Spiritual Abuse - Lesson 6

Question and Answer

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

Gerry Breshears
Spiritual Abuse
Lesson 6
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Question and Answer

Question and Answer

I. What do you do when someone comes to you to accuse someone else of spiritual abuse?

II. If you think you have been abused, should you talk to the abuser and try to reason with them?

III. How common is it that you get abusive and toxic situations in churches?

IV. Is there a particular church structure that lends itself to abuse more than others?

V. What do you do in situations where someone feels that abuse has happened?

  • 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


Question and Answer

Lesson Transcript


What do you do when a pastor listens to an accuser and comes to judgment and dumps it on you? Just to summarize what you're saying. I. First thing I do is go to Proverbs 1817. Which is one of my favorite verses in all scripture. In the interview, he says, In a lawsuit, the first to speak seems right until someone comes forward and cross-examined. So in your one side of a conflict, Oh, my gosh, this is so horrible. But you got to talk to their side. I mean, this is just a point of wisdom. The first to speak seemed right until someone comes forward and cross-examined. So in your case, the pastor listens to the accuser and comes to a conclusion and makes a judgment without. Listen to the second side. The other side is the Matthew 1815 church discipline passage. If something happens, you talk to the person. If it's not resolved, then you have two or three wise people come along and see what's going on. There's process to be involved. Then it to the whole church in what you're describing here is a situation where the pastor hears one person believes it without checking further and acts on it. It's just incredibly unbiblical. I. So that would be the kind of thing I do is come back and look at has he followed a biblical process? Because when you short circuit the process and jump to the conclusion, that's when abuse happens. What do you do if you're in a situation where you've been abused or think you've been abused? Should you go talk to the abuser and try to reason with him? Notice I'm using male pronouns there because abuse is often done by males, but certainly not exclusively. I'm the answer in many cases is no, you can't come directly to them.


What you have to do is figure out a way to get around the authority thing. So I think of David when he is abused in the situation. And second, Samuel, 12, after he's done all the stuff against Bathsheba and everything's all good now, I accept that it's not with God and the Prophet comes to him, Nathan, and tells him a little tale that bypasses all the authority stuff and gets back to what's scary on the inside. And that's hard to do. But if you've got the dominating, domineering, spiritual, abusive type person, it's the only way to get there is to bypass the authority, bypass the issue, and try to tap into the pain that's back in behind I you can go and say, hey, what about kind of thing? But they almost always give you an explanation of why they were completely right and you're completely wrong. I'd try it, but I wouldn't be so hopeful. I'd also try to go to the elder board if it's a church and see if they'll help out in the situation. But in abusive situations, it almost never works out just by the nature of the abuse. And it's so frustrating. Unless unless you can get back to the the pain behind it because the elders are controlled by the pastor to the elders are usually controlled by the pastor. And that's an it's like I yeah, it's the way it usually is. The the pastor the the abusive person. It may be the elders for the abusive group. They control the whole situation and trying to find somebody else as an authority or a respected person. It almost was never there. And the stronger the abused, the less likely there's a respected authority. See if you can find something.


But it's amazing. Often you're just you got to extricate yourself from the situation. And that's hard to do because then you get trashed for. Being un submissive and unsupportive. How common is it that you get abusive, toxic situation in churches? Every church has this dysfunction. Every church is toxic at some level, just because that's the nature of sin and conflict and Satan is at work. My guess is when you get in what I would really call abusive toxic situations, it's a pretty low number among churches that are Bible based if you are Jesus centered. I the number that actually becomes spiritually abusive, I'm guessing, is down in the 10% level down in that area somewhere. I. And many times what happens is that the toxic churches, the pastor is a very authoritative Bible teacher. Because that seemed to be right at the center of what happened in abusive situations. Or the elders are very, very concerned for truth and everything into becoming really certain and very clear. And we have the answer. And a lot of times people hold other views are ridiculed in the process. So I you know, it can be big church to be small churches. People talk to the celebrity pastors and the abuse in the megachurches. I don't know it's any more common there than it is in small churches each year. Control small church. It is a big church. And I know excuses that range all the way from multi-thousand mega churches to 50 or 75 and almost a house, church type thing. I. For me be the best answer I can give you, I think. Is there a particular church structure that lends itself to abuse more than others? And I would say, yes, there is. It's what I call the Moses model or what's often called the Moses model.


