Dealing with Spiritual Abuse – Part 3
This is the third part in a series on spiritual abuse. I do recommend that you read the other two posts before you read this one; you can read them here
As we saw in the last post, spiritual abuse is a horrible, destructive thing that too often destroys leaders and members of churches and ministries. As I shared before, I have seen first-hand its hurt and devastation – in my life and in the lives of others I know. Some people have recovered, and sadly, some have not. Too many still hurt deeply from the wounds they received at the hands of these leaders, one’s whose job was to watch over, equip, and protect the flock; instead they ended up being agents of the enemy whose avowed purpose is to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). But spiritual abuse doesn't happen just at the hands of leaders and pastors, sometimes older Christians can also abuse younger ones. Usually this happens in the guise of discipling that places wrong or excessively tight restrictions around the one being discipled. Often it will take the form of assuming relational authority as a spiritual mentor or "Mum or Dad" in the faith. This form of abuse like that from recognised leaders seeks to control or manipulate the disciple to doing what they are told.
So, now you’ve read the list in the last post that gives signs of spiritual abuse happening. What happens if you recognise that it’s happening in your church, to you or to others you know? What do you do? How do you handle it?
What to do if you suspect spiritual abuse is happening
Hopefully your church has an accountability structure in place, through which situations can be resolved (Pastors reading this – if your church doesn’t have a policy in place, please make one – for your safety and that of your congregation.)
- Don’t jump to conclusions based on one or two happenings. Remember you may be looking at a strong personality, a strong leader, an insecure leader, a leader with unhealed wounds or an unwise leader. Leaders are human and they sometimes do dumb things, and they will, unfortunately, hurt some people in the way they handle things. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are abusive. It’s a consistent pattern of abusive behaviour that will begin to show you whether a situation is abusive or not. You may simply be looking at humanness in action. Keep your eyes open, but give grace. If it is an ongoing pattern it will reveal itself over time.
- Approach the person or leader in question and ask for clarification concerning the things you’re concerned about. Scripture is clear that when we have something against someone else we need to talk it through with them first before involving others. (Matthew 5 & Mark 11) How the leader handles your enquiry will tell you some things that you need to know. Are they open to being asked why they did something? How do they respond? With grace, and apology where necessary, or by making you feel that you were wrong in thinking what you do?
- If talking to the person or leader in question doesn’t work then you need to look at talking to the wider church leadership – a meeting with the elders etc. Only after that avenue has been exhausted should you go elsewhere. If talking things through with your church leadership doesn’t work, seek advice from an outside trustworthy Christian advisor – the church’s denominational leadership or another minister in your town or city. If it can’t be resolved easily it may need to be dealt with on a denominational or even a city-wide basis, but hopefully not.
- If abuse is proven and there is no recognition of it, or repentance from the leader or leaders involved, then you should leave the church. This may be hard, especially if you have built good friendships there, but it will be necessary for your continued spiritual health and healing.
- If people ask you why you are leaving then simply tell them the truth, but don’t gossip and spread rumours of abuse amongst other church members or Christian friends.
- You will feel bad for those who are still in that church, and you will want them to see and recognise that there is abuse happening. Some people will be ready for that, and sadly, some won’t; that is just a fact. For some, it will confirm their feelings and suspicions, for others they will take it as an attack against the leader. You cannot take on the responsibility for their responses. Again, don’t gossip; but how do you talk about something like this in a non-gossip way?
- Try to talk about actual instances of the abusive behaviour, not feelings. Try and do so from an objective viewpoint. This is not a time to let your anger and hurt boil over. Don’t call the leader names, don’t pull the church down through your words; that will build walls, not bridges of understanding for people. If you are carrying offense over the way you’ve been treated then people will hear that in your voice, and the things you say will possibly cause others to pick up your offense.
- Don’t get into arguments with people over it. Feelings will run high; this is a volatile subject. But arguments won’t help. If feelings get high then back away rather than get into an argument.
- Above all, pray for those involved; for the leader or leaders involved, for the other congregation or ministry members. Pray for eyes to be opened, works of darkness to be exposed, and for hearts to be opened and turned to the Lord in humility.
We war not against flesh and blood…
Remember, ultimately you are not just dealing with people but there are powers of darkness at work in the background - spirits of pride, deception, domination, control and witchcraft, religious spirits, possible narcissism, and more. These are the real enemies, not the people. The real battle is in the spiritual realm and what we seek is the freedom from these things for all who are involved. You may need to call others to prayer over this; don’t feel that you can battle these things just on your own. In calling others to prayer, deal with facts where necessary but don’t share more than is wise or prudent. Know that the battle is the Lord’s not yours, so ask the Lord to show you how, and what, to pray, so that you come into agreement with Heaven’s heart and desire for the situation. Pray from faith, knowing that God desires their freedom even more than you do, and pray until you know the victory in prayer.
In the next post in this series I’ll be looking at things you can do to help you process through spiritual abuse. If you suspect spiritual abuse is happening then please get help. Talk to someone trustworthy outside your church, get good counsel, and get prayer ministry if needed. There are a lot of good resources out there on this subject; this series of posts is just one.
If you’ve found this post helpful then can I ask you to please share it by using the Facebook share button at the bottom of the post. There are so many who need the help to work through the abuse they’ve suffered and if you and I can help them do so then it’s worth taking that small moment of time to click on the button.