Pastors, Abuse, and the Church

chain-690088_1920

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?

church-926173_1920

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.

sunset-1618426_1920 (1)

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!

Name

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

 

 

“Unhitching” from a Misused Old Testament

book-2599322_1920 (1)

On Wednesday, The Christian Post ran an article about Pastor Andy Stanley’s recent sermon where he stated that, “Christians need to unhitch the Old Testament from their faith.” The Internet went crazy.

I’ve taken three days to think and process before I respond. Because, while I disagree with Pastor Stanley, I also agree. I believe that we do need to abandon the Old Testament in a way…just not the way he suggests.

Stanley expressed concern that the Old Testament has caused people to leave their faith, and he wanted people to reconsider a Jesus without all the baggage of the the “Jewish Scriptures.” Unfortunately, while that’s really sweet, it doesn’t exactly line up with 2 Timothy 3:14-17. Paul is talking to his young disciple, Timothy.

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

Since Timothy grew up while the New Testament was being written, all he had were the Old Testament Scriptures. He learned them from childhood and they gave him wisdom to understand salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Wait! Aren’t these the same Scriptures Andy Stanley is worried will push people away from faith?

Paul very clearly tells us that all Scripture has been breathed out by God. Peter confirms this in 2 Peter 1:20-21.

“Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Again, since the New Testament was still being written, both Peter and Paul are referring to the “Hebrew Bible” as Pastor Stanley called it.

Can I make a bold statement?

The problem isn’t with the Old Testament itself. The problem is what Evangelical Christianity has been doing with it, often with the very best of intentions.

desperate-2293377_1920

Well meaning pastors, Sunday school teachers, and college professors teach the historical stories and add opinion and explanation that just isn’t in Scripture. It’s not always wrong, but that doesn’t make it right.

I’m reading Judges right now in my morning Coffee & Jesus time and I’m in shock. Half of what I assumed was in there just isn’t. There are no cute morals, or mysterious formulas, or detailed exposes. It’s just history. Stories of God and people. The thing that is hitting me the most is the utter lack of condemnation. The people are messed up, and God patiently uses them anyway with abundant grace. Maybe He’s always been like that.

Why do we feel the need to add a moral or a formula to every Bible story? Why do I have to find a way to apply them to my life? I don’t apply George Washington to my life! Can’t I just read these stories of real people, observe their successes and failures and be awestruck by God’s absolute faithfulness?

The Old Testament has also been horribly misused across Christianity. It gets distorted in an attempt to control people all the time. Where did my old cult leader get most of his ideas? By using the Old Testament out of context. In fact, just about every strange group or slightly-theologically-off person I’ve ever come in contact with was was basing their beliefs on the Old Testament.

We need to acknowledge a fact. The number of people who have been spiritually abused by a misapplication of the Old Testament is devastating. Which is why I agree with Andy Stanley that we need to unhitch ourselves from the Old Testament…just not from the real one.

Instead of unhitching from the Old Testament, let’s ditch the one we think we know and start over. Let’s read it correctly and in context.

trash-1005249_1920

  • If it’s a history book, then enjoy the stories of God interacting with His precious creation. Watch for the hints that a Savior is coming, and marvel at the appearances of the pre-incarnate Jesus.
  • If it’s a law book, then stand in awe of the fact that it was never actually about those laws. It was always pointing us to Christ and our need for a Savior. Remember that Jesus came and fulfilled every bit of that law for us.
  • If it’s a book of prophecy,  then be struck by awe and slight terror as God describes Himself. Rejoice at the fact that Jesus fulfilled over 300 prophecies when he came to earth. (Side note: we have GOT to stop trying to apply those prophecies personally. Most prophecies are specific to Israel and have already been fulfilled.)
  • If it is a book of songs, then experience the beautiful, raw emotion of an intimate relationship between a human being and their Creator.

And if we are confused or have a problem with something as we read the Old Testament, let’s wrestle with it. Dive into Biblical culture and the customs of the day. Dig, seek, and ask questions. But please don’t read someone else’s blog (even this one) and just believe their opinion.

We need the whole Bible to get a accurate picture of God, ourselves, and our Savior, Jesus Christ. We can’t trash parts because they are confusing or uncomfortable. But we can take the time to wrestle through them for ourselves. That wrestling will bring us face to face with an unexpected God who is patiently waiting to reveal Himself to those who seek.

The real Jesus is worth it! But don’t take my word for it. 🙂

“It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world” John 4:42.

