Monday, December 29, 2008

There's No Right Way (In Their Eyes)

If you are thinking about leaving a controlling church, save yourself the trouble of trying to do it the "right" way.

Here is a portion of a comment that a friend named Charley left on my last post......

"After dedicating approx. 2.5 years of my faithfulness, talents, abilities, loyalty, tithes and offerings to a church. I came to realize that "The Apostle" in charge of the place is a victim of "Al-Capone-Pastor-Syndrome" times 10. Of course I have fled from the presence of the "The Apostle's" face. He has prophesied to me that I am under a curse of a 7-year barren wilderness and tells others that I have broken covenant. Now I sit back in dismay and amazement taking solace in blogs such as this one."

I love Charley's touch of humor, but I too stand in amazement that a pastor would treat someone like this and think he can pronounce 7-year curses on people. First of all, it's ridiculous and second it's just plain mean! I have come to realize that no matter how much you have given or how much you try to do things right, there is no right way to leave a church in the eyes of a controlling leader. You can try to walk in love and leave the "right" way, but go ahead and give up trying. Brace yourself because it will be hard, you will be talked about, and it will hurt. I wish someone would have impressed this upon us ahead of time, but I just thought it would go differently because we tried to do the right thing. So I'm telling you now - you can never do it right in their eyes.

We struggled with the "when and how to" of leaving for weeks. My husband and I knew we were leaving, but we tried to introduce the idea slowly to our children because this church was all they had ever known. They were born and raised there. The week before we left, we were getting ready to go to church and everyone was already in the car. I was walking toward the door and I felt as if my feet were embedded in cement. I was standing in my dining room and my husband came to find me. I said, "I just can't do it! I can't go!" The thought of walking in those church doors was more than I wanted to bare that day, but I mustered up the strength and did it because of my children. (A side note - after they learned the whole truth they were ready to leave too.) It was tough sitting through that service and my daughter elbowed me in the arm several times because my sighs were a bit too loud.

The next Saturday, after much agony and much pacing, we made the decision to make the call. Over the years we were taught that if you are going to leave a church, the right thing to do is go to the pastor and tell him. (Most of the time that's so he can talk you out of it or tell you how wrong you are.) My husband made the call, and much to our surprise, he didn't have much to say. Could it be that it was going to be easier than we thought? No!

We began to hear a couple of days later that we were being called "evil" (among other things) because we had called the pastor on Saturday - "the day before he had to preach." (If you are planning on leaving, just let me tell you from personal experience - that's not right in their eyes.) BUT what if we had called on Monday, or how about Tuesday? That would have been the day before he had to preach also. If we had called on Friday, it would have been 2 days before he had to preach. What was the right day to call? Is there a right answer? It doesn't matter what day we would have called - it wouldn't have been right in their eyes. Looking back, my husband said he would not have called at all. But then we would have been evil and bad for not calling and "leaving the proper way."

We saw people who had given so much of themselves for years and it was basically spat on when they left, so why would I think leaving the right way would have been accepted and respected. Controlling people are only concerned about what is best for them and even though they say they care about you, when you leave you will find out they really don't. I thought we owed the leaders something, but we didn't. And you don't owe them anything either. No matter how many ways you try to leave a controlling church, it's going to take some time to get over how you will be treated. Even when you get to new place you will still be reminded of the things you left, but it gets better with each passing day and the freedom is better than words can describe.

I know this is not a cheery New Year's message, but I wanted to tell you these things hoping it would save you some disappointment or pain. I know there are people out there thinking of leaving a controlling church, and if you decide to take that step it will be one of the best decisions you have ever made. Don't let the control they have continue on. Start off the new year walking in the freedom, joy, and peace that Jesus so graciously provided for you!

Charley, keep reading, keep writing things out, and keep the humor flowing!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Where Are You Now?

To those of you who have left a controlling church or been in a spiritually abusive situation, I want to ask a question of you.....

Where are you on a scale from 1 to 10 - with 1 being struggling daily and 10 being totally past it? How long ago did you leave and where are you now in the process? Please try to describe in detail.

I would greatly appreciate your input!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Value of People

I came across a great article on the Internet at called "103 Ways To Add Value To People." There are some very simple ideas here that will show people that you value them. I am only going to list a few, but if you have the time visit their website.

1. Remember people's names. Nothing makes a person feel valued more than knowing they made enough of an impression on you for you to remember their name!

2. Remember people's birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasions. Send them a note on those dates to let them know you are sharing in their celebration. It doesn't matter if a person is 4 or 40, everyone likes to be acknowledged for being born. A card or a surprise phone call on their special day will surely make them feel valued!

3. Offer the unexpected, anonymous gift. Bring coffee to your co-workers. Arrive to work early and leave a small gift on someone's office chair. Leave a gift card on someone's windshield. Balloons are also a joyful and visual way to celebrate someone you value.

4. Smile at people. Smile when you talk to them. Smile when you walk by them. Smiles are contagious and free! You can give a smile and possibly make someone's whole day brighter! Your day goes the way of the corners of your mouth!

5. Imagine a "Make Me Feel Important" sign is hanging around the neck of each person that you meet. Instead of walking around thinking that you have learned it all, and know it all; try going out into the world seeking what others have learned as well. Treat others as if they can teach you something!

6. When someone asks for your help or assistance with something, always do a little bit extra. It is the extra that turns the ordinary into extraordinary. This is called "going the extra mile." Zig Ziglar said, "There isn't much traffic on the second mile, not many travel there." It shows people how much you value them when you make the extra effort for them.

7. Spend time with people. Often we communicate a person's value to us simply because we like hanging out with them, even if there's no agenda. Time is a precious commodity and a valuable resource. Spend this resource effectively on others.

8. Strive to be the first to help a person whom you know in need. Have you ever reached to the top shelf for an elderly lady at the grocery store and graciously smiled when she thanked you? If yes, you most certainly made her feel valued! Keep your eyes and heart open for ways to be helpful in your family and your community.

9. Connect people to other people who may be a resource to them. You may know someone who could benefit from meeting and spending time with this person. Take the time to introduce them. Schedule a lunch with yourself and two people that could benefit from each other's friendship. Sometimes people only need someone else to vouch for them and offer a recommendation in order for a relationship to form.

10. Share your knowledge with others. Don't keep your best ideas and strategies all to yourself. People used to assume that knowledge was power. If I knew more than you, then I had some type of power over you. But I don't want to have power over you, I want to add value to you. So I share my best stuff. I give it away. When I discover something (a new tool, a new strategy, a new idea), I pass it on. If you pass it on to others and it's good stuff, you'll discover a whole new kind of power - the power of appreciation.

These are just 10 of the many ways we can add value to people. All people are priceless and we should never be too busy to show love and respect to those around us. Too many people have gone for years, especially in controlling churches, feeling unappreciated and unloved, but it's time for that to change! How we treat people is what really matters in life. I want to share a story with you...

A couple of Christmases ago, me and my family went out for breakfast on Christmas Eve. We began to talk about wanting to give to a family we knew who may not have very much for Christmas. We were all thinking the same thing, but then I said it. "Let's go right now and buy them some Christmas presents!" We went and picked out things for each member of the family. My husband knew the man liked Starbucks coffee, so he bought him some coffee. We bought toys and candy for the children. The looks on my children's faces said it all - this was so much fun for them. We went home and wrapped everything and then we called this family and asked if we could stop by. They didn't have family that lived here because they were from another country, so they were so excited that we were coming. We didn't tell them we had gifts, but when they opened the door their eyes lit up with excitement. They cried with tears of joy and greatfulness. They couldn't quit thanking us. I watched my children and their children as they opened the gifts and the smiles wouldn't stop.

My husband made the suggestion to make some of the coffee he had brought, but the man told him they didn't have a coffee maker. My husband said, "Let's go get one!" So they hopped in the car and went and bought a coffee maker. The man was so excited to be able to make coffee in his apartment. When it came time to pour it up, they didn't have coffee mugs, so we used tea glasses. We stayed for a while, talking, drinking coffee from glasses, and making new friends. It was a wonderful day. We left there that afternoon and my children couldn't quit talking about how this was the best Christmas they had ever had. Making someone else feel valued and loved brought great joy into our Christmas. The next day that family called and wanted to stop by. The little girl had gone through her room and collected a bag full of her special things and she wanted to give them to us. She hugged us and thanked us for making her Christmas special. It was precious. We will never forget that Christmas and it was a great lesson of never taking anything we have for granted. We forget that others may not have things in life - like a coffee cup. And how simple is that - we can stop during our busy day and give something that small to someone and it will mean so much to them.

