Spiritual Abuse - Lesson 5

How You as a Spiritual Leader Can Help

Untwist Scripture passages and model a healthy relationship.

Gerry Breshears
Spiritual Abuse
Lesson 5
Watching Now
How You as a Spiritual Leader Can Help

How You as a Spiritual Leader Can Help

I. Untwist scripture

A. Look at the responsibility of the leader.

B. Look at Christ's example of submission.

II. Help the person learn about the group and the abuser.

III. Introduce the person to the Lord.

IV. Help the person understand grace and forgiveness.

V. Help the person understand that biblical authority is about serving, not being served.

VI. Help the person differentiate submission from compliance.

VII. Help the person deal with their own sin.

  • Spiritual abuse exists when a person or group of people with religious authority use their position of spiritual power to control or dominate another person in the name of God, church faith, etc., taking advantage of the person’s vulnerability to gratify their own needs in areas like power, intimacy, prosperity, sexual gratification, etc.

  • It can be difficult to recognize spiritual abuse because you often don’t realize that it's happening. One sign of possible spiritual abuse is a change of personality in a negative direction. Many abusive situations will undermine and devalue family relationships of the members to exploit them and increase control over them in the group. They will emphasize church loyalty to the exclusion of family loyalty. 

  • When you are encouraging someone as a friend who has experience spiritual abuse, there are specific elements of your relationship that can be helpful.

  • When you are encouraging someone as a friend who has experienced spiritual abuse, there are 6 elements of your relationship that will be helpful to avoid. 

  • Untwist Scripture passages and model a healthy relationship.

  • Dr. Breshears responds to questions that are commonly asked about the subject of spiritual abuse.

How to recognize spiritual abuse, important steps to take to recover and what you can do to walk with someone as they recover.

Spiritual Abuse

Dr. Gerry Breshears


How You as a Spiritual Leader Can Help

Lesson Transcript


I want to speak a little bit more to our spiritual leaders, pastors, Sunni school teachers. Somebody has got a little bit of experience in spiritual leadership. Some things to do that can be helpful from that level, not just friend, which you talked about before, but about spiritual leaders. One of the things that I want to do with somebody who've been out of spiritual abuse is I want to untwist scripture because spiritual abusers are masters. Masters, masters at manipulating scripture. I. One of my least favorite examples is for Samuel 2410. It's a story of David and Saul and in the cave in that famous story. David is in there and he sees Saul on the cave and he has a spot where he could kill Saul and get rid of this man who's murderously evil against him. And the verse says, This day, you seniors, their honor is how the Lord delivered you and my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you. I said I will not lift my hand against my master because he is the Lord's anointed. And the pastor is the Lord's anointed. The spiritual abuser will always put in that spot that I am the Lord's anointed. Therefore, you must not touch me. You must not question me. You must not disobey me. I in these kinds you've gotten to Scripture, what you have to do is go back and open up that Scripture, put it in context, and see what that means. It does not mean that David was just completely compliant with Saul. In fact, if you read the story, he's anything but. But what he's not doing and he's not taking the opportunity for personal vengeance against Saul, you've got to learn how to untwist scripture.


Oh, another one that's so often abused is Hebrews 1317. Words be in submission to your spiritual authorities for the give account for your soul and submission that is defined as I. I must do what I'm told to do and I must do with a smile. I must never question submission means do what I'm told and do it with a smile. That is not the picture submission. Here's how interest that particular question. I do two things. First of all, I take them to the passengers and I look at the responsibility of the leaders because yes, we are to be submissive. Absolutely. But leaders also have a responsibility to be servants, not dominators. So I want to look at the other side of the thing. What's the responsibility of the leader? The other thing I want to do is I want to take him to the preeminent example of submission. And of course, you all know where that is. What's the most best example ever of submission? Well, it's Jesus in the garden. Well, what is that? Not my will, but I be done. No, Put it in context. You go to Mark chapter 14, verse 32. And here's what I do. I have the I had the survivor read from their Bible out loud as simple interpretive questions. I don't ever tell them what the Bible means. How come that's what their abuser did? I'm teaching them to unchurched scripture and see it for themselves. So I take them to first take in Mark 1432 and I say read for 32 through 36 out loud, and they read it. And then I start to ask some questions What is it that Jesus gives to his father and friends when he speaks out? What is the thing he gives to his father's friend? What's the first thing? And we often have to do a lot of dancing around as they begin to try to anticipate what it is that I want them to say.


