Wow! That’s an in-your-face question. What does a cult look like?
Cult leaders speak about loyalty, the kind you don’t question. You begin to get the feeling that your job is to support them. When I was part of a denomination, I came to understand that we served the central office rather than the central office serving the local church. If you start feeling that way about your leaders, leave.
Loyalty is a good thing, but not the kind that takes away your mind—and your vote. Everyone counts, including you. I would love to have my children at “my church.” But I gave them the option as young adults of going elsewhere, which some of them accepted. I don’t want my kids to feel pressured to “support dad.” Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
Cult leaders want you to believe in them, but they do not believe in you. They are not asking how they can help you walk into your God-appointed destiny, but they fully expect you to help them. They invite you to show confidence in their leadership without reversing the favor. It is the difference between empowered and empowering leadership, the former an Old Testament model, the latter a New Testament model.
Jesus remarkably believed in the disciples He mentored, to the point of sending them out as forerunners when they had received little training, and ultimately leaving them to complete the task. His sacred call on our life speaks volumes of the trust He invests in us. Doesn’t happen with cults, nor in many churches. As I young pastor, I wanted the people to believe in me. I wish I had believed more in them. I had adopted the visionary pastor OT model. Now I want to find out their visions, what God has put in them that needs to be released. That is what Pentecost blew open. It leveled the playing field. Hurray!
Cult leaders foster uniformity, not unity. Disagreement is not only discouraged; it is disallowed. Healthy churches thrive when disagreement among people with non-negotiable relationships bring them to greater unity. Conflict becomes the invitation to upgrade confidence in a God who uses all things for His glory, and especially tension. Uniformity and unity are only close in the dictionary—miles apart in reality. If the local church you support muffles a voice of dissent, think communism. Uniformity in music is called unison. How boring can you get?! Let’s hear it for harmony, which means sounding different notes.
Cult leaders cross sexual and financial boundaries. Many churches and ministries are not safe because women expect them to be so, let their guards down, and don’t trust their intuition. We have desired to create a safe place in our community. This means that we give our women the freedom to blow the whistle any time they feel uncomfortable with anyone. We have told some men that they are not welcome in our community.
I have gone public with an article I wrote called, “My Boundaries.” Anyone is free to question me about anything I have said or done, including financial matters. This brings a feeling of freedom and protection to all and especially to the most vulnerable. Cult communities are anything but safe. Jesus is a safe place, and He says to the fearful and burdened, “Come unto me…” We want to be like Jesus.
What is written here reflects the leadership of the Pharisees, even the part about crossing sexual boundaries. It does not describe any church I am familiar with. But if it wobbles, quacks, and looks like a duck…