AbuseSo how do you recover from spiritual abuse?

Here are a few suggestions:

Find a safe place. God does not require you to stay in a place or a group that is abusive in its leadership. Be bold and courageous and move on.

Find some safe relationships where you can process what has happened. Share with others who you can trust. Talking to a qualified Christian counselor can be very helpful. Bring your feelings and experiences out in the open.

Allow your mind to be renewed. Spiritual abuse tends to distort the truth. Seek perspective on what has happened and why it has happened.

Give yourself time to heal. Allow your soul to be restored. Spend time in worship and in God's presence asking him to heal you. Experience his love and care. Prayer ministry can be a very powerful tool in this process.

Also, remember that it will take time to learn to trust again. Once you have been hurt, you are very vulnerable and it is easy to project your past experiences on to new situations. Go slowly and walk carefully. Give new people in your world opportunity to show their trustworthiness.

Click here for a list of additional resources that may be of help to you.

Finally, church leaders, let's do our best before God to create healthy environments free from spiritual abuse so that God's people can thrive as he desires them to. Let's also realise that leaders can be abused too. Unfair criticism and gossip can cause deep wounds in the hearts of leaders. Treat them with honour and respect. The writer of the book of Hebrews puts it this way …

"Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith … Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit." [Hebrews 13:7, 17. NLT]

That doesn't mean we should put leaders on a pedestal. After all, leaders are part of the church community too. They have simply been given gifts to lead and they must be faithful to use them well, just like those who have other spiritual gifts.

The church of Jesus Christ should be the safest place on the planet. Unfortunately, that isn't always so. What do we do about that – give up on the church? No. Let's work together to make the church what God intends it to be. After all, Jesus said that the world would know that we are his followers NOT by the size of our congregations, not by our nice buildings, not by our anointed ministry, and not by our depth of revelation BUT simply by our love – how we treat one another (John 13:35). That's the kind of church that Jesus longs to see. Let's work together to make that a reality in our time.

10 thoughts on “Spiritual Abuse (Pt.4)

  1. All great advice. And I had a friend point out today (as this topic has brought some things to the surface for me) that another way to aid in the healing process is to focus on the good things that were experienced in the time at that church. Focus on what was learned, how I was stretched, what wisdom I picked up on, how God grew me while I was there. And asking God to help me in letting go of the other feelings in the matter, even though it’s normal to feel that way. It’s never easy to get over hurt or disappointment, but as the bible reveals, “it’s impossible that we will not be offended” (Luke 17:1), and usually the person that offends us the most is the one we go to church with (Ps 55:12-14)…..because we expect the most from them, especially the pastor. I pray that Mark’s blog can put us all on the path to receiving healing from God in this area, for those who have been affected by it.

  2. Hi Jumping in,
    Agreeing with you. We need to keep moving forward and not looking backward like Lot’s wife did, lest we turn into a pillar of salt 🙂 We cannot change the past, but we can learn from it and change our future. We cannot control how others treat us, but we can control how we treat others. It starts with us and our attitude. A special card I received from a friend years ago says: “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” It’s stuck on my fridge door as a reminder 🙂 Thank you Mark for being a wise and humble leader who always points people to Jesus. Excellent series.

  3. And just to add to what you said so well Marija, “We cannot control how others treat us” but we can control how we REACT to it. Although it’s not always easy, God can surely teach us through those tough times.

