Friday, September 19, 2008

Happy? Devastated? or Both?

Someone asked the question the other day, "If all of these people who left the church are so devastated, then why do they get on the blogs and talk about how happy and free they are?" I will try to answer this question, but I may need some help from you, the happy and free readers, to explain.

I am happy because I am going to a new church, meeting a lot of new people, reconnecting with some old friends, rebuilding my relationship with God, and I feel like for the first time in many years I really understand the love of God. I have also learned so much about the kind of church I will NEVER be a part of again. Freedom came when I realized that God loves me for who I am and I no longer have to measure up to someone who places impossible demands on people. All of these things make me very happy, but I continue to deal with the things that have gone on and are still going on in my former church. It hasn't been easy to try to separate what was right and what was wrong from the past 22 years. (It seems now that most of it was wrong.) It is a process that doesn't happen overnight and it doesn't begin until you are out from under the control and manipulation.

I also heard that someone asked, "If the church was so bad for 25 years, then why are these people just now seeing it?" My answer to this is that these controlling leaders are very good at what they do! They manipulate trusting, innocent people who give their lives to serve in the church and then leave them hurt and devastated. Yes, it is devastating to find out that someone I trusted lied to me, didn't really ever care about me, and then turned on me overnight. It has been devastating to realize that I was indoctrinated with rules rather than strengthened in a relationship with God. It is devastating to realize that basically I have to rebuild my whole life.

Happy? Yes! Life is good and free outside the bubble of a controlling church! Devastated? Yes, but trying my best to move on. With every day that goes by, the devastation becomes less noticeable. I still feel I have a little ways to go before I will go a whole day without thinking about it at all. Sometimes things get stirred back up, especially when I hear of another person who has been hurt by a controlling leader.

Can anyone else help me answer these questions that have been posed? Can you relate to what I am saying? Are you moving on and yet still have moments when you feel devastated? What's your story?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Are You Under The Influence?

I found this quiz on the Internet and answered yes to almost all of the questions. I thought you might find it interesting to take.

Are you "UNDER THE INFLUENCE" of a destructive group or belief system? Find out with this Self Quiz:

Does your group discourage doubts, criticism or ideas that differ from their belief system? Yes____No____

Do you tend to rationalize whatever the group does even when it goes against your sense of right and wrong? Yes___ No___

Do you often feel exhausted from lengthy group activities, meetings and projects? Yes___ No___

Does your group have its own unique words, cliches, slogans, chants, prayers and doctrinal phrases that reinforce the group viewpoint? Yes___ No___

Are doubts viewed as a lack of faith, dedication, commitment or disloyalty? Yes___ No___

Have "your thoughts and questions" become "the enemy?" Yes___ No___

Do you often find yourself doing more and more things in the group because of group peer pressure that you would not have done on your own? Yes___ No___

Does your group publicly humiliate or criticize members? Yes___ No___

Does your group have a system of punishments and rewards for behavior? Yes___ No___

Group paranoia: Does your group obsessively think other groups or people with different beliefs are out to get them? Yes___ No___

Does the prospect of leaving your group seem scary, difficult? Yes___ No___

Do you feel the need to leave in secret? Yes___ No___

Have you been told something bad might happen if you leave? Yes___ No___

Does your group/belief system think they have/are the only or highest truth, or have the solution for the world’s problems? Yes___ No___

Are your leader’s ideas or belief system considered beyond reproach or sacred? Yes___ No___

Do you follow a particular individual or belief system that requires unquestioning obedience and loyalty? Yes___ No___

Do members of your group feel specially chosen, superior, exclusive, elite? Yes___ No___

Do you feel the need to save or convert others to your belief system or ideology? Yes___ No___

Is your group secretive to outsiders about its inner workings, teachings, activities or beliefs? Yes___ No___

Does your group equate purity and goodness to being in your group, and impurity or evil to those outside your group? Yes___ No___

Do you place your group’s mission or agenda above your own goals and ideals? Do group interests come before your own interest? Yes___ No___

Do you find yourself thinking in a we-they, us-versus-them mind set? Yes___ No___

Does your group/system have a clear outside enemy? Yes___ No___

Do you see less and less of your family and friends who do not belong to your group or who do not subscribe to your group’s belief system? Yes___ No___

Does your group use frequent public testimonials, confessions, or sharings that reinforce the group’s mission or agenda? Yes___ No___

Is communication within, into and out of your group controlled or censored in any manner? Yes___ No___

Does your group criticize, shun, abandon or demean individuals who leave the group? Yes___ No___

Do members seek approval or get permission from group leader(s) for personal life choices? Yes___ No___

Do you feel pressured to attend meetings, events, lectures, seminars? And do you feel guilty if you don’t attend? Yes___ No___

Do you feel pressured to give a portion of your income to the group, or spend money on special projects? Yes___ No___

