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Comments

Beentheredonethat

Dory, I wish I had read this eight years ago! It would have saved me so much pain and trauma. As I read this, example after example from my life kept popping into my head. Especially not listening to the alarms in my head. I'd hear him lie. I'd know it was a lie. I'd feel the pressure. I'd say things I didn't want to say and do things I didn't want to do. Yet somehow I felt it must be right. Now I look back and see what a fool I was. But it is so subtle. You just don't figure it out until it's too late. I hope I know better now. I hope. God help me and help His church.

Terry

WOW!!! It's almost like you were there in my situation - took me 8 years to wise up and get free. I would give anything to be able to convince some of the current members to leave - run away. But, I am not God - I don't know why He allows us to go through these things. I am just grateful to be free and I wish His grace and mercy on all those still in these abusive churches. Some of them are just not able to see it - they have become 'comfortable victims'.

Lord, help me to never, ever treat people in a less than honorable, loving way.

Paula

My brother and my sister's family are caught in a church like this. And 'caught' is a very accurate word because this type of church is a trap. The man leading this church is so manipulative and his methods are insidious. It is very soft wool he has pulled over their eyes. He has made them quite comfy. I especially pray for my brother because of the anger I see in him.

cwv warrior

Dear Dory,
I cannot read these posts. We have already fled for reasons i won't go into. When I think of organized church, i kinda get sick. Maybe next you could do a roundup on good churching. I'd really like to have input on how to find a solid community, on the Rock. Just can't handle any negative right now. I'm way too cynical and messed up. You seem so level headed, i'm sure this is a good subject for many. Trusting in Jesus Christ alone, i could really like something upbeat. Are ya up for it?

Catez

Hi Dory,
Good summary and examples. I was in an abusive church for about 5 years and recognise some of these things. I was hesitant to comment because so much of that has healed now so I didn't want to re-open things. My advice to people who realise what they are caught in is to leave. I think in your previous post you mentioned setting boundaries. That works in individual situations with people sometimes - but when the leadership is abusively controlling and the church reflects that as a norm then it's better to just get out. One thing I do know is that sticking with Jesus in one's personal relationship is the way to recovery. I've seen people I know become very bitter and that has affected their own relationship with God. Getting some help is a good idea - a Christian counsellor for example. I also know some people who did that. Our relationship with God is precious.

cwv warrior

Catez,
That is beautiful...Precious indeed. THank God, He has been so faithful to hold onto me and shown me how to hold on to HIM. This is an awesome reminder. As we talk about the less pure things of the church, God is ALWAYS GOOD. He will not fail us.

Diane R

Dory,
I've studied this topic for over two dcades now and I must say you have done an outstanding and thorough job. I don't think I can add much more.
I tried to send a trackback from my blog but as usual, haloscan and blogger were not cooperating...LOL. Anyway, I did link to your two articles. I will also be taking up this subject up later at the end of summer. Perhaps we can have a dialog at that point.

John

Dory, I was born again under a great old - fashioned gospel preacher 25yrs ago, then he left and another pastor came in who was a total control freak.

He turned people against each other in order to manipulate the weak ones and he did this very well.

I thought that I could change things by confronting him and his manipulative schemes, I was wrong, they asked me to leave, however, praise the Lord! it took me into greater blessing which I still enjoy today.

Great post and a must read for every Christian!

GBYAY

Teem

This is a really good and important post. I've never experienced an abusive church but I know many, many wounded Christians. May they experience healing.

David M.

Dory,

I think your series is quite good, and quite insightful. Obviously, this is a relatively common problem, judging by the comments you've received.

I did want to mention one remark you made that I think requires caution:

"You may be given accounts of past problems in the church and explanations for why all this was the fault of others. For example, you may hear of a group of people who were in some sort of sin, caused a problem in the church, and then were expelled or left on their own. Manipulative people use this sort of technique in order to prepare you ahead of time when they expect you might hear of these problems from others. Later, when you hear of the complaints of a former church member, you may be predisposed, by the information you hear now, to think the fault lies with the former member."

Now, obviously, manipulative people may use this exactly as you're saying: They may know that you'll hear about the bad things they've done, so they try and preempt it by blaming the problems on other people.

