How Do You Define Spiritual Abuse? And 29 other questions for shepherds of the church to ask themselves

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.

  1. Do we believe that spiritual/pastoral abuse is a real thing?

 

  1. How does the [CHURCH NAME] session define spiritual/pastoral abuse?

 

  1. If there were spiritual/pastoral abuse at [CHURCH NAME], how would the victim(s) know how to report that?

 

  1. When we hear reports of abuse, do any of us on the session instinctively take a defensive posture towards those who come forward?

 

  1. 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?

 

  1. What are the steps to reporting spiritual/pastoral abuse?

 

  1. Does any member of [CHURCH NAME] know those steps?

 

  1. Is there some kind of published BCO for parishioners to refer to for guidance?

 

  1. If yes, do [church name] members know where to obtain a copy in print or digitally online?

 

  1. For the shepherds, what are the steps with handling reports of abuse?

 

  1. What are the steps for investigating abuse?

 

  1. 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?

 

  1. Will the session immediately report the allegations to the denomination of the ministers serving out-of-bounds?

 

  1. 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?

 

  1. Will the [CHURCH NAME] session conduct their own investigation, or leave it completely in the hands of the [PRESBYTERY NAME]?

 

  1. 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?

 

  1. Can a victim come forward truly feeling safe and assured that the session takes cases of spiritual/pastoral abuse seriously?

 

  1. Will our track record prove that?

 

  1. Will any member of the session accuse the alleged victim of causing trouble?

 

  1. Will any member of the session label any alleged victims as “Millennial cry-babies” who are part of the #MeToo movement?

 

  1. Will he/she/they be accused of being messengers or instruments of Satan?

 

  1. 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?

 

  1. Is the session truly prepared to deal swiftly and aggressively with a shepherd no matter what the celebrity status of the shepherd?

 

  1. 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]?

 

  1. In short, will the [CHURCH NAME] session allow celebrity status to protect a shepherd at the expense of holiness and righteousness?

 

  1. 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?

 

  1. 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?”

 

  1. Would the [CHURCH NAME] session consider an internal investigation to find out if there are other victims of pastoral abuse? If not, then why?

 

  1. 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?

 

  1. 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.

 

 

We Need Not Wait

The St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral in Brussels.

The St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral in Brussels.

We need not wait for another. The Lord has come, and He has commissioned us to go forth into all the world to proclaim the good news of the kingdom to a world that desperately needs to hear it. The task is huge. There are over seven billion people in this world, and all who are still outside the kingdom are hostile to our message to one degree or another until the Lord changes their hearts. But the Lord goes before us, and He has been preparing us for this impossible work before we were born (Eph 2:10).

An important part of that preparation has taken place in Brussels, Belgium during the month of July 2016. In my little life, it was historic. We trained in the capital of the European Union, more than that it is the seat of the United Nations offices in Europe. But Brussels doesn’t only represent European nations. Many other nations from around the world are represented on the street level. We truly have been sent to the nations this month.

Belgium is rich in history. Everything we celebrate about culture can be found here at every turn. As I beheld the great churches and works of art, e.g. The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, I found myself underwhelmed. I have read the books, seen the pictures, and now I have walked the streets, yet my feeling has not changed.

The "Adoration of the Mystic Lamb." Read about it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghent_Altarpiece

The “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.” Read about it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghent_Altarpiece

When I think of historic milestones in the progress of the spreading of the kingdom, my thoughts do not gravitate towards the grand architecture and art of European Christendom, Reformed or otherwise. Rather I think of Jesus’ words in Luke 7:22: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.

From these words, Jesus’ metric of gospel progress is identified in far different terms than our worldly measurements. When I think of kingdom advancement, I think of the churches many of us have worshiped with this past month. Small churches like BethelKerk in Schaarbeek faithfully preaching the gospel tell me that the Lord is here.

Bethelkerk in Schaarbeek, Belgium

BethelKerk in Schaarbeek, Belgium

But what about us? How have we been shaped by this experience? For me at least, CCMI (cross cultural ministry internship) was critical milestone in a journey. We learned a lot. We did a lot. Here we are now on the eve of our departure from Brussels. Some of us are going straight to the field, most of us back to the “campaign trail.” Where ever we are headed, questions for us to ponder are will we be faithful to the call of Christ on our lives? Are we believing that He who began a good work in us is able to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus? He is faithful, so let us trust in Him and see where He takes us.

