Posts Tagged ‘church hurt’

It was over Sunday brunch that our weekend guests brought it up.  This deeply committed Christian couple who trained in missions, worked in Christian publishing, and he being and award-winning author of Christian books, she having been an administrative assistant for a mega-church pastor at one time, sat at our dining room table and very casually mentioned that they had not been attending church for several months.

After attending and serving in a church for over fifteen years, they finally realized that though they appreciated the pastor, the sermons, the ministry focus, they had not developed any real relationships in the church.  They only saw people at the church when they were there on Sunday mornings and, though they had attempted to develop relationships with people over the years by inviting them to dinner or to join a bible study, nothing ever came of it.

Commuting to this church was a 30 minute drive, but they had determined it was worth it.  Though they had also attended other churches over the past 40 years – when she was working as an administrative assistant at another church, they felt they should attend there, for example – they always gravitated back to this church.  But after realizing that they weren’t developing any “real” relationships, they decided it might be time to look for something closer to home.

Not that the church didn’t try.  They had attempted to create small groups based on location, based on interests, based on a number of things, but as our friends acknowledged, it is nearly impossible to force relationships to develop simply by putting people together on occasion.

They started considering churches in their area and he even visited a small church within a few blocks of their home.  He experienced that uncomfortable “stranger in our midst” feeling as he sat amongst people whom he had never seen before in his life.  The sermon was “fine” – nothing astounding but nothing to complain about – but it was obviously a church of “older” people who were comfortable with their group and weren’t all that interested in adding to it.

They would truly love to find a church where they can become integrated in community with other people beyond sitting in a pew and listening to a sermon, throwing a few bucks in the offering plate, and being pressed into over-commitments.  They are leery of churches in which there is a power-family that runs everything by threat of withdrawing their financial support or of churches in which the pastor and his hand-picked leadership have total control, doesn’t reveal their financials, and isn’t interested in developing personal relationships with anyone beyond their inner circle.

I suspect that these friends of ours are well on their way to becoming “nones.”  Because all of the things that they want in a church are nearly impossible to find these days.  Good, solid, teaching and preaching.  People who welcome, accept, and befriend one another both inside and outside of the church.  People who are equal in the sight of God and man regardless of their standing financially, socially, or politically.

It’s just too bad that we live six hours away because we are looking for the same thing and were it not for distance, we could be part of the community for which they are searching.   Because, what they have not been able to find, we have not been able to find either.  Is there anyone out there in our neck of the woods who is looking for these same things?  If there are, I would so love to find them.

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I just have to say I had the best time yesterday!  I and my family went to an auction.  One of our former church’s plants has bought an old building in the town where I teach and they were selling off old (and I mean OLD) doors, windows, cabinets, trim, etc.  

Now, you have to understand that my husband and I were repurposing long before repurposing was cool.  We live in a 103-year-old prairie-mission style home on an acre in the middle of mid-west farmland.  We completely returned our home to it’s original style (it had been “updated” back in the 70’s) using old trim and doors from the local city hall when they renovated, as well as various other sources.  Our entire kitchen cupboards are done in old doors, tile from the ReStore, and various other repurposed items.  (See photos below.)

Now, our penchant for repurposing is in our children’s blood.  Our son and daughter-in-law bought a gym floor and we helped them tear it apart and install it in their entire main floor and then my husband refinished it.  Unbelievably beautiful.

So . . . this auction of old windows and trim was right up our alley.  My husband and I weren’t interested in much, but our kids were looking for baseboard material to set off their maple floors.  There weren’t a great deal of people at the action so no one was lost in the crowd.

Of course, there were a few folks at the auction from our old church – as well as the pastor of the church plant, whose involvement in my abuse you will find in my story.  My younger son and my husband arrived at the auction before the rest of us.  He was greeted by the pastor and visited a bit.  When I arrived, the pastor gave me a side hug and a “long time no see” and we chatted for about one sentence each.  Later my husband commented that it is important for him to “make sales” to help fund the renovation of this building into a church.

Another person from our old church who was on staff there and transferred to the church plant was also at the auction.  He didn’t speak to me, but he did comment as we all went past him in a hallway that he makes way for babies (I was pushing my granddaughter in a stroller).  