  4. Jumping in. You are correct when you say it is important in how people REACT to spiritual abuse.
    Of equal significance, is the amazing situation that in many spiritually abusive Churches – the people DO NOT REACT to it at all!.
    Why don’t people speak out when these things are known to occur and even the media are asking questions about how these Churches operate..?
    In his earlier post, Mark has rightly quoted from Jeremiah, regarding God’s admonition of spiritually abusive Leaders.
    However there is also an intriguing scripture in Jermiah 5:31:
    “Unspeakable! Sickening!
    What’s happened in this country?
    Prophets preach lies
    and priests hire on as their assistants.
    But what will you do when it’s time to pick up the pieces?”
    The people love being abused…? So who is responsible…?
    It makes you think.
    Further reading: http://www.spiritualabuse.com/?page_id=50

  5. Hi Lionfish,
    I think that scripture has to do with selfish gain – leaders using it for selfish gain, and people loving the misinterpretation because of selfish gain.
    In spiritual abuse, just like domestic or sexual abuse, I find it harsh to traumatise a victim further by suggesting they are responsible or “love” it. We have found that spiritual abuse has most often resulted from people seriously wanting to serve God, and having Scriptures of obedience and submission taken out of context by people in authority.
    People who have suffered spiritual abuse are often in shame – and for anyone reading this post you need to know that you have had Jesus misrepresented to you.
    The Jesus of the Gospels offers life and freedom. His death and resurrection is the hope of humanity – it is the healing for the broken.
    Freedom from this sort of abuse is possible, because Jesus is.

  6. All interesting thoughts Lionfish and Petra. Definately get’s a person thinking. I tend to agree with Petra in that I believe often times that people can even be “unaware” they are being spiritually abused. Sometimes it can be ever so subtle, just a little bit left of centre, that the person sort of accepts it because they trust the author (eg: pastor) who said it. I know of a church where people were made to feel it was very wrong to have an opinion or questions about the leadership or decisions that were being made. When people left, they were spoken about (critically)from the pulpit, not by name, but it was easy to figure out which person was being spoken about. It made people feel they couldn’t even “leave” for fear of being put in to that group of people, someone who was divisive or left because they are “running from their issues”. I’m so glad that this is not the culture at CityLife….we feel safe and feel the peace of the Holy Spirit there.

  7. Hi Petra,
    I believe I understand where you are coming from with your response to my comment – ie. people kept in a culture of fear and insecurity which is common in many cults and sects. I apologise if I caused any angst in that a re-read of my comment may infer that people who have come out of heavy handed cults and fringe groups are responsible for the situation that they are/were in.
    My reading of that scripture was also one of people enjoying a ‘misrepresented’ religion (or the Gospel) for selfish gain – or alternatively a false sense of security.
    I was thinking in terms of the Churches and Televangelists that preach a false “Prosperity Gospel” – and it is enriching the Leaders and deceiving the aderents with false optimism and hope with a Gospel that appeals to “ĂŻtchy ears”.
    Here I believe that people have a responsibility to study the scriptures for themselves … and reject the teaching …
    But maybe, again, I am being unfair – as many vulnearble people have become addicted and abused by the 5.00am televangelists and prosperity-driven megachurches without having the benefit of having a basic level of scriptural literacy – and not knowing any better.

  8. Hi Lionfish,
    Thanks for clarifying – and yes, totally agree.
    Unfortunately the prosperity gospel has invaded theology in so many ways. It can become an underlying virus that creeps into people’s thinking – so giving to God becomes a motive to gain something, instead of a virtue of simple generosity that should be part of the follower of Christ.
    I was differentiating that sort of deception from spiritual abuse, and I see that was your intent too. And I do agree that everyone has a responsibility to study the word – great book on that Fee: “How to read the Bible for all its worth”

  9. In response to Helen: http://markconner.typepad.com/catch_the_wind/2008/12/7-things-to-do-before-christmas-pt3.html#comment-141308764
    What I think is interesting is that Morag Zwartz has in the past documented that cults and spiritual abuse can exist well within the confines of the mainline Churches…
    The parachucrh group “The Fellowship” is one example that existed within Anglican and Presbyterian churches – with an over emphasis on perfection and holiness.
    I will look forward to reading her latest book. Likewise, whilst I believe Tabya Levin has wandered too far – and has sadly lost her faith in the process her book “People in Glass Houses” made very interesting reading.

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