Dealing with Spiritual Abuse – Part 6


This is the sixth part in a seven-part series on spiritual abuse. I do recommend that you read the other posts before you read this one; you can read them here

Part 1     Part 2     Part 3     Part 4     Part 5

How does abuse against leaders manifest?

Abuse can happen unconsciously, consciously, and sometimes even through neglect (not doing things that should be done).

Through criticism and gossip

Many criticisms are petty and do not actually need vocalising. Those that do need vocalising need to be shared with the right person, not just anyone who will listen. Gossip about leaders does so much damage! Criticism is different from facing facts. You must face the facts about something in order to make improvements, but facing facts becomes criticism when you begin to assign blame and attack a person, rather than address the issue or problem. It becomes gossip when you begin to share that criticism with other people in order to spread the story. Gossip then repeatedly seeks to draw others into the situation by sharing about the problem over and over, making it a ‘person issue’ without bringing any potential solutions to the problem. It becomes an abuse when you do that deliberately in order to attack the leader and influence people against them.

Through financial neglect

Too many Pastors and ministry leaders are underpaid, as well as being underappreciated. Finance boards can twist verses like “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8) in order to make pastors feel that they should work for little or nothing. We have had people say to us that the training seminars we hold should be free and quoted that verse at us as their proof. Yet at the same time Scripture also says that a workman is worthy of his hire (Luke 10:7; 1 Timothy 5:18). I remember an old joke about some congregation members praying for their pastor; they said in their prayer, “God, we’ll keep him poor and You keep him humble”. Sadly, this actually happens; some Christians equate humility and holiness with poverty, and therefore don’t recognise the worth of their pastor and don’t pay them accordingly.

Through other neglectful practices

Some pastors are abused by simple neglect, and while that might not immediately sound abusive, it can be. Any parent that neglects a child would be called abusive, but somehow, we think it is okay to neglect adults. How does this sort of abuse manifest? It manifests through a lot of little things that add together to make pastors and leaders feel unappreciated and unrecognised for the work they do. Neglect can happen when we take people for granted, especially when they’re really good at what they do and there are no problems that need attention. It can happen in little things, like not thanking the Pastor for all they do, not acknowledging the hours spent in preparing teachings, or the hours spent in counselling or home visits, for being on call 24 hrs a day 7 days a week, and when it is assumed that they will be the first at church and the last to leave. Or maybe it’s in something like unintentional isolation - not including the leader and their family in activities because you think they would be too busy or wouldn’t want to come. There are so many ways neglect can happen in our relationships. Most pastors don’t need, or want, constant acknowledgment for what they do, but a little bit of encouragement can go a long way towards promoting job happiness and fulfilment for them, just as it does with the rest of us.

Through the manipulative use of personality, finances, and power

Some congregation members will try to manipulate their leaders by withdrawing support if things are not done how they like it. Others will use their position in the church or community to try and force the pastor to do things how they want. This is manipulation and abuse and needs to stop!

Through deliberate isolation, rejection and passive aggression

Many pastors feel isolated because there are some things they just cannot share with members of their congregation, and that is a part of a pastor’s responsibility. This can sometimes set them apart from their congregation a bit, but when a congregation member uses deliberate rejection and isolation to attack a pastor, that is wrong. Another way people show their displeasure is by using passive aggressive behaviour. Passive aggressive people either can’t or won’t communicate their dissatisfaction in words, instead they use non-verbal behaviour to show their displeasure. They often use angry looks, get sulky, resist requests, walk away when spoken to, put up a ‘stone wall’ of silence and more. These behaviours are never okay and when used deliberately are a form of attack and abusive behaviour. If you have something against a leader talk to them about it openly.

Through assigning spiritual value to natural things

We sometimes assign spiritual value to things that actually have none, thereby making the issue a faith issue, rather than simply an ordinary one. In church history there have been many fights, and even church splits, over things like – traditions that no longer have functional value, introducing instruments into worship, the moving of an organ or piano, the colour of the new carpet, and more. People have chosen sides and formed battle ranks, believing that when traditions are being challenged it is actually their faith that is under attack, and they have fought as if their spiritual life is at stake, often attacking, and even destroying, pastors in the process.

Through issues of faith

Faith issues are usually seen as right and wrong, and if you’re not on the side of right and true faith, then you’re wrong, and off in your beliefs. If people fear that their faith is under attack then it is often hard for them to stay calm, especially when they have mistakenly attached their sense of spirituality or spiritual wellbeing to an issue. When this happens personalities and differences of perspective and opinion become battles between right and wrong, good and evil, traditional belief and heresy. Opponents to their way of thinking may even wrongly be seen as agents of Satan at work in the church. Sadly, many good leaders have been wrongly accused of working against the church and for Satan.

It is because we care so much about our faith that we often fight. Whether or not what we fight over is worth fighting over, is often set aside in the passion of the moment. William Willimon, author of the book ‘Pastor’ says this "If we didn't really care about one another and the faith, there would be no conflict. The person who wonders why the meetings of his or her book club are more placid than those of the branch office of the Kingdom of God need only measure what is at stake to understand why church fights are so fierce."

Through prayer and prophecy

Sadly, sometimes people will use prayer or prophecy to attack, or seek to manipulate, a leader or leadership. The way this is used can look so spiritual, and because it is wrapped up in spiritual language and behaviour it can feel very acceptable. Too often intercessors will use prayer (both private and public) as a means to express their personal opinion and to influence others to their way of thinking, going so far as to openly pray against leaders or insinuate things about them in their prayers. There have been many situations where this has happened, or where disgruntled parishioners have openly used the giving of a so-called ‘prophetic word’ to speak against a leader. This is manipulation and witchcraft, not true spirituality, or reasonable Christian behaviour.

Another way abuse happens is…

Through the lack of support a leader receives from leaders of their denomination

Sometimes pastors are abused by their denomination. Denominations may promise support but, in reality, not give a pastor the support and ongoing training that they need, leaving the pastor to swim or sink on their own. While this may not be deliberate abuse, it can be abuse by neglect. Denominational boards should have a policy for the ongoing support and training of the leaders who are part of that denomination, and should see that it is put into practice.

In the last post in this series I’ll be looking at how a leader should respond to attack or abuse by their parishioners. In the meantime, if this article has helped you then can I ask you to please share it by using the Facebook share button at the end 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.

Part 7