6 MASSIVE Spiritual Abuse Warning Signs {DANGER}

Spiritual abuse is a scary subject that we have to talk about.

What is spiritual abuse?

Spiritual abuse is when a spiritual leader, such as a pastor, uses their power and influence to manipulate and control people. A spiritual abuser is not concerned with promoting the well-being of those he serves. Rather, he’s only interested in how people can further his plans and agenda.

Over the last year, I’ve read a number of books about incredible, powerful, visionary people who achieved incredible things, only to have everything fall apart due to their own self-destruction.

I’ve read sobering stories of bad pastors who inflicted spiritual abuse (Jimmy Bakker), deceitful startup founders (Elizabeth Holmes), and obsessive athletes (Tiger Woods).

I’ve also witnessed the profoundly destructive power of bad pastors and spiritual abuse first hand.

What struck me as I read these books was that in both the “secular” world and the church, destructive leadership tends to look the same. In other words, the same things that caused Jimmy Bakker to implode also led to the downfall of Elizabeth Holmes and her company “Theranos” (once valued at $1 billion).

And Tiger Woods, though not necessarily a “leader” in the same sense as a pastor or CEO, imploded for many of the same reasons.

More and more, it’s critically important to be able to identify spiritually abusive, dangerous, destructive pastors BEFORE everything falls apart.

Few things cause Christians to become disillusioned more than being ripped to pieces by spiritual abuse in the church. Few things do more to sully the name of Jesus more than abusive spiritual leaders.

Dave Harvey puts it this way:

There are few things more dangerous to a church than a pastor who is extraordinarily endowed on the gifting side and extraordinarily deficient on the character side. That guy is a decaying tie rod waiting to break. The progress can be impressive until character collapses.

Here are six bright red warning signs of spiritual abuse.

  1. He surrounds himself with “yes” people
  2. Critics are isolated
  3. Loyalty is prized over diversity
  4. Refusing accountability
  5. Leading by force of personality
  6. Refusing to believe anything is wrong

[easy-tweet tweet=”Spiritual abuse is when a spiritual leader uses their power and influence to manipulate and control people.” via=”no”]

Spiritual Abuse Warning Sign #1: A Bad Pastor Surrounds Himself With “Yes” People

Godly spiritual leadership is about helping people move from where they are to where God wants them to be. It’s a wonderful thing when a leader desires to see people going full-throttle for God.

As Richard Blackaby puts it in his book Spiritual Leadership:

spiritual abuse in the church

Unfortunately, what often happens is that pastors and spiritual leaders conflate God’s plans with their own plans. What often starts as good and godly ambitions can curdle into spoiled, selfish ambitions, which then leads to spiritual abuse.

They say they want to gather thousands of people and create massive movements and do giant things “for God”. In reality, it’s more about creating something that will shine the white-hot spotlight on them instead of God (even though they might not recognize it as such).

The problem with this (apart from the obvious pride and glory stealing), is that creating massive movements requires massive amounts of momentum. To generate momentum, everyone has to be on board, eager to make the pastor’s vision a reality.

Those who challenge the pastor and the vision only slow things down, making it really difficult to pick up speed and achieve the “big things”.

And so spiritually abusive leaders and pastors surround themselves with people who always say, “Yes.” Those guilty of spiritual abuse are quick to speak and slow to listen, and they need people who will always back them up. The inner circle – those closest – will support every decision the pastor makes, no matter how destructive or ludicrous.

Spiritual Abuse Warning Sign #2: Critics Are Isolated

This is closely tied to the previous point. Not only are critics cut out of the spiritual abuser’s inner circle, they are also isolated. After all, the leader can’t afford to have critics talking behind his back.

And so they do everything they can to isolate and discredit critics, smearing their character, accusing them of lacking faith, saying their understanding of the Bible is wrong, and even spreading lies about them. The pastor guilty of spiritual abuse wants his followers to have nothing to do with critics and seeks to discredit them as ungodly sinners who are holding back God’s plans.

The sad reality is that those labeled “critics” often start as close confidants of the pastor, but once they begin to push back, they are cut off. Instead of being able to provide guardrails for the roaring ambition of the bad pastor, they are sidelined and slandered.

Spiritual Abuse Warning Sign #3: Loyalty Is Prized Over Diversity

In order for a church or spiritual movement to be healthy, a diversity of opinions is required. In Christ, we are all priests to God, filled with the Holy Spirit, and given unique gifts to build up the church.

bad pastor

But this doesn’t work for the spiritually abusive pastor or spiritual leader. Diversity leads to dissent, which slows momentum and keeps him from achieving his grandiose plans. He doesn’t want a variety of opinions, he wants loyalty. You’re either in or out, for or against.

And if you’re not all in, you’re accused of being disloyal. Of not being a team player. Of being a naysayer and downer. Of not believing in the mission.

Those who are loyal are promoted to positions of honor, while those who criticize are ostracized. Spiritual abuse often deploys shame and fear and bullying against those who aren’t loyal.

