Spiritual Abuse is defined as “the mistreatment of a person who is in need of help, support or greater spiritual empowerment, with the result of weakening, undermining or decreasing that person’s spiritual empowerment.” Jeff VanVonderen and David Johnson.
I have been on vacation this week, and have been getting caught up in the blogosphere. Rachel Held Evans, who at times drives me nuts because we theologically disagree with each other, has a point that at Mars Hill in Seattle, WA has been acting “cultic” and has cultivated a culture for spiritual abuse. Even those who theologically support Mars Hill, are beginning to question their authority and misuse of authority. Those that were community group leaders, and elders who questioned the motives, direction, and vision of the church and its leaders were disciplined for subordination, and fired. The church was drastically changing from a biblically run church to a Christian for-profit corporation. Rachel called into account the ramblings, abusive language of the senior pastor during his early years which in many different churches would disqualify them for leadership.
As I have read these accounts of those who are speaking out against the abuse of Mars Hill, I suffered abuse at church plant in Columbus, Ohio. I have to admit, I was put under church discipline for the right reason, but it was handled poorly by the Pastor, one of the elders, and my roommate at the time which caused wounding. When I met my wife, I left the church. I haven’t spoken or met with those people since 2007.
VanVonderen continues: “spiritual abuse happens when a leader with spiritual authority uses that authority to coerce, control or exploit a follower, thus causing spiritual wounds.”
According to Paul, the role of spiritual leaders in the church is to:
(11) And he himself gave some as apostles and some as prophets and some as evangelists and some as pastors and teachers
(12) for the equipping of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ
(13) until we all reach the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to a measure of the maturity of the fullness of Christ,
(14) so that we may no longer be infants, tossed about by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching, by the trickery of people, by craftiness with reference to the scheming of deceit.
Verse 12 is crucial, that the role of leaders is to equip the saints for works of ministry (service), and for the building up the body of Christ, not tearing down the body of Christ. Spiritual abuse is when leaders misuse their authority to coerce, manipulate, and inflict wounds on their flock whether it is intentional or not rather than empowering them to know and follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior. One of the questions you have to ask yourself, is the leadership of the church building up unity of faith, bringing maturity to the fullness of Christ, or is it being crafty with reference to scheming of deceit?