On Spiritual Abuse

Bob Kellemen, Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, provides a working definition of spiritual abuse and a warning about how parishioners evaluate pastors:

Spiritual abuse is a spiritual role-reversal where a shepherd, instead of clinging to and emulating the Great Shepherd by shepherding God’s people (Acts 20; 1 Peter 5; 1 Timothy 3; Ephesians 4), subtly demands that members exist to meet the shepherd’s needs (James 4:1-4). Rather than relating as a servant leader, the pastor “pulls rank” and “lords it over others” (Matthew 20:20-28; 1 Peter 5:1-6), not for the benefit of the flock, but for the benefit of the pastor. Rather than speaking the truth in love and rather than ministering grace and truth (Ephesians 4:11-16, 29; Colossians 4:3-6; Titus 2:10-12), the spiritually abusive pastor intimidates, judges, condemns, shames, and blames the sheep without regard for the spiritual wellbeing of the sheep (Jeremiah 23:1-4; Matthew 23:1-39).

Of course, much of that working definition goes to “motives of the heart.” A parishioner should be very cautious about judging a pastor’s motives. Thus, in many ways the burden is on the pastor, both to know his own heart through a close walk with Christ (Hebrews 4:12-13) and to have others who know him well help him to evaluate his heart (Hebrews 3:12-19; 10:24-25).

On the symptoms – actions and attitudes – of spiritual abuse:

  • Using our spiritual position to control or dominate another person.
  • Overriding the feelings and opinions of others.
  • Using spiritual authority defensively to bolster the position and “needs” of the leader.
  • Considering oneself above questioning.
  • Labeling the person who questions us as wrong and rebellious, thus subtly shifting the focus and blame. Questions are assumed to come from a wrong spirit, not simply from an honest attempt to have give-and-take dialogue. The worst is assumed of the other; the best is assumed of oneself.
  • Labels can include accusations such as, “You’re rebellious.” “You’re disrespectful.” “I detect a pattern of anger and a critical spirit.” “You are unspiritual and emotionally immature.” Such labels heap condemnation on the recipient, rather than offering wise counsel and constructive feedback.
  •  Interpreting our spiritual authority to mean that my thoughts and opinions are supreme.

On what does not qualify as spiritual abuse:

  • It is not abusive when a spiritual leader speaks the truth in love and confronts sin in a gracious way. It is abusive, however, if the leader seeks to defend himself, or shame or discredit others.
  • It’s not abusive when a spiritual leader uses his best judgment and chooses to go against your opinion. It is abusive, however, if the leader uses his opposing view to devalue and demean others.

Because of the intricacies of the issues, and because of the complexity of the human heart, if a pastor and parishioner cannot come to agreement on the nature of the relationship, then it is always wise to invite other godly people to help assess what is occurring (Matthew 18:15-17).

Spiritual Abuse, Challies.Com


One thought on “On Spiritual Abuse

  1. Pingback: Resources for Titus 2:10 - 12

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