I was persusing over at Gospelcom.net this morning, and came across this featured article, What is Spiritual Abuse?. The article is based on the book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen.
I have not read the book so I can not speak on its findings, though I agree with some of the abbreviated ideas on the gospel.com page. It’s interesting because my professor has often talked in class about “spiritual malpractice” by pastors. I found that to be a very interesting and insightful concept. There are ways in which pastors abuse their power and their authority, and do so often by using scripture to reinforce their ideas or their power.
Of Johnson’s and VanVonderen’s findings they identify seven characteristics of an abusive church system. You can find them here: Seven Characteristics.
Though I have been fortunate to be in what I believe are pretty healthy churches, the concept of “power posturing” is the one that I think is the most common in churches that tend to be abusive. It is definitely the one that I have had the most conversations with people about who struggle in their church settings. Here is what they say about it:
How much time does a person focus on their spiritual authority, reminding you that they are the one in control and that you must submit to their authority? Real leaders don’t have to keep announcing their authority, they get on and use it without fanfare [See Lessons on Leadership, a bible study on Joshua, chapters three and four]. I think that leaders who talk about others having to “submit to their authority” on a regular basis are power-posturing.
You should be able to ask leaders why they made the decision they did. You are not refusing to submit to their authority, nor are you rebelling. It is a simple question. If you are not allowed to honestly ask questions, the person in authority is not being held accountable for their decisions.
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
Note that “submit” does not mean agreeing with everything the leader says and does. Neither does it mean that we should leave our brains at the front door because the leader wants to do our thinking for us.
God gives authority, not man. Elections do not give authority, posturing does not, shouting loudly does not, trying to appear the most spiritual does not, length of service does not, how much you give does not. God gives authority to our leaders to shepherd the flock, not to make the leader feel good, or to bolster their ego, or to paper over a sense of inferiority.
I agree. I tell people often that a quarterback does not have to go into a game and tell all his teammates in the huddle that they have to listen to him because he is the quarterback. They listen to him because he leads and is a team player…they listen to him because he gives his “power” away and distributes it to others….etc, etc.
A true leader does not exert power over others, but intstead gives power away (Phil. 2:5-11).