But sometimes one might hear the same account for legitimate reasons, because there is such a thing is legitimate church discipline. For example, I'm aware of a church where one of the elders sinned seriously, and when confronted about his sin, refused to repent. Many in congregation were aware of his sin. He ended up being expelled from the church (as someone who refuses to repent Biblically should be). After leaving the church, not only did he continue not to repent, but he spreads false information about the church, blames his expulsion on a failure of the church itself, etc. The church does not typically give an account of this to new attendees, but I'm sure if people ask the right questions they find out about it. By your criteria, this is a "warning sign", when in fact, it's just a sign that the church is functioning Biblically and exercising church discipline when appropriate.

This is a fine point: I agree that in some cases such talk could be a warning sign, and if it's combined with a lot of other warning signs, it becomes more likely that it really is one. But it isn't necessarily a warning sign. For example, the Westminster Confession chapter XX article IV deals to some extent with church discipline. It simply isn't true that if one hears an account of church discipline being exercised, it is necessarily a warning sign that the church is "controling".

I guess what I'm saying is this: On this issue, as with most others, there are two errors at opposing extremes. A church can become dominated by a controlling personality or personalities who really do abuse its members. But it can also become a church which is overly permissive, allowing its members to continue in serious sin without ever confronting them, which is also un-biblical and harmful to the church.

I'm sure you didn't mean it, but the quote I just mentioned made it seem like you think that any church which exercises church discipline is likely to be a controlling church. And this simply isn't true -- churches are Biblically commanded to do so.

Dory

David, you are exactly right, that exercising Biblical Church discipline is a GOOD sign, rather than a bad one, and this is another example of how the legitimate counterpart to the warning signs are sometimes easy to confuse with the manipulative behaviors.

I think, though, that if you are hearing these kinds of accounts intentionally given by the current church leaders (pastor or elders) during the process of your introduction to a church, you must ask the question, "Why is he telling me this?" It may be an indication of a problem.

Any church is going to have gossips among its members who are anxious to tell you things you ought not hear, and past cases of church discipline might come up then. However manipulative churches are going to have large numbers of families leaving in the midst of disputes, especially among families that work closest with the manipulator, such as pastors, elders and deacons. The manipulator will be uncomfortable with this fact, and anxious to spin the information as favorably as possible.

You are also right that all these things are no more than warning signs. You might see a few of these things when there is no problem at all. They only serve to raise our alertness to potential problems.

Stacy L.Harp

I see you mentioned the systems thing in this post :)

BTW, I've read all the books you mention and use them when counseling cult victims. Good stuff.

Leanna Shoemaker

I am someone who has experienced some of these problems in a church I was serving in for over 5 years. During the course of the time I was in a ministerial
program to be mentored by a pastor who had no experience in having a church. At first our mentor-mentee relationship worked well. Then when I was having issues with another woman (an elder's wife) who was friends with the pastor and his wife, he turned cold. At every turn he took potshots at me, humiliating me in front of the church, raising his voice and scolding me in front of the congregation, he scolded me in front of the choir one night during practice for a Sunday service, after I had been gone for 2 weeks because of a family crisis. He tried to stop me from singing outside of the church at other outings. He has done many other things and has placed a bunch of 'yes' men around him who do not question or challenge him. When we had our congregational meeting he had it during our worship service so that there would be no questionning allowed. There has never been any open discussion of monies spent on salaries. By way of another governing board member we were told that the pastor was given an increase of $1200 per month for living allowance. He has a parsonage and a salary. When we have a special event like a church wedding or party he always asks us how much it is costing us as individuals. He says he does not want us to take any money out of our own pockets. I am not the only one he is doing this too, but in the last year I have been receiving the brunt of quite alot of this. This article helped me identify that I was indeed in a very abusive, controlling church. My husband and I have left, but because there is no questionning and everyone in leadership he has positioned for his safety, there seems to be no stopping this man with overstepping his bounds as a leader. I guess we will have to leave that to God. I pray that others will have their spiritual eyes opened and that the 'spirit of truth' will do its work now. I will continue to pray for him and the people left in the church (he has had quite an exodus in the last year). Thank you for writing this article for it gave me great peace in the decision I have made, for it was a very difficult one.

