"From the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for gain, and from the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely. And they have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, 'Peace, peace,' but there is no peace" Jeremiah 6:13-14
Spiritual abuse is a part of a cycle of unchallenged and unaccountable sins of Christian leadership. Many Christians are wrongly led to believe that in every single instance of spiritual abuse, it is more “spiritually mature” to leave quietly rather than to stay and speak up.
“Too often have I seen people write off the Christian faith entirely because they experienced spiritual abuse in churches that boasted of being the only perfect church with all the right doctrine and theology — if such horrendous abuse happens unchallenged at the ‘best’ of the church, it’s no wonder why they have left the church in its entirety.”
Churches and Christians need to talk more openly and extensively about the reality of spiritual abuse. We require training on this topic for all church leadership as well as for membership in the church. We require significant coverage of this topic at seminaries and Bible colleges for future leaders.
But beyond the resources and training, the solution requires a posture of standing with victims and empowering them to speak up against the abusers. It’s to give a voice to them and surround them with support, counseling, prayer, and companionship so that they can help stop the cycle of spiritual abuse. It’s to push for congregational and denominational policies, procedures, and mechanisms that protect victims and hold abusive leaders accountable and sees spiritual abuse as something that requires public repentance and removal from positions of authority in the church.
God himself speaks about the abusive leaders during Ezekiel’s time in Ezekiel 34 who were feeding off the sheep and fattening themselves. God did not hesitate to let his people know that he took this spiritual abuse seriously and that he himself would tear these “shepherds” down. Jesus embodied this holy and righteous anger against spiritual abuse when he turned tables in the Temple courts and challenged the religious leaders and stood by the side of those who received the brunt of spiritual abuse. If we are to be more and more like Jesus renewed by the Spirit, that means that we should consider spiritual abuse the same way that he does. We should not tolerate it, excuse it, justify it, or even remain silent about it. We should be courageous enough to “drive a spoke in the wheel” of spiritual abuse and be willing to lose it all and lay our lives down for victims of spiritual abuse.
God knows who are his sheep and he knows who are false shepherds who are simply there for their own gain and glory. Many on that day will say, “Lord, Lord! Did I not pastor theologically conservative churches where the gospel was preached every Sunday, and did I not write so many sound theological books, and did I not host a podcast that brought many people into a deeper theological knowledge, and did I not get trained in the best seminary, and did I not do many other wonderful things for your kingdom?” And he will say, “I never knew you.” But to the sheep who have been beaten, bruised, stomped on, silenced, and marginalized, who experienced years of hard counseling, trauma, ostracisation, scapegoating, and wounds for their entire lives yet never let go of the “Love that would not let them go,” Jesus will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant… enter into the joy of your master.”