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.