Name

A Peek Inside My Heart

Welcome to a peek inside my heart… A random collection of my current thoughts and experiences. 

zion-park-139012_1920

A year ago I was in the middle of the darkest season I’ve ever gone through. It was bitter, and painful, and long. It felt like the Valley of the Shadow of Death that David talks about in Psalm 23. There were times that I just wanted to die. It completely broke me.

I’ll be honest, healing takes time. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing good, and sometimes it still hurts. Last week, memories were coming back in a flood. I stood there in church during worship fighting back tears…just one person among hundreds…feeling so alone.

“Your brokenness was a gift.”

I heard the Holy Spirit’s gentle whisper…five words in the core of my heart. And as I recognized the truth, the feelings of pain, loss, and despair slowly melted away…

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me” Psalm 23:4.

Jesus WAS with me! I feel like I walked through fire but didn’t get burned. Instead, I got melted. Which is a good thing! 🙂

Good gifts came from my melted brokenness.

I had six sessions with a fabulous therapist who is also a Jesus follower. After our first day, where I just poured out my heart, she spoke these words. “You have been hurt.” Sometimes we just need people who will acknowledge our pain. God used her to start my healing journey.

IMG_7461

I found a book called, “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen. Seriously, every Christian should read this book! It put my experiences as a teen and young adult with Bill Gothard and IBLP into perspective while opening my eyes to more prevalent issues. Any of us are capable of abusing others when we lose sight of (or never experience) a life of grace in Christ.

I am less sure of myself and more willing to listen to others. Which brings me to my next step of learning and discovery…

When I first started the (lengthly) process of writing Impostor Jesus, there were three popular memoirs that irritated me. These authors all came from conservative evangelical Christian backgrounds but became disillusioned and left. They have large followings. I was frustrated because I went through “more extreme” circumstances and I still believed in an evangelical version of Jesus. How dare they lead people astray?! Prideful much?

Then I got melted and things changed. I’m realizing that there is a huge number of people who are angry and disillusioned with the evangelical church, and they have legitimate reasons. Their stories have value. Their hurts need to be validated.

I bought those three memoirs on Amazon and I’m looking forward to reading them. Not as someone trying to pick apart theology or judge beliefs, but as someone feeling their pain.

IMG_7517

Which brings me to my book.

I’m still planning on writing Impostor Jesus, but it’s changing. I’m realizing that my extreme experience in legalism is simply part of a larger problem. The modern Christian church is too often just a religious system instead of a group of people who love and follow Christ. We’ve lost sight of the real Jesus. If He showed up, I’m afraid we’d miss Him. Instead of being disciples, we would be the Pharisees…upset because God doesn’t fit our idea of who He is supposed to be.

It’s time for another revival, for another awakening. The church has been overhauled multiple times in the course of history. Let’s do it again!

The Start of Something New

“How does one get back to Jesus…truly? I would take that. Blog soon?”

I’ve been pondering this question for the last few days.

The question was inspired by a discussion on a Facebook group for former Bill Gothard students. I had asked these precious people to tell me why they chose to walk away from Christianity and/or the church…or why they chose to stay. They opened their hearts to me…so very honestly. Many of them left Gothard’s organization just to be re-injured by a normal church where they thought they were safe. The hurt is real. And so are the questions, frustration, confusion, anger, and sadness.

After all the talk, it seemed like we boiled down to three types of survivors. Some of us had left Christianity completely. Some of us had been able to separate Jesus from the abusive religion we experienced but struggled with the corporate church. Some of us recognized the mess within the church, but knowing it wasn’t Jesus, were trying to stick it out.

cross-2598300_1920

Here’s the thing. You don’t have to be raised in a Christian cult to fit into one of these categories. There is plenty of broken, legalistic, irrelevant Christianity within the “normal” church. There are plenty of people who have been hurt and left…who didn’t get their questions answered and left…who felt it was an empty religion and left… Look at the statistics! (The Barna Group has a bunch of great research.)

People aren’t leaving the American church because it’s facing persecution for being like Jesus. (Please hear my sarcasm.)

pew-846021_1920

The fancy mega churches with their coffee bars, bands, lights, and fog machines have the same problem as the tiny, traditional, conservative, KJV only churches. In the midst of our own ideas, beliefs, and traditions we have lost sight of the One who made us Christian in the first place.

If Jesus showed up on a Sunday morning, would anyone even recognize him? The religious people missed him last time…

How do we fix this? Where do we even start? It feels so overwhelming.

