I keep seeing posts about spiritual abuse. For those unfamiliar, it’s basically human beings using God’s name to control others. Taking advantage of someone’s deep faith to convince them to do what YOU want. I think it’s a kind of new realization, but it’s certainly not a new idea.
It occurs to me that some of my earlier posts have said it’s important to stay in a place because your agitation can be a conduit for growth in your church. And it can. But not — NOT — at the expense of your own spirituality. If you are in a place where you feel joyless and humiliated all the time, that’s a different matter.
My wife and I have seen instances of this. I’ve served in several churches, and from what I’ve seen of humanity, it’s difficult to suppress our need to control things at times. Stuff that’s come across our path includes these things:
- Church leadership making us feel like we owe them something. We raised an objection to the level of control a particular ministry leader was taking over things that we felt like should be more free. The person responded by reminding us of a kindness they had showed us at one point in our lives, telling us that we should back off our opinions because of that.
- Invoking someone who isn’t present but thinks you’re wrong. This got almost comical. In the same instance as above, a different ministry leader actually came to our home concerning the same issue as above. I think we actually had a good argument… it was biblical and it made sense. He assured us that the reprimand he was giving us didn’t come from him, it came from a committee. They, of course, weren’t present. Then he quoted a book that the church leadership had read which drove the decision. That meeting ran long, and we met to talk more on another day. By this time, my wife and I had read about half the book he referenced… strangely enough, the book actually disagreed with his point of view but supported ours. He dismissed the book then, saying it was the idea of a previous pastor.
- Telling you what you ought to do instead of allowing you to hear from God. This takes on so many forms. I’m all for churches pursuing things together in a spirit of unity. That was the whole foundation of the church. What I’m dead set against is church leaders flipping out whenever someone poses a question to their idea. 1 John 4:1 says we should “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Anyone who claims to follow Jesus but doesn’t want scrutiny is following someone other than the Jesus I know.
- Criticizing you for even asking questions. This one actually took on the form of a pile-on. Our pastor posted a sermon list for an upcoming series, and I put a response up which had some other ideas in it. Several members of the church responded to my response, saying I was being “rude.” Honestly, I was just trying to get in the conversation. The pastor didn’t respond at all. No response whatsoever was given to my topic… it was all just about me.
- Established empires that claim to need help but let no outsiders in. My wife and I feel that you should be involved in the ministry of a church– it’s putting your money and your time where your mouth is. When I was taking ministry classes in college, one of my professors said, “Ministry should be given away, not controlled.” (That probably deserves its own blog.) I believe that’s absolutely true. My wife and I were at a place once where that was NOT the philosophy. We tried to get involved with several things, including one initiative which would have encouraged everyone in the church to get involved in an established ministry. The church leadership told us finally that the leaders of the ministries were not ready to accept new people, and that some of the ministries were addressing issues too sensitive to allow untrained people into. Their response was to avoid actively encouraging anyone from being involved in any ministry. (In fairness, one of the ministries did deal with money.)
I know this isn’t mass genocide and in the grand scheme, it’s not a world problem. I took a long time coming around on this issue because, frankly… I thought that it was just whining at first. But it’s not. If we believe that the church is critical on the world stage (and it is) then I believe it’s worth keeping in optimal health.
Listen, Jesus came to do a lot of things, and one of them was establish the Church. I don’t mean just your Church. I mean THE church. Big C. I know people hold on to their ideas of being needed in places, and I think that’s a big reason that people keep putting up with this crap. It doesn’t have to be that way. You are a volunteer. You take the initiative, without being paid, to go to your church. There are many other choices, and they’re all under the “Big C” banner. Christ is central, but the building and the people you worship with are a detail.
So much is made of people leaving a church, it comes across like Greek tragedy. “Did you hear? They left the church!” Big whup. I have heard these voices in my own head when I considered going to a different place to worship, and they should NOT be the thing that motivates us to stay somewhere. Sense of purpose and sense of family should cause us to stay. Feeling like you have no choice? You have one.
While your spiritual journey is vital to the growth of the body, it’s not the sum total of all growth. Get over yourself. Get healthy. Who knows? You may be back.