It truly makes our lives so much more enriched when we value and reach out in love to someone else. God's heartbeat is loving people and when we make it ours too and see the value in people, we will have joy in our lives. My children and I can truly say that the Christmas Eve we visited that family was one of the happiest days of our lives.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Many Voices

I was reading an online book by Ronald Enroth and I found some great information that I wanted to use on my blog. I emailed Dr. Enroth to ask him for permission to quote parts of his book. I waited several days for his response and it finally came. He apologized for the delay and explained that it was because his home was right in the middle of the California fires. His home was spared, but he had to evacuate for a period of time. Even in the midst of all he was going through, he still took the time to graciously answer my email and then he offered to send me some articles that aren't available on the Internet. Wow! There are some really nice people in the world who care about helping others. I've been reading the articles he sent and there is some very helpful information in them, which I will be sharing in the future.

I have talked to 3 people in the last 2 days who are still in a controlling church. They have so many questions and yet they still cannot seem to make the decision to leave. The control these types of churches has over people's minds is strong and it is not easily seen, but once it is seen it is so clear. My hope is that a ray of light will break through and cause many dear Christian people to find the freedom that Jesus provided for them - that's why I earnestly continue to search for more information to share.

In one of the articles Dr. Enroth sent, he gives quotes from many different people who have left controlling, abusive churches and I found them to be very similar to the things I've heard from many of my own friends and family members. Can you relate to any of these many voices?

"Subtly at first, there began to be a feeling of superiority and exclusiveness among the people," says a former elder in a West Coast church, "a feeling that this church was unique and that, while we loved other brothers in Christ, to leave the church would always be a step down spiritually."

"Little by little this man became the standard by which we all sought to live," says on ex-member of a Midwestern church. "The wisdom that poured forth from his lips left us in awe."

"I believed they were telling me what God's will was for my life," another says.

"In such a climate," says one former member, "the individual becomes overly dependent upon another human - the overseer or shepherd - to the point where the individual does not question, but instead relies on an unthinking and unquestioning obedience to directives and policies."

"It was clear, without a doubt, who the leader was - who was giving the direction, the counsel, the teaching," one member says. "His position of authority was secured from the very beginning, and there was never a moment when it was relinquished. There was an implicit understanding that he was 'The Lord's Servant,' the person to whom everyone was subject and to whom we were loyal. We regarded him like the apostle Paul."

"Much of what we did was a direct result of what he said we could do or not do," another former member says of this same leader. "We were adults, yet we were still treated very much like children. He would verbally intimidate you, verbally abuse you."

"We were told that it is more important to obey leaders than to question what they are doing," one man says. "It was unthinkable to question the motives of the pastor."

"Those who questioned the leaders are accused of having a rebellious spirit," says one young man. "My sin, which led to my expulsion, was that I asked too many questions. I have been in services where the pastor would pray against the blight of independent thinking."

"We had cut ourselves off from all Christians except those in our small exclusive group," one man says. "We believed ourselves to be the only church we knew anywhere that sought to be faithful. We saw ourselves blessed of God in that He was revealing deeper truths to us and that we were called upon to stand for the truth."

"Although we didn't come right out and say it, in our innermost hearts we really felt that there was no place in the world like our assembly," says a former adherent of another group. "We thought the rest of Christianity was out to lunch."

"Many times I was encouraged to sacrifice my vacation time at home in order to participate in the group's activities," a college student says.

"Friends of long standing will ignore you," says one ex-member. "They will turn their faces away. The will walk on the other side of the street. They will hang up the phone or not answer the door."

"I felt an unbearable separation from God," one woman says. "I felt like I was divorced from someone I was deeply in love with. My whole life was over. It's not possible to express what horrible turmoil I continuously experienced. I had extreme guilt for leaving my spiritual family and betraying those I loved."

"We were confused, afraid, and in many ways not able to cope in the world as we had known it," one father comments. "Our daughter asked, 'Where else can we go? No other church teaches the truth."

"Independent thinking was discouraged while at the same time, a blind faith was encouraged," says Richard. "The pastor would drill into our minds how, like sheep, we were stupid and needed our shepherd and the safety of the sheepfold, which was our church. We were encouraged to quote the Bible and the words of our pastor, but not to come up with our own ideas or our own interpretations of Scripture."

"I lived under a false guilt that kept me in spiritual bondage for a long time," says one man. "The standards that the pastor imposed on us in order to be faithful Christians were impossible to attain."

Debbie was in a church that was based on conditional love. God is seen as a critical parent, waiting to say, "It's not good enough. Try harder. You could do better." These types of churches cause people to turn to faith in self rather than faith in God. They depend on their performance, not God's wondrous love. Debbie says, "Everybody strived to be a 'worker,' because being a worker meant that you measured up, that you had respect from the pastor. Such a valued person attends all the meetings and is always available to do whatever needs to be done. You find yourself constantly trying to be that sort of person, but never quite measuring up."

Debbie also said, "I spent an entire year talking about my experiences and feelings with another former member. It was a necessary part of my recovery even though there were times we felt guilty and thought, 'We really shouldn't be talking like this.' I went through a stage of being very angry because 14 years of my life were lost. And there are times when I still think that my time there was largely wasted, even though I've tried to come to terms with those years and recognize that there were some good aspects too."

"As a member of a controlling church," Jason reports, "I could not express what I really thought without being labeled and manipulated through that label. A member takes a big risk in expressing true feelings. Especially when it comes to disagreeing with authority."

Jason also said, "I was afraid to leave because I thought I would be leaving God's will. The leaders became God's voice for me. I experienced a form of spiritual intimidation when I suggested leaving."

"Good members prove they are 'good' by not leaving at all - unless they are told," says Phillip. "There is a heavy atmosphere, a more or less constant undercurrent of anxiety over who is really loyal, who is 'in' and who is 'out.' It sounds so right; but in time, it feels so bad."

As one former member tells it, "You have to learn to trust again and learn to establish relationships all over again. Recovery from spiritual abuse is similar to other kinds of victim recovery in that deep healing occurs within and through relationships with others. People who have been deeply hurt tend to be loners, gun-shy, and committed to self-protection."

Many ex-members say they were taught they would be "out from under the covering" if they ever left the group. Some were even threatened with spiritual destruction. One pastor sent this letter of spiritual intimidation to people who were considering leaving his flock: "As your pastor, I warn you that you are headed for the bottom of the sea. When you take yourself out of this move of God, you are going downhill spiritually. Demons are going to have access to you. You are going to lose eternal rewards. You cannot just walk into any church and think you are safe. God won't honor that. He called you here and I am your pastor, no one else. You must follow me or you will answer to God."

I could continue to add quotes and I could add several of my own, but I think these that I have shared cover most of what people experience in these types of churches. Dr. Enroth says, "One would not ordinarily expect to find conditions so conducive to high levels of stress in a church context. Church is where we go to find comfort, restorative grace, compassionate understanding, and spiritual guidance. Yet, for some Christians, their church experiences have been marked by a misuse of position and power by pastors who turn out to be more tyrants than shepherds." It's very sad that many find themselves in a state of confusion, trying to figure out where to go from here. If you have read these quotes and see yourself in the words spoken, there is hope! There are churches that care and that will help lead you back to a healthy spiritual place. Don't be afraid to try again, just use your experiences to know what to look for in the future. Here is a list that Dr. Enroth gives of responsibilities that care-giving churches should offer.....

*Small groups that become caring communities

*Support ministries, like providing meals or help when needed

*Ministry focused, not program driven

*People are allowed the freedom to say "no" to serving

*Help is given to people in times of stress

*People are allowed to be real instead of having to pretend to have it all together

*The church helps people discover their spiritual gifts so the are energized by serving instead of becoming burned out

*The church is sensitive to family needs, no one is expected to attend every event

*The church takes it's role seriously in mentoring leaders

*The church trains people so they can serve and implement their gifts

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

New Website To Check Out

Check out this new website called Church Exiters. Barb Orlowski started this site after she did countless hours of research on spiritual abuse and the recovery process. I think you will find it to be very helpful.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thanksgiving At Little Nanny's

I love this time of year! My family looks forward to Thanksgiving every year when we go to "Little Nanny's!" All 65-70 of us gather in Tennesee at my husband's grandmother's farm in a small home that was once a trailer. The numbers continue to increase as the children grow up and have families of their own. It's a happy time! All of the guys get out in the front yard and play football, while others sit in the porch swing and watch. The little kids get "Papa" to walk them to the lake to see the ducks. The women are in the kitchen cooking and getting all of the food together. And of course, there is my sister-in-law, who takes pictures of everything. There is a spread of food like you wouldn't believe and it's funny to watch people start inching towards the front of the line well before it's time. Then there's the call to eat..... and Uncle Jerry says the prayer.