And in the Old Testament, when they're leading the people out of Egypt and they're going through, it's Moses who goes up on the mountain. He gets word from God and he comes back down and delivers the word to the people. There's nobody that he gives account to except God. In that Moses model, the strong senior pastor approach lends itself to abuse better than a team ministry. Especially the team is made up of a diverse group of people. I know there are churches that are senior pastor, churches that are incredibly good, high, and in cultures where it's more a large power distance, where the one in authority is on high level respect and such, there there'll be more likely that you have a senior pastor. But what I want to look for is a church that there is an accountability. What I do is go to chapter six, which is in the Book of Acts. It tells us how things work out. In chapter six. You've got the problem with the Hellenistic Jews in that regard. Jews, because the food distribution is not being done well. And it's really helpful for me to look at this. They don't go to Peter. At that point. Peter is the unquestioned leader of the church. They don't go to Peter, they go to the 12. And that is so significant to me that the 12 gathered disciples together and they say brothers and sisters choose you choose from among yourselves seven people, seven men with these characteristics, and will give them the responsibility. And I find it really, really interesting that the Hellenistic Jews are the ones who are being neglected and the people they choose are all homeless names. It strikes me as being a really good thing, but the key thing is here is it's 12, not Peter.


And they immediately give responsibility to the group within guidelines. And after the group is picked seven, then they anoint them for the Ministry of serving. That seems to be a model that's really healthy. And people say, Well, it's not efficient. Well, I can just say right up front, Grace is not efficient. You know, if you want efficiency, go start a corporation. If you want to do church, learn grace, which is inevitably inefficient because you're dealing with sinful and broken people and trying to make ministry out of that. So but the Moses model, I think is more likely or to the very tight all agree all are similar to people you know in a or an oligarchy held a run church. What do you do in situations when somebody feels abuse has happened? What should you do with that? And we're in a situation, at least here in the United States, where the only two classes of people there are are abusers and abused. So if I'm if I'm not abused, that means an abuser. So everybody figures out how to get in the place where I'm the victim and I'm being oppressed. Well, that's just nonsense. I what I do suggest in situations like this, in a situation say that somebody feels like the pastor is abusing them. If it is an abusive situation, it won't do much good. But what I think you should do as a matthew 18 type thing, I believe the pastors sinned against me and abused me. What I need to do is go to him and say, like, what happened in in America? That has to be you and the pastor and nobody else present. Well, get over it. That just mean go do it. That doesn't mean go talk about it on Facebook.


You may need to have a mutual party come with you to facilitate the conversation that's still going in private. And if that doesn't resolve the situation, then you should take a couple of ways. Relatively neutral spirit led people with you again to sort out what happened. And I find, as you have said many times, what happens is somebody feels abused. The pastor didn't look at me. He's actually and we leave angrily. And that's not the way to do things. I think we have a responsibility in those situations to go and find out what's going on. If it is an abusive situation, we won't get you anywhere. But I think we're still under responsibility to do it. And I've seen all too many cases where somebody feels abused and then they are abused and they come out and start doing blog posts as to the evil that church. And it's not abusive. It may be stupid. A situation right now where the pastor had been charged with spiritual abuse. He's not an abuser. He's not that good. He's just a dumb pastor who's trying to do what he can, but he's just not very good. And he did hurt some people. But it's out of stupidity, not of abuse. And he actually wants help. He's willing to come and talk to me like, what's going on here? So we're trying to get that situation worked out right now. Just because you feel abused doesn't mean that you're.