And I play lots of games with them to come back to what is the Scripture said. And if you're looking at that passage right now as you're watching this, you'll see that it says there that he he is speaking to his friends and his father, that I am overwhelmed. My agony is even unto death. And help them read that. What's the first thing that submission does? It gives my true feelings to the one in authority. See, and that's a dimension of submission isn't always done. I give my true feelings to the one in authority. That's what he gives to his friends and his father. He gives his feelings. I am in Albany. That's not a good feeling. But he gives it to the fathers, the appraiser in the garden. The second thing he does, speaking to the father, he says, Father, all things are possible. Take this cup from me. What is he doing there? He's giving his desires to the one in authority. So give your feelings. Give your desires. Now that particular desire. Take this cup from me. What cup are we talking about? We're talking about the cup of suffering and death. The sacrifice is going to atone for the sins of the world. What happens if Father grants that desire and Jesus doesn't go to the cross? What? I wouldn't be good. Why does Jesus ask for that? Because it's a real desire that cup of suffering and death is going to be agonizing. He doesn't want to do it. So he gives his desire to the father. And then the third thing he does, not the first thing, the third things not may well, but yours be done. See, not maybe yours is the third step of submission, not the first step of submission.


You begin by giving your feelings, giving your desires and giving your trust. That is submission. And of course, submission is only to trustworthy authorities. So what I do at this point to help them onto Scripture is I take them back to a place where we see what the fathers response to agony is. We don't see the fathers response in Mark 14, but we do. An excerpt. Chapter two The last two verses of X's Chapter two The Israelites are groaning out and they're suffering, and they call out to God. And in that context, God hears their call. He remembers his covenant. He sees them and he's concerned about them. That's the response of somebody in authority to somebody who's in submission. Do you hear? Do you remember the covenant? Do you really see? Do you really concerned for them? Those four verbs in those last two verses, X's chapter two gives a picture of what one is authority. And what I do then is help them understand that the one in authority has a responsibility to be like the father in their response. And then I help them realize that their abuser was not like the father. I'm twisting submission scripture. There's so many of those kinds of things where I listen to what were the scriptures that were used in the abuse, and then I untwist those scriptures. That's a role I can do as a pastor teacher, and it's very, very helpful to help them. And what I'm doing, I'm not telling them the answer. I'm helping them see it for themselves in Scripture. And when they ask questions, I take that into account. The second thing that I do. Is I help them learn about the group and the abuser. I helped them learn about the group and the abuser.


And what I'm doing at that spot is I'm taking him back. If it's a group I, one of the public groups, it's well known as the International Church of Christ, used to be called the Boston Church of Christ. It's a it's a cult group. It's widely recognized as such. And so what I do, I've worked with some people of out of that particular group here is I have to go do some research on the group and see what's happening, and I help them do that. Well, learn about the group and the abuser, do some research. If you're in a bigger group, you can find that out. If it's a smaller group, a local group, just a church cult group. What I'll try to do is help them look at and write down what was going on, look at their website, look at their teachings, help them learn about the group and the abuser. And then from an outside perspective, begin to analyze what are they doing? I want them to learn about the group and the abuser. A third thing. And it sounds a little bit silly, but introduce them to the Lord. Why would I want to do that? Because the God they've been told about is anything but the Lord of the universe who comes to us in Jesus Christ. Many times what's happening in cult groups is they have been given the God who is the holy, absolute sovereign commander. And I have to help them see that is not the picture of God and Scripture is God holy. I hope you're going to say yes. But does that always mean they're often told, well, the Holy God cannot tolerate sin in his presence, so you must do what I tell you to do in order to be rid of your sin so that you can come into his presence.


