Dealing with Spiritual Abuse – Part 7


This is the last part in a series on spiritual abuse, thank you for staying with me as we've dealt with this subject. It's a subject that shouldn't need addressing because it shouldn't be happening; but sadly it is hence this series is needed. If you're just joining us then 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     Part 6

In this post of our series on spiritual abuse I want to talk about how we, as pastors and leaders should respond to attack and abuse against us.

Remember, not all criticism is attack or abuse; sometimes it’s just normal healthy critique. Also remember, healthy dialogue is not always pain free. The old saying “The truth hurts” can be very true.

Responding to Abuse

As painful as it may be, attack and abuse from congregation members needs to be addressed and challenged. This is crucial for your ongoing health and that of your church.

  • Critique or attack? Know the difference between what is simply badly handled critique and what has stepped over into attack and abuse. Is this a ‘one-off’ situation or is there a repetitive pattern? We should not be quick to label a church members criticism as a personal attack. I remember back in the early 1990’s there was a quite a backlash from the overly strong discipleship emphasis of the 1970’s and 80’s, and ‘controlling’ was an accusation thrown at many leaders (rightly or wrongly) as people discovered they had the right to have a voice and question a leader’s actions. Many leaders suddenly felt they were under attack when it was often simply a congregation members clumsy and badly worded attempt to communicate how they were feeling or ask questions. 
  • Get perspective. Sometimes to do that you need to talk to someone outside the situation. A peer or mentor will be able to help you sort out what is criticism and what crosses over into abuse. Others you could turn to for help may be denominational leaders, other pastors, Christian counsellors, inner healing ministries etc.
  • Confront any abuse. Abuse of any sort must be confronted, but confront lovingly and wisely. Scripturally this is done first in a one on one meeting, and if that doesn’t work then others may need to be brought into the situation (Matthew 5 & Mark 11). Don’t be passive. Don’t think it will just go away; it won’t. Trying to avoid conflict will lead to the issue not being addressed properly and will, in the end, not be good for you or your church.
  • Be aware. In addressing the abuse be aware that you may be opening yourself up for more abuse if recognition and repentance doesn’t happen. You may be accused of being misunderstanding by some, or of attacking the person or people involved. If possible, work out beforehand what your response will be.
  • Own any part that you had in it all. As leaders sometimes we don't communicate the best, or in our busyness we can speak abruptly to someone because our mind is elsewhere, own your behaviour. People will lose respect for you if you dismiss or cover up your bad behaviour. Leaders on the receiving end of spiritual abuse must recognize that they may have played a part in allowing the abuse to get as far as it did.
  • Forgive. Forgiveness is a necessary part of moving on and getting free of the effects of abuse. It may take time to forgive, and you’ll find that forgiveness comes easiest when the hurt is dealt with and healed. Making yourself forgive by willpower alone when you are unhealed will only put a band aid on the problem; it will not fix it.
  • Make sure that you don’t attach your self-worth or value to your position. This is so crucial. What you do, or what position you hold, is not who you are. If you do attach your identity to your position or your performance then you’ll take everything as an attack. Along with this, don’t be thin-skinned; criticism is painful, let’s be upfront about that, but not every criticism is an attack.
  • Build yourself up in the Lord. Spend time with Him; ask Him for a word (prophetic or from Scripture) to support you and carry you through. Your devotional life during this time is very important; it’s there that God will minister His love and healing to you. Make sure that you don’t neglect this.
  • Be patient with yourself. Healing does take time, and you will need to give yourself permission to feel angry, to question, and to feel the hurt. You may also need to get prayer ministry or counselling; these are not admissions of failure or weakness, they are signs of wisdom. You also need to give yourself permission to celebrate your gifts, abilities, strengths, character etc. These will have taken a bashing, so go easy on yourself. Build yourself up again and relearn to trust yourself.
  • Pray for those who hurt you. Ask the Lord to show you how He sees them and to give you a love for them. Walking in honour doesn’t mean glossing over, or hiding, abuse. It means that we face the facts, but still walk in honour - loving the person because Christ loves them, respecting them, and speaking in a way that addresses the problem, but doesn’t put them down personally.

Have others who will walk with you through the process of healing

The following is a short excerpt from Part 4 of this series but is very applicable here too, so I’ve included it again.

If you’ve been the victim of spiritual abuse then you need people who will walk with you through the healing process, and they should be people outside the situation itself. Make yourself relationally accountable to friends and trusted people. By relationally accountable I mean have people who love you, will walk beside you through the process, and who are not afraid to ask you questions. For this you’re not looking for hand-holders who agree with your wounded views, you’re looking for people who will help you move through it and will ask you questions like....

  • How are you processing your hurt or grief?
  • Are you aware of the stages of grief, and if so, where are you in that process? The stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They may not necessarily be moved through in a linear fashion, you may go back and forwards through them as part of the process.
  • How’s your relationship with God? How has this situation affected how you see Him?
  • How has it affected your trust in Him?
  • Have you forgiven those involved?
  • What’s the quality of your relationship with other Christians like at the moment?
  • What are you currently looking to in order to fill the gap that this situation has created in your life? Are you using things to anesthetise the pain – like alcohol, food, TV binge watching etc?

The light at the end of the tunnel

As a leader who is the victim of spiritual abuse, it can feel like everyone is against you. You feel like you want to desert your calling and you'll want to blame God for what 'His people' did to you. You may want to never pastor again and in the healing process there is much to work through. Recovering from spiritual abuse takes time and determination. It is all too easy to sit back, wallow in our hurt and blame others, yet that does no one any good.

If you’ve been a victim of spiritual abuse, determine to work through it; get help, if needed, and turn to God in the process, not away from Him. Yes, you may have questions about why He let this happen etc. and you may or may not get answers to that question. Sometimes we don’t get all the answers we want in life, and in the end, we have to be okay with that. Life doesn’t always come wrapped up and sorted prettily; sometimes it’s tough, rough and we get hurt along the way. But in it all we have this unfailing promise – God will never leave you or forsake you, you do not have to go through this alone (Deuteronomy 31:6,8; Joshua 1:5; 1 Chronicles 28:20; Hebrews 13:5). He wants to take your hurt and wounding upon Himself and bring you to a place of healing and being able to once again step out and go after the dreams that He has placed in your heart.

The end… or a new beginning

Well, there we have it; the end of this series. If you've been the victim of spiritual abuse, it can seem like the end of so much you've held dear but maybe in that ending is also the seed of hope, the seed of a new beginning. This series turned out to be so much bigger and more in depth than what I had in mind when I first started to write it. The more I looked at it the more there was to look at, and a lot of it wasn’t pretty. In a different way, though, the more I looked the more I also saw hope. Why, because God is who he is, he has great plans and purposes for his church and he is committed to our maturity. As scripture says of God –  

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 2:22,23).

He is the God of the second and third chance and God is at work in each of his children’s lives, seeking to bring us to a place of maturity and wisdom. As we cooperate with Him in that process things are changing, old wrong mind-sets and ways of doing things are being recognised and discarded. We are viewing each other differently as we transition out of orphan mind-sets and behaviours into that of mature sons and daughters of a loving Father, and this is good. And in that, there is hope for the church to truly be the light she is meant to be, and to bring freedom to so many who need it in the communities around us.

If this series has been a help to you, then can I ask you to please share it by using the Facebook share button attached to the post. There are so many who need 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.

Questions from readers of this series - Part 1