[easy-tweet tweet=”Spiritual abuse often deploys shame and fear and bullying against those who aren’t loyal.” via=”no”]

A sure sign that things are going downhill is when everyone in leadership thinks, acts, and even speaks alike. Additionally, if the leadership team gets smaller and smaller, it’s a sign that the pastor is hoarding power and promoting only the most loyal followers.

Spiritual Abuse Warning Sign #4: Refusing Accountability

A spiritually abusive pastor or leader doesn’t like to be held accountable for his decisions. Because of this, he’ll take actions specifically designed to minimize accountability. Often times, this involves creating odd leadership structures where those who are supposed to hold the pastor accountable are unable to do it.

They (the accountability) may be misled or kept in the dark about the leader’s actions. Or, when push comes to shove, they may lack the formal power to hold the pastor accountable.

The result is that it may look like he’s being held accountable when in reality he can do whatever he wants. When spiritual abuse is present in the church, accountability is almost always lacking.

Spiritual Abuse Warning Sign #5: The Pastor Leads By Force Of Personality

This one is a little trickier to evaluate and should be examined in conjunction with the previous signs. Spiritual abuse can be a subtle thing. Most bad pastors don’t seem like bad pastors. They’re often charming, dynamic, and even visionary. They are forces of nature, charismatic, able to inspire people to do hard things.

But the personality is often a facade, whitewash splashed over a tomb. On the surface, they appear to be prophets with a direct connection to God. In reality, they’re deceivers who don’t fear the Lord.

It’s the dynamic personality that often causes people to allow destructive spiritual abuse to go on for far too long. They can’t reconcile the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the bad pastor, and so they endure spiritual abuse and hope things will get better.

Spiritual Abuse Warning Sign #6: They Refuse To Believe Anything Is Wrong 

Sadly, most bad pastors refuse to believe that anything is wrong with their leadership style or the way things are headed. They remain convinced that everything is great, up until the point that everything falls apart.

And even if they do harbor doubts, they certainly don’t share them with others. That would be an admission of wrong, of fallibility, of weakness, of insecurity. It would be an acknowledgment that maybe, just maybe, God isn’t on their side. And so they are always full of bluster and bravado, making grand claims about how swimmingly things are going.

The result is that things go from bad to worse to total implosion. Many people get hurt, the Lord’s name is dragged through the mud, and the movement usually falls apart. Even if it doesn’t, it’s only a shell of it’s former “glory”.

Don’t Tolerate Spiritual Abuse

If you suspect that your pastor is a spiritual abuser, don’t hope that things will get better. That rarely, if ever happens.

Instead, talk to someone outside your normal circle of friends and ask their opinion. Share specifics with them, including all the red flags. Getting an outside perspective is helpful because it can be hard to make sense of everything when you’re in the middle of it. Additionally, bad pastors are often manipulators, able to explain away every action, no matter how egregious.

Whatever you do, don’t tolerate spiritual abuse. It will leave you hurt, disillusioned, and feeling betrayed.

God has better things for you. Joy will come in the morning.

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120 thoughts on “6 MASSIVE Spiritual Abuse Warning Signs {DANGER}”

    • I don’t believe so Kathryn. Steve was describing what is called Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). There is a big difference between NPD where one is born without a conscience and someone who grew up in Palm Beach who never had to struggle. The latest study on clergy, found that 1 in 3 have pathological traits of NPD (Hand, G. & Puhls, D..) This study was on the Canadian Presbyterian Church. The people Steve was describing in the article are dangerous. Within the Reformed camp little has been done collectively to understand mental illness let alone these high conflict people who seek out leadership positions to lord it over people that they see as pawns. These people are in a fight for their own glory and their fight is with God Himself.
      There is a big difference between an confident extrovert and someone who is devious and evil to the core.

      • I have been married to a Narcissistic pastor for 17 years! I found this article because I needed to see what spiritual abuse look so like as I have been enduring that too. His most recent message was preached at me to correct me when it is really him rebelling against God. These people are monsters and have no place in the house of God! I am now seeking to end this nightmare, but I am so worried about the people that trust him. They are the most crafty and evil people you will find and people don’t have a clue. Get away fast!

      • Oh my gosh, Dr! I just told my friend/pastor of nearly 3 years this the other day! I told him that he has this type of behavior! He in turn told me that I was bipolar and needed medical treatment. We were back and forth about well over 2 hours. I have been blunt and honest with him since day one! I don’t sugarcoat. He says I have no filter. I have been like that practically my entire life being brutally honest, so therefore, I don’t have many friends. There’s more but this is just scraping the surface. I fell so hard from the church and God when I realized what had been going on. I haven’t attended a service in 3 weeks going on a month. I was loyal and faithful to God first then the ministry. However, I am rebuilding my relationship with God gradually. I pray for the pastor and am still straightforward with him as a friend. He has been hurt a lot and I believe he is lashing out at innocent people who don’t have a clue. God has given me many chances and I will have mercy on the pastor. I am sure this sounds contradictory to say the least. God is healing my heart and restoring me, hence having compassion, whatever one may call it!