Rebekah

This was good to read. I dated and am still friends with a man that is in a controlling church. It's quite legalistic really. Many rules...more like laws that are in this church (men and women that aren't married can't ride in cars together, women wear skirts to church, only listen to hymns). It's frustrating because he doesn't agree with a lot of these things but thinks that they are just being "cautious". But I think these rules make for a cold and "performance orientated" relationship with Jesus. It's sad. I pray everyday that his eyes will be opened and he will stop making excuses for this church (an indepedent, fundamental bible Baptist church). However, he's sold out on the teachings and he was saved there so it's hard to break away. I hope and pray someday I can testify to his leaving that church and being freed from legalistic mindsets!!!!!!

Joann

I used to study the Bible and attend Sunday morning Kingdom Hall meetings with a Jehovah's Witness and her husband and small daughter, so I know firsthand what it is like to be controlled and manipulated, even brainwashed, when all you want to do is develop a personal relationship with Jesus and learn how to live like a Christian. I wasn't a Christian at the time, but it did create in me a mistrust of those with personal views contrary to my own even as I became a saved Christian five years ago in April and was baptized three years ago in August. Since then, although I have the desire to be righteous and not self-righteous, and I want to love Jesus with all my heart and soul using every part of me in a way that glorifies Him, not my church, I still have a very hard time trusting any kind of doctrine that makes no sense to me whatsoever but is blindly accepted by others as "the truth" with no grounds to support it because they seem to be basing everything they hear on one person and not doing their research to understand the facts. However, because I disagree, even though it is non-essential doctrine, and it will have no negative affect on my salvation whatsoever, I am still the bad guy simply because I'm agreeing to disagree without guilt, shame, or condemnation. I am also finding my pastor's currently withholding information regarding his poor health quite disturbing. It is confusing us and leaving many of us in the dark, preventing us from properly praying for his healing, leaving some of us wondering if he is dying (he is only in his 50's), and keeping us from learning about a potential health risk that we should be guarding ourselves against (what if he has heart disease, diabetes, a contagious illness that can kill, etc, and we have no way of knowing because we are not being told?). I understand a person's right to privacy, and my pastor probably is okay, just a little stressed out is all, but nobody likes to be kept in the dark about anything. It only makes us worry and obsessed over nothing, it sets us up to pry into the private lives of others until we get the answers we need, and we tend to let our curiosity and our fear of the unknown get the best of us. In other words, we fear the worst, and we continue to do so until our fears are laid to rest. Anyway, very good article, but may I also add mind control to the picture? Abusive churches practice mind control, too, by telling us what we can and can't believe and what we can and can't think about, then they impose everything that they are taught to believe on us in a legalistic, shame-based manner. Even legitimate Christian churches sometimes do this, and it's a wonder I am continuing to struggle with my faith even today.

Toxic Sheep No More

I was involved in a destructive cult for many years. When I read your description of 'Love Bombing' I thought of something my friend had written about her first visit to the cult:

"The girls wore dresses and skirts that I had seen at the "old lady " departments in Dillard's and Bealls. The boys were wearing dress coats and old style pants that I had seen on older men of their 50's.I couldn't even imagine conforming to wearing those clothes and styling my hair the way they did. Well soon after we starting school , I was immersed into how kind I was treated and gifts started to get laid down at my feet. I was honored with "people person" and varies other awards. I couldn't help but think WOW they must really think I'm special and I just ate it up ! I began staying after school more and helping around the church property with the "church kids"."

I wish I had had the information in this blog years ago.
It would have saved MUCH sorrow!

