The use of guilt, fear, and intimidation is likely to produce members with low self-esteem. Many are beaten down by legalism, while assertiveness is a sign that one is not teachable and therefore not spiritual.
These leaders evaluate all forms of Christian spirituality according to their own prescribed system
Fourth, are family commitments strengthened? Church obligations are valued more than family ones. Although many ily as a priority, in practice they do not act like it. My colleagues at Probe, Don and Deanne, know of a mother who needed to gain special permission from her church to attend her son’s wedding because it conflicted with a church event. The church made her feel guilty because she was choosing family over God. In another case, I know of women who missed their son and daughter’s prom night to attend a church meeting which was held twenty minutes from their homes. The mindset is loyalty to God means loyalty to his church. One’s spiritual quality is determined by one’s allegiance to the church.
Fifth, does the group encourage independent thinking, developing discernment skills, and creation of new ideas? Abusive churches resort to using pressure to have followers conform, and there is a low tolerance for any kind of difference in belief (of a non-essential nature) and behavior. There is a legalistic emphasis on keeping the rules, and a need to stay within set boundaries. Unity is defined as conformity.
Seventh, does the leadership encourage members to foster relations and connections with the larger society that are more than self-serving? Abusive churches thrive on tactics that create total dependence on the church while protecting and isolating themselves from the “sinful” world.
Finally, is there a high rate of burnout among the members? In order to gain approval or prove you are a “true disciple,” abusive churches require levels of service that are very taxing.
If these are character traits of the group you are attending, you may be in an abusive church and should consider leaving the organization.
Profile of an Abusive Leader
Abusive leaders use their position to demand loyalty and submission. Ken Blue states, “I have heard many pastors say to their congregations, ‘Because I am the pastor, you must follow me.’ Their demand was not based on truth or the God-directedness of their leadership but on their title. That is a false basis of authority . . . any appeal to authority based on position, title, degree or office is false. The only authority God recognizes and to which we should submit to is truth.” Other leaders use titles such as “God’s man” or “the Lord’s anointed” so that others will treat them with special reverence and keep themselves above accountability that others in the congregation are held to. “If by appealing to position, unique claims or special anointings, leaders succeed in creating a hierarchy in the church, they can more easily control those beneath them. They can also defend themselves against any who might challenge them.”
One of the lessons from the Bible is that all men and women are fallible. Therefore, all people, especially leaders, need some form of accountability. Although pastors are called to lead their congregations, they are under the authority of God’s Word. When they act in a manner contrary to Scripture they need to be confronted, and improper behavior needs to be corrected. In 2 Samuel 22, the prophet Nathan confronted King David about his sin. In Galatians 2, Paul confronted Peter, the leader of the Apostles, for not acting in line with the truth. “Paul declared by this action that the truth always outranks position or title in the church. Truth and its authority are not rooted in personality or office. It is derived from the word of God and the truth it proclaims.” Blue continues: “Paul taught that the body of Christ is a nonhierarchical living organism.”