We had a bit of a scare this week though. We got a call that Nanny had been rushed to the hospital with congestive heart failure. She is 89 years old and she has had heart problems for a few years now. For a couple of days she wasn't doing well, but she is better now and she is going home from the hospital this weekend. For 23 years I have been a part of Thanksgiving dinner at Nanny's house and for a couple of days it looked like that was all about to change. I'm so thankful she's going home and we will get to see her again. She has always said she wanted to live to see the 5th generation and she has done that. I know she stands and watches all of the people enter her home each year and she knows she is truly blessed to have this family - this large, loud, happy family.

I have been thinking this week about my own family and how thankful I am to have them. I have these wonderful children and I love them so much. I don't ever want to take my life for granted and I want to always remember to thank God for the things that really matter in life - my husband, my children, my family, my friends, my home, my health, and life! Thank you, God! I know that one day there will be new traditions in my family and I look forward to the day when I watch my children and grandchildren fill my home on Thanksgiving Day, just like Little Nanny.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On The Road To Recovery

I have been reading the online book, "Recovering From Churches That Abuse" by Ronald Enroth, and I came across a great list of steps that will help you on the road to recovery. I want to share that list and add some of my own thoughts as I go along. (The list from the book will be in green and my own personal thoughts will be in black.)

1. For closure to take place, there needs to be an acknowledgment of abuse. Denying what has happened will only stall recovery.

In my former church we were taught that "confessing" we had needs or problems meant that we were "not in faith." This resulted in me and many others holding years worth of questions and fears inside. I believe you can't fix what you don't acknowledge. That is very evident to me now that I see what holding it all in got me. Since I have been sharing my experiences through this blog, I have taken huge strides on my road to recovery. I believe admittance is very important because if you try to minimize what has happened to you and push it aside, it will only pop up later in your life. Even though it my be hard, admit it now and take these steps so you can truly move forward in your life.

2. Find someone who will listen to your story, who supports your desire to gain healing and restoration.

In a controlling church, you are never encouraged to talk about issues you are dealing with. Even though it may go against the grain of how you have lived for years, you need to tell someone your story. I wrote a post several months ago called, "It's Okay To Get Counsel" because in many controlling churches counseling is frowned upon. If you are feeling like you need to get things off your chest, do it. If you want to share your story on this blog, please feel free to. I understand you not wanting to talk about your situation at your new church because if you told some of the things that happened, people may wonder why you continued to stay. Unless someone is familiar with these types of churches, they just wouldn't understand. Find someone to talk to who has been there and understands. Depending on the degree to which you were involved, you may even feel like you want to talk to a professional counselor - and that's okay.

3. Talk freely about your doubts, feelings, and hopes.

4. Recognize that you will probably go through a grieving process - grief for the lost years, the lost friends and family, and the loss of innocence.

Everyone handles things differently. Some people are just happy to be out and they are able to put the past behind and not look back, but others do grieve. We were always taught the grieving was "not of God" and that you were supposed to be strong and get over it, but in some situations it's a normal part of the process. I cried for a whole weekend when we made the decision to leave. It wasn't because I was going to miss the church or the leaders, but it was because I had spent such a huge part of my life there. I had friends that I had known for years and I knew that many of them were never going speak to me again. I knew that I would be labeled and shunned. I knew my children would lose friends because their parents were taught not to talk to the people who left. I felt like I had wasted years of my life, and the biggest thing I dealt with was that I had kept my children in a spiritually unhealthy place. Yea, I did grieve when I realized I had raised my children in a situation that was now bringing doubt and pain to them and leaving them wondering who in this world they could trust again. Thank God, we are getting past all of that now, but it is a very real part of the process you walk through.

5. Expect to feel fear, guilt, and shame. It is crucial to find people who will support and validate your own step of faith and can help you address your hard feelings.

I can tell you that you will feel every emotion known to man as you leave a controlling church and walk through the detoxing process. It will level out and become easier with each passing day, but don't be surprised if you think you are all over it and then one day it hits you like a ton of bricks. Something you see or read can trigger this reaction and it will be like an aftershock. It's all a normal part of the process. When you have given so much of your life to something and had your children involved in something you now realize was wrong, you won't be able to get over it in a day.

6. Expect to feel foolish and experience self doubt. You may ask yourself over and over, "How did I let this happen to me?" Feeling foolish and regretful about poor decisions is a sign of growth; you will soon leave these emotions behind.

I have asked those questions hundreds of times over the past months. "How could I have not seen this? Why did I put up with that for so long? Where was the love?" I have kicked myself and felt foolish. I have felt embarrassed when I tell people my story, but the most important thing is that I did see the truth and when I did, I left. Don't beat yourself up over it any more and don't ever let it happen to you again.

7. You will need to trust again, in stages. Above all, learn to trust God again. Renew your walk with Him; rebuild a quiet time with Him; don't give up on the church despite it's imperfections.

I have talked to many people who have wondered if they could ever trust again, but it will happen eventually. I have met some wonderful people who have helped me to rebuild my trust, although I have my eyes wide open. Psalm 118:8 tells us it's better to put our trust in God rather than in man. That is one of the problems in controlling churches - you are taught to "honor your man of God" and in many cases people end up honoring him more than God. It is never supposed to be that way! Over the years, I developed a distorted view of God because I thought God was like these controlling men of God in my life that I was told to honor, but since I have been gone I see that God is the opposite of who they are. God is full of mercy, compassion, patience, kindness, and love. It's sad to say, but some have not been able to separate God from the men that hurt them and they have given up on everything. That makes me so sad because God is not who they think He is. He is love. It may take time and don't feel like you have to rush into any of this, but don't let the people of the past keep you from trying to trust again.

8. Relax! Enjoy your new freedoms. Take time for physical recreation, art, music, and just plain fun. Thank God for all the good things He has given us to enjoy.

9. Remember that forgiveness is crucial to recovery. It has been said that forgiveness is for the benefit of those giving it, not for the benefit of the ones receiving it.

I shared this quote on forgiveness several months ago and it has really helped me to look at forgiveness in a whole new way. We were always told we had to "forgive and forget," but I think that was said many times because that's what they wanted us to do. But just read this....

"Forgiveness does not require you to pretend that what a person did never happened and it in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. Forgiveness does not excuse anything. Forgiveness is not about forgetting. Forgiveness releases you from something that will eat you alive; that will destroy your joy and ability to love fully and openly. Don't let the anger and pain and loss you feel prevent you from forgiving. You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realized that you have forgiven completely." (William P. Young)

I encourage you to consider carefully each one of these steps. I know of many who have walked this out and are now happy and free. I have walked out these steps and I feel like I have covered a lot of ground on this road to recovery. It has been 7 months since we left our former church and I can honestly say that we have never been happier. God has been so good to us. He has brought some wonderful people into the lives of my children who love them and have made it easy for them to learn to trust again. There are still days when we have to deal with doubts, but it's way better today than it was 6 months ago. This just shows God's love and faithfulness. If you are just beginning this process, I'll just tell you now it takes time and it's not always easy, but you will make it through and you will experience joy again.

If you have found yourself having a hard time trying again, know you are not alone. I had some young people from the former church tell me the other day that they were having a hard time understanding prayer. They explained how they hear other people talk about praying and yet they feel like they don't even know how. Chalk that up to the church they came out of - the church that said, "God doesn't want to hear your problems. He only wants to hear you speak the Word." I told them how when I first got saved as a teenager I fell in love with Jesus. I told them of how I used to lay on my bed and just talk to Him. I would tell Him about my day and I talked to Him about things I was going through. I would share my life with Him and ask Him questions. I lost that over the years of trying to follow the "7 steps to prayer" and trying to confess things a hundred times to make it come to pass. I encouraged these young people to start over and just talk to Jesus. I told them to lay on their bed and say, "Lord, I don't even feel like I know how to pray and I need your help to figure all of this out." I told them to be honest with Him and tell Him about the things that were bothering them. That's what we all need to do. He wants to be a part of everything we do. I can't say it enough - don't try to hide your feelings about what you've been through from Him. He understands and He will help you through all of these steps. He wants all of us to be spiritually healthy and strong so we can help Him do the things that really matter - love people and share the gospel with the world.

*An interesting sidenote - Psalm 118:8 is the verse that's in the exact center of the Bible. I don't think that's a coincidence.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Just A Reminder

I am constantly adding articles and resources to my sidebar. I added several new links today, including two great online books.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sharing My Heart

I guess it could appear that I am "dwelling on the past" or refusing to "get over it" because of certain things I write. I received a couple of comments after a recent post that showed me there are a few people who think this is the case. I am an open and honest person and I do not try to be something I'm not. (Although I make that statement with a little hesitation because for 22 years I tried to measure up to what the controlling leadership of my former church wanted me to be.) But even at that, I am who I am and I have written all of these things from my heart. I know I'm rambling, but I have a hundred thoughts rolling around that I want to get out - the main one being what's on my heart concerning my blog.

