Pastors, Abuse, and the Church

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Yet another mega church pastor was fired last week for inappropriate behavior. This kind of thing is starting to become old news. What in the world is going on? Having spent ten plus years under a spiritually abusive leader myself (although he wasn’t a pastor), I decided to do a little research.

It’s not new. The Abuse of Power and Religion have been best friends since The Fall. Throughout history we see broken people using religion to gain power and control…from corrupt priests in the Tabernacle, to the religious Pharisees who had Jesus crucified, to the Holy Roman Empire prior to the Reformation, to the modern Evangelical American pastors that have been in the news.

It’s not uncommon. I have talked with a shockingly large group of people who have experienced brokenness, abuse of power, or just regular abuse within a church or Christian organization. It crosses denominational lines and exists within conservative and liberal settings. I know of many people who escaped a spiritually abusive situation only to fall into yet another church filled with brokenness. And I know that for every mega pastor who makes the news, many more smaller churches are dealing with the same things. Why does this happen?

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While digging around on the Internet, I came across an article by Dr. Darrell Puls on the American Association of Christian Counselors website. Dr. Puls talked about how, as an Associate Pastor, he was nearly destroyed by his Senior Pastor and ended up resigning in despair. Later he discovered that this Senior Pastor fit the diagnosis of having Narcissistic Personality Disorder. After recovering with help from Christian therapists and psychiatrists, Dr. Puls went on to work as a peacemaker through conflict resolution in the faith-community. As he dealt with conflicts, Dr. Puls began to notice a large percentage of them that stood out as different. Familiar with NPD, and because of his own experience, Darrell quickly realized that all of these different conflicts had a NPD pastor in the middle of it all.

After talking with a colleague, Dr. Glenn Ball, who also noticed a similar trend, the two men decided to conduct some research. Embedded in their survey was a validated NPD test instrument. With permission, they were able to test an entire Canadian denomination’s active and retired pastors. They wondered how many narcissistic pastors they would discover.

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, between 0-6.2% of the general population has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. However, Dr. Puls and Dr. Ball discovered that 31.2% of the pastors they surveyed met the criteria for full blown NPD. Their shocking findings are published in a book called Let us Prey: The Plague of Narcissistic Pastors and What We Can Do About It.

A similar study conducted in the Netherlands in the early 2000s showed that 90% of the pastors surveyed displayed narcissistic tendencies at the least. Um, this is kind of a problem! And it also makes a lot of sense. Being a pastor is an upfront position with lots of power, praise, and often a total lack of accountability.

So it’s not just your imagination, the research shows us that a significantly above average number of pastors are either narcissistic or have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This explains why so many of the mega pastors get to the place they are and also why they are falling. It also explains the shocking number of tragic church situations I’ve heard about.

Most likely, there has always been a larger number of people with NPD in the pastorate than in the general population. Abuse has been happening within churches throughout history. However, thanks in part to the #metoo and #churchtoo movements, people aren’t staying quiet any more. And that’s a good thing.

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If this is the case, then what can we as the church do?

Some ideas include:

  • Stop defending. Too often I see Christians trying to defend a fallen leader rather than calling sin what it is. I hear things like “It could have been any of us” and “we just need to give grace.” While these things are true, we also need to “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” Ephesians 5:11.
  • Stop giving grace to the wrong people. As a Christian community we are far too quick to give grace to a perpetrator while blaming their victims. This needs an about face. We must give grace and love to the victims of abuse while putting the blame and consequences on the offender. God is full of mercy, but He is also a God of justice.
  • Stop staying quiet. Manipulative leaders are great at condemning “gossip” with a broad sweeping brush. My old leader created an entire teaching and system on Only Giving a Good Report  and then The Defilement of Listening to an Evil Report in order to keep people quiet so they wouldn’t connect the dots. Just because you verbalize that something is wrong doesn’t make it gossip. Gossip has to do with the type of information you share, who you share it with, and what your motivation is for sharing it. When abuse of any kind is kept quiet, the only people who benefit are the ones in power.

And then:

  • Start exercising discernment. Just because someone is a charismatic leader and seems legit initially doesn’t make them someone to follow. There was a reason Jesus called false teachers wolves in sheep clothing. It is perfectly acceptable to inspect the fruit of someone who is in charge. If you get red flags, run!
  • Start developing your own relationship with Jesus. If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you will know that I am passionate about the difference between a living relationship with Jesus and a religion you follow. Religion is easy to manipulate and control. But when you know Jesus for yourself and the Holy Spirit is whispering to your heart, you will be uncontrollable. 🙂
  • Start understanding the difference between power and authority. The word “authority” gets thrown around a lot in Christian circles especially by manipulative leaders. They try to make you believe that they have biblical authority and therefore you must follow them. But Jesus is the only true Head of the Church. Power is the worldly ability to make people do what you want. But, according to my current healthy church, true biblical authority, like Jesus had, is only available when you live a life so genuine that people just want to follow you. And you can’t fake that!

