Do Tell!

Posted: November 4, 2015 in Uncategorized, When Church Hurts
Tags: , , , , ,

I recieve many messages thanking me for sharing my story of spiritual abuse via this blog.  People ask if they may use what I have written in their book project, as part of a spiritual abuse presenation or seminar.  People applaud my “courage” and often express their personal fear that, were they to tell their own story, they would suffer serious consequences.

 The desire to tell their story is framed in several ways.  Some know that telling will help them to heal.  Some want to warn others, or, at the very least, open the eyes of those who cannot see.  They hope that by telling, their friends, family members, church comrades, even acquaintences, will finally come to a place of acknowledgement that what happened was wrong and abusive.  Some long for vindication – for someone to hear them and champion their cause; that someone will seek justice on their behalf since no amount of their own effort has resulted in even the most meager of resolutions.

Yet, they have already concluded that in telling, they will not find any of that for which they are longing.  They are aware that telling will most certainly bring additional condemnation, deeper suffering, fewer friends, less support, ostracism, shunning, loneliness, exile.

I’ve been there.

For years, I didn’t tell a soul what was being perpetrated upon me.  Not only because I was ordered to keep silent, but because I feared that all of the things that I longed for depended upon my silence:  I would lose my friends.  I would be condemned.  I would be ostracized and shunned.  I would be lonely and be forced into exile.  

I wanted to keep my friends. And not only keep to them, but I wanted a deeper friendship to grow and blossom in the years ahead.  I myself did not want to acknowledge that I was the victim of abuse.  Admitting or claiming that I was a victim was akin to telling the world that I was not strong enough, not faithful enough, not wise enough, not good enough, not mature enough.  Mature, good, strong Christians don’t get themselves into situations in which they are abused.  Mature, good, strong Christians have a perfect, happy, prosperous, generous, fruitful life.  Not that they are without struggles, but their struggles are simply opportunities to impress the world with their deep and abiding, unwavering faith.

Some might say that telling my story was an exercise in stupidity.  What good did it do, anyway?  I lost all that I had hoped to gain: my church, my church friends, my status as a mature, good, strong Christian, my  identity as an up-and-coming leader in a prestigious church community.  

And yet, from this side of telling my story, I can say with certainty that telling was what led to the most transformational season of my life.  I discovered that the truth truly does set us free.  I was freed from relationships that were a farce – based only upon what I was willing to do or give to people who had no desire to reciprocate.  I was freed from spending inordinate amounts of time trying to earn the favor and status of people who had not one whit of care or concern for me – or pretty much anyone else, for that matter.  I was freed to spend time, energy and money on people who truly do value me – family and friends who want to be with me whether I have anything to offer them or not – besides my self.

I thought my life was full when I was toiling at the mercy of the church leadership, spending many hours and many dollars trying to win their favor and having little to no time for my family or friends outside of the church.  Now I know the enexplicable joy of spending hours loving and being loved with virtually no agenda except to love and be loved.

I wish I could tell all of those people who send me messages and emails about how much they want to tell their story but can’t find the courage because of their fear of all that they might lose that it’s okay to lose those things.  It’s okay.  Because on the other side of your story you are going to discover that all that you feared losing – it’s okay to lose those things.  Because you are going to find so much more.

I know.  I lost them too.  And I’ve never been happier.

  1. Karen Schaeffer says:

    Hi, Ellen:

    You have just voiced some of what I planned to say in my upcoming book about Mars Hill about WHY people don’t speak out about spiritual abuse.

    May I quote you? I think it’s so important to acknowledge the shame that keeps us from admitting that we are not the wise, mature Christians we hoped to be and want everyone to believe we are.

    May the Lord abundantly bless you for the work you do in spreading the word regarding abuse in churches.

    In Jesus,

    Karen Schaeffer

    If you are interested, you can find my story on I served as Mark Driscoll’s assistant from 2002-2003 and was fired for speaking out and accused of heresy for questioning the leadership of the church. Although that charge was dropped, I lost my job, many of my friends and, eventually, after attempting to dialogue with Mark over a six month period, my husband and I lost our church. (We soon thanked God for this, as we realized the extent of the control and egoism Mark was exhibiting.)

    However, my son, Justin, and his family stayed with Mars Hill and he subsequently became a MH pastor. To our utter relief, God mercifully called him to plant a church in Atlanta and he left in 2013, 18 months before the demise of MH. What a grace-filled road my husband and I were called to walk during that decade and how hard it was to hear, again and again, of MH’s success because we knew it was based on on leadership that was abusive and antithetical to God’s Word.

    Yet, Justin’s choice to stay with MH never came between us as a family. Every ounce of grace we were given to love Justin and his family unconditionally is owed to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

    Freedom to live in Christ in the midst of ongoing grief is truly an astounding gift. To use an avian analogy, it was like a free bird flying around a bird who is caged, praying for years for the imprisoned one to make the choice to allow God to open the latch. When it’s people you love dearly, it is a constant heartache.

    Karen Sent from my phone


    • Ellen says:

      Yes, certainly you may quote me. I am honored. I will read your story today, as well. I am traveling so I must keep this brief but know that you are in my thoughts and prayers. Ellen

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