Before I left my former church, I went through a tough period of time where I questioned all that was going on, and the last people I could have talked to were the leaders at my church. I knew they would have labeled me "crazy." Besides that, in one service it was said strongly by the leader, "Don't come to me with your concerns or issues!" I had no one to turn to and I knew that I was walking on shaky ground. I was risking everything by venturing out beyond the boundaries, but I had to get my answers.

I had gotten wind of a blog that had been started by a couple who had left the church. We were told by the leadership of the church not to read the "evil blog," but I was curious to know what was being said because I knew the good people who were writing it. The first time I read it, I felt guilty because I knew if the leadership found out, they would be mad. But, when I read it I saw that many others were having the same thoughts and questions I had been having for a while and it brought clarity to me. (Thank you!) In one of the posts, they referred to an article where the term "spiritual abuse" was used. I had never heard that term before and the word 'abuse' seemed a bit strong, but as I read the article it all rang true. I began to google words like "spiritual abuse" and everything I read began to answer my questions. I was doing all of my research in secret because I was afraid to let anyone know, but the more I learned, the more truth I saw.

I found blogs by searching the web and then I followed links to other blogs. I was amazed at the number of people who had been through the same things I was going through and how similar the circumstances were. One blogger described it by saying, "All the controlling pastors must use the same play book." By reading different blogs, I learned of books to read that would help me. As I read Jeff Von Vonderen's book, "The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse," I learned about the "signs of control and abuse" and "how you get caught in spiritual traps." A dear lady, Aida, recommended Darin Hufford's book, "The God's Honest Truth" and I learned more about God's love than I had learned in 22 years. I read Jake Colsen's book, "So You Don't Want To Go To Church Anymore," and I saw a perfect picture of who Jesus is and that having a relationship with Him is what really matters. I began to see a totally new picture of God and His love. For so long I think I and many others equated God with the controlling leaders of the church, but things were quickly changing for me. I can honestly say that reading blogs has helped me to see the truth about the situation I was in and I am glad they have been there when I needed answers and when I needed someone to talk to.

When I first began my own blog I thought it would be good "therapy" for me to write out my thoughts and I also wanted to help others by providing the same type of information that had helped me. It was a good thing for me. The comments people left helped so much and it has also been good to hear that something I shared helped someone else. Everyone is at a different stage in the process. It would seem that some have fully recovered, some are still walking through the healing process, while others are just beginning to see the truth. You may not know some one's story and there are some who will never tell their whole story. Some things are too personal for people to speak of. I have shared some of my own personal experiences so that others can relate, but there are things I will never tell. It has never been my intention to hurt anyone or to write things that stir up hurtful emotions in people. I try to be very careful about the things I say. I have to be able to lay my head down at night and feel that my heart is right before God. I said in the very beginning when I started my blog that if I ever felt that God wasn't pleased by my blogging I would delete it all. But I don't believe that's the case and I think that the materials I have provided and the information I have shared has helped people - so it stays. Helping people is what really matters. And this blog has helped me to heal too. I have met so many people from around the world - people I wouldn't have met otherwise, like my friend "Getting There" from South Africa and my friend Barb. I have reconnected with a friend from the former church who now lives in Georgia. She heard about my blog and she too read "The God's Honest Truth" and it helped her immensely. I have such a special place in my heart for the readers of my blog and for the writers of the blogs I read.

I chose to do my blog anonymously for various reasons, although a lot of people have figured out who I am. The first couple of days I had it up I began to get calls asking if it was me. How did people know? I didn't decide to do it anonymously because I am ashamed of anything I have to say. I just felt that it would be the best way to do it because I was already having a hard enough time dealing with things. I'm sure that many bloggers understand why I did it that way. I didn't want it to somehow be used against me by the people in my past. It was hard enough to find out that 2 days after I left my church, my family was all of a sudden being called "evil" and "bad." I felt like I put myself in a vulnerable position by having a blog, but even after "dumb blogs" were referred to from the pulpit of my former church, I still had a resolve to continue sharing this information to possibly rescue others from the trap of spiritual abuse.

I am so thankful that caring people took the time to blog and share information for me to read. I am in that same place now - I care about people and I don't want to see anyone stay in a hurtful situation because of a lack of information. I know how great it is to be out of the control and walking in freedom and I know God wants all of His children to experience that same love and freedom. Each person takes a different amount of time to heal and my heart goes out to everyone in this situation. I continually hear of situations that people are dealing with and all I can do is think how sad it is that all of this hurt came at the hands of people we thought we could trust - in a church. Boy, have we all learned some lessons.

Everyone has to be allowed to be themselves and if they need to talk one day, then I want to be there to listen to them. If they need to cry, I want to lend my shoulder. I will be understanding and never judge another person by how they deal with difficult circumstances. And by all means, I will never tell someone to "get over it." That is like a slap in the face and those are hard words to hear when what someone really needs is compassion. I want to be a friend to those who are struggling and say, "I understand, I've been there." And I hope I will always have people in my life who will do the same for me.

I know what's in my heart and the reasons I share, but I have felt at times that some have had the impression that I just keep bringing up the past. I just don't see it that way. I don't believe continuing to share information about spiritual abuse holds me to the past situation. I think it sets me free to know what I will never allow myself to be a part of again and I want to continue to share things that may help one more person get away from a bad situation. If I share things I've learned, like information on "Healthy or Unhealthy Churches," just know that I'm not stuck in bitterness, but I want to get the information out there to save others from hurt. I want to share information that helps people see they are not crazy and that there are others who have made it out of a controlling, abusive situation and are now doing good, walking in God's love, and living in the freedom God provided.

Okay, I think I said it in enough ways so that you understand where I'm coming from. I know I didn't have to explain myself, but I wanted to. I will continue to share the things on my heart and I always welcome and look forward to any information you can share to help me and others. Please just don't say "get over it." I look at how far I've come over the past 6 months and I am so thankful to be where I am. When my former leaders told me my life and family would fall apart if I left, they were wrong. Me and my family are so happy doing the things that really matter in my life - loving God and loving people. My honest prayer for everyone who has been in a hurtful situation with a church, is that you will be able to separate your experience from God and know that He loves you more than anything and the pain you have felt had nothing to do with Him. Have a great day!

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Healthy Church

Have you ever been sitting in your church and thought, "Something just doesn't seem quite right." Have you wondered, "Is anyone else having the same thoughts I'm having?" Have your family members pointed out odd characteristics or behaviors that go on in your church and have they shown concern for your well being? It could be that the church in question is an unhealthy environment for you and your family.

I have researched this for months now and I have compiled a list of characteristics of healthy churches and unhealthy churches. Keep in mind that two people in the same church can perceive the exact same thing differently - one could think it is terrible, while the other may think it is great. Matters of preference and opinion are one thing, but matters of spiritual health are another. Some churches become unhealthy, abusive, or even cultic over time and there comes a point when you have to step back, evaluate the situation, and realize it may cost you to remain. Take the time to ponder these points and make sure that you and your family are in a healthy situation. If you are in a healthy church, great! I thank God for the great churches out there who are loving God and loving people, but there are churches that can be controlling and cause hurt. As you read, keep in mind that it really matters to God how His children are treated and His desire for you is to be treated with love and care. If you have struggled, wondering if what you are feeling is real and if your questions are legitimate, I hope while reading this list of characteristics, questions will be answered for you.

Healthy - The church is a place of blessing and freedom. It is a place people want to go.
Unhealthy - The church is a place of slavery. People attend more out of obligation, rather than desire. It is a place people want to leave.

Healthy - The church is built on loving God, loving people, and reaching out to the community around and ultimately the world.
Unhealthy - The church talks of love, but the actions are not there to back it up. The leaders and members are focused inward, rather than reaching out to the community and helping people from all walks of life.

Healthy - The Bible is taught in context.
Unhealthy - Scriptures are taken out of context and twisted to make you believe what the leaders want you to believe.

Healthy - The leaders are humble and caring, and they have no personal agenda, other than leading others to follow Jesus.
Unhealthy - The leaders are prideful and the church is built on the foundation of the leader's personality. They are in control and they see to it that their own personal agenda is fulfilled.

Healthy - The leaders see all people as important and all people are truly cared for.
Unhealthy - Favoritism is shown and it's usually based on how much money a person gives or how much time they spend working in the church. No care or concern is shown towards the majority of the people.

Healthy - The leaders are involved in the lives of the church members. People feel supported, encouraged, and equipped.
Unhealthy - The leaders are not involved in the lives of the people unless it is centered on them. There is a pecking order where one or two get all the attention and the rest are ignored. All others do not feel important, supported, or encouraged. In fact, most of the members are never even recognized.