    • Absolutely. Although he’s a narcissistic sociopath but the description is very similar. Also comparable to a cult of any kind. The leader being much like dt, RHubbard, JJones, etc. Scary. Even scarier a tiny chunk of population still believes.

      • Really, this isn’t the place to start a political fiasco. Get over yourselves when you are bringing god and the church into question.

    • this situation is eating me up in many ways n I need advice!!!!
      I have an older brother who became a youth minister in 2004- in 2005 when Katrina hit through deception (only 3ppl was in room the day he lied) he went from poor to rich over night, he was advised to invest this huge amount of money which he did, than he went from youth minister to missionary not for the love of God you see but bc it gav him a monthly income of $5000 so he put all what I call Katrina $$$ into investments n lived off the missionary income!!!! It’s now 2019 my brother is now a millionaire still living off missionary income he has everything hidden so well like his 2 story home is n his daughters name my brothers smart if one comes asking questions they want find anything but what hurts me the most besides using God, denying it, banning ppl he deems below him n etc is he now has a doctors degree as a misinister but he’s very deceiving evil in fact he jus convinced r parents to change their WILLs n leav him all their money which is over $200000 which they didn’t want to do they cried so hard they wanted all their kids to have $$$$ when they pass but he put them in a position where they had to!!!! My brother hates those he deems below him, if he wants something he takes n expects it!!!!! He uses everyone he never pays for anything doctors, vacations nothing bc he has rich friends that give him all this!!!! He refuses to help anyone he says they can help theirselves he’s not giving away his money n being poor again!!!!! Once he was gonna pay for me go to college n hire me to be his assistant as a single mother of 4 I was so relieved but b4 I could I had to follow what I call my brother bible of rules I refused I follow God not him so he refused to help me, a few yrs ago when I left my abusive hub n fled to my parents w my kids my brother went through the roof tried have DHS take my kids n hav me put out jus bc I was at my parents, I’m not the only one anyone he deems below him he has done this to infact we hav a mentally disabled brother my minister bro had him put in jail, the list goes on n on!!! He has 4 kids he has banned the oldest for not following his rules!!!! Lots ppl see who he really is but bc he has so many power yes ppl they r scared or either like me when they confront him he’s such a good manipulator he will hav u feeling like ur in the wrong!!!!! I can tell u so much more but it take all day I’m not good at writing what’s In my head down so I hope I wrote good enough to see what I’m talking about with my brother!!!! He’s evil, he is all the above 6 he is the biggest spiritual abuser I know but he’s still my brother n it hurts so bad to see him act this way!!!! Since he has gotten all that money he has accused me n others of being thieves, druggies n etc n it’s all lies but he tells this to others his 4 kids were raised believing the lies till they got older n seen for themselves it was all lies!!!! His 4 kids r between the ages of 16-24 n they r doing really bad things n it scares me I tried tell my brother but he went off on me said I’m telling lies on his kids n etc!!!! It’s a sad sad situation n since 2005 it’s been eating at me I jus recently stopped having anything to do w him I refuse to go to his house for holidays or get togetherness which makes him mad bc he said he has done so much for me that I have no right to ignore him!!! (He has literally done nothing for me at all but cause me pain). I can see how this is causing me to turn away from God which I do not want to do so this is only thing I know to do he want listen to me!!!! He has since moved my parents out there w him n will only let us see them on his terms n they fear him so much they agree he has taken everything they own into his own name!!!! This is a sad situation n it really hurts how he’s a millionaire n taking money from those who giv to fund missionaries!!!! Right now he’s enjoying a trip to Europe while some low income families probably took all they had to giv to their church to help fund the missionaries!!!!! I know this is a long long story but I had to share to jus get it off my chest!!!!!

    • Wrong about DT. This man is brutally honest and suffers for it . you need to understand the foundations of freedom and stop worrying about the sympathy train that the Democrats have you on which is the road to destruction and silencing of people all in the name of power under the guise and falsehood of sympathy. read The destruction of compassion- using the government for your good works is the thee most destructive evil force on earth . Stop using my tax dollars for your lazy ass way idea of good works. I have my own charities and they are much more useful and productive than your big government ideas.

    • Kathryn what a unchristian comment to state on this forum, when it is talking about church spiritual abuse. I also disagree with you. You have a right to what you believe. And I will not discuss political differences on this form. I pray you search your heart!

  1. I’m thinking there are varying degrees of “bad”. A former pastor comes to mind who had many of these flaws; although it was not complete and total in any of the 6. For example, he didn’t refuse accountability or keep out diversity, but he did discipline some members who differed from him or he disciplined before listening to the member in question – making assumptions about behavior and choices.

  2. I been through everything you just talked about and you hit the nail right on the head. This pastor and I were good friends until I try to tell him about something he needed to be corrected on. I was the Chairman of the Deacon board. I believe you should always surround yourself with people who are going to tell you the truth whether you like it or not. That’s a true friend.