Note: The article above was written for our in-house newsletter during our cross-cultural ministry internship in Brussels, Belgium during the month of July. Patrick and Regina Lennox are MTW missionaries to Native America and have accepted a call from the Mokahum Ministry Center in near Bemidji, MN.

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Hopeless in Native America

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It was eighteen years ago when I got the news from my auntie that her little brother, my uncle Allan, was found in dead in a hotel room. He was just at her house on Christmas day. But by the next day, he was gone. He took his own life. Rather than opening the Gideon’s Bible, he took his guidance from a book from the Hemlock Society. I don’t know the statistics on suicide rates on the day after Christmas, but in my broken family, that number is too high.

I haven’t interviewed anyone else in my family, but I, for one, continually thought of suicide from the age of sixteen to twenty years old. I hated myself and nearly everyone else as well. I wanted to live, but saw no good reason to keep trying to reach for something that I could never grasp. It seemed that carving out an existence as a musician was my only hope to bring me into the next day. During a season of feeling really depressed, I made attempts at writing goodbye letters, but I couldn’t finish them. As I would write out my story, I sank deeper into depression. I made a pact with myself that if I was not a successful musician by the time I was twenty-two years old, I would end it.

Shortly afterwards, by God’s grace, I came to know Jesus when I was twenty years old. He showed me that I was accepted in the Beloved. I had life, meaning, peace, and especially, hope. As a musician I had a new song in my heart. As soon as I became a Christian, I was burdened to reach the lost and rejected. By virtue of my lifestyle and the company I kept, I knew lots of people who had similar stories as mine. Some took their own lives, some had them taken. I wanted to reach them all with the gospel through music.

Click here to read ‘Fade to Black’: Of Irony and Redemption

Never Ending Stories

Throughout my years I have personally known others who have attempted and succeeded at suicide. The memories that haunt me the most involve two young men I once knew from my years as a youth leader. The first one was a pastor’s kid who felt more pain than what his father was willing to take seriously. In a moment of desperation, he threw himself off of a bridge with a note in his pocket. The other young man was a grandson of a pastor. Although he knew how to debate theology, but he did not know how to deal with the pain in his life. He finally threw himself to the bottom of a lake with cement blocks tied to his feet. It was devastating to everyone who knew and loved him. You wonder how you missed the signs—and there were signs. As a youth director, you feel failure, guilt, and shame. You question if you should even be in ministry.

Epidemic in Native America

Today Regina and I are striving to reach Native America. Suicide rates among our Native neighbors are the highest in this country — as much as two times higher than the national average. On some reservations, such as the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, the numbers are even higher, especially among the youth. It is an epidemic with seemingly no end in sight. Read more about Pine Ridge here.

But There is Hope

Humanly speaking, there are many things that can be done to prevent this, but ultimately, it is only the saving power of Jesus that can breathe life back into a person. True hope awaits all who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. We want to see the life giving message of the gospel to reach every corner of Indian Country. We want to see the hopeless, abused, and rejected come to Jesus who is mighty to save.

We have accepted a call from the Mokahum Ministry Center in Cass Lake, MN. Mokahum is a place where Native American and First Nations Christians receive personal discipleship and leadership training that they need serve the Lord in their communities. We invite you to help us train up Native American and First Nations people to serve among their own people who have given up all hope. Please pray for Native America. Please consider partnering with us. Click here to learn how you can Give.

Click here to read more about suicide in Native America on PBS.org.

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‘Fade to Black’: Of Irony and Redemption

no-hope-beyond-point(Below is an appendix to larger and more important story, Hopeless in Native America. Please read that story.)

I remember running up to my room when I was six or seven years old. I was crying, angry at my mother. I don’t even remember what it was about, but I remember being so upset that I took a belt and wrapped it around my neck and yanked on it a couple of times. I remember cursing God and telling him how much I hated him. As far as I know, that only happened once, but I will never forget it. Later in my teen years, strong feelings of suicide would return, only this time they would relentlessly assault me.

