Ronald Enroth concludes that:
”It [spiritual abuse] is far more prevalent and much closer to the evangelical mainstream
than many are willing to admit.”
- From the number of websites that have developed that directly address spiritual abuse or the various sites that include articles on this topic, it adds up to a host of people who are trying to draw this occurrence to the attention of church leaders and congregants in mainstream Christianity.
- Furthermore, confidential family counselors are engaged by those wounded, in order to help them to process the feelings of loss and devastation. Caring pastors are sought out to provide comfort and support to those bruised by church leaders. Researchers are faced with the mounting statistics related to this dysfunctional issue in the church. Yes, these observations point to the fact that:
spiritual abuse needs to come to the
center of clergy and congregant attention.
→ Church leaving statistics continue to rise.
→ Could it be that many have left their home church for this reason??!
3. Why don’t we hear much about spiritual abuse?
If it is supposed that it is the individual or a couple who ARE the PROBLEM, then this matter can be dealt with privately, behind closed doors. The individual takes the brunt of the situation, but the church leadership is never called into question and is seldom held accountable in any way. The organization and its leadership are rarely included as a factor that might need to be considered in these concealed situations.
Many times, others in their church have no clue what has just happened or why these members are no longer attending. When a tale is spun about the cause of the situation being some kind of sin (that no one talks about) and church members are warned not to associate with these people, then the issue cannot be discerned as being spiritual abuse, but is considered a matter of church discipline, though very little information seems to be available. The facts are hidden from view and the situation is now considered dealt with.
After an individual or couple have experienced harsh treatment by their church leadership, they are usually so devastated that they can hardly grasp what exactly has happened to them. Their usual posture is to go into seclusion and to try to process the extreme grief and confusion that they are experiencing. Little support seems to be available to congregants by denominational overseers. Overseers tend to favor church leaders, while those wounded in the church are left to suffer in silence without any hope of remedy.
Men and Women
4. What are some questions that wounded Christians typically ask themselves after they have experienced harsh treatment by their church leadership?
- Why should I attend church at all if I/we have been wounded by church leadership?
- Why should I continue to go to church—any church?
- Why can’t I just be a Christian and not bother to go to church?
- I believe that I need to find a healthier church–where can I find a caring church family?
5. Where can I get a better understanding of spiritual abuse?
There are a number of excellent books available which expose spiritual abuse. These books offer first-rate teaching. Another huge resource is the Internet.
The Internet has provided a safe place to identify spiritual abuse and to talk freely about it. Internet activity affords an opportunity for the wounded to share about their pain and disconnection with those who understand. People can compare their negative church experience with those of others. Individuals can choose to remain anonymous while getting immediate help.
There is informed awareness about spiritual abuse among those who contribute online as well as awareness and documentation of other types of abuse.
There is substantial assistance available for those who are hurting as well as for those who research any of these interconnected topic areas.
There are a number of Internet websites which investigate the occurrence of exiting from the local church, the problem of authoritarian and controlling leaders, how to cope after such an occurrence, and aspects of healthy recovery.
Websites provide information regarding how to recognize erroneous teachings in the church, how to recognize leadership maltreatment and spiritual abuse, how to recognize the components of godly leadership, cult awareness, and the offer of support for those who have walked away from a cult.
Articles provide insights regarding counseling the spiritually abused and how to ground Christians in the knowledge of God’s grace towards them and their spiritual identity in Christ. Compassionate remarks, from those who have had similar experiences, abound. Website hosts are often available for email conversations and much needed encouragement.
So many people are seeking help via the Internet–since there are so few places that they feel safe enough to share their painful story. Does this describe you?