Spiritual abuse is a topic that is getting more attention these days. Perhaps in some people’s minds, that term is reserved for religious cults and their leaders. Perhaps in your mind, you think that it is a new phenomenon that is sweeping through the church as a result of the spirit of our age. This new, Millennial, victim-mentality is just a worldy thing that the devil is using to disgrace and divide the church. It’s just part of the #MeToo movement, you might say. I hope not.
Below is a list of thirty questions for the shepherds of the church of Jesus Christ to ask themselves personally when they look in the mirror and corporately as they look at each other. Every question deserves an answer. You deserve an answer. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, deserves an answer.
I am by no-means an expert on the subject, but I have some insight. Without going into a lot of sordid details, I can tell you that I have seen enough of it first hand to know what it is. I have studied the matter at great length, and I know enough people who have been victims of it.
Fear is the dominant and controlling virtue of an abusive pastor’s leadership philosophy, coupled with charm and self-importance. The three key words — whether declared or implied — to remember when dealing with a spiritually abusive pastor are: Obey. Obey. Obey.
Warning signs of an abusive pastor who isolates his prey would be statements like:
“Never remind of what I’ve said.”
“Don’t tell anybody I said that. I will deny it.”
“If you talk, it will be bad for you. It won’t be bad for the church. It will be bad for you. Do you understand?“
That list could go on for miles, but these are just few that I have personally heard.
There are plenty of resources out there to give you a better understanding of the topic. For brevity sake, I offer two resources to start with. The first is a podcast from Mortification of Spin titled Overstepping Authority. The second is a book titled, Let Us Prey: The Plague of Narcissist Pastors and What We Can Do About It, by Glen Ball, Darrel Puls and Steven J. Sandage.
Jesus had serious warnings and woes for the leaders in His day. (Matt 23:13-32) Peter tells us that “Judgment begins in the house of the Lord.” (1 Pet 4:17), and those “who teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1).
Everyone reading this is encouraged to copy and tailor these questions for use in your church. Give a copy to your pastor and elders, and require answers. If they don’t want to answer the questions, then find a new church.
- Do we believe that spiritual/pastoral abuse is a real thing?
- How does the [CHURCH NAME] session define spiritual/pastoral abuse?
- If there were spiritual/pastoral abuse at [CHURCH NAME], how would the victim(s) know how to report that?
- When we hear reports of abuse, do any of us on the session instinctively take a defensive posture towards those who come forward?
- Are the alleged victims required to exercise Matthew 18 with their alleged abuser before going to the session? If yes, what is the rationale? Would such a requirement be placed on women (or men) who were sexually abused?
- What are the steps to reporting spiritual/pastoral abuse?
- Does any member of [CHURCH NAME] know those steps?
- Is there some kind of published BCO for parishioners to refer to for guidance?
- If yes, do [church name] members know where to obtain a copy in print or digitally online?
- For the shepherds, what are the steps with handling reports of abuse?
- What are the steps for investigating abuse?
- For churches who have ministers serving “out-of-bounds” from their presbytery, how will [CHURCH NAME] session handle abuse cases involving [DENOMINATION] ministers who have their own procedures for handling abuse?
- Will the session immediately report the allegations to the denomination of the ministers serving out-of-bounds?
- If there were any future cases of spiritual/pastoral abuse, will [CHURCH NAME] contact the [PRESBYTERY] if it involves a [DENOMINATION NAME] minister, or does [CHURCH NAME] believe she has the right to shield [DENOMINATION NAME] ministers from oversight of their own denomination?
- Will the [CHURCH NAME] session conduct their own investigation, or leave it completely in the hands of the [PRESBYTERY NAME]?
- Is the opinion of the [CHURCH NAME] session that it is improper for [CHURCH NAME] members and/or elders to report abuse regarding [NAME OF MINISTER SERVING OUT-OF-BOUNDS] to their presbytery?
- Can a victim come forward truly feeling safe and assured that the session takes cases of spiritual/pastoral abuse seriously?
- Will our track record prove that?
- Will any member of the session accuse the alleged victim of causing trouble?
- Will any member of the session label any alleged victims as “Millennial cry-babies” who are part of the #MeToo movement?
- Will he/she/they be accused of being messengers or instruments of Satan?
- Can members of [CHURCH NAME] or attendees have full confidence that the session will do all it can to protect the sheep from abusive shepherds and not the other way around?
- Is the session truly prepared to deal swiftly and aggressively with a shepherd no matter what the celebrity status of the shepherd?
- Can the session truly say that it will discipline or even defrock a shepherd if that shepherd is in any way abusive to the sheep, no matter the perceived fame and draw-power that shepherd may have at [CHURCH NAME]?
- In short, will the [CHURCH NAME] session allow celebrity status to protect a shepherd at the expense of holiness and righteousness?
- Is Jesus, our Good Shepherd, jealous to protect the legacy of [FAMOUS PREACHER/CHURCH] or is He jealous to protect His sheep from abuse at the hands of under-shepherds no matter what the PR implications may be?
- In light of victims who have already come forth, has [CHURCH NAME] session asked the question, “Is there anyone else in the congregation who is afraid to come forth?”
- Would the [CHURCH NAME] session consider an internal investigation to find out if there are other victims of pastoral abuse? If not, then why?
- If yes, would third-party ministries such as Peacemakers, Blessing Point Ministries, and the like to be called upon to investigate to ensure public trust?
- Regarding past, current, and possibly other cases, can each member of the [CHURCH NAME] session stand before the Good Shepherd and expect to hear the benediction, “Well done thou good and faithful servant”?
Yes, it is long list, but I think each question is deserving of an answer. If churches have yet to create safeguards and policies concerning spiritual/pastoral abuse, now would be a time to start.