Are the group’s financial needs more important than your own economic well-being? Yes___ No___

Does your group discriminate against anyone regarding race, gender, or belief? Yes___ No___

Does your group have a totalitarian structure: a strict, top-down centralized control? Yes___ No___

Do you wonder if you have been in a destructive group? Answer these questions:

Do you have difficulty forming new friendships and intimate relationships? Yes___ No___

Do you have low self-esteem, poor self-image or loss of identity? Yes___ No___

Do you have difficulty making simple decisions and choices? Yes___ No___

Do you often feel depressed, anxious and nervous? Yes___ No___

Do you feel isolated, lonely, guilty, cynical? Yes___ No___

Do you feel like you are just now growing up, becoming a mature adult? Yes___ No___

Do you have short-term memory difficulties? Yes___ No___

Do you feel you have nothing to believe in? Yes___ No___

Do you often feel anger and rage towards the group? Yes___ No___

This quiz has no scientifically predetermined number of "yes" answers to indicate a destructive group. However, answering "yes" to any of the above questions means you may need to examine your group and its influence in your life.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Great Post Link

I read a great post today on Charismania's blog called 'Surveying the Wreckage.' She does an awesome job explaining what goes on in controlling churches. If you read it, let me know what you think.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Where's The Love?

I noticed over the years, in the church I was involved in, it seemed there was always a lack of love. There was a lot of teaching on faith and money, but not a lot of teaching on loving God and loving people. Since I had been in this one church for over 20 years, I knew nothing else and had nothing to compare it to. I wondered where the love was, but I came to the resolve that it must be that way in all churches. I see now that I had bought a lie. I went for all those years missing out on love, freedom, friendships, and most importantly a real relationship with God. I had settled for a counterfeit religion. Now that I am out from under the control and manipulation, I see how far off things really were.

I always wondered why many of the ministers I use to be around didn't seem to like people. In meetings I attended, ministers would stay in the back until the music had already started and then they would leave before the service was dismissed. It was very evident that they didn't want to be around or converse with the "common" people in the congregation. Why did they want to spend their time teaching the Bible to people that they really didn't even seem to like? Could it be that it was just a job to them? If they don't like people, then why did they go into the ministry to begin with? Being in the ministry is all about people!!!

I heard the same stories over and over about ministers who would mistreat their young apprentices. I heard of one old timer that had a young minister who followed him all the way to another country, while all along the way he ignored and mistreated the young man. WHY? Why wouldn't he want to be an example of God's love and kindness? In my mind, all this does is give people a false view of who God really is. This young man was looking to his mentor to learn the ways of God. Couldn't the mentor see that he was actually teaching him how to mistreat God's precious children? God always helps, leads, and provides for us. He never mistreats and leaves us to ourselves to figure things out. We shouldn't listen to these stories and just accept them because they come from behind a pulpit. If it doesn't resemble God's love, then we should rethink the whole concept. Someone may be able to preach a good sermon, but if they don't have love for others, then doesn't the Bible say it's only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal?

We were always told, "Don't look at the man, look at the gift." I have figured out that this is sometimes a convenient way to excuse moodiness or rude behavior. I have now taken that statement out of my vocabulary because I don't buy it anymore. The Bible says that we will know people are Christians by their love. It also says to test the spirits and look at the fruit. Where's the love in a pastor talking rudely to someone? Where's the love in calling someone a name from the pulpit? Where's the love in not accepting a person for who they are and refusing to see the good in them? I know a young minister who was spoken to in a very inappropriate way by a church leader. When the leader was confronted, he excused his behavior by admitting, "he was strongly lacking in people skills." What about using manners, or better than that, what about doing what's right? Enough excuses! When a leader is lacking in people skills, he should do whatever it takes to learn some. There are plenty of good books and classes out there to help people.

I heard one friend describe it as being "relationally dysfunctional." It made so much sense to me when he said that. I always thought that maybe I was the one that had the problem, because I got so nervous around certain ministers and couldn't even speak. But now I see that the multitude of people in the church are probably not the ones with the problem, but perhaps it is the leaders. I have come to the conclusion that some leaders were never taught people skills, good manners, or how to love.

A few years ago, I made the suggestion to the leadership of my former church that we offer the staff a class on people skills. I did a lot of research and presented it to the leaders. Of course, that didn't happen. After looking through the material, I found some of the basic principles this class would have taught.....

* Be a good listener and encourage people to talk
* Show respect for the other person's opinion
* Give honest and sincere appreciation
* If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically
* Try honesty to see things from the other person's point of view
* Sympathize with people

There are so many kind, loving people in the ministry. You don't have to remain in a church governed by selfish leaders who don't care about people. If a leader has been conducting himself in the same way for 20 or 30 years, he's probably not going to change any time soon. You deserve more! You are God's precious child and He cares how you are treated. He laid out how he wanted you to be treated in the Bible. Is your church meeting the guidelines?