Recovering Abusive-Church Member

I was in, from what I have read so far, an abusive/manipulative church for a little more than a year. And even though it was a relatively short time, I can't help but continue to think about whether it was me or the church who was at fault and continue to struggle with issues. First of all, the way I came to the church involved manipulation, right from the start. A friend who I was very much attracted to, asked me to write a story about the church for publicity, you can't get much more manipulative than that. So I did, and my feelings aside, I wanted to continue to go to the church. But I continued to have feelings for this girl who was the pastor's daughter, big mistake on my part. So she eventually told me she wasn't interested, but they wanted me to play guitar, because after the pastor put down the keyboardists abilities, oddly enough who left. So I felt needed. I then continued to go there, but couldn't help but feel utterly used every time I went or talked with this girl. She would agree to go out with me as a friend and then cancel at the last minute. The pastor would say he never received my emails when I was asking for help when I was emotionally distraught. He never returned my phone calls. The daughter wouldn't talk to me outside of church about Christianity either and would say, "we'll talk about that on Sunday." or "that's for Sunday" And the odd thing was that there were warning signs early on. From the start the first thing they told me was that more than 50 people had left the church, and basically it was all the others' faults. The pastor would often say they are going to fail now, or not go to church because they aren't going to his. Although more recently the pastor did admit, maybe he had something to do with it. Now, the church has dwindled to only about a handful of people. Sometimes I would go and I would be the only person in attendance outside of their immediate family. Everything that you mentioned, putting down other churches, stating they have the only True Church, constantly referring to "The Evil One" who is plotting against the pastor at every turn, he even blamed the Devil on his car breaking down. People next to me would often cringe when they heard him speak of this. But the way he and the rest in the church manipulated me was to have me play guitar and then praise how good I sounded, constantly. I would feel like, well, it's not about me it's about the service, and would wonder why they always would focus on me. These people were extremely hard to be around outside of church. They seemed to have a hard time showing emotion, and if they did, they would get mad at me to the point of submission and start crying. They never looked at self introspection and how they could grow, or what plan they needed, they just continued to do the same thing. The pastor would also come later and later to church, which made me think, if you're not going to come on time, why should I? There were a lot of things that I should have saw early on, but I don't get why people start churches like this if they don't have the emotional, financial or supportive capabilities. I'm sure him and his family have good intentions, but from my own experience, it does more harm than good. Thank you for posting this on your Web site, I will continue reading.

Con Dact

I like what i am reading....there are a lot of people who have experienced this abuse.....my ex-girlfriend brought me into a church where they made her break up with me after 6 months together because I was not baptized in their faith...while i was baptized Greek Orthodox as a baby, they claimed I was not a Christian ...we stayed together behind their backs for a year and a half but both endured harassment, alienation, abuse (psychological)...she could not handle it and let the church match her up with another member of the church recently who they knew would "keep her in their line" because I was not on pace with what they wanted me to do in the church...they kept telling me to join because God had big plans for me but had no plans to bless my relationship with my girlfriend because as they put it, it was started in sin.....They did everything in their power to manipulate my mind and my girlfriend's...it drove me to a near breaking point (almost driving off a bridge once) until I "woke up" and broke away...sadly she is still there and has become more like a zombie everyday..this site is good...it is just a sad thing that these churches are allowed to be out in our society messing with people's lives and minds...they got to my psyche and currently control hers...I love God and always have...but these leaders are criminals and i will continue to do research until I can expose them for what they are all really worth....abusive, controlling and criminal...if I ran off that bridge that night....it would have all been over for what....and they drove me to that breaking point....do we as a society allow them to guide people in this life??

c.d.

I have to say that I like this site. I am angry and sad to say that I let a church manipulate and abuse me spiritually. At the same time, they manipulated and abused my ex-girlfriend the same. I was brought into the church by my then girlfriend who was a member. They broke us up because they said we came together in sin (bunch of BS). We stayed apart a couple of months and I got baptized for her. I was already a Christian but they ran around claiming I wasn't. I should have left her and that church back in Feb. '09 when they broke us up (and she listened to them). We stayed together secretly after my baptism for 7 months (they were not allowing us to get back together) until she left me and threw me under the bus. She left me because the church was never going to bless our union. She is weak and brainwashed, they are cruel, evil and manipulative. They took her and set her up with another brainwashed fool in that church immediately to get me out of the picture. She even called me back a few times saying she missed me but she was not strong enough to tell them to go to hell (where they came from)