The first step is to acknowledge the problems…not ignore them…not pretend they don’t exist…not blame the people who are hurt. And the next step is to reconsider Jesus and reinterpret the Bible, God and all of our Christianity through Him.

Over the next few days (and maybe even weeks) I’m going to be pondering some things…wrestling with them…honestly. Please feel free to ask questions and get involved in the discussion. It’s something we need to talk about.

 

Shhh! Don’t Talk About the Can’t Talk Rule.

As I continue my way through “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” I am recognizing more and more that the extreme circumstances I faced as a teen and young adult are just a tiny piece of a larger problem. It is making me rethink the focus of my blog and the book I want to write. It’s easy to get tunnel vision looking at your own experiences. It’s easy to judge people who grew up like I did and left Christianity. But I’m realizing they have very valid reasons…

“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11 ESV).

There is a lie spread throughout Christianity and it really bothers me. I’ve experienced it firsthand both in my Christian cult days and in “normal” settings since then, seen it expressed on social media, and read it in articles.

This lie allows people in Christian leadership to cover up serious problems. It allows abusive situations to continue, and it keeps hurts and issues buried.

Let’s talk about the “Can’t Talk Rule.”

Although, it can be stated (or left unstated) in a variety of ways, the core lie goes something like this: We must ignore, hide, or cover up sin (including unethical behavior and abuse) for the sake of Christ, to protect God’s name, for the sake of unity, or something similar…

Please hear me. I am not advocating gossip. But there are times when the truth needs to be told. Talking about a problem does not make you the problem. It is not okay for Christians to use fear, intimidation, or twisted biblical ideas to shut people up!

desperate-2293377_1920 (1)

Consider this:

If God really believes in sweeping people’s sin issues under the rug to protect His name, wouldn’t He have left certain stories out of the Bible…David & Bathsheba…Samson & Delilah?

If God really feels that it is vitally important to hide issues for the sake of Christ, why did He publicly kill Ananias and Saphhira?

The “Can’t Talk Rule” is a lie. The only people who benefit from it are the perpetrators.

Yes, we should be careful who we tell and why we tell it. Yes, we need to avoid gossip. But without accountability, Christian authorities have unlimited freedom. This is dangerous. Even as Christians, we are still broken sinners who are capable of incredible evil when left to ourselves.

 “Leaders are more accountable because of their position of authority – not less accountable. Why? Because if you are a leader people are following you, behaving the way you do” The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, pg. 69.

Sadly, there are a lot of wrong things that secretly happen within Christian churches and ministries. And because of the Can’t Talk Rule, people who talk are considered the problem instead of addressing the real issues.

Countless, precious individuals, made in God’s image, are being injured by Christians and are walking away from the church deeply wounded.

If that’s you, I’m SO sorry! Please know that the Can’t Talk Rule is not Biblical. It’s not from God. That’s not how He feels. People can misuse Bible verses and twist them to make you think this is truth, but God is never on the side of the abuser. Never!

Fellow Jesus followers, we have GOT to stand up for the victims of abuse, including spiritual abuse.

  • We cannot continue to turn a blind eye, or allow things to be swept under the rug.
  • We cannot blame victims.
  • We must humbly recognize our own lack of perfection and desperate need of grace.
  • We need to be aware of how Christianese terms and ideas may reinjure these precious, hurting people.
  • We need to evaluate our own beliefs against the Word of God. Just because we were taught something in church doesn’t make it truth. Ouch.
  • We must be like Jesus…full of love, grace, and acceptance.

woman-570883_1920

How has the Can’t Talk Rule affected you? Have you felt the pressure to stay quiet? Have you become the problem because you talked? I really think that much of the hurt behind this rules comes from a misunderstanding of grace. But we will talk about that next time. 🙂

 

Just a note: The words libel and slander can be used as threats, but you should know that in the United States legal system, things are only considered libel or slander if they CAN’T be proven true!

An Uncomfortable, Awkward Topic – Spiritual Abuse

This book, “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse,” that I am reading…wow, it’s eye opening! I resonate with so much of it from my own life experiences.

When I started this blog just over four years ago, I thought I was writing to people hurt by legalistic systems like Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Principles (the place that wounded me). But as I wrote and heard back from my readers, I realized that many of you had never heard of Bill Gothard. And yet, we still struggled with similar false ideas about God and performance based faith. At first I thought maybe Gothard had subtly influenced more of Evangelical Christianity that anyone knew. However, I’m starting to recognize a different truth. 