God's plan throughout time has consisted of people impacting other people. That's God's main goal for us - impact people for the kingdom of God. Ministry is not about "me" and what I can get from people, it's about being a servant. Jesus himself came to serve instead of to be served and He always chose others over Himself. Jesus is supposed to be the example for all Christians, including ministers. It's time that we realize that no one is better than another. The homeless guy down the street is just as important to God as the pastor of a church.

I was talking to a young couple who just came out of a controlling church and they admitted that they have never really known God's love. They have heard about the things of God all of their lives, but He seemed like a distant God who was only interested in making sure they followed the rules. I am on a mission to share God's love with them and help them see that what really matters in life is loving God and loving people - not all the legalism they have grown up in their whole lives. I believe there are many people out there in this same situation. When a person walks into our life, we should look at it as a God given opportunity to share His love with them. We truly have the ability to impact the lives of people on a daily basis. It only takes a kind word, a smile, and giving some of our time to show we care.

Where's the love? Let it be said of you and me, that God's love can be found here.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Characteristics of Control

What I week I've had! I have once again seen the ugly affects that control and manipulation can have over a person. There are controlling leaders out there who will go to any length to protect their own image, while hurting innocent people in the process. I so want people to see the truth and escape from this ungodly control!

Evidently this very thing has been going on throughout the history of the church. A friend pointed something out to me in the Message Bible. It's not a scripture, but it's the introduction to the book of Galatians. Here is a portion of that introduction......

"When men and women get their hands on religion, one of the first things they often do is turn it into an instrument for controlling others, either putting or keeping them "in their place." The history of such religious manipulation and coercion is long and tedious. It is little wonder that people who have only known religion on such terms experience release or escape from it as freedom. The problem is that the freedom turns out to be short-lived. Paul was doing his best to add yet another chapter to this dreary history when he was converted by Jesus to something radically and entirely different - a free life in God. Through Jesus, Paul learned that God was not an impersonal force to be used to make people behave in certain prescribed ways, but a personal Savior who set us free to live a free life. God did not coerce us from without, but set us free from within. Paul learned that religious leaders of the old school had come into the churches, called his views and authority into question, and were reintroducing the old ways, herding all these freedom-loving Christians back into the corral of religious rules and regulations. Paul was furious with the old guard for coming in with their strong-arm religious tactics and intimidating the Christians into giving up their free life in Jesus. But he was also furious with the Christians for caving in to the intimidation. Freedom is a delicate and subtle gift, easily perverted and often squandered."

It seems to me that Paul was passionate about making people aware of this control that leaders were trying to have. That's where I am today. Paul wrote about the affects it would have on people because he wanted them to be free and I want the same. I want people to be free! It's time for people to fall into the arms of a loving God instead of falling into the hands of a controlling leader!

Please understand my heart. I know there are great churches who are doing it right. I have been to some of them and I go to a church where the pastor says, "We are all in this together." I know there are Christian leaders and ministers who are loving people and teaching the true Word of God, but there is a faction out there that is controlling and manipulating, and innocent people are falling prey to it. My purpose in sharing this is not to keep things stirred up in the hearts of people who have been through this. If you are already free, you can stop reading. I am sharing this in hopes that those who are still in bondage to this control will see it for what it is.

One of the biggest areas I see is the confusion it brings to young men and women who are trying to build their lives and ministries. They are told to respect and honor their leader, and they are given no choice but to bend under the rule and even accept mistreatment that comes their way. They are told, "If you do it our way, everything will go well for you." People are being trained in a culture of control which forces them to conform to a way of life that is ruled by guilt and manipulation. Can't you see how this can suck the very life out of a person who is only trying to love and serve God? Because there is no grace and love shown to them, it makes them have a sour taste for the church as a whole. This should not be! I want people to escape from the clutches of control, and see that Jesus provided a wonderful life of freedom for all of His people! I want people to see that God is totally the opposite of this control men try to use over them! I want people to just know how much God loves them!

I have been reading from a book titled "Confronting Jezebel: Discerning and Defeating the Spirit of Control," by Steve Sampson. This is a list of characteristics from the book that controlling people display. You can apply this list to any area of your life, not just the church. Everyone has character flaws (so don't get paranoid), and anyone may have one or two these characteristics, but if a number of these is present, then you are probably dealing with a controlling person. If anyone is trying to control you, it is not what God wants for you.

Characteristics Of A Controlling Person:

* Refuses to admit guilt or wrong - This person is never wrong, unless it's a temporary admittance of guilt to gain favor with someone. To accept responsibility would violate the core of insecurity and pride from which he operates.