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For more information:

  • This is a link to Dr. Glenn and Dr. Puls’ paper written for the American Association of Christian Counselors.
  • This is a link for the study done in the Netherlands. The full report does need to be purchased.
  • This is an article on signs of a narcissistic pastor from churchleaders.org
  • Let us Prey: The Plague of Narcissistic Pastors and What We Can Do About It by R. Glenn Ball and Darrell Puls
  • The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson

 

 

A Vision That’s Bigger than Me (Book Update)

I’m going to be honest today and just share the thoughts going through my heart and mind…give you a little glimpse into what Jesus has been doing. And, I’m begging you for prayers, lots of prayers!

My husband, who is a youth pastor, and I took some of our youth group to Chicago this past weekend for Dare 2 Share. It’s a great conference, all about teaching teens to share the gospel. I love it!

Anyway, so there I am being a youth leader, minding my own business, and suddenly God is speaking to me about my own life. Funny how that happens!

We had left the teens in the main session with our other youth leaders, and were in a special “youth leader training session”. Greg Stier, the founder of Dare 2 Share took us through six keys to being a strong leader in a shaky world. And suddenly there it was, right in front of me on the page. This quote:

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Honestly, this past year has been incredibly hard for me personally. I’ve struggled with identity. I’ve struggled with fear. Some of my “not so nice” parts have come out. I’ve felt empty. Much of the time I haven’t felt up to the challenge of writing. My book has pretty much been on hold. It’s been really humbling. (Which isn’t a bad thing.)

As I looked at this quote from Greg, I realized that I’ve basically abandoned any vision I might have had. Instead, I’ve believed the lies Satan has whispered to me: lies about not being good enough, or talented enough…lies that encouraged fear and doubt…lies that distracted me from Jesus and the power that I have in Him. I was convicted.

Just wait, it gets better! I love when Jesus shows up. 🙂

On Sunday, our pastor “just happened” to be speaking about every believer using their gifts to strengthen the body of Christ. It was a powerful sermon and I was filling in the second point (Using our Gifts is a Matter of Stewardship) when all of the sudden I felt the Holy Spirit poke me. I wrote down the words I sensed in my heart. “You have been gifted to speak truth. I want you to speak for MY glory. Expose the lies of religion. This is what I have called you to do. Stop being afraid. Catch the vision and obey Me.”

It sounds kind of crazy, but I knew that what I had written was from God. Ironically the next point was Using our Gifts is All for the Glory of God. I wrote it down.

“What do you want, Christy?” The Holy Spirit was talking again… What did I want? If I let go of my fear and doubt, if I chose to live with a vision that required an act of God to accomplish, what would it be?

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“I just want the world to know You, Jesus.” I wrote on my sermon note paper. “I want people to reject religion but search for You. I want a genuine revival in the church…a revival that happens because people actually experience grace and salvation through You. I want to speak truth. I want to destroy the Enemy’s lies.”

Friends, I’m tearing up writing this! Because, I feel the passion in my soul, but I know the terror in my heart. I can’t do this…I can’t make this happen. It would take an act of God to accomplish this vision. I think that’s what I’ve been missing.

I write about grace, and the Holy Spirit, and the power we have because of Jesus. But I’ve lived in fear thinking that I have to DO life on my own. Not any more.

By the grace of God, I am grabbing hold of this new vision. Not because I am anything special…but because I serve a God who is!

I need your prayers! 

  • My sister-in-law “just happened” to get two copies of The Christian Writers Market Guide 2017 and gave me one of them. This book is full of publishers, agents, editors, writing conferences, etc. I know that if I am going to “be published” then I need an agent. I read through the descriptions and found a handful that seem to be interested in my type of writing. Pray that I send it to the right person/people.
  • In order to get my book proposal ready to send, I need to write one more chapter. The chapter is on lies we believe about the Bible. I’m struggling to get my thoughts organized. I have a lot that I want to say, but I need wisdom in how to put it together. Please pray that God will sort out my thoughts and help me to connect the dots.
  • I’m thinking that God might be asking me to do a “Bible study” walking through the lies I want to expose in my book Impostor Jesus…lies like God being disappointed in us, feeling like we need to perform and be good, etc. Just pray that I would listen to God’s voice and not to fear and doubt.
  • There is a highly recommended writers conference in North Carolina in May that I would love to attend, but financially it’s impossible. Please pray that if it’s God’s will for me He would provide the money.

Thanks, friends! For your support, encouragement, and prayers… And for letting me be honest today and loving me anyway!