We will not shame people.

Shame is a weapon of choice for abusers. I won’t preach on treating the body as holy, then freak out when someone has a coke. Using guilt, fear, the law, or position are illegitimate ways to motivate. Legalism gets quick results, just not lasting ones. The law brings external compliance, a poor excuse for the motivation of love through the work of the Spirit.

We will not have hidden rules.

People often don’t know until they break them. If they go out to dinner instead of showing up for the Wednesday night prayer meeting, they are held in suspect. They decide under pressure not to miss again. But when company comes in from the west coast, they don’t go to the Friday night outreach. They won’t do that again. The pastor made a subtle reference to it in his sermon two days later. Ouch.

We will view members positively,

not as lazy or stupid, like the Pharisees viewed them. And we will see ourselves as no different from the people we serve. If anything, we are lower. We won’t think that we own people. If they want out, we will make it easy. People find out how close it is to a cult when they talk about leaving.

We will not turn Christianity into keys,

three steps. Christianity by formula is not what the apostles passed on. Abusers have code words and phrases: Loyalty, submission, “Touch not the Lord’s anointed,” “he’s in rebellion,” “she has a Jezebel spirit.” They take the mystery out of the Christian life with easy answers: “You’re sick because you are not disciplining your children right.”  

We won’t create uniformity.

In abusive systems individuality and creativity are frowned upon. New ideas and originality threaten the program. Better to dress alike, talk alike, even fix your hair alike. In unhealthy systems, good ideas don’t fit. Uniformity outscores unity.

We will reward grace-givers, not legalists.

I believe in fasting, but so did the Pharisees, and they thought they earned extra credit for it. Fasting is normal Christianity, not a sign of super-spirituality.

We will avoid spiritual abuse by walking in humility.

Humility means that anyone can speak into my life, especially people that disagree with me. I don’t have all the answers, and no one else does either. The best defense is to live by grace rather than by the law or by formula.

God-ordained leaders must walk with meekness and at the same time exercise God-given authority in a way that builds trust. How sad that some use God to serve themselves, all the while wearing a mask of holiness.

My counsel:  Never violate your conscience under the constraint of a false loyalty, like a Scripture that urges you to obey your leaders. One caution:  don’t overreact. Not everyone who talks about submission or obeying elders is an abuser. They are Biblical words.

Jesus was full of grace and truth, but what rubbed off on people was grace: “Of his fullness we have all received—grace upon grace” (John 1:16). He didn’t load people down with burdens as the Pharisees did—He took them off. He said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). That’s the kind of leader we want to follow–and be.


  1. Robert Ule says:

    Isn’t making a list like this (do’s and don’ts) just another form of legalism? You’ve made a nice list of what it looks like when we do it wrong – what does it look like when we do it correctly? For me, doing it right is whenever I let Jesus use me; He gives me the words to say (or not) the actions to do (or not). We just have to hear and obey and the grace will flow. Spend time with a visitor or go to Church? I have no idea – but Jesus knows. Just last week we felt Jesus wanted us to go to Church so we invited our visitors to go with us – the grace flowed.

  2. There are so many people out there who have bad experiences with church leaders and don’t realize that it is abuse, spiritual abuse. I was so glad to see an article explaining and etc. We all make mistakes even our Pastor’s and leaders but sometimes when people are hurt there is no apology or asking for forgiveness. Then….the devil gets in there are stirs up more and a big split happens in the church or worse it shuts down. This has to be changed. We don’t need to help the enemy break up churches.

  3. […] Feel Betrayed by American Christians * Bruce Walker: What Roe v. Wade May Bring * Paul Anderson: Understanding Spiritual Abuse – part 2 * Caleb Ecarma: Conservatives Pressure 12 Democrats on Supreme Court Pick * Max Forrester Eastman: […]

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