  3. Good observations. Our church had an ex-minister who sought to undermine the then current pastor by nourishing sinful thoughts and attitudes of various members against the then minister. He was so nice and so supportive of the pastor to his face, but behind his back he would agree with any and all criticisms of him, fanning the flames of discent. Always he would seek to get the member to vocalise the issue while he remained silent in the background (various reasons for this given). He was very liberal, sat in authority over the Word of God and sought to question and weaken the faith of believers rather than encourage and build them up. He was very destructive, but also very popular with those who only sought a social club type church.

    It also seems one common trait in all six mentioned by yourself is that of PRIDE and self-love. The focus of the minister is themselves and not Christ. They point people to themselves, ther teaching and ministry and rarely ever seek to glorify Christ in humility.

  4. Thank you for posting this – it’s been really helpful. Points 1-6 are unfortunately why I felt I needed to leave my previous church last year….

  5. I read through these six warning signs, hoping that maybe two of the six would apply, proving to me that what my family was put through really wasn’t so bad. Nope. All six. The more I read, the sicker I felt. How do we communicate this to the ones we love who are still there? They don’t see it.

  6. So I recently sat through a message, where the visiting minister said unless you can say that the church has been disconnected from Christ, you shouldn’t leave. If I’m seeing these things you wrote about in my church and pastor, how do I sift through THAT advice?

  7. First, I must say, the warning signs of spiritual abuse are define so clearly in this article. There are many good pastors, but there are also many bad ones. I’m a firm believer that God is gonna judge spiritual leaders more harsher than members of a congregation. In my opinion, spiritual abuse means a spiritual authority or abusive pastor, tries to control people by some type of action (holding things over their heads) to make sure they keep them submissive and agreeing with them. Spiritual abuse is strictly connected with spiritual manipulation and is not God’s plan for promoting spiritual growth. I also believe if you have to say “yes” to everything, you’re in a cult and God isn’t in it.

    This article is so on point for today’s churches. Members of congregations can see these type of things happening and turn their heads away. You and I both know that God is not pleased. Christians are too afraid to speak out about bad pastors because, they have been brainwashed that God will inflict some type of punishment on them. It’s sad to see how God’s people will look up to man per se and never realize that Jehovah God is the true Creator of the Universe. I do agree that all things are to be done decent and in order, no one should ever be slammed or slandered. It’s up to Christians to make sure that there is accountability and transparency throughout the ministry that they are apart of.

    Leadership has become so important to me because each generation is so different. They are growing wiser, but weaker. If society keeps going like it’s going who will be here to stand for right. I’ve started writing about “leaders and leadership and I have published books on this subject. Please check out my author’s page at Amazon.com?

    • I don’t agree. I watch many round table discussions he has held. He listens to experts in the field. He appoints people who are successful and highly respected to tackle the big problems. He is a problem solver who directs and holds people accountable. I’m sure he’s a tough guy to work for but a leader who gets results is someone you want working for you, especially in the toxic environment of Washington D.C. I’ve worked for a tough pastor and it made me better. That’s different than the 6 points listed here.

  8. Thank you so much for this, Stephen. It means a great deal to us as we recently left our SGC church, having experienced all of the things you mentioned. Knowing your history (somewhat) makes it that more meaningful to us to have you say all that you’ve said. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for you to do.

  9. This message is incredible. Many church of God have been turned upside down because of spiritual abuse( speaking from a first hand experience) but thank God for Holy spirit that intervene before damages could be done. In these latter days God will pour the Holy spirit on the body of His son(Jesus Christ) and every spirit of leviathans that are dividing the church will be bound in fire. Thank God for the wisdom He gave to you to share this message. More anointing on you sir

  10. Spiritual abuse is a real thing, and I agree, it should not be tolerated. What I did not hear is how important it is to pray. It is easy to point fingers and judge, but much more effective to pray for the Pastor and the sheep He/She are leading. We do not war against flesh and blood. Let’s BE the church and lift one another up. If Leaving a church body is the only solution, then do so committed to pray. Pastors are prime targets for the enemy. Love always triumphs over evil.

    BTW… throwing digs at our president makes us just like the world 🙁

  11. To say this is the president is just wrong. He doesn’t claim to be a pastor or a spiritual leader of any kind. Wow. I go to a church that appears this way and have never been able to articulate the issue. Thank you for putting into words what my heart already knew. I left once before and this certainly helps me see that was right to do and I will now go for good. Sad.

    • I’m glad it was helpful. And I think people were just saying there may be some similarities in leadership style with the president. You’re right – he doesn’t claim to be a spiritual leader.

  12. Stephen,

    Is it possible that you are addressing your history in SGM while casting it in a general light? If yes, the generality could lead to unfavorable judgment about any pastor/spiritual leader who is leading a large or growing work. Any disagreement with a leader could be cast as an issue of the pastor’s pride.