Because you can't dare come into his presence until you've made yourself cleansed and holy. And there's the open door for abuse. So I take him. Isaiah Chapter six. Here's where the thrice Holy God the church him themselves are saying, Holy, holy, Holy is the Lord God of the universe. The Earth is full of His glory. And then the response of Isaiah, when He sees the Lord is to fall down and say, Whoa, am I for a man of unclean lips? And I serve a people of unclean lips. That's confession of sin. And then the angel takes a call from the altar and comes and touches his lips and he is cleansed. This is not Isaiah doing some kind of ritual to prepare himself for coming into the presence of God. This is a response. A sinner has been approached by the God of the universe who was holy, and His Holiness wants to cleanse people who are willing to receive that very different perspective. And then after he's cleansed, then the Lord comes and says, Who will go for me? Whom shall I sin? Who will go for us? And now Isaiah, not in his face and abject depravity, is standing upright and says, Let me do it, let me do it. I picture a little boy jumping up and down in excitement. I want to do it. I want to do it. Big says they've been told that the only proper position for a godly person, the presence of the Holy God, is on your face seeing how despicable you are. Read the story of Isaiah. After he's cleansed. Which was there only because God comes to him and he's willing to talk about his sin with the Holy God and be cleanse. Bennett's excitement and partnership together.


You introduce them to the Lord. A fourth thing understanding grace and forgiveness. Now, those are two huge concepts. Oh, Grace is one of those words we use a lot and don't often know what it means. My simple definition for grace is just undeserved help. The idea of grace as God helps us and we don't have to earn it. We don't have to do something to get that help. God is here to help us. Help us do what? Help us do the things that He wants us to do. As a child of the Lord, most high is the help for us to get rid of sin and brokenness in our lives. He will help us do that many times. Grace is what the pastor says you have to give him, and grace means you never question what they do. Grace means unconditional. That's okay now. That's not what it means. But that's what I've done. It's what happens in the end. Hey, come on, give me a little grace. Which means give me a pass on sin. The pastor says that about him. Hey, you got to give me grace. I'm the anointed leader. But that's not what Grace is. Grace's help to serve the Lord. Grace's help to deal with the sin and brokenness in my life. You've got to learn that forgiveness. It's a whole study in itself. Does God forgive everybody? Yeah. Think about it a minute. Does God forgive everybody? And the answer is no. A whole bunch of people end up in hell. How come? Because they refuse to receive the help and forgiveness and blessing that he offers them. Does God forgive everybody? No. They bear responsibility for their own actions. So here's the abuser. And he's done illegal activities.


I am required as a servant of God to offer him forgiveness. I'm to have a forgiving spirit. But if he has done illegal activities, stolen money from the group, or sexually abused people in the group, do I have the right to call the police? And the answer is, yes, I do. But you're not being forgiven. Actually that having to do it, forgiveness means I don't take a shotgun to him. Calling the police for illegal activity is different than forgiveness. Giving up my personal right to hurt him for how he's hurt me now a lot more to be said about forgiveness. But I think that's really important to understand that I a fifth thing to do is to see that authority is about serving and not being served. Help to understand the nature of authority. So I take them to passages like Matthew, Chapter 20. Where the two James and John want to sit on the right and left hand in the kingdom. They want to place a particular privilege and power and God or Jesus said to them, You know, that's not what it's about. First of all, I don't give you that. I don't have the right to give that to you. But what I need to understand is, isn't the kingdom. That place of authority is not to dominate another one. That's what Jesus says in so many words. But it's an order to serve them. How do you see the difference between dominating and in serving? Because the they're beautiful always. Sam Serving you. How do you see the difference? You start looking at things you go to first Peter Chapter five, where it's talking about elders and you see elders. There are to be an example to the ones that they're leading.


Does your pastor in the abusive situation or whoever it is, the elders of the church, whoever it is, do they ask you to be like them and abusers? Almost never when you start looking at it. No, no. Well, I am the anointed authority. You are the submissive servant. They're not saying I'm an example and you should be like me. And you help them sort that through. Authority is about serving, not being served. I. Another point is to differentiate submission from compliance. I talked about that a little bit ago with the definition of submission. Compliance means do what you're told. Submission means having a serving, helping spirit. We do need to be submissive. We do need to be supportive of those in authority over us. It's absolutely true. But compliance means doing what you're told. And smiling is a whole different thing than submission, because submission can always give feelings. As for questions, ask for asked questions and to talk about my own desires. If I'm not allowed to give my feelings, ask questions and give my desires, that's not submission. That's compliance. God is after our submission, but He's not after our compliance. Another thing I have to do as a pastor in particular is help them deal with their own sin. And this one is hard because in a in an abusive situation, they have usually been told everything is their fault. And the reaction many times is to tell somebody, oh, it wasn't your fault. That's an overreaction. And what we tend to do too many times as we overreact to that and say it was not your fault. Well, it may be partially their fault. Because in an abusive situation, you're being told everything is your fault because the one who's abusing never has any faults or failures.