Healthy - The leaders equip others to serve, doing so with care and kindness.
Unhealthy - The leaders use others to meet their needs. The word "delegate" is very popular and is used often.

Healthy - The leaders have energy, love for people, and are not afraid to show their emotions.
Unhealthy - Leaders are apathetic, conceited, and show no emotion. They make others feel wrong for showing emotion.

Healthy - The leaders are genuinely concerned about the welfare of those they lead.
Unhealthy - The leaders are only concerned about having control over those they lead.

Healthy - The leaders are concerned about loyalty to the people.
Unhealthy - The leaders are concerned about the loyalty of the people.

Healthy - The leaders are accountable to others.
Unhealthy - There is no real accountability of the leaders. The leaders have absolute authority.

Healthy - The leaders are secure and they welcome outsiders.
Unhealthy - The leaders are paranoid and they are afraid of outsiders or disloyal members.

Healthy - Your personal boundaries are important and respected. You are allowed to make your own decisions and you are not looked down on or judged.
Unhealthy - Your personal boundaries are not taken into consideration and you often feel you are being taken advantage of. The agenda of the leaders is more important than you or your needs.

Healthy - The leaders are easily available and candid when YOU want to talk. The leaders value your time more than theirs.
Unhealthy - The "higher" the positioned leader, the less accessible he/she will be. Phone messages are not returned promptly (if ever), and conversations are kept to a minimum. The pastor, for the most part, is unavailable.

Healthy - You not only have the right, but you are encouraged to question beliefs, practices, and motives. The leaders are not threatened and communication is strongly encouraged.
Unhealthy - The leaders insist on total, unquestioning obedience and submission to them.

Healthy - You are allowed to ask questions about how the money is spent and the leaders talk about it openly and freely.
Unhealthy - How the money is spent is kept a secret and members are told that it is up to the pastor to make all the decisions on how the money is spent. No one except the pastor and his immediate family knows how the money is spent.

Healthy - You are allowed to make your own decisions about how much you give. You feel that you can give freely out of your generosity and gratitude to the Lord.
Unhealthy - You are manipulated to give. Lengthy sermons are given each week on tithing, resulting in you giving out of fear or obligation.

Healthy - You are not judged by your church attendance. You have the freedom to decide which services and activities you want to attend.
Unhealthy - The leaders want you to put meetings and activities before all other commitments, including family, friends, and even jobs.

Healthy - You are free to dress the way you desire and you are never looked down on for doing so.
Unhealthy - You are expected to dress the way the leaders desire for you to dress, resulting in you losing your sense of self and your personal identity.

Healthy - Freedom abounds.
Unhealthy - Rules abound.

Healthy - The leaders talk positively towards other churches and reach out to help other churches succeed.
Unhealthy - The leaders talk negatively about other churches and they are focused inward. They have an "us verses them" mentality.

Healthy - Fellowship is strongly encouraged.
Unhealthy - The leaders place little emphasis on fellowship. Activities are few and far between and the leaders are always in control of all decisions made concerning these activities.

Healthy - There is a strong sense of unity among the leaders and members.
Unhealthy - There are cliques, resulting in many people feeling left out. There is a lot of complaining and gossip.

Healthy - When problems arise, the conflict is dealt with fast and with tact, love, and care.
Unhealthy - Conflict is ignored and people are told to "get over it." The real issues are not dealt with, and the leaders go to great lengths to appease the big givers and power brokers.

Healthy - Love and grace are subjects often taught. You leave the services with a sense of freedom and affirmation.
Unhealthy - Fear, legalism, and judgment are preached. You leave the services feeling beat down and shamed into doing what the leaders want you to do. You have the sinking feeling that you will never measure up to what the leaders want you to be.

Healthy - The leaders build you up and they see you as a real person and a precious child of God.
Unhealthy - The leaders use guilt, fear, and intimidation to manipulate you and "keep you in line."

Healthy - You are free to "exit" (leave) the church at any time without being judged.
Unhealthy - You fear leaving, because there is a "price to pay." The price includes intimidation, labelling, and slander.

Healthy - The church and the leaders serve the people.
Unhealthy - The people serve the church and the leaders.

Healthy - You are happy.
Unhealthy - You are not happy. You are confused and you may not be able to put your finger on what it is, but you know in your heart that there is more for you and your family.

Healthy - God leads people to go there.
Unhealthy - God leads people to leave there.

I hope after reading these points you are able to smile and say, "I am in a healthy church." It makes me happy to say that I am now in a healthy church and I am growing in God's love. The church facilities where you attend may be beautiful and the appearance can be given that everything is running smoothly, but if ANY of these unhealthy practices are occurring, I encourage you to take a step back and examine things closer. Determine what it is you are really looking for in a church. You might consider writing down the "good points" and the "bad points" in terms of the church and see which outweighs the other. Look closely at the "3 C's" -communication, care, and control. Are the lines of communication open? Do you feel that the leaders really care about you and are you seeing it in action? Is there a large amount of control going on? It's important to know the truth about your church and to know whether it's healthy or unhealthy for you to be a part of it. Remember not to link God with your unhealthy spiritual situation, even though you're definitely going to need to work through some things. He is not the cause of your hurt. He wants you to be free to be near to Him and to serve Him in the way He designed it.

*Part of this information is from articles written by Rebecca Hanson and The Barnabas Ministry.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

God Will Sort It Out

A friend shared a few verses with me this morning that I've been thinking about all day. Psalm 34:4-6 in the Message Bible says, "God met me more than halfway, He freed me from my anxious fears. Look at Him; give Him your warmest smile. Never hide your feelings from Him. When I was desperate, I called out, and God got me out of a tight spot."

I like that statement - "Never hide your feelings from Him." Our loving Father wants us to share everything with Him. We don't have to try to hide our emotions from Him and we don't have to say everything just perfect before He will hear us. He doesn't want us to keep things all bottled up inside and try to deal with them ourselves. He wants to help us sort them out. You know, it really blesses me when my children open up and tell me everything that's going on in their lives. I believe it's the same with our Father.

Tonight, I was reading in a book by Jake Colsen and I came across some wonderful statements along this line.....

He said, "Follow God a bit more closely and trust Him, He'll sort out the rest. He's the cornerstone of the church. Ask Him to sort out all of this in you individually and collectively. He's been doing this a couple of thousand years and He's really good at what He does."

I just took a moment and asked God to help us sort the things out that we are all dealing with. I thank God for how far we have come and I believe God will continue to get us out of the tight spots because He loves us more than we could ever imagine.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Does This Ever Happen To You?

I can be going about my day and then all of a sudden a thought will pop into my head. It's like the aftershock of an earthquake. An aftershock is a smaller earthquake that occurs after the main earthquake and it is always smaller in strength, but it still "shakes things up." The main quake happened when I left my former church, but I still have these thoughts (aftershocks) that sometimes catch me off guard and kind of shake up the moment.

I know these may seem silly, but they are sometimes sparatic thoughts I have and I wanted to know - does this ever happen to you?

*When you are driving down the road and all of a sudden you think of how much money you gave to your former church, do you get upset and wish that somehow you could get it all back and give it to a worthy cause?

*When someone in your new church asks you where you used to go to church, do you freeze up - not wanting to answer for fear that if you tell, they will wonder if you are normal?

*When you hear a certain song, where the words are something like, "Do what you want, but you're never gonna own me..." or "I never saw it coming, I should have started running a long, long time ago..." do you automatically think of your former situation, sing loudly, and make all the people in the cars around you wonder what your deal is?

I know these things are temporal, and just as the aftershocks stop after an earthquake, I'm sure these things will go least I hope they do....surely they will. No, I know they will because Jesus said that He came to heal the brokenhearted and set at liberty them that are bruised (Luke 4:18).

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cleaning Out

I started a process today....well, let me give a little background first before I start explaining. I was involved in my former church for 22 years and I took notes during every service I attended. Can you imagine what that resulted in? Stacks and stacks of notebooks full of sermon notes. Not only do I have notes, but I have tapes and cds too - cabinets full!

For the first couple of months after I left, I didn't even want to go in the room where I kept all of these things. I knew at some point I wanted to go through and clean out, but the thought of doing that made me sick at my stomach. I didn't dread it because I missed anything about the church, but these notebooks represented years of my life and things I thought I believed in. I thought I was doing the right thing by listening and trying to live by these teachings, but I see the truth now. And quiet frankly, it doesn't feel very good to realize I gave so much time and effort to something that wasn't right.

