Abuse is hardest to handle when you had good reason to trust those who abuse you–like parents or pastors. Jesus delivered His strongest words to the spiritual leaders of His day who were fleecing sheep instead of feeding them. Unfortunately, it is common in all kinds of churches. Check out these signs.


Some church leaders don’t mix with others because they consider themselves better. Arrogance plays into abuse: “I need to do what God tells me to do.” And the cronies listen up.  “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).  You don’t want to be supporting someone God is coming against. Blind and naive loyalists do.


If you don’t know where the money is going, and a leader doesn’t want to tell you, leave. He has issues. The books should be open to any mature inquiry. If you don’t get answers to financial or other legitimate questions, and your opinion doesn’t count but your offering does, don’t stick around.


Vulnerability releases grace. Hiding behind a reputation releases suspicion. Don’t trust someone who doesn’t respect others enough to walk in the light. Koinonia is not possible with pastors who do not exhibit humility and honesty. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8). Fellowship happens with the open and broken.


Abusers have friends. If you are not one of them, you may need another family. This one could be sick unto death. They have their in-groups. You will be glad you’re not in it when you see signs of a sick family system that gives privilege to insiders and scoffs at outsiders.


Jesus taught servant leadership–from the bottom up. Abusers like the view from the top; strong on legalism, weak on grace. They expect things from others they don’t do themselves, and they are blind to their own hypocrisy. Then again, they may know they are hypocrites. But they won’t tell you.


A wolf in sheep’s clothing still acts like a wolf. If you see glaring weaknesses in a spiritual leader, like harshness, anger, or sensuality, you don’t have a worthy shepherd. He needs to deal with his issues and surrender leadership. If he excuses bad habits, don’t you. He doesn’t understand grace, and he will abuse his position.


Independent ministries can be training stations for lone rangers. Find out who your leader is subject to. If he says, “God,” someone should suggest he find a person with skin on. But trying to correct abusers seldom works. They don’t want your opinion. They talk about unity, but they are after uniformity. Unity requires diversity. Uniformity requires keeping your mouth shut. Plenty of healthy churches around. This doesn’t sound like one of them!


  1. Susan says:

    I like the first point; you and Karen have always been available for friendship even ministering to our family years after you have a different “congregation.” Thank you for that.

  2. Daniel Storvick says:

    In’t it amazing how God opens up new ideas and topics to explore in this blog?!? You could do a separate blog on each of the 7 Signs. Dan Storvick

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