I was hopeless. For brevity sake, I won’t speak of all the conditions that led to that, but suffice to say, drug usage only exacerbated problems that were already there. The point of no return for me was during a trip on LSD. One particular effect from LSD is that you are unable to lie. Amid all the hallucinations, there was one illusion I could no longer maintain – my life. While staring at myself in the mirror, I was awakened from a dream to the nightmare that I was not who I thought I was, nor was I going to be what I wanted be. Of the billions of all the other lost souls in the world, I was just one more nobody called Patrick Lennox. It was a moment of truth for me — a big ugly truth. Hopelessness penetrated my core. For the next four years I vainly attempted to create meaning and value for myself through music.

James Hetfield Fade to Black lyricsIronically it was a song about suicide that gave me hope. It was ‘Fade to Black,’ written by James Hetfield, songwriter, singer, and founder of Metallica. Let me carefully explain what I mean by that lest anyone take that in the worst possible way. First of all, in defense of the song, it does not prescribe nor recommend suicide. It is diary in song written by someone who has seen a lot of pain in his life. Hetfield grew up in a Christian Science home. His father left him when he was young, and shortly afterwards his mother suffered from cancer. Due to her Christian Science beliefs, she was not treated and finally died from her disease.

Although I did not know Hetfield’s story during my dark adolescent years, it became apparent to me through the song that he must have been writing from something deeply personal. For sure, I thought, James Hetfield must have felt this song before he wrote it. The song was not just another death glorifying theme in the thrash metal industry. It was authentic. It was written by someone who knew. When I came to realize that, I didn’t feel as alone as before, and I felt there was a glimmer of hope for me. If someone like James Hetfield can rise from the ashes, then maybe I could too. My ashes were rejection from a father and friends, depression, non-stop drug use, bitterness, hatred, and dissatisfaction with what the world had to offer. Over all it was just plain hopelessness.

And the point in all this? I would never recommend nor prescribe this song as a means of counseling anyone who is contemplating suicide. It could have easily gone a different direction for me or someone else. But I cannot ignore the fact that it was during that one dark night while listening to that song, I had a little bit of hope, if only for a little while. I must give glory to God for incorporating that song (and other Metallica songs for that matter) into the ‘all things’ in Romans 8:28. Music was something I wanted to create, and James Hetfield reminded me at a very low point in my life that just maybe I could do this.

But like everything else in this created order, not even music can give meaning and worth to anyone. Within a few years in the midst of my meager attempt to be someone in the music world, the Lord Jesus Christ found me and saved me from my sins, my self, and ultimately from God’s wrath. But he also saved me to his love, peace, and eternal life in Christ.

Essential After Thoughts

It is important to know that through those years, the Lord used the love of my mother to keep me from finally ending it. She was not the source of any of those feelings during those adolescent years. Quite the opposite. But ultimately I believed I was living in a world without God. I always knew my mother loved me. The thought of leaving her and my sister in this empty miserable world often kept me from following through. But as powerful as a mother’s love can be, it cannot give life to the dead. It was the love of God that penetrated to my core and gave me new life in Christ. For that I am eternally thankful.

Patrick Lennox

 

 

Why Native America?

mokahum signPeople often ask me, why Native America? Of all the people groups in the world, what is it that makes you so concerned about Native Americans? Why not just pastor a church somewhere in Central Florida? The short answer is that God has given me a burden for Native Americans. Now that is the simplest and easiest answer I can give, but that does not exclude the countless secondary causes that God has providentially used in the course of my life. I will not list them here, but there are two things that compel me to serve the Lord in Native America.

  1. I believe Christ was poorly represented among indigenous people for five centuries in North America. This does not ignore the many, successful missionary endeavors of the various denominations, mission agencies, and good Christian neighbors throughout history. There are wonderful stories  But when we look at the overall scope of history, Jesus was poorly represented by His church. We must take a hard look at ourselves, identify our mistakes, learn what attitudes and thinking patterns caused those mistakes, repent, reform ourselves, and continue to pursue our Native neighbors with the love of Jesus Christ.
  2. We need Native Americans in the church. We don’t need a Native church, that is, we are not looking to create a separate Native church and/or keep the Native churches to themselves, although the location of local congregations may dictate that. All of us  in the church — both Native and non-Native — need each other. We are stronger when we are unified and diversified. That is New Testament 101. Part of the problem in the church’s mission strategy of the past (and dare I say ‘present’) to Native America was the notion that Natives need us. Well, they actually do need us, but we truly need them, too. Really! We need to be mutually edified as we unify with our Native brothers and sisters. This is where Jesus is glorified. He prayed for this in John 17. I want to worship and serve with my Native brothers and sisters and offer them whatever gifts our Father has given me to reach, serve, and build up more Native Americans for a stronger church.

