In controlling churches, the leaders place more importance on what a person does, rather than who they are. This results in a performance-based relationship. These types of relationships have caused hurt and confusion to many people in the body of Christ.
Jeff Van Vonderen describes a performance-based relationship in a controlling church like this......
"How people act is more important than who they are or what is happening to them on the inside. Love and acceptance are earned by doing or not doing certain things. Living up to the standard is what earns acceptance, the result of which is acceptance or behaviors, not people. Or once the standard is reached, it is changed or moved. Kids can't be kids because children are imperfect, messy, loud and ask questions that sometimes perplex or embarrass, none of which is considered acceptable.
The effects: perfectionism, or giving up without trying; doing only things you are good at; cannot admit mistakes; procrastination; view of God as more concerned with how you act than who you are; cannot ask for help; cannot rest when tired; cannot have guilt-free fun; high need for the approval of others; sense of shame or self-righteousness; demanding of others, or you except "nothing" from them; living a double life."
I could stop right there and let this quote speak for itself, but I want to share some things I have learned. What I and many others have been through in a controlling church mirrors this description exactly.
People will go to great lengths just to be accepted and hear someone praise them for a job well done. In abusive, controlling churches people give their lives by arriving early, staying late, and serving in many areas. They are at the church almost every day of the week, even if it's to the detriment of their own family. They spend their hard earned money and put many miles on their car, all the while they don't realize they are only being used. They are rarely told they are appreciated and they almost never hear the words "thank you." I have seen it time and time again, people do a good job and anxiously await a pat on the back or a smile of approval and they never get one.
Many people have walked away from a task that they put their whole heart into, only to find out it wasn't good enough. Let me just tell you now that there will always be "one more thing" you will have to do to be accepted in a controlling church. You will spin your wheels for years and give so much of your life, but when you have been used up, you will be easily discarded. The most tragic result I have seen is that people begin to think they cannot trust God, just as they can't trust the leaders who have done such a hurtful thing to them.
Pastors and leaders have done many things that hurt people in the name of God. We were taught for years that when our pastor spoke, it was the same as God speaking. But what about the times he was unkind? Was that God? We were told to look at the gift in the man and not the man. But did that mean that all of the PG-13 services we sat in with our children were coming from God? My point is that people get confused about where to draw the line of separation between what is man and what is God. When you are told that you are not honoring God if you don't honor the man, it somehow puts God and man on the same level. Where do you draw the line? The line is drawn in Matthew 23:9 where it says, "Don't address anyone here on earth as Father, for only God in heaven is your Father." It was so refreshing to me the other day when I heard a pastor humbly say, "I am just human. I don't want to, but I will probably let you down one day. That is why you have to keep your eyes on God and never on me." Ministers should teach us to keep our focus on God and God alone, but certain leaders lead us away from this because they want our allegiance and they want all that we can do for them.
When ministers place such an importance on performance, people will begin to think that God does too. We become reluctant to go to God for fear of disappointing Him. Hebrews 4:16 says, "So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most." It doesn't say that we can only come when we have performed everything in excellence. The control we have been under has caused us to go to God with our heads tucked. We have been made to feel that we can't measure up at our church, so why would it be different with God? We should know the difference, but when we sit under the control for years, it becomes hard to separate the two. It's hard to break away because enough scripture has been used to make us believe what they are saying is the truth. We must break free from this way of thinking and remember that our God is a gracious and loving Father who wants us to run to Him. He is the one who always accepts us with open arms!
I am re-learning that my relationship with God is not based on my performance! I am re-learning that His love and acceptance is not based on what I do. If we are always thinking we have to do something to earn His approval, then what about His grace? I heard someone say the other day that tithing is what brought about their healing. I emphatically asked - What about the blood of Jesus? What about the work of the cross? What part did these things play? God gave us these things freely! When we place our confidence in the things we do rather than the love God has for us, we are only performing to get something we already have!
I want to know that it is by His grace that I am accepted and there is nothing I can do to earn it. I want to give Him the glory for all the good in my life. If I do a performance and seek glory for it, it will make me prideful. It will be about what I did and not what He did. Look, I am trying to stay on my feet. Proverbs 16:18 says that pride will bring destruction and make you fall. Why would I want to fall by taking the glory that belongs to God? It's not about me. It's not about my ability - it's about His ability in me! It's all about God! It's not about what we can do to earn acceptance or approval. Because of what Jesus did - we already have it! One time I heard a pastor say, "Quit saying you are not perfect, because you will have what you say." You know what, I'm not perfect - that's why I need God in my life. I daily need His help and guidance. I want to be a humble servant who loves Him and loves people. I hate pride and Proverbs 6:17 tells me that God hates it too. I want to run as far away from pride as I can.
We were in a service last night and I turned to my husband and said, "Do you notice how they are pointing everything to Jesus?" Is your church pointing people to Jesus or to the man in charge? Is your church causing you to trust in Jesus or is it causing you to focus on your performance? If you are in a controlling church trying to measure up to a man's standard, you will never make it. Which would you rather have - performance or relationship? Come away and put your eyes back on God and let Him love you for who you are. It is a wonderful place to be. There are too many nice, loving people who will love and appreciate you for who you are. But more important than anything God loves you - for who you are! He just wants a relationship with you and there is nothing you can do to change the way He feels about you!