    Churches that function as an eldership rather than congregationally are ripe to be accused of abuse and of being “yes men.” Likewise, pastors of churches in “movements” are subject to being assigned all of the qualities and faults of whomever is/was most prominent in that movement. It amounts to sinful judging.

    It would be better (IMO) to just identify whom/who you’re speaking of, so that a rash of “this describes my pastor(s)” doesn’t break out.

    Finally, for those who have been out of a movement for years, yet still addressing the problems of where they no longer are, I’m not sure the Lord aligns with the continual interest and disparaging of that which you’re no longer apart… and have filtered/limited knowledge of where that group/movement is today.

    Pastors, churches, and movements adjust, improve, and revise their thinking and behavior after confronting sin and bad patterns, just as I’d hope you and I do. We are not the same person we were 10 years ago. We’ve worked through the sins and foibles from back then, and now we’re working on our current, hopefully improved selves.

    We shouldn’t have to continually respond to questions about our sin from 10 years past.

    Hopefully, most of us are not currently sitting in churches where points 1-6 apply. If so, we can be prayerful as we humbly bring the issue(s) before the elders. And if we cannot find common ground, we can humbly move on, without disparaging the place that we left.

    Besides, why cast your pearls before folks unless you have a loving desire that they blessed by changing their sinful ways. If it’s just publicly sharing your opinion about their sin, that seems counterproductive. I’ve seen too many people wander in their search for a church because they bring their judgement about their previous church into every new situation. Plus, it keeps you focused on “them” years later, when you could be pouring your life into your current church.

    Greet your dad for me! He’s a hero of mine, and from what I hear, a great pastor with none of the 1-6 faults! ? ??

    • Hey Jay!

      I appreciate your thoughts. I actually wasn’t really writing about my experience in SGM and wasn’t trying to disparage the movement. I was writing based on a bunch of things, including people I’ve talked to, books I’ve read, and some personal experiences I had in my own church (not SGM broadly).

      I don’t feel comfortable talking about SGM, or any movement as a whole. Movements are different than churches. While there certainly can be abuses in movements, it seems to cause the most *personal* damage in churches. I hope that makes sense.

      How do you know my dad?

      • Stephen, I know your dad and Mom from coming out to Lord of Life Church a couple of times. I actually met you and your brother and had lunch at your house. 🙂

        Plus, your dad’s music is the primary soundtrack of most of my Christian life.

        He and I chatted recently about these issues. I have the highest respect for everything about your dad.

  13. Stephen, the “?” and “??” At the end were supposed to be a smiling face and a Peace Sign! I guess the iPhone emojis don’t work here.

  14. Great article except for this bit: “In order for a church or spiritual movement to be healthy, a diversity of opinions is required.”

    We need to be careful with this type of statement. If you mean for it to dovetail in with your next sentence, which correctly promotes the need for various gifts within the church in order to build up the church, then yes, we need all of those different gifts.

    But, if you mean a variety of viewpoints, opinions, doctrines, etc., then a resounding no. The church doesn’t need an “opinion”: it needs the truth of God’s Word!

    I think you mean the former, but folk could very easily extrapolate the latter, and that’s deadly…

    • I agree with you. I did not mean a variety of false doctrines! Just the true word of God. Although I think there can be room for disagreement depending on the doctrine. Obviously, certain ones are non-negotiable, but others (like paedo vs. creedal baptism) don’t need to drive a wedge between brothers and sisters in Christ.

  15. I have been a pastor for 30 years. Every pastor has a multitude of voices coming at him at the same time. A few of these voices are abusers themselves. If the pastor doesn’t bend to their will they label him a “bad pastor” under these categories. Of all the pastors I’ve known only a very few would legitimately fit into this description. Far more common are the few bad members who abuse the pastor. Almost every pastor I know has experienced some of that. Hebrews 13:17 encourages the church to work with their leaders for the good of all. When anybody wants to label someone a “bad pastor”, they should first look into their own hearts.

  16. If offering counsel to the brethren, it should be complete. Maybe rather than agreeing with criticism of our president, you could gently remind them of Gods instructions in Romans 13 regarding government leaders.

  17. I left a ministry I loved because the leader was all six of these examples and more. I went to the church and received no help. Healing from this abuse is long and slow. I ask the Lord to use the circumstances for good.

  18. That place of lack of accountability many fall there.
    There are other bad qualities of bad pastoral leaders if I may shed abit of light on them .
    Immortality especially sexual promiscuity I.e prostitution,pedophiling minors,masterbation,e.t.c.
    Spiritual witchcraft using the anointing vested upon them.
    Nepotism especially where family members hold key positions in the church leadership.
    Respecting and compartmentalization of members as per their earnings!
    Fighting other men of God especially those who are anointed than them especially in miracle working.
    It is only maturity and endurance that can keep believers in some churches.
    I am not out to attack anybody because there are men of God who are respectable.

