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Recognizing The Warning Signs of Spiritual Abuse

Have you ever heard someone say they had been spiritually abused and didn't know how to react to it? Do you consider yourself to have been spiritually abused and don't know how to move forward? While the issue of spiritual abuse can be difficult, there is hope and healing that can happen!

The effects of spiritual abuse can be life-altering. Trust issues may arise that may keep you from corporate worship and developing relationships with other Christians. Spiritual abuse often leads to fear and solitude and, in some cases, can compel some to leave their faith altogether.

"He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds." - Psalm 147:3

Please know there is hope, and healing can happen.

1. What Is The Definition Of Spiritual Abuse?

Spiritual abuse is using the Scripture or your position as a leader to exploit others for personal gain. This would be classified as emotional and psychological. Spiritual abuse might be comprised of manipulation and exploitation, accountability executed by threats, censorship of decision-making, pressure to conform, and the inability to question or vocalize disagreement. The abuser may imply they are in a "superior" position and therefore require your obedience.

2. Examples And Warning Signs Of Spiritual Abuse.

How do you know whether a church is under the influence of a controlling spirit? Some clear warning signs can signal an atmosphere of abuse.

Power Positioning

There is undoubtedly a place for biblical teaching regarding spiritual authority. But if a pastor frequently reminds individuals that he is in charge, be certain that trouble is near.

In an unhealthy church, the pastor begins to take the place of Jesus in individuals' lives. People are often told they are not able to leave the church with God's blessing unless the pastor supports the decision. Or if you ever leave the congregation, God will not bless you. The essence is that unless they receive permission from the pastor, God will not bless them, and they will be destined for failure. Abusive spiritual leaders use this kind of reasoning to manipulate individuals.

A controlling leader may also instill a sense of duty by reminding them of everything he has done for them. This causes church members to seek a position of acceptance with the pastor rather than a correct desire to "please God and not man." A church that is healthy will not allow authentic pastoral concern to cross the line into control or manipulation.

Unquestioned Authority

In an unhealthy church, it is viewed as rebellion when someone questions decisions or statements that are said. Questions are considered threats to the leader's "God-ordained" authority. Members who dare to question their leaders or do not follow their directives are often faced with severe consequences or ostracized.

Pastors operating under a spirit of unquestionable authority often believe that they are the only person who can accurately hear from God. Under regular exposure to this spirit, members sometimes become convinced that they need their pastor to almost think for them. In reality, their personal fellowship with the Lord has been surrendered for a relationship with a mere man. As a result, they end up losing their confidence in being able to sense the will of God for their lives.

An Atmosphere of Secrecy

Once an individual surrenders to this system of control in a church, the leader gives limited information to each person, carefully watching each relationship. As a result, each member can only connect to other people based on the information the pastor has given him.

In this way, if the pastor determines that one of the church members has become a "threat," he has a plan to preserve the control they believe is demanded. Consequently, the church can cut off relationships when necessary and keep this method cloaked behind a veil of secrecy.

Secretiveness may also cloak the area regarding finances. Pastors may make brazen appeals for you to give yet offer no assurance that the church's finances are managed with accountability and integrity. It is simple – money represents power. Control boils down to issues of power. It should be no shock that controlling leaders use unbiblical means to manipulate people.

An Elitist Attitude

The trait of elitism creates an "us and them" mentality in the church. An elitist attitude says "no one else" is preaching the gospel – except their church. Or, at least, not as effective as they are. If a person leaves and attends another church, he is considered a dissident.

3. What Spiritual Abuse Isn't.

Hurts in life are inevitable. Being hurt by a church is not being spiritually abused. All churches are made up of sinners and broken people. There will be misunderstandings. But this alone is not grounds for claiming spiritual abuse.

4. How Do I Heal From Spiritual Abuse?

Experiencing spiritual abuse can often leave you confused, feeling alone, and wondering if you can ever trust again. I can attest healing can happen and is possible. But how do you move in that direction?

Know That Jesus Cares

"When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled." - John 11:33

Jesus does not turn a blind eye to someone in pain. He is deeply moved and greatly troubled. He cares about what you have experienced. You can find comfort in knowing He is concerned about your pain and suffering.

Pray for Change

Pray that God will lead you to a healthy church to grow and worship. This can be difficult because trust has been broken, and quite honestly, you might not know what a healthy church looks like. The Lord reserves the right to transplant fruit-bearing Christians to any church He wishes so they can bear the most fruit. The abusive church you are in is not the only church in your area preaching the Gospel, no matter what the leaders may say. If you are a child of God, the Holy Spirit is in you. Utilize him!

Study the Scriptures

Studying the scriptures can be overwhelming if you've spent years in a spiritually abusive situation. You've been taught to interpret the Bible in a certain way. Reading the Bible now is like viewing it with new eyes. But that's a good thing!

"The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power," - Ephesians 1:18-19

You need new eyes to see His Word! Ask God to unlock the eyes of your heart. Pray that God will free you from the harmful beliefs that have been ingrained in you.

Get to Know God

Spiritual abuse can paint a wildly inaccurate picture of God. Some people are often left with a view that God is angry, mean, distant, or uncaring about their situation. You most likely don't see God as a loving father. Spiritual abuse is not to be trusted, but God can. Get to know him. Learn to trust him.

"Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)" - Hebrews 10:23

Something important to recognize is God is faithful, even when we fail. Separating God's goodness from the abusive, evil works of your abuser is essential for your healing and your continued walk with the Lord.

Don't Walk Away from Your Faith

We all have the same enemy in this world who wants nothing more than for us to question God's love for us. So the Devil will go great lengths to make this happen.

"The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." - John 10:10

Satan's lies caused someone to distort God's Word and be spiritually abusive. But Jesus came so you might have life and have it more abundantly. Don't let Satan's lies distract you from God's love. Never let the sins of others weaken your faith. Instead, lean on God and the truth of His Word.

Recovery from spiritual abuse takes time. Getting out can seem impossible if you're currently in a spiritually abusive situation. But know you are not alone. You can resist the enemy's lies when leaning on the Lord. May you find reassurance in knowing that you are not alone and that the Lord grieves with you and longs to heal you.

"Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you." - 1 Peter 5:9-10

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