Abusive Church Leaders and Spiritual Narcissism
II. Examples of Abuse in the Bible
III. Signs of an Abusive Pastor and Preacher
IV. How Pastors Exploit Church Members
V. How to Confront Spiritual Abuse
Why are Preachers Abusive
Preachers are spiritually abusive because they have turned their backs on the Lord, or He never sent them to begin with. You can visit other websites to get long lists of reasons why a once loving church leader has backslidden. But every issue we suffer comes from lack of faith. For credibility’s sake, I am a Preacher/Pastor of a congregation. I have been so for some years and can speak from a place of authority on the subject. However, and as we learned with Moses “striking the rock”, becoming abusive to God’s people will cost everything.
Not to make an excuse, but in fairness, many of my brethren have become abusers because they have been abused by congregations. This is not, again, to abrogate their spiritual responsibility! I guess on some level, I have been abused but this was early in my pastorate. My calling, and gifting, is more geared towards a John the Baptist ministry rather than the gentle Apostle John. I have plainly stated to God’s people I will not tolerate abuse towards me or my family. I am much too confrontational to allow such ongoing hate.
Others, who more closely adhere to the “turn the other cheek” doctrine, may tolerate this. I do not, and have not, abused God’s people and demand the same love and respect. Jesus Christ allowed this, and we cannot be “greater than our master”. Abusive preachers must be identified, confronted, and depending on response, disciplined! Should I become so, I demand the same JUSTICE as well.
Examples of Abuse in the Bible
Spiritual abuse is defined as the misuse and/or manipulation of God’s Word, authority, and righteousness to harm others. Throughout the biblical record, this form of abuse occurred. One reading of the major Prophets in the Old Testament will demonstrate this. These preachers warned religious leaders about how they treated God’s people.
All sin can be boiled down to one thing: control. When reviewing 1st Corinthians chapter 13, we find trying to exact unrighteous control over another is the opposite of Godly love. There are several examples of spiritual abusers in the Bible who were in positions of authority. First, King Saul abused his authority and went as far as to try and kill a young shepherd named David. Before making Saul King, however, God warned the nation of Israel they would serve an abusive leader. Having been warned by God, they said: “give us a king anyway”!
Next, Pharisees, in the time of Jesus, were guilty of religious abuse. Did you ever wonder why Jesus had so many confrontations with them? Third, and certainly not finally, King David was guilty of abusing his authority as well. The greatest example was committing adultery with Bathsheba and then having her husband killed.
Here are further examples of spiritually abusive leaders in scripture:
Old Testament examples:
Jezebel - she used influence over her husband, King Ahab, to lead the nation away from worshiping God. She most infamously tried to have the prophet Elijah killed after he slayed her false prophets.
Eli and his sons - Eli was a priest yet failed to discipline his sons for sinful behavior. This included stealing from the offering and sleeping with women at the temple. I offer Eli because if we do not righteously confront abusers, we are guilty of their sin. Remember it is written in the Bible: “to him who know us to do good, and does not do good, to them it is sin “(James 4:17). Another scripture warns: “bidding evil doers God speed”. (2nd John 1:9-11)
Korah – Korah stood against Moses shortly after the Children of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. His abuse cost not only his life but lives of his followers as well.
1. Diotrephes – in the book of 3rd John, this leader loved to be in charge and refused to submit to authority. He spread malicious gossip about the Apostles and even excommunicated those who disagree with him.
2. The Judaizers - these Jewish Christians believed that the Gentile Christians had to follow the Mosaic Law to be saved. This form of spiritual abuse is very dangerous! This false teaching offers there is something beyond faith in Jesus required to save our souls.
3. Simon the Sorcerer - this man deceived and manipulated people. Most infamously, he wanted to buy the power of the Holy Spirit from the Apostles.
In summary, there are examples of spiritual abuse in the Holy Bible. What is most important is recognizing this behavior and righteously confronting it using Matthew 18:15-17. You are not going to hell for confronting “backslidden” church leaders by speaking truth in love. In the past, they have loved you enough to do so - why would you not love them in the same way.
Signs of an Abusive Preacher/Pastor
It is crucial to notice and respond to signs of an abusive Preacher. This sin can have an eternally devastating effect on God’s people. An example is when Pastors financially, sexually, and even physically abuse people causing them to leave the church. Such spiritual, emotional, and psychological damage is incalculable.
By noticing, and biblically, confronting abusive behavior, the Saints of God fulfill the words of Jesus: “the world will know you are my disciples by your love one for another”. It is important to hold these leaders accountable yet show God’s grace and mercy when doing so. Many congregations manufacturer false charges in an attempt to hold God’s REAL Preachers accountable. However, when faced with those acting on behalf of Satan, they remain silent.
Here are signs your Pastor or Church Leader needs confronting:
1. Being “drunk” on power: in most situations, a church Pastor has almost absolute authority. This can often depend on the level of education of congregations, ethnicity, as well as pastoral personalities. In the hands of those who have no concept of humility, such power becomes sinfully intoxicating.
2. An attitude of entitlement: I cannot speak for other cultures, but in the African American church, congregations often “spoil” Preachers. This produces an attitude of entitlement, which breeds arrogance, and finally abuse. Just like any spoiled child, when accountability is lacking, they feel entitled to behave in a way suitable to their end goals.
3. The pressure of hypocrisy: over the years, I have come to understand most Preachers feel a need to “keep up appearances”. This happens for many reasons but most of all, maintaining their jobs as the church Pastor causes compromise which breeds hypocrisy.
4. Quasi celebrity status: after years of people treating me as if I am more loved by God, or better than they, I’ve become brokenhearted. Pastors are not treated like servants rather are quasi-worshipped as celebrities. This insulates us from the accountability required to maintain humility.