  19. My husband and I attended a church where the pastor exhibited all the above characteristics. We left, along with quite a few other people. What saddens me are the people who still attend this church and don’t realize how they are being manipulated and treated.

  20. Most people who don’t agree with their leaders are rebels.
    Old men dream dreams and it becomes the vision for young men to attain.
    I believe that what you have posted here only encourages disloyalty in churches.

  21. I agree with most of the signs but one; which is, prizing loyalty over diversity. This doesn’t suffice in instances where your church is brooded with disloyal followers who are not interested in the move of God’s work. I recommend the Book; Loyalty and Disloyalty by Bishop Dag Heward mills

  22. Stephen

    I agree with much of what you say about pastors who abuse.
    There is no excuse for abuse.

    Abuse – dictionary
    1 – use (something) to bad effect or for a bad purpose; misuse.
    2 – use or treat in such a way as to cause damage or harm.
    3 – speak in an insulting and offensive way.

    And, Since leaving, Today’s Abusive Religious Systems…
    Because of these abusive pastor/leader/reverends…
    I have different questions about today’s pastors.

    Have you ever noticed?
    Most of what today’s pastors get paid to “DO”?
    Is NOT in the Bible?

    In the Bible? Can anyone name?
    One of **His Disciples** who was “Hired” as a…
    Paid Professional Pastor, in a Pulpit?
    Preaching, to People, in Pews?
    Weak after Weak?
    In a church?

    Have you ever noticed?
    The “Titles/Postions,” these abusive guys take?
    Can NOT be found in the Bible?
    For one of **His Disciples?**

    In the Bible? Can anyone name?
    One of **His Disciples** who took the “Title” pastor? Lead pastor?
    Or shepherd? Or under-shepherd? Or leader? Or reverend?

    Have you ever noticed this about “Titles?”
    “Titles” – “Seperate?”
    “Titles” – “Elevate?”
    “Titles” will be used to – “Control” and “Manipulate?”

    In my “church” experience…
    No matter how loving… eventually…
    No matter how humble… eventually…
    No matter how much a servant… eventually…

    Today’s, “Titled,” pastor, leader, reverend…
    Will “Exercise Authority” like the Gentiles. (A No, No, Mark 10:42-43.)
    And, that is always the beginning of “Spiritual Abuse.”

    “Pastor/Leader” = exercise authority = lord it over = abuse = always

    Jer 50:6
    “My people” hath been “lost sheep:”
    **THEIR shepherds**
    have caused them to *go astray,*

    1 Pet 2:25
    For ye were as *sheep going astray;*
    BUT are now returned to
    the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  23. I have just left the church I gave every drop of everything to, do to abuse. Unfortunately, my former pastor is very charamastic. I loved him in the past. Then, I realized he had developed an elder board of yes men. His accountability group were not honest with him in their own lives ( I knew things from their wives, living near, etc) so, I knew this wasn’t right either. When I started to question him about Biblical interpretation, it was over, even when I brought in commentaries from the present of his prestigious seminary. He began a vendetta to discredit me. I went from writing my daytime Bible study to being removed. I went from doing almost everything, to nothing. I was constantly questioned over the last 2 years when I would be stopping doing an in-depth, international outside Bible study, where I was actually being fed, so that I could feed others. I hadn’t felt fed at that church for years, but God fed me other ways. I totally feel God has led me to a great church with a lot of diversity, great teachers, etc.

  24. It seems you are writing from the congregation point of view and you may have no idea what the pastors challenges may be. You ideas are good but can be used negatively to encourage revolt in many churches.

  25. Interesting comments. Agreed that we need to be careful to point out everything we don’t like as abuse. However, when it happens to you, there is no mistaking it is Spiritual Abuse. Many of us here have googled this subject for a reason and found this and other helpful articles. We need to call it what it is. Three months ago, after much prayer and counsel, I left a staff position, my husband resigned from the council, and we resigned our membership within two weeks after the initial abuse. Thankfully, we didn’t stay on to endure more abuse that was sure to follow. The pastor used the exact same words (and more) from this article in #3, like he was reading it. So weird. (Also, the disagreements can be minor, it doesn’t necessarily need to be a theological difference). The rest of the points here are spot on as well, such as how the leadership is configured. The elder, his spiritual leader/mentor used Gossip Prayer to get his point across. (Anyone?) We did lose our people, our community, and it’s extremely sad and hard, but at the same time, I’m thankful we are not a part of the unhealthy leadership. I’ve asked forgiveness for being blind and therefore a part of the dysfunction while on staff for about a year, ignoring some red flags, seeing enough good, loving my job, justifying things maybe because it didn’t “happen to me”. Then it did. No one, except a couple close friends, really want to know the truth of why we left, and we aren’t going to go around gossiping about it. The pastor is acting baffled about why, yet never acknowledged our letter or our resignations or asked why, if he is so baffled. So we pray the veil be lifted and people see Truth, the Light is shined on the darkness, the accuser and deceiver be silenced and members and leadership actually use their discernment and cause change.

