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