* Takes credit for everything - This person will never take credit for his wrong actions or behavior, but he is quick to take credit for benefits for which he contributed no effort.

* Uses people to accomplish his agenda - This person lets others do his dirty work.

* Withholds information - This person wields power over you by knowing something you don't know in a situation. He will use this information as a powerful weapon of control.

* Talks in confusion - When confronting the controlling person, the subject may be changed five times in one minute. Confusion keeps him undiscovered and unexposed.

* Lies - This person lies convincingly. No one can lie better than he. The fact that he can look you in the eye and lie just shows how strong and adamant this rebellious spirit is.

* Ignores people - A classic ploy of a controller is to ignore you when you disagree with him. This puts the person out of the leader's grace and forces him to either "come around" to the leader's way of thinking or to be indefinitely ignored. One is not free to disagree with a controller.

* Never gives credit or shows gratitude - This person cannot bring himself to say thank you or to acknowledge that someone else did something right, even if it benefited him.

* Criticizes everyone - This person has to be the one who looks good, so he will quickly and sharply criticize anyone who makes a suggestion. Criticizing others elevates the controller in his own mind.

* One-upmanship - This person will always upstage another person. He feels threatened by anyone who dares to steal the limelight or who is a threat to his power and control.

* Sequesters information - This person loves to be in control of information. He will push to be the "first to know." Where he gets all his information is beyond comprehension, but he can dictate to you data and details about people's lives and actions in mass quantities.

* Uses information - This person uses information as a leverage for power and then shares tidbits with you, often things told him in confidence. This gives him a sense of power, even to the point of trying to impress people by "knowing things" that others do not.

* Spiritualizes everything - When this person is confronted, he commonly spiritualizes the situation, explaining it off on God. This prevents him to owning up to responsibility required of him. The implication is always, "You've got a problem; I don't."

* Is insubordinate - This person will take credit for someone else's idea. His main desire is for power and control. There is no conscience when an opportunity for recognition presents itself.

* Is pushy and domineering - This person pressures you to do things, seemingly ripping from you your right to choose or make a decision for yourself. He makes others feel as though they don't have enough sense to think for themselves.

* Uses the element of surprise - This person's main thrust is to be in control, and a large part of control is catching you off guard.

* Sows seeds of discord - This person will continually belittle another person in the most subtle way. The strategy is to "gain" control by minimizing the value of another person. It is common for him to tell half-truths to implicate another person in your eyes. By sowing these seeds, he hopes to eventually reap a harvest of destruction, improving his position of power.

* Commands attention - This person loves to be the center of attention and doesn't like to see others recognized. When someone else is recognized, he will quickly undermine the person's accomplishments verbally.

* Is vengeful - This person is never wrong. It you contradict or confront him, get ready to become his worst enemy. As long as you are in agreement with him, all is fine. But if you confront him, look out. You are the target of his fiercest venom. He will stop at nothing to destroy your reputation.

* Attempts to make you look like you're the Jezebel - This person is difficult to pin down. If he is near to being confronted, he will skillfully twist the entire situation, trying to make the innocent person look like the one who is attempting to control. He will do anything to look like the one who is right.

* Insinuates disapproval - This person will often imply disapproval to those under his control. The controlled person feels no freedom to express an opinion, for fear of disapproval.

* Knows it all - This person is blatant regarding his knowledge of everything. He is quick to express is opinion in any area, and he leaves little room for anyone to point out the other side of an issue. He has made idols of his opinions.

* Is ambitious - This person has strong desire, but all for self. "I want what I want when I want it," describes his worship of self-will. He will never use the words, "We have a vision," but rather, "My vision is this."

* Gift giving - This person uses gift giving as a form a manipulation. By doing this it makes people feel obligated to him.

* Is independent - No one has input into this person's life. He fraternizes with no one unless it is to get you to "cooperate" with his agenda.

* Is religious - This person dwells in the church, but doesn't like authority unless he is in the position of authority.

* Hides - This person may seem normal for a period, exhibiting none of the classic traits. Then suddenly without warning a situation will arise and once again this person will take control and wreak havoc over lives.

* Uses Fear - This person uses fear to wield authority, by saying things like, "If you leave, you will be without a spiritual covering."

I have seen all of these characteristics and experienced many of them first hand. I can tell you by personal experience that staying in a controlling situation will only bring hurt and disappointment to you and your children. Someone very dear to me learned this hard lesson just this week. The only way to truly live a free live in God is to get away from the control and learn all you can so that you will never find yourself there again.

*The post, Characteristics Of A Controlling Person, also has a detailed list of common characteristics.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sharing In The Father's Affection

I watched a video this morning called Sharing In The Father's Affection and it really touched my heart. Sometime soon when you have about 30 minutes, I encourage you to watch it. It gives a clear picture of the Father's love for us.