    • It is strange isn’t it, how nobody asks why…It’s like they don’t want to know because they don’t want their own bubble to burst. They don’t want to entertain negativity. But a fear of entertaining negativity can be indistinguishable from a fear of entertaining the truth.

      • Very well said. They don’t want to know because then they’ll know. Another recent blog here written by Stephen’s father talks about how a mature healthy pastor should resond to people leaving. Good article. Complete opposites. Thank you for empathizing.

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  27. I have a question. My husband and I first noticed this type of leadership and more heinousn activity, such as telling people they cannot sit in certain parts of the church, serve or attend certain events beyond the corporate worship services (i.e small groups) going on in 2017 at the church where we have been for 14 years. The problem appears to be that we ask too many questions about the the goals and teachings of the senior pastor. We made a decision then to supplement this church with another one. The more egregious abuse towards us escalated by one junior staff member recently. We conferred with an assistant pastor who got him to back down on some of the abuse, but supported him on other aspects. Specifically, we had been banned from sitting in the first five rows of the church in 2017, but week before last, for no reason at all, that restriction was extended to the sixth through 10th row. This is what the assistant pastor backed up, however a ban that had been in place since 2017 on me serving in the church was at the same time lifted.

    Our senior pastor is not very approachable, but the few times we have had brief discussion, he seems clueless about the extent to which we were abused. We think the heinous abuse is the doing of his underlings, but he does show the six traits this article mentioned.

    This is a very large church with satellite campuses, so we made a choice not to attend the main campus where the abuse is being allowed, but we will attend a satellite campus. Well actually, my husband has made these decisions. Had it been my choice we would have left this church all together some time ago. In fact I did quit this church for two weeks in 2017, but then decided to go back with him. I pray that the heinous abuse that has worked its way into the main campus will stay out of the satellites. However, the pastors of the satellites are under the authority of the senior pastor, just as this assistant pastor who is supporting the heinous abuse is. We had occasionally attended the satellite campus in the past and I until recently felt the past abuse at the main campus could be forgiven. But not now.

    If it were up to me I at least would only attend the “supplemental” church we have been attending since 2017. We actually spend more time at that church than the other one. However the leadership of that church encourages me to follow my husband’s lead, and my husband wants to believe even though leadership at the main campus is abhorrent, this has nothing to do with the senior pastor and everything will be fine at the satellite campus. I want to believe him. But what if he is wrong and the satellite leadership also becomes abusive? What should I do now, or what should I do if these fears are realized?

  28. I am a dedicated follower of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I also love my church family and my senior pastor, who is also a Bishop. Within the past year, God has been speaking clearly to me through visions, dreams and the gifts of discernment, understanding and wisdom. I have experienced verbal/emotional abuse from an Elder in the church, dismissive behavior from a church committee leader. In addition, I have accomplished some great accomplishments, by graduating from the Christian Chaplain International Academy, now a certified chaplain, have been accepted and enrolled in the theological seminary and have been an assistant teacher for the adult Sunday School class, for the past four years, and an officer in the womens ministry, for the past 6 years. No acknowledgement. At first, I took my concerns to a woman Deacon. My answer was, “We need to try and understand and just pray.” Then I took my concerns direct to the Sr. Pastor, and he used scriptures to not address and correct my concerns. I said I was spiritually wounded. Nothing!!! Which way do I to go now?

  29. What do you do when your son is the pastor—-and a visit 2 years ago ended with his wife hitting me (I almost fell—) our son only reacted by telling me he wanted to punch me in the face—-we talked to our pastor—(who is friends with our son and his family) but he did nothing but criticize—point fingers—and we felt he was throwing abusive attacks towards us–we felt he was giving us–his personal feelings about the situation and not spiritually guiding us into a reconciliation with our son—when he walked into the room —he bluntly looked at his watch and said–ok ok what is this about—started conversation with no prayer—–and said all he can see is hatred and venom—we will never attend that church-until he’s gone–waiting for the day he leaves!!!

  30. Your article is eerily on target with what I went through I’m my church. I’ve been a member for 40 years under
    The same Pastor for 37 of those years. His son was then elected to Lead Pastor, more as a birth right than anything else. I’ve been a board member for 20 years and a past treasurer. I started noticing these signs ( in your article) a few years ago and have tried to offer advice along with other Trustees. It got to the point that I could no longer support the church financially because of the way the offerings were being used. Because of the finances and a few other things, I finally resigned last year, (the day before your article was published). A few fellow trustees have followed. The church is suffering financially due to a downturn in attendance. I Pray that He will change his ways and will get back to being a good steward of what God has entrusted him with.

    • I say run. Fast. If there is any chance of effecting change while staying and the abuse isn’t directed personally at you, you may have a chance. However, speaking from personal experience, if they’ve already falsely decided you are a problem, an antagonist, and the Pastor/Abuser is the Top of the Food Chain, with false accountability as described in the article, you probably are wasting your time staying. Leaving can be hard as well, but probably in the long run healthier for you.