I sat in my floor and started pulling out the notebooks. I wasn't sure, do I chunk the whole thing or do I flip through it? Do I put myself through the torture of reading through it and then kicking myself for falling for it when I should have known better? Do I close the doors and try to do it later? The tapes and cds were easy. I knew I would never listen to those again, so I threw those in the garbage can. I opened a notebook and began to flip through it. There were some things I just ripped out and wadded up without even reading it - just the title was enough to know. But I stopped on one page that caught my eye where the sermon was titled, "How To Get Your Dream House." I read down through the notes and a couple of statements really stood out to me. Tell me what you think about these quotes. He said, "God is magnified when you live in a beautiful home. Go look at expensive homes. Don't be afraid to step out and do what you can't do. That's faith."

Are you thinking the same things I'm thinking? First of all, it's not faith to go buy something you can't afford - it's foolishness. That's one reason so many people are going into foreclosure! I had a friend one time who was going to look at homes and she was told to go look at big, expensive homes - not the ones she qualified for. That put major pressure on her. She was trying to obey the pastor, but she also didn't want to acquire a house payment she couldn't afford and put her family in a bind. Second, if God is only magnified if we live in "beautiful homes," that makes Him seem pretty shallow. I know God wants us to have nice things, but I would think He's magnified more because of our hearts being turned toward Him, rather than being so caught up in trying to scrape by to make big house payments. When a person is strapped by hefty payments they are struggling to make, that's all they think about. They can't think about God or serving people. In my mind, and I could be wrong, but I think God would rather you be happy and content with something you can afford, make your payments on time, have enough to be able to save, give, help others when needed, and not be so "ME" focused.

(This is a side note I want to throw in.) We were taught for years that God is glorified when we have lots of money and "beautiful homes." The impression given many times was that if people didn't have these things, they had not built their faith to the level it took to get them. But let me ask a question - what if it's God's will for someone to be in a profession that doesn't make 6 figures a year? What if a person knows they are called to be a school teacher, loving and teaching children, and they don't care how much it pays? What if it's God's will for someone to be a volunteer at a counseling center? What if it's God's will for someone to be a youth minister and the salary is only $25,000 a year? These salaries don't buy expensive homes and cars, so does that mean that these people who are following God's will and serving people, are not magnifying Him? No it doesn't! When a person is happy, living their life and doing God's will, it is wrong for someone to make them feel less important for not having expensive things. Besides that, one person's opinion of nice may be totally different from what another person thinks is nice. (This is one of those areas where controlling leaders try to change your identity and make you think like them.) People should not try to push their opinions off on everyone else of what they think others should have. We all need to be ourselves and buy what we like and never again be concerned if it meets someone else's standard! I want to have a nice home and I love to look at decorating magazines to know how to arrange things, but if my home doesn't meet someone else's standard, it doesn't matter. If I like it, that's all that matters. I like to get "to go" boxes at restaurants. I like to find a great sale and use coupons. That's who I am and I'm not changing for anyone!

Anyway, as I was going through these notes, I came across another page that I stopped and read. It was titled, "Walking In Love With Others." Before I even read some of the quotes, I thought back to the years of being there and all the times I saw people not being treated in loving ways. I know every leader has their bad days, but I remembered the many times I saw staff members leave the pastor's office in tears. I remembered the times I sat through these services thinking to myself, "The things being taught are not practiced." Here are some of the quotes from the notes, "Don't run people down with your mouth. Don't belittle people in the body of Christ. When you do, you do it unto Jesus. Jesus doesn't take these things lightly. The way you treat others is the way you treat Jesus." Those statements are good, true, and right, but if they are spoken by someone who doesn't live by it himself, it stings. It's confusing when you hear these things and then the next week someone is called an idiot or a clown from the pulpit. It was very confusing to me recently when it was said from the pulpit that God requires us to be kind and gentle to people, and yet I saw people being mistreated on a daily basis. I think the biggest question that arose inside of me was, "Is everything that is taught full of hypocrisy?" I mean, if a lie is told about one thing, what else is being lied about? If I am told I must walk in love, and the one telling me is not doing it himself, what else is he teaching that he is not living? Confusing, huh?

During my clean out time, a friend called and I read her a few of the statements. All she did was laugh very loudly. It would be funny, if the pile of wadded up paper didn't represent so many people's lives who trusted, believed, and based there lives on these things. I filled up one garbage can and then I had to stop and close the door. It was too much too soon. As I was going through these notes, I realized that we can have stacks of information that we've learned, but what really matters is keeping our mind on this one simple truth - God loves us. He loves who we are and everything about us. He doesn't care what kind of house we live in, He just loves us, and when we love Him and love people we are pleasing Him. Maybe I'll go back in a few days and clean out some more, but for now I need a break.

A Comment

A friend of mine sent this picture to me in an email and said, "I guess these precious people I met in Mexico never heard the teaching about God being pleased by your expensive houses." GF

Friday, October 17, 2008

Identity Crisis

I was talking to a friend by email yesterday who was also a member of a controlling, abusive church. I made the statement, "I have days now when I rarely think about things, but then I still have days when it consumes me." She responded, "I have NO days when I hardly think about it, as I have no solution or direction for my family in seeking to obey "forsake not the assembling of yourselves together" and obeying the Great Commission. It really consumes my thoughts. It is as though I am trying to once again define and understand life. I thought that upheaval ended with my adolescence."

As I was writing my email and reading my friend's comments, it hit me. In controlling churches, one of the things that happens is you lose your identity. You continually push down who you are as a person and over time you become like a puppet on a string, adhering to the whims of your leaders. You are basically told to sit down, be quiet, do what you are told, and of course, give your money. I have been in the same place she is in - trying to define and understand life. As I was thinking about this, I remembered an article that I read months ago. I went back and read it again this morning and there were some very helpful things said. The name of the article is "Spiritual Identity Crisis," and here it is.....

"Many spiritual abuse victims are left with a devastating feeling of void in their souls when they leave a spiritually abusive group/leader. This void (or identity crisis) is most likely the result of allowing our identity to be stolen away when were involved in the group, and then being forced to manage our own identity again when the group/leader is no longer in our lives. This can feel like an impossible task after allowing the group/leader to influence our identity at such a deep level for so long. However, it is possible to rebuild your identity and feel whole again. I liken it to recovering from a debilitating brain surgery that left the victim having to relearn the skills of everyday living. It can be done, but it takes time and effort and does not happen overnight.

Our spiritually abusive leaders brainwashed us into seeing them as our gods. When we let the pastor down, it was equal to letting God down. When we turned our back on the pastor/group, it was equal to abandoning God in our minds. In our desire to please the leader, we learned to become people pleasers, which caused us to abandon our own identity. We replaced who we were on a very deep spiritual level with the identity of the group/leader. We emptied ourselves out and took on the group mentality. After we escape this process, we find ourselves empty and fractured. This is not because God is gone, but rather, because we abandoned our self identity.

I went through a long phase of wondering who I was going to be after I left my abusive group/leader. Was I now the guy from before the cult, during the cult, or a blend of the two? What I found was that I was neither. I was on a voyage to discover who I really was, and away from what my former leader wanted me to be.

Many people feel traumatized after leaving a spiritually abusive group/leader. You may not want to read the Bible for a while. You may not want to go to church for a while - if ever. After having had to perform your way into the group's favor for so long, we can feel exhausted and lose all motivation to please anyone but ourselves. Many spiritual abuse victims find themselves struggling to make decisions, and may even have a hard time disciplining themselves to do basic everyday functions. For so long, we allowed the group/leader to think for us, formulate our opinions for us, and make decisions for us. No wonder so many of us struggle for many years learning how to find ourselves again after leaving a spiritually abusive situation.

It's perfectly okay to want to be accepted just for who you are now. As you transition from the group/leader identity back to your own identity, you may find yourself "acting out" and doing things that would have displeased your former spiritual authority. This is all healthy, and is a completely normal part of the exit process. It can almost feel like going through childhood again as we learn to think for ourselves and make our own decisions again. We may find ourselves rebelling against the politically correct aspects of religion, and even questioning everything we ever learned while in the spiritually abusive group. Even thought this may feel like a very confusing, difficult process - rest assured it is a very healthy and normal part of recovery.

Are you a people pleaser? Have you abandoned your own identity to please others? Well, you are not alone! The good news is that you can take back what was stolen from you. You can begin to think for yourself, make your own decisions, and form your own opinions again. At times you may feel helpless to do these things, but that's only because you haven't been doing them for a long time. The brain parts that drive these functions have become atrophied, and simply need to be stretched and toned again through repetitious usage.

You can begin today taking your identity back away from those who took if from you. They cannot be you, nor do they have any right to tell you who you should be. There is only one you and you are on a voyage to find who that is. At times this journey will be frustrating and painful, but at other times it will be liberating, exciting, and joyful. It's a work in progress."