But the especially if they're adults, they do have some responsibility. And here's a thing. We want to protect them from being over responsible. We tend to take them as part of being under responsible. And this is where we help them understand that God is always eager to forgive and heal. So what's the responsibility I have is talk about what I actually did. So what I do at this spot is help them sort through. What did I do? That was actually my responsibility. That's not easy to do, but it's vitally important because in the cult environment, they can't have any sin or failure because you become punished severely for that. But see, in God's gracious environment, of course you're broken. Of course you sin. That's bad. But I'm here to help. God says I'm not here to bust you up. I'm here to help you become a mature child of God. And that comes back to introduce him to Lord. I've got to help them deal with their own sin. And I find way, way, way too often I don't the counselors and pastors don't do that. It was not your fault. Well, it may be in part their fault. They have to learn that God, that sin doesn't kill them, that God is not out to destroy them for that process. A passage that I virtually always take people to when I'm working with them as a pastor is I ask them a kind of a trick question. The Bible quotes itself all the time. What is the most quoted verse in the Bible by the Bible? And hint it's about God. Now, nobody ever knows, although I've been trying to get the secret out for a long time that the most quoted verse in the Bible by the Bible is the cleft in the rock passage where Moses asked to see God's face and God says, You can't see my face because it'll kill you to be that close to me.


But I'll put you in the cleft of the rock. I'll put my hand over and I will pass by and you will see me. The sex is 34, six and seven. And it's a hugely profound passage because it tells the character of God. And so I ask people and I put it in a multiple choice quiz God to just mess with everybody. And I say, okay, multiple choice quiz. Alphabetical order is the most is the first thing God says about himself. That is that almighty, compassionate, wholly omnipotent or sovereign? Emigrate. Clear. Those are all true. What's the first thing God says about himself in this passage, where he talks about himself and almost everybody gets it wrong? Okay, You can look it up in your Bible now. You can push, pause and go look at your Bible or you can trust me that I'll tell you the truth. God walks in front of Moses, exits three, four, six and seven, and he says, Yahweh, Yahweh. He pronounces name twice, which is basically saying, I'm a person. I want to relate. And then he says, the first thing about himself, you know, I've translated as compassionate. ESV, translated as Merciful, and the Hebrew word is the real word, which is a word that talks about how mother feels about the baby in her womb or the baby she just delivered. It's that kind of a feeling that is the first thing God says about himself. And he's saying it to people who have just worshiped the golden calf. I am compassionate, merciful. First thing he says compassion. The second thing he says is gracious. So the first thing he says, I care. The second thing he says is I help. The third thing he says is I am slow to anger.


You can make God mad. How? Start abusing kids. God would be mad at you. Start doing spiritual abuse. God, we mad at you. He didn't start angry. He's slow to anger. So he's compassionate, caring, gracious. Helping. Slow to anger forth. He is faithful. Sorry. Loving and faithful. That's the Carson Emet pair of words in Hebrew. God is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, loving, faithful. Forgiving wickedness, sin and rebellion. And does not leave the guilty unpunished. And what I do is I take them through that incredible passage and I say this is a character of God. These are not the only things that are true about him, but this is the central things in Scripture. Is God is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger. Loving, faithful, forgiving, and just. And I want to help them see that is who our God is. And he's saying this to golden calf worshipers. What's the condition? Will I be honest about my own sin and failure? Will I come to him and receive his help that he freely offers, and particularly who've been through spiritual abuse? This is really, really, really important that they see how to respect God and then how to respect people in spiritual authority. Are they like God? So that Colossians 312, one of the Christian Virtue lists, you can guess now what's the first thing? And cautions 312. What's the first word that's required of us? It is what? Compassionate. And it goes through the list because we're to be like God in our characteristics. And then I see. Was your leader like that? Are you like that? God wants to help you learn that lesson and live as that kind of a person as a child of more than most. Hi. And he'll help us do it.


It's amazing lesson. We need to learn it as well as teach it others. There you go.