      • I totally agree. Our family tried to endure the abuse, praying and hoping for the best. After much prayer and lovingly trying to help we decided to leave. In the end we had to run, FAST!. The pastor eventually resigned after we had left. We pray the church will heal and return to its purpose and relevance in the community.

  31. Ugh! We are in this now. Unfortunately we’re staff at the church. Our church just suffered through a tremendous upheaval of making this type of leader resign only to be replaced by an interim pastor with the same signs! It’s like the members are addicted to abusive leaders. (Wow lightbulb moment) that just confirms that we need to get out of here! It’s so easy sometimes to say maybe we can make a difference. Maybe things will change. We can’t leave people in this same mess. Thank you for this article it has been so helpful!

  32. Thank you, Stephen for this article. It’s not just in churches. This can be in other arenas, too. Maybe you should write a second article (more general for leaders in ministries, organizations, businesses, etc.) and post it on LinkedIn for others to see. This is incredibly direct, good, and insightful. You may save more people than you know. Please keep writing about this topic!

  33. I am going through this exact scenario in my church now. If my decision is to leave, how do I approach it ?. Do I just leave or give an explanation. I don’t want it to upset everything else like it upsets me. I am totally confused because despite it all, I love my pastor

  34. Stephen – could you please clarify…

    Early in the article (under point #1) I read: “As Richard Blackaby puts it in his book Spiritual Leadership:” and then the quote is attributed to Richard Sibbes in the photo/quote insert. The link to the book “Spiritual Leadership” lists the author as Henry Blackaby – an author I’m familiar with.

    Who is the originator of the quote? Also, are you therefore finding general fault with the tenets of Henry Blackaby’s book?

    Just curious – Thanks.

  35. This article confirms my fears and proved me right all along.
    A new Pastor was posted to our Church (Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion) in January 2019 and within 4 months of his arrival have strongly exhibited all the 6 traits and also possess very awful bad characters.
    As the Church’s Youth President, I have tried to raise my concerns about what’s been happening but I have ended up being labeled a BAD FOLLOWER.
    I and my wife have had to endure a lot of traumatic moments all credited to the Pastor and I’ve concluded that I’ll be leaving the Church and I’ve been praying God helps me through this trying time.

    The Anglican Church in Nigeria is a breeding ground for all these traits among the pastors because of their quest to grow in the ministry.

  36. We are in a struggle now with our Pastor that is angry with us for calling him out on all six issues over the past two years. We tried to leave quietly and peacefully. My husband and the Pastor were close friends. He has told all UPCI churches to not welcome us. He will not let us transfer or release us. My husband and I are in our 60’s, have always been in leadership and we have always been faithful to our church. He has ordered the flock not to speak to us. He has violated the UPCI bylaws but no one seems to care. All we want to do is go to another UPCI church without this drama. We are devastated and apparently have no recourse.

  37. I’m amazed to find that this isn’t something that just my pastor exhibits… My relationship with my husband is being strained because my husband doesn’t want to warrant action about the subliminal messages being said about me and us for not ‘submitting, being loyal, etc.’ When we weren’t those things. My husband is a mercy giver, I’m more justice. Trying to find a balance. I’ve extended mercy for months and the abuse continues. When is it time to move on? My husband would stay forever.

  38. What if the pastor is always asking for money,calling you every day and you get sick of it,its so bad that some days you dont pick up the call and he is very extravagant.Always preaching about how stingy you all are.Can you leave the church .

  39. Been there, done that. If this is you get out NOW! Don’t stay, don’t think you can change things no matter how long you have known your pastor or what your history with him may be. Just get out quickly.

  40. I, at one time, sat on our church board. However, as I became critical of the “worship” leader’s choice of music, or tried to hold other men accountable for their actions, I was promptly “chastised” and lectured about the importance of unity within the church. I have come to believe that unity in this church means conformity to what ever the pastor is preaching. I also recently questioned a guest speaker’s sermon and was met with a circling of the wagons so to speak. No accountability shown or offered. I once looked forward to going to church on Sunday but not so much anymore.

  41. I will not pay tithes and first fruit offerings to rogue pastors and rogue preachers who seek to enslave and destroy me. I will not bow down to rogue pastors and rogue preachers who @#$% my brains and call be a bitch. According to the Bible women preachers and teachers usurping authority over men is forbidden. Though shalt not bare false witness. Though shalt not covet. If you are angry with your brother for no reason then you are murderers O brothers and sisters. I’ve come across different preachers and church leaders blaspheming the Holy spirit. They say that Catholic Church’s Vicarius Filii Dei adds up to 666 six hundred and sixty six ; Well just remember so does The Seventh Day Adventists – Ellen Gould White add up to 666 six hundred and sixty six. Grab the bull by the horns not the man by the balls. If two men are having a fight and the wife of one of the men grabs the other man by the balls, show her no mercy show her no pity pity, cut her hand off. It’s all written in the Bible.


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