I can relate to every part of this article. I think people have experienced different degrees of control in their lives, but if you have been in a group like this, I'm sure you can relate in some way. Day by day I began to realize I had succumb to things that weren't even part of my beliefs or moral makeup. I had, in a sense, given my mind over to someone else and let them tell me what I was supposed to think and do. In the process of leaving and ridding myself of the wrong thinking, the "real me" began to surface. I had been trapped and I had not been able to be myself for years. I had pushed down my own wants, thoughts, and feelings to be what my leaders wanted me to be.

In a church like this you take on the thoughts and attitudes of your leaders in every aspect of life, even down to the small things. In my former church, the control even encompassed the way we dressed. This may seem like a small issue to some, but to many, it brought great pressure. We were expected to wear our best at all times and the same went for our children. We were told that our children didn't need to come to church dressed like they were going to a picnic. I know of several mothers that said they felt as if they could not enter the doors of the church unless their children were wearing fine clothes. I always tried to follow the rules, so on Sundays I frantically ran around checking to see if my children's clothes were ironed, shirts tucked in, hair in place. Before we entered the building I made sure no one had gum, because there was "NO GUM ALLOWED." Isn't that sad! Without realizing it, I was teaching my children that their appearance was more important than the fact that we were going to church to worship God. I was teaching them to empty themselves of their identity to become what someone else wanted them to be. Oh, If I could only do things differently!

When we first starting attending our new church, my son wore his nice Sunday pants and dress shoes for the first couple of weeks. Old habits die hard. About the 3rd week he came downstairs in jeans and said, "I can worship God in jeans just as good as anyone. You just watch me!" You know, he did! The people at our new church don't care about what he wears, they care about him. And they like him! He's funny, he's smart, and he loves God. Isn't that what really matters? I just hope that one day some will wake up and realize that it's not what a person wears that matters, but it's the value of the person and what's in their heart.

I have watched my children have the freedom to be themselves and myself as well. It's been like taking off a shell and exposing what's really on the inside. I guess you could say we were "in thick" and we had a lot of layers to peel off. But we are all getting there and doing good! We are living in God's love and learning more about His love everyday.

I wanted to share this article and some of my own thoughts in hopes that some who are struggling will find comfort in knowing that the feelings you are having are normal and you are not alone. Just know that God is right there with you and He is not requiring you to "get over" what you are going through in a certain amount of time. Take your time and talk to Him about it. He understands.

"The Perfect Church"

I read a post yesterday on the blog Discernment 4 Truth where she was asking people to send comments and describe what they think a "Perfect Church" should be. I have really been thinking about how I would describe what a church is supposed to be. Here's part of her description.....

"Mine would be that the preaching is about Jesus, preaching guided by the Holy spirit and the Bible. There is no going beyond the Bible. Worship without hype or repetition. Dress any way you feel you want to. Fruits of the spirit are the focus. Love is at the center. If you are sick you are encouraged to stay at home. You are not looked down upon Ever! The preacher actually serves instead of forcing his flock to run around for him. Genuine care and concern for brothers and sisters. The secondary issues are not the basis instead the perfect church would focus on what Jesus did for us on the cross. Spiritual gifts are there but they are not the focus, this is secondary, but Love is the focus. Love is seen as the most important gift and it is better to work on that gift than any other. God's will becomes what it should be - to love one another as we love ourselves. We don't need to be told that if you leave a country or a state or a job that you are out of God's will because as long as you love God, that Is His Will!" - Getting There, South Africa

I thought that was a great description. Even though there's not one, how would you describe the "perfect church?"

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Characteristics Of A Controlling Person

Here's a list of common characteristics of a controlling person......

*Overemphasizes his/her importance

*Exaggerates to the extreme

*Greedy, only thinks of him/herself

*Lies extremely convincingly

*Projects an illusion of power that he/she does not have

*Lives in a world of distortion

*Switches from charm to killer instinct suddenly





*Inability to admit wrong





*Sows seeds of discord

*Hate (for those who question him/her)

*Uses fear and intimidation in order to cloud the minds of those they desire to control

*Uses threats to influence

*Needs to accomplish his/her will (at anyone's expense)

*Never takes any blame

*Brags excessively

*Criticizes others

*Preoccupied with self

*Bound with a fear of rejection

*Uses others (only to benefit him/herself)

*Possessive love (turns from sweet to sour if doesn't get his/her way)

*Vindictive and mean-spirited if doesn't get his/her way

*Continually collects ammunition to use in case he/she loses his/her grip on power

*Doesn't seem to have a conscience

What motivates controllers?

*They cannot stand to be wrong.

*They are motivated by insecurity.

*They have a need to feel power and authority, and they will do anything to achieve it.

*They have a need to be elevated, awarding themselves credit and titles.

*They feel they know more than anyone; therefore, they dominate converstations.

*They feel that no one can handle things as well as they can (not even God). Therefore, they take things into their own hands.

*Sometimes a controller becomes temporarily remorseful, but soon goes back to his/her controlling tactics. The learned behavior is deeply rooted, and the controller enjoys the taste of power.

*If you threaten their power and influence, they will seek to destroy you.

*This information is from the book "Confronting Jezebel, Discerning And Defeating The Spirit Of Control," by Steve Sampson.

*The posts, Characteristics Of Control and The Controlling Leader also have detailed lists of characteristics of a controlling person.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Movie Recommendation

I went to see a great movie this afternoon called Fireproof. (Click on title to watch trailer.) It is a Christian based movie about building marriage relationships. I recommend taking your family to see this movie.

And, take some Kleenex - you'll cry.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Survival Skills - For Those Still There

Even after seeing the truth, some people still find themselves in an abusive, controlling church. For some, it's because their spouse doesn't want to leave. For some, it's because they are employed at the church or their spouse is employed there. And for some, they are afraid to leave because they have been told bad things will happen to them. But no matter what the reason is, everyone needs to make sure they are protecting themselves and guarding their hearts.

Everyone suffers in these types of situations, and my heart really goes out to staff members of controlling churches, because no one knows the mistreatment they endure. I came across a web site several months ago called Shattered Trust, a site for wounded staff associates. John Setser, the author of the site, has also written a book entitled, "Broken Hearts, Shattered Trust." In his book, John addresses people who are still in these types of situations and gives a list of survival skills. His focus is on staff associates, but anyone can learn and benefit from his information. Here's the list......

1. Do not accept abusive treatment as normal. Resist cruelty, coercion, threats, inequity, constraint, and competition.

2. Recognize wounding agents for who they are. They are self-centered bullies who use physical, verbal, sexual, or psychological strategies to get what they want.

3. Be alert to being "set up." Do not let senior pastors indoctrinate or psychologically coerce you into compliance.

4. Seek out a lateral support system. If you are being mistreated, chances are you are not alone. Ignore the "don't talk" rule and share your experiences with others.

5. Watch your heart. Do not give into self-pity, rage, or a judgmental attitude.

6. Don't stay too long. It is never God's will for you to remain in a wounding church. Exit as soon as possible and tell people why you are leaving.

I hope you find these survival skills to be helpful if you are still in a controlling situation, but even more I hope, when you are able, you will leave. Staying too long will only bring hurt to you and your family. Don't be afraid to tell people the truth as to why you are leaving. When we first left we wouldn't talk about it. We just told people we felt like we were "doing what was best for our family," but I realized that the reason so many of us were in these hurtful situations is because we never talked. When someone is mistreating people and there is wounding potential for others in the future, the truth should be told.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I Kept My Promise - Something Happy & Light

I have dealt with some serious issues in my last few posts, so I thought we could all use a little comic relief. This guy is really funny!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

It's Not Supposed To Be This Way

*Please understand that I am not lumping all ministers or churches into one category. I am referring to the experiences I have lived through and the experiences that have happened to people close to me. I know there are many, many loving men and women of God all over this world who are helping people to know God and His love. I am sharing these experiences in hopes that others will see that these types of situations are not the norm, but they are abusive and they will rob you of your relationship with God. I only wish someone would have directed me to this type of information years ago. (I promise that my next post will be happy and light.)

For years I was involved in a controlling church that can be described by these verses......

"Jesus said, The religious scholars are competent teachers in God's law. You won't go wrong in following their teachings on Moses, but be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don't live it. They don't take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. They don't practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious rules and demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. Everything they do is for show. They wear robes with extra long tassels, and they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplace and to be called Rabbi. Don't let anyone call you Rabbi, for you have only one Teacher, the Messiah, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters. And don't address anyone here on earth as Father, for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." (Matthew 23:2-12)

The leaders I was under in my former church placed unreasonable demands on people and never lifted a finger to help. People were expected to lay everything else aside to meet the needs of the pastor and his family. I saw staff members working around the clock, giving up time with their own families and the leaders never seemed to care. Men were expected to work many hours on projects, even to the point of being physically worn out. The physical health and emotional well being of people was never taken into consideration. The pastor preached on the importance of spending time with family and yet it didn't seem to apply to the ones that were doing work for him. I knew 2 ladies, who each had a small child, and they never had time to spend with their families. It always bothered me because I am a very family oriented person and I knew these children needed their mothers. But these ladies knew, just like everyone else, you didn't say "no." There was much teaching on the importance of taking vacations and the pastor would take 2 week vacations, but staff members weren't allowed to be gone on Sundays or Wednesdays, so we took 2 or 3 day vacations for many years.

