According to The Blazing Center, spiritual abuse occurs when “a spiritual leader, such as a pastor, uses their power and influence to manipulate and control people. A spiritual abuser is not interested in furthering the welfare of those he serves. Rather, he's only interested in how people can advance his plans and agenda." Spiritual abuse happens to the mind and affects how a person thinks. It's very easy to be blinded by an influential pastor. Spiritual abuse takes the Trapped victim's mind by trying to manipulate them into believing lies.
This type of leader crosses the line from a shepherd of the Lord to a toxic pastor. They're difficult to spot, but by familiarizing yourself with the signs, you can discern who is a real leader and who isn't. The majority of church leaders are good people just trying to protect their flock from Satan's false influences, but others have evil ways with a dark agenda that refuses to be accountable. Here are the signs.
Critics are dismissed.
What often happens is that pastors and spiritual leaders confuse God's plans with their own plans. What often begins as a good ambition can fester into corrupt, selfish ambitions, which then lead to spiritual abuse. Unfortunately, most bad pastors refuse to believe that there is anything wrong with their leadership style or the direction things are going. They remain convinced that all is great and that nothing needs to change in their ministry.
Not only are critics excluded from the spiritual abuser's inner circle, they are also isolated. They do everything they can to isolate and discredit critics, slandering their character, accusing them of lack of faith, saying their understanding of the Bible is wrong, and even spreading lies about them. The pastor, guilty of spiritual abuse, wants his followers to have nothing to do with critics and seeks to discredit them as godless sinners holding back God's plans.
Expectation of loyalty and blind trust.
For a church or spiritual movement to be healthy, it needs diversity of opinion. In Christ we are all priests of God, filled with the Holy Spirit and endowed with unique gifts to build up the church, but that doesn't work for the spiritually abusive pastor. Your pastor doesn't want a lot of opinions or questions, he wants loyalty. You are in or out, for or against. Those who are not quite there are accused of being unfaithful, not being a team player and the like. Those who are loyal are promoted to positions of honor, those who criticize are ostracized. A sure sign that things are going downhill is when everyone in leadership thinks, acts and even speaks the same way. Also, if the leadership team is shrinking, it is a sign that the pastor is hoarding power and nurturing only the staunchest followers.
culture of fear and shame.
Often there is no mercy for one who does not meet the expectations of the church or ministry. When someone deviates from the often unspoken rules, leaders shame them into sticking to them. If the person does not comply, they will be asked to leave the church. They often have their sphere of influence that does the job, silencing critics and keeping everyone in line.
Leaders cannot admit flaws, but often look for flaws in others and use that knowledge to keep them in fear and imprisonment. They often quote scriptures about not touching God's anointed or accusing an elder. Yet they often confront sin in others, especially those who are addressing legitimate biblical issues.
They are proud and materialistic.
Toxic pastors live apart from their followers, justifying their material extravagance as God's favor and recognition of their ministry. Contrary to Jesus' instructions to take the last seat, they often take the first seat at events, courting others in order to grant them privileges. They usually hunt for wealth at all costs and often at the expense of the people they herd. They genuinely believe that what they do makes them better than those they lead, and so they should be given some kind of special treatment. They are not genuine deep down, and while they are capable of appearing on the outside, most of the time they are genuinely greedy and proud.
Uses exclusive language.
Pastors who are manipulative use exclusive language and say things like "We are the only ministry that truly follows Jesus" or "We have the right theology". They do this to make you feel that if you left, you would not be able to receive the true Word of God. They believe that their way of doing things, thinking theologically or dealing with ministry and church is the only right way and everyone else is wrong, misguided or stupidly naive.
In addition, they use exclusive language within the Church itself. Where followers who are close to the leader or leaders feel like happy insiders and everyone else stands outside, although they often yearn to be in that inner circle. Although it is actually a very toxic environment, these pastors can convince anyone that being part of the elite is desirable.
Deny responsibility for their actions
A spiritually abusive pastor or leader does not like being held accountable for their decisions. For this reason, he will take measures specifically designed to minimize accountability. Often this involves creating strange governance structures where those who are supposed to hold the pastor accountable cannot do so. Those responsible for holding the pastor accountable may be misled or kept in the dark about the leader's actions. They may also lack the formal authority to hold the pastor accountable. The result is that he appears to be held accountable when in reality he can do as he pleases. When spiritual abuse occurs in the church, there is almost always a lack of accountability.
Remove diversity from the church.
Abusive pastors are usually controllers. They only want to surround themselves with people who agree with them, or "yes" people. They enjoy managing their organization, community, and employees, and will resent it if they cannot. There is a way to do things and it's her way.
Therefore, they will eliminate anyone they cannot control. Anyone who has their own ideas about how to conduct the ministry, anyone who has different interpretations of Scripture, and the like, is brushed aside. They will have no opportunities for leadership positions and the pastor will say they are combative as they try to offer various solutions to problems in the church. All are expected to be like drones and only make the exact movements the pastor wants.
If you suspect your pastor is a spiritual abuser, don't hope things will get better. This rarely happens, if ever. Instead, talk to someone outside of your normal circle of friends and ask their opinion. Share details with them, including any red flags. Bad pastors are often manipulators who are able to explain away any action, no matter how crazy, so sometimes you have to step back to get the full picture.
So…if you're dealing with a difficult leader, don't become one yourself. Do your job well, and demonstrate the character and passion of your Savior. Let the God you serve settle scores and bring the new day He wants for your church. Don't fight your way to control!What are the spiritual effects of abuse? ›
For example, a study of 527 victims of child abuse (physical, sexual or emotional) found a significant “spiritual injury” such as feelings of guilt, anger, grief, despair, doubt, fear of death, and belief that God is unfair (Lawson 1998).What is a pastor syndrome? ›
Normally, the immune system makes antibodies to fight off germs. But with Goodpasture syndrome, the immune system mistakenly makes antibodies that attack the lungs and kidneys. This condition can quickly progress to an inflammation of the kidneys (glomerulonephritis) and kidney failure.What is emotional abuse in the church? ›
Emotional abusers are groomers at the beginning of their relationships. They will act with warmth, kindness, and love to lure victims before using their signature controlling tactics. The abuser will return to this “love bombing” stage throughout the relationship to keep the victim under his control.How do you know when its time to leave a church as a pastor? ›
- You Haven't Found Community (But You've Tried) ...
- The Church Isn't Doing Anything For People Outside The Church. ...
- There Is Abuse Of Power In The Church Leadership. ...
- You Don't Agree With The Vision. ...
- You Don't Trust The Church With Your Money.
Even if sometimes you pray through gritted teeth with clenched fists, try to call upon Matthew 5:44: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”