Ask yourself one question…
“If I left my church, would that cause problems with my family, work, friends? Would I be considered an outcast, a ‘backslider’, would I be shunned or avoided, thought less of, considered lost or in Satan’s snare?”
If you can answer yes, read this article!
Recently I made the decision to leave my church of 15 years. I already knew the answers to this question. After 15 years you become part of the ‘crowd’, you are involved (probably burned out) and part of ministries, you see some of the inner workings of the church and some of the onion layers are peeled away. Interestingly enough, you also know after this much time that there is a lot that is hidden from you, you just simply don’t need to know…
I knew by experience of previous friends and family members who made the ‘walk of shame’ exactly what would happen. I was even guilty of shunning previous friends and family for the sake of the Church and its teaching. Friends who left were rarely spoken to, waved at but never fellowshipped in a friendship. You just didn’t have lunch anymore. The week I decided to leave, a brother in the church had invited me to lunch after Sunday morning service. We selected a location, vowed to talk to the wives… In good faith I let my friend know I had decided not to continue attending this church because I knew it would affect our decisions. Lunch was canceled.
You see, a Spiritually Abusive Church is one in which the leadership has absolute and granular control over its members, to the degree that they become willing to cannibalize each other for the sake of the leader, and in which friendships and families are completely dependent upon the approval of the leader. You know this is true, as in my case if you had to have the leaders permission when/if you could date, and what girl/boy you could date. How long you could date, if you could propose, how long the engagement could be, what was allowed to be at the wedding, where you could live, etc,.
Signs of an Abusive Church or Toxic Faith System*
See if you can nod your head to these 10 Signs of a Spiritually Abusive Church.
- Personality Centric – Monarchial leadership with dominance and control, all eyes forward to one man who has created a mini-kingdom.
- Engulfment/Isolationist – Members only, controlled participation, only True Church and only ‘saved’ among the Earth
- Independent – No oversight, a kingdom to itself. Often leads to severe balance issues.
- Busyness – Keeping people so hyper-involved and busy that they don’t have time to ‘get in trouble’, or in real-world terms, ‘think for themselves’. If you are burned, tired, you cannot leave engagements, there is ‘never enough serving or giving’ which leads to guilt. (Experienced this personally and my resignations of duties was treated as ‘needing permission first’)
- Stalking – Keeping tabs on members both by tracking attendance, income vs. giving, by using other members in a cannibalizing way to track their ‘works’, their behaviors, etc. Calling family members to ‘check in’. This is always disguised as loving and caring.
- Coded Language – Members only jargon, turning off the recording of service microphones to shroud what is being said.
- Unrealistic Promises – Focus on wealth and physical blessings that are dependent on your level of involvement, especially related to giving of finances.
- Courting Rituals – Dating by approval only, of course by the ‘head’ of the Church which should be Christ but isn’t.
- Shunning – Not acceptant of those outside the ‘Church’ walls (isolationist), and if anyone chooses to not attend this fellowship they are shunned by local members as heretics, the ‘lost’.
- The Ends justify the Means – Purity of ‘doctrine, commandments of men’. Regardless of whether the action is justified Biblically, Logically or Legally, it is accepted as the exalted ‘end’ is obedience to salvation.
If you are nodding your head like I was the first time I read this, you are in a Spiritually Abusive Church.
There is a #11 and #12 I want to add to this list based on experience
- Focused on Money, demanding Tithes, Offerings and threatening God’s Curse if you don’t give enough and there never seems to be enough.
- Shouting and Angry all the time. If your preacher can’t stop screaming and shouting if prayer in the altar looks painful, everyone’s face is scrunched up, not in joy or even solemn, but anger or extreme exertion, there is a wrong spirit in the house.
What to do if this is You!
I want to make some recommendations. First and foremost, make preparations and get out! It took me years of discomfort to gain the courage to get out because in my mind I knew that I would lose everything, at least that was my perception. All of my friends, family, work, the entire social circle of life was wrapped up in my church, and that’s how a Spiritually Abusive church wants it to be. Control.
You should also seek guidance and help. Read books, surround yourself with outsiders who can understand without a bias, who will accept you without judgment and preferably lead you to the real loving God that is neither abusive nor angry.
I hope this article helps you to find hope and grace as God designed it to be.
These books helped me immensely
Videos I found on YouTube that were incredibly relative and helpful