I know a young man who recently left a staff position at a church just like my former church. This young man was treated terribly by the leaders and talked to in harsh, inappropriate ways. His privacy was violated and lies were told about him. Many people who have spent years in these types of churches have resolved themselves to believing this is just the way it is. Certain friends told him to stick it out because these things go on in every church. I can't help but think if people could just step away and see a church that is loving God and loving people and keeping it real, they would see how wrong this behavior is. I don't believe it's supposed to be that way in churches! God is all about love, not control and keeping someone under your thumb for your own personal gain. I have to believe there are leaders and ministers out there who operate in love and treat others right. I have to believe there are pastors who will provide pleasant work environments for the staff and will walk in God's love and gentleness. I realize it's not always going to be easy and perfect, but there should be many more good times than there are hard, harsh times. I have seen people in the secular workplace treat their employees much better than some pastors treat their staff. Leaders and managers all over the world keep their word and pay people what they are worth. They pay overtime when it's due and they provide insurance when they have already promised their employees that they would. Why should Christians who work in a church be treated with any less respect? When someone does a good job they should be rewarded for it.

I know of one pastor (in another state) who called a work day and several ladies showed up to help. He put them to work shoveling pine bark, while he stood to the side and pointed where he wanted it to go. I'm sure these ladies had good hearts and were glad to help, but what's wrong with this picture? First of all, why should holding the title of "pastor" mean that he no longer has to be a gentleman? A true gentleman steps in and does the hard work for a lady. And second, why does holding the title of "pastor" mean to some men that they no longer have to do any work at all? As the verse above says, it seems like some of these controlling pastors, never lift a finger to ease the burden, but they pour more work on everyone else. It's not right or fair for things to be required of people that the leaders are not willing to do themselves.

On the flip side, I know a pastor who goes to work days, rolls up his sleeves, and gets in there with the rest of the men and actually does work. He doesn't see himself as better or higher than others and he doesn't have an ounce of pride. He wouldn't ask anyone to do something that he wouldn't do himself. I can trust a man like that. I know another pastor who went to teach a Bible study in someones home and when the people tried to give him money for coming, he wouldn't take it. He knows the concept of giving and receiving, but he didn't go for the money. He went to love and share with the people. These are two examples of men who are in the ministry because they love God and love people. They are not in it for the money or for honor from men. They are not in it to have others serve them, but they are serving the body of Christ and being a true example of Jesus Christ.

I read on a blog yesterday that the SBC did a survey of "unchurched" Americans, which is about 61 million people. The survey found that 72% of the unchurched believe in God, but they complain that religious institutions are full of hypocrites. Over half said, "Christianity is more about organized religion than about loving God and loving people." They said, "We want to love God and one another, but religion no longer seems to be the place where we learn how."

You can see from this survey that people are looking for the real love of God. It's no wonder people don't want to go to certain churches where people are treated in ways that I've described. They don't want another person telling them they don't measure up or they have to do "one more thing" to earn their right standing with God. When leaders and churches are doing it right, people can see the love. When I first walked into my new church all I could do was cry because I realized how starved I was for love, fellowship, and true worship. I finally felt loved and accepted. I finally heard a pastor teach the simple Word of God and give me things I could actually use during the week. I didn't fear that something harsh or inappropriate would be said because I could tell that the pastor had love and compassion for people. I knew he would not use his pulpit to criticize others, like some have. This incident happened right before I left my former church.....

My family always sat on the front row or near the front in our former church. About a year before we left, I started helping in a certain department. I was told by the person in charge of that department that I had to sit on the back row because I would have to leave the service early. I was perfectly okay with sitting on the back and I actually got use to it. I met a whole new group of people and made some good friends. I worked in that department for about 6 months and then the leadership brought someone else in to take over because I had other duties to do. We decided to continue to sit in the back because we didn't want to move back to the front and take someone elses seat. I also didn't want a certain friend we sat by every week to think we were being rude and deserting him.

One Saturday morning I got a phone call and I was asked to come and have a meeting. In this meeting I was questioned as to why I was not sitting on the front row any more. I thought I gave a perfectly reasonable explanation to this question by saying that I was told to move to the back when I started working in this certain department. I explained that after I stopped working, we stayed where we were because we didn't want to move back to the front and take someones seat. Even after my explanation, I was told that I needed to move back to the front row and I was told that I needed to "press in." I was puzzled by this meeting and I wondered what the reasoning was behind this request. I was very uncomfortable with the situation, but I "obeyed" and took my family back to the front row the next morning.

Would you like to take a guess at what the message was about that morning? He spent at least 10 minutes talking about where people sit in the church! Ummmm - coincidence? I don't think so. I had been an "obedient" church member, I did what I was told, and went back to the front, but I guess he felt like he needed to keep me in line by correcting me publicly. He talked about how the woman in the Bible with the issue of blood didn't make her way from the front row to the back, but she "pressed in" and made her way from the back row to the front. He said that when people go sit on the back row it's because the Word has leaked out of them and they are empty. It was obvious to everyone around that he was talking about me and my family because we had been sitting in the back for months and suddenly this one morning we appeared on the front row. I felt as though a red flashing light was over my head saying, "He's talking about me." He was wrong in his assumptions! I wasn't empty! I was sitting on the back because I had been told to sit there! I was embarrassed, hurt, and confused all at the same time. He was saying these things with such an attitude and he knew that I knew he was talking about me because of the meeting the day before. All I could do was ask myself the questions, "Would God do this to me? Would he embarrass me like this? Would He hurt me and make a mockery of me?" I didn't think so, but here is a man who was supposed to represent God and be an example of Him and he was doing this to me. I had my sights set on the door and I knew as soon as the amen was said I was making a run for it. But it didn't stop there. At the end of the service he came over and stood in front of me and my family and started saying, "Ha, ha, ha." I can't describe the feelings that were rising up inside of me. Why couldn't he have taken the approach of thanking me for all the years of service I had given to him and that church, instead of badgering me when I hadn't done anything wrong?! Why did he have to make such a big issue out of something that really didn't matter at all? There were much bigger issues that needed to be addressed in that church, rather than which seat I was sitting in! Besides that, does it really matter to God where people sit in the church building? Everyone can't sit on the front row, so is everyone from the 5th row and back empty and backslidden? I know that's not true!

I left there that day never wanting to step foot back in that place again, although I did. I had been treated like this before, but I had begun to see glimpses of truth and I decided I was not going to allow anyone to treat me like this any more. At some point you have to say enough is enough and after 22 years of being treated like this and watching others be mistreated, now was my time. Situations like this have caused people to question and become disillusioned about the very nature of God. I had been in a place of wondering if I wanted to trust the God these men had made Him out to be - a distant, uncaring God, but getting out from under the control, being around loving Christians, and reading about His love has caused me to have a totally renewed picture of God. I now know God is loving, gentle, kind, and compassionate. He has been misrepresented many times by selfish men and I know He would never do things like this to me. He is my loving Father that will take care of me - not throw me under the bus.

Controlling, abusive churches have caused many people to have the same stories as the one above. A church is supposed to be a place that builds you up and leaves you better off after being there. Many people who leave a controlling church feel down right beat up. If you find yourself in a situation that resembles anything like what I've written, you have to know that no good will come from it. I wish things could be different and I wish everyone would see the truth and walk in God's love, but it just doesn't seem like it's going to be that way. Don't fool yourself any more and stay in a hurtful situation. Jesus wants to set you free! When the leaders tell you that all the people who left are lying, you need to ask what it is they are lying about - (although you can't ask questions in controlling churches, so maybe you should ask the people who left.) Why would hundreds of people who are trying to move on with their lives and live for God, make up a bunch of lies and bring more hurt to themselves? Find out what the truth is - it will set you free!

I want to leave you with a quote that helped me to see another glimpse of God's unconditional love. It's not supposed to be any other way but this.....

"It is a joy to wake up confident about being loved by God every day, without having to earn it by any act of righteousness on your part. That is the secret of first love. Don't try to earn it. Know that you are accepted and loved, not for what you can do for God, or somehow hoping that you will be worthy of His acceptance, but because his greatest desire is to have you as one of His children. Jesus came to remove any obstacle that would prevent that from happening. There's not one thing you can do to make Him love you any more today; and there's not one thing you can do to make Him love you any less either." - Jake Colsen