John

Thanks for this site, some great information. My wife and I left a church last summer where the leadership changed to people who were very controlling. Certainly fit some of the personality styles you describe. They made anyone who didn't share their liberal theology, or who was actively working in the church, feel very unwelcome. We stayed for a long while as other members of the congregation asked us to try and stop things changing so much. But in the end it became untenable and we had to leave. We have now left that particular denomination as well as the church. I feel that the denomination's structure was used to reinforce the lcoal clergy's power - without any attempt from higher up the leadership to verify if the clergy were doing good job or not. It makes it impossible for ordinary lay people to do anything in this situation. We felt very saddened by the whole situation. I would encourage other people to leave churches like this. This is a different sort of control to the 'charismatic leader' type that others here have shared. But it still damages God's church as the people in leadership seem to consider the church to be theirs to do with as they please. There is very little reference to God's will. I was once told that the church was "too rigid and inflexible to cope with people seeking to do God's will"!
At the time we were struggling I could not find any web sites discussing this issue, which I think is a major issue for UK churches. I have, therefore, set up a web site to explore the theology of the situation and to collate and shsre stories of problems in the UK church. I have linked to your site from mine, I hope you don't mind. It is nowhere near as good as yours the site is
http://www.wix.com/johnsonofadam/controllingchurchleadership
If you would like me to remove the link then let me knwo and I will do so. I have set this up anonymously as we still knwo many people in the church we left and don't want to make life any more uncomfortable for them.

Rodney Noble Jr

I wish I could go back in time, and apply this information.

Lavice

Wow....this is so...I'm speechless! Thought I was crazy....I'm inn tears....8years Howe do I do this LORD?! LORD PLZ 4A GIVE ME for ignore things ushowed me...for that feeling I had....How Do I do this....where do I go....I came so far....was it alie?

Larry Schoonover

I was doing some research on crime in the Puyallup area when I cam across your articles. After reading your articles I thought I might suggest a short eBook I wrote. It was motivated by the element you describe as “The need for control” in religious leaders. Or in any leader for that matter. Of course we all know that true leaders need NO control, for their influence is communicated by their life. Others might be compelled to follow a GOOD leader. However there are those who seek to control their families, their employees and any other circle they are a part of. If you are interested, the short eBook I mentioned is on Amazon.com They have apps for Kindle to view eBooks on any device, i.e. Kindle, iPhone, computers, etc. Abdicating The Throne speaks about relinquishing the position of sovereign controller for the sake of growth and development of others..

Abdicating The Throne
http://amzn.com/B005UF4X1W

Excerpt:
The last thing a pastor would ever want to admit; was how he acted as supreme ruler over his immediate local kingdom, he might frequently refer to as, “My Church”. It may stem from upbringing or just the way he manages his own household. The kind of leader I am talking about, reads 1 Timothy 3:5 and sees himself as commander in chief of the home; and takes on the approach of a military officer commanding the troops. Sitting at the helm he has the final say in all matters. His words might come across like, “Wife and kids, you don’t have to think; just ask me and I will tell you.” However these approaches rarely produce any kind of respect, but rather fear. At the very least, it produces a family who will not think for themselves. They will become overly dependent on others to make their decisions for them. This dominating leader likes it when his followers become totally reliant.

forgiven

I see some of what goes on in my church as manipulative and controlling, although I love my pastor and believe that he is a godly man. I have been the victim of public rebuke by this man on more than one occassion. I have also witnessed this with other people as victims. Writing this comment may be a form of therapy for me. I do not sense God leading me away from there, at least not yet.Sometimes he will use us to bring change in the church, but if change does not come, may choose to move us elsewhere. I have been there for many years and although I have met with him to discuss issues and been assured that all was well by him, the very things I spoke with him about came out in public rebuke later on. He seems bent on believing that there is only one way to worshop God, only one way to praise God, that his family is the model of Christian perfection and anything else is wrong. I have no trouble lining up with him on biblical matters...I believe that the word of God is 100% true and is not there to make us feel comfortable. We are held to a standard that is in line with the will and word of God as Christians and I am not looking for sermons that will "soothe my itching ears".But I am also not looking to be beaten up every Sunday and made to feel like a criminal just because I have a different style than someone else, or a different opinion about something that is not black or white. There have been things spoken that have grieved my spirit and yet I continue to forgive. I pray for the wisdom to know when and if I should leave. Not too anxious to leave just yet because once I do I don't want to go back there. I pray for the peace and confirmation to stay or the courage to go.

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