5. Misunderstanding our role: if the church was a school building, the Pastor would not be the principal, or ultimate authority, we would be the custodians (caretakers). There is no greater servant in any school district than custodians. No other school district employee touches as many lives (daily). They clean up after everyone, stay late to provide sanitation, and remain at the “beck and call” of every person in the building. There was a reason why Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Let those who have an ear hear.
6. Lack of accountability: as I have taught the congregation I lead; nobody is above the Words of Jesus contained in Matthew 18: 15-17. This is the Lord prescribing how to resolve issues among believers. In plain language: you cannot love someone yet refuse to speak truth (in love). This is "hate" or equally as bad, apathy. You do remember what Jesus Christ said about being "lukewarm" in the Book of Revelation, right?
In summary, Preachers and Pastors are abusive because they have turned their back on the faith. They may use the “Name of Jesus to gather”, but they are not “gathering in His Name”. If such reprobates abuse the word of God, what makes you think they will not abuse His people?
How Preachers Exploit Church Members
Abusive Preachers exploit church member through one (1) way above every other: lack of knowledge and/or boldness in the Word of God. I have witnessed abusive Pastors, as a Pastor, and with all the access it brings. Locally, there is one who is demonstrative of almost everything an archetype “abuser” can be.
Yes, I have confronted him on more occasions than I can count! However, he continues in that godless lifestyle. He hates God because he is literally abusing the Lord through abusing His “created likeness”. Abusive Preachers, without exception, exploit church members to their own gain. 1st Timothy chapter 3 lists the qualifications of a Pastor, and things disqualifying them from the same.
Having closely observed the arche-type abuser discussed above, here is first-hand knowledge on their “roadmap to abusing sheep”:
1. Crossing that line subtly: exploiters always have what I call a: “feeling out period”. In the most literal sense, these people are profiling sheep, and weaker preachers, to determine how they can exploit them. They are wise to the ways of “victimizing” people, and I have never known them to cross the line with the “strong”.
2. Exploitation of lack of biblical knowledge: it is impossible to constantly sustain an abusive environment with properly discipled people. As was said above, victim searching leaders’ profile everyone they meet. If you are showing yourself simple and ignorant of the Word, you will be eaten. If you demonstrate an acceptable level of competence in the Word, they will seek prey elsewhere.
3. Blurring the lines between himself and God: the un-discipled do not have the ability to determine the difference between “pleasing God” and “angering” Him. They do not understand where the “abuser” ends, and God begins. These are often simpleminded which has nothing to do with lack of education. When taught “you do not touch God’s anointed Preacher”, it never occurs to them there exists a difference in “loving through truth” and “hating through silence.” God’s people are literally watching leaders drive a car towards a cliff and most never say: “I love you enough to tell you to stop”. That is not love, it is HATE.
4. They sound intelligent: there is a difference between “wisdom” and “intelligence”. What spiritual abusers say to God’s people always sounds either wise or intelligent. However, it is “philosophical nonsense”. God’s people must always discern between “good advice” and “Godly encouragement”.
5. They lead women away from their husbands: 2nd Timothy 3 teaches this concept, and it is universally true. What you may find interesting is most women who defend these men are either widowed, single, or in bad marriages. I have watched men disappear and/or become silent to keep peace in their homes. In a spiritual sense, these women have chosen their Pastor over their own husbands!
6. Emotional blackmail: there are very few people alive who have as much authority to be successful blackmailers as abusive Preachers. They openly misuse God’s Word to teach standing against their wickedness is displeasing to God.
In summary, abusive Preachers are expert profilers, and prey on the weak while avoiding the strong. Street pimps never try and turn an educated, strong woman into their “product”. It is those who are without strength and self-identity who walk the streets.
How to Confront Spiritual Abuse
Confronting spiritual abuse means going to irresponsible religious leaders and sharing the Word of God with them. I, too, must admit to being oblivious to certain truths about myself. I have never, and will never, abuse God’s people, however. Yet there are things I need to work out as well. Earlier I explained the biblical authority any believer has according to Matthew chapter 18 to confront wrongdoing.
What you will find from leaders, however, is they may appear to be listening but privately disregard anything you say. Even if what you say is true, this is what they are thinking: “I just have to keep praying for them”. In preacher speak – “they are complete idiots”!
Here are six (6) ways to righteously confront abusive Pastors:
1. Remind the preacher what they have taught you: nothing has been more effective in correcting me than God’s people providing a reminder of what I have taught them! I can argue with you, but arguing with myself is almost impossible. I can argue your interpretation of the Word, but mine, having claimed it came from the Holy Spirit?
2. Speak the truth in love: the truth in love is simply defined as: “stating factual observations based on nothing more than concern for someone”. This is what Paul was talking about in the book of Ephesians chapter 4.
3. Emphasize accountability: remind us that the entire gospel narrative is based on Christian accountability. You do know Jesus ended up on the cross because “sin/sinners” had to be held accountable, right? You can freeze out objections with this statement: “Preacher/Pastor, you have often preached from the epistles of Paul. You and I both know that of these 13 epistles, 11 were directly based on holding the church, and one another accountable”. No one is able to biblically dispute this. If their response is: “I am the pastor and you are not”, take your family and leave the church. You are being led by a demon possessed dictator who will be destroyed and lead you there as well.
In summary, the best way to confront spiritual abuse is to go to the abuser with the Word of God. Even if you have to Google scriptures, and read them verse by verse, these people need to be reminded of what God’s Word says. It is your job is to be a bold witness for Jesus even if it’s against a wayward leader.
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