This is just the brokenness of humanity.

chain-1969401_1920 (1)

I realize that spiritual abuse is a difficult term. The word “abuse” seems harsh. But what is more abusive than screwing up someone’s idea of the Bible, God, Jesus, themselves, and possibly jeopardizing their eternity?

Just like any other type of abuse, I really think there are varying degrees of spiritual abuse. Not everyone who is abused will spend time in a Christian cult like I did. It might be a lot more subtle.

  • A church where the pastor is “the ultimate authority” and no one dares oppose him.
  • A small group where people are pressured to practice the same spiritual disciplines or their “spirituality” is questioned.
  • A youth group where teens leave feeling like all God cares about is their outward behavior.
  • A Christian ministry where “correct behavior” is valued more than individual people.

Do you see where I am going with this? There are a lot of people out there who have been wounded (abused) by other Christians. It gets worse.

Too often, instead of recognizing the legitimate hurt of these beautiful, loved children of God, words get thrown around like “bitter” or “gossip” or “unforgiveness.” As my grandpa said, “Christians are the only armies in the world that shoot their wounded.” It makes me sick.

Ready for some truth?

You can forgive someone and also refuse to put yourself back into an unsafe situation. That doesn’t make you bitter or unforgiving. Taking care of yourself is a good thing.

Talking doesn’t make you a gossip. It all depends on who you are talking to and why. The “can’t talk” rule is not healthy and it only protects abusers. (More in a coming post.)

person-976759_1920 (1)

There are many fabulous, loved, valued people, made in God’s image who want nothing to do with the Bible, God, or the church because of things Christians have done, said, written, or left unsaid.

There are many incredible, valued, loved people, made in God’s image who struggle in their relationship with God…how they view Him, themselves, etc…because of things Christians have done, expected of them, or claimed the Bible said.

If this is you, I am so, SO sorry!

You have been hurt. You have been wronged. You have been lied to. It’s not okay.

My heart breaks for you.

Will you try and believe me when I say, this is not the real God?

gleise-1555348_1920 (1)

Stick with me. Let’s keep talking and questioning. Because I have caught a glimpse of an amazing, mind-blowing, good, faithful, absolutely unconditionally loving God. He’s real and He wants you to know Him too.

If you have a story you want or need to share, please feel free to contact me or connect on Facebook or Instagram. I’d love to encourage you. 🙂

“Church Hurt” is a lot Like Miscarriage

I’m starting to think that “church hurt” is a lot like miscarriage. It’s way more common than we would ever imagine but no one talks about it.

person-976759_1920

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. I had a dinner date that made me rethink my entire book idea…Devoured a book that blew up my old “cult” and it’s leader…And am in the middle of another book focused on spiritual abuse.

I feel like I have been thrown ten miles up into space and am looking down with a new, much wider perspective.

What do these have in common? What is the theme that is emerging in my mind?

Broken people break other people, all within the supposed “safety” of Christianity. 

I can think of at least five stories right off the top of my head of people who were deeply hurt by Christians in church or ministry situations. I’m sure that each of you reading this have stories you could share…about your own hurt or people you know who have been wounded.

But, like the pain of miscarriage, we don’t talk about it. Words like “gossip” and “bitterness” may stop us…or maybe we are trying to “protect God’s name.” I don’t know. But I do know this, Noticing a problem does not make you the problem. That might be my favorite quote from the book I am reading called, “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse.”

desperate-2293377_1920 (1)

It’s not new. If we look at the Bible we can see it’s been happening for thousands of years. False prophets leading people astray with promises of pretend peace… Pharisees laying burdens of impossible rules on people… As Solomon says, “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9.)

Guys, here’s the absolute truth: We are ALL broken people who are capable of causing terrible hurt. Even as Christians, we all have the capacity to inflict deep wounds in other people. Each one of us is in desperate need of Jesus!

  • We need His forgiveness.
  • We need His Spirit to be at work, restoring, convicting, and empowering us.
  • We need His grace.
  • We need to be aware of our need for grace, so that we can in turn extend grace to others.

And do you know what else? We are all passionately and scandalously LOVED by the God who made us.  We are ADORED right where we are at, warts, wrinkles, blemishes and all. Jesus sees and understands our broken hearts, not just our outward actions. He gets us at a level no human will ever comprehend. He wants us to be His friends.

hand-1549399_1920

The hurt that people have inflicted in the name of Christianity is in complete opposition to the real God who exists.

Isn’t that good news?

Stay tuned. I’ve got more. My heart is bubbling over.