I could list more reasons, but they would be sub-points to the two listed above. I will expand on these reasons in another post, but for now, I hope you would have a better idea of why Regina and I, with our family, are hoping to serve in Native America. Would it be enough to say that we just love Native Americans?

When will we get there?

We are still living in Sanford, FL until we receive our full funding. We cannot go until we have all of it pledged. We will be serving at the Mokahum Ministry Center near Bemidji, MN (the first city on the Mississippi). Please consider partnering with us with your prayerful and monthly financial support. We cannot do this without you!

To give sign up to be a pledged supporter or give a special gift, click here.

To learn about the different ways to give, please read the Fair Winds post.

To learn about other ways you can help, please read Five Things You Can Do.

Until next time…

HOW: Were you informed about Native Americans?

HOW: Were you informed about Native Americans?

How many of us have ever gone through the age-old ritual of that standard, cliché, Indian greeting? You know the one where you put on your best blank stare, raise your right hand as if to take an oath in court, and with monotone voice, you say, “HOW.” In case you didn’t know, it’s not a real greeting, and it’s not real funny. But it is a real sign that you may be misinformed about a real people group living among us.

As non-Indian American Christians, let’s turn that around and get informed. Perhaps we can convert an uncouth greeting into a prompt for a series of questions that will better align us with Christ’s purposes:

  • How can we better love our unbelieving Native neighbors?
  • How can we be better witnesses to the resurrection power of Jesus Christ to Native Americans?
  • How can we avoid age-old, man-made stumbling blocks that get in the way of the Great Commission?
  • How can we be better brothers and sisters to the Native American church?
  • How can we change our assumptions, ignorance, and unchallenged ideas about Native Americans?
  • How can we reach out to Native Americans as emissaries of peace for the kingdom of Christ rather than repelling them as just another misinformed generation of non-Native Americans?
  • How can we better pray for Native America?

. . . and the list could go on.

Excerpt from HOW: Were you informed about Native America? To read more, click here

Bridges

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious,  you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. — 1 Peter 2:4-5, ESV

Dead Stones
When I was growing up in New England, I used to walk along the top of dry-stacked, field-stone walls that seemed to weave through the woods for miles. I never knew why they were there nor was I curious. They were simply fun to walk on. I later learned that they were once border fences for cow pastures in the east end of Woonsocket, R.I., now overtaken by neighborhoods and a few patches of maple and oak. The walls are badly dilapidated and breached. The stones have become more and more disorganized through the years, and their purpose has been reduced to a mere silent witness to a time forgotten.

Living Stones
I love stone. I love all the shapes, sizes, colors, and textures. I even love the smell that is produced when you bang two rocks together. The uses of stone are endless. God used it as the foundational material for our planet, and as his image bearers, we follow suit and use it for nearly every facet of life: dwelling structures such as homes and temples, property markers, grave stones, walls, bridges, roads, tools, jewelry, and the list goes on.

In God’s wisdom and artistry, he has chosen to use stone as a metaphor throughout Scripture for who he is, who we are, and our purpose. There is so much in 1 Peter 2:4-5, but I would simply like to focus on Peter’s identification of Christians as ‘living stones.’ Think about that metaphor for moment. We are stones that are living — not cold dead material, but living, breathing, personal stones that make up the ‘spiritual house’ in which God delights to dwell. We live, move, and have our being in Jesus Christ, ‘the living stone rejected by men.’

Building Bridges, Crossing Boundaries
Jesus is the name that will be known by every tribe, tongue, and nation. His kingdom is transnational. Boundary markers and walls cannot stop it. As I watched the video below, I pondered how the Lord puts us together and uses us to expand his kingdom to new territory. In his plan, God the master builder uses his living stones to reach cold dead stones from all over the world. As the church, we are multiethnic and multicultural–all colors, shapes, and sizes. All of us are carefully placed, interdependent, bearing the load together. None are insignificant. Each of us has an important role in missions to cross barriers and reach those who are lost that they may know the Living Stone who died to reach them.