There were four other people there who knew us from our former church: a car salesman and his wife, a banker, and one other couple.  Not one person approached us, waved at us, spoke to us, or acknowleged our presence.  The banker made a point to walk past us several times – perhaps so he could see if we would speak to him – and enough times that it was not merely a coincidence.  Especially since we had a one-year-old in a stroller and so we were staying far away from the acutioneer and the crowd so she would not be a distraction.  The banker had to go out of his way to walk past us each time.

After we left the auction (no, we didn’t buy anything) my husband commented on how unhappy those church members were.  They all looked bitter and angry – and my husband pointed out that they have always looked that way.  

And we talked about how it must have irked them that we were so happy.  There we were with our family – our sons, daughter-in-law, grandchild – and we were full of smiles and laughter, sharing whispers and winks, looking for all the world like we were the happiest people in the building – because we were.

This morning I have been pondering how fun it was to be at an auction (we love auctions), how unbridled I was to be in the presence of people who were involved in my abuse – every one of those church members had a hand in it except one wife, as far as I know – and how my happiness was palpable while their bitterness was etched on each of their faces.  

How sad for them to live under the constraints of a “faith” that leaves them wearing such scars emblazoned on their faces while I, on the other hand, exude the joy of living in the freedom which has set me free. 

Look who has the upper hand now. 

   

My original blog was findingellen.  I began writing it because I love to write and I often process what I am experiencing, learning, and seeing by writing.  findingellen was the blog that turned into a medium for telling my story.  Which turned into the reason we were tossed out of the church.  I deleted that blog as part of an attempt to rectify the situation.  Maybe if I just got rid of the blog, they would take me back. And at the time I desperately wanted to be taken back.  But over time, I have realized that while we were told by one of the pastors to not return, we had already made the decision to leave if there was not an attempt by the church leadership to apologize for their abusive treatment of me over more than a decade.  

Once my husband and I were out of the church, we were immediately invited to the churches of other friends and many people asked us – and still ask us – if or when we were going to find a new church.  We have been very honest in responding that we have no intention of looking for a new church to attend.  In fact, I have told some of the people whom I think can handle understand it, that we are certain that if we were to attend another church, we would simply find ourselves in a similarly abusive situation over time.  Of course, no one wants to be told that their church would be abusive to anyone, but that’s what makes the information in this post so important.
Recently, I listened to a webcast in which a sociologist presented research information about “Dones.”  The sociologist is Josh Packard and his new book, Church Refugees, will be released in May.  Although I consider myself quite healed from the spiritual abuse that I endured, I am always surprised and delighted when I “find” myself in the writings and research of reputable authorities.  As I listened to the webcast, and read a sample chapter from the book, I found myself frantically taking notes.  Once again, I discovered that I am not alone in my experience, and I am in the company of good and faithful “refugees” – Dones, as we are now called.

I often have people ask, “Why didn’t you leave the church years ago?”  Well, as Packard points out, we Dones are some of the churches “most committed, devoted, and energetic”.  Although the crux of my spirtual abuse was in being told that I could not serve or do anything at all in the church except attend worship, my husband and I had always been very involved and I was at times employed by churches or religious organizations.  After the ostracism of not being allowed to do anything was lifted, I once again became very involved in the church – spending hours on landscaping, taking classes, teaching classes, assisting with conferences, etc.  Very few non-staff people logged as many hours as my husband and I during those final years.

Packard’s research also indicates that we Dones are willing to go through extreme levels of spiritual persecution, always “holding out hope that peace will return.”  This certainly proved true in my situation.  The abuse I suffered lasted for more than a decade and certainly was extreme.  But as Packard points out,  we Dones usually won’t leave until we are forced to do so.  

Some of Packard’s other descriptors of Dones with which I strongly identified were:

  • Being “deeply involved and devoted”
  • “often organizing daily life around the church”
  • Not leaving after “just one bad experience.”
  • Having an “extreme level of dedication and devotion to God and religion”
  • Tenacious
  • Resourceful
  • Stayed “long past the point of danger”
  • “Financially stable”
  • “Married”
  • “Higher levels of education”
  • Spent “years in church and ministry positions”

Packard notes that we Dones are truly the kind of Christians that the church needs in order to reach people because of our “active and engaged faith.”  And we don’t abandon our faith when we decide we are Done with church.  Rather , we finally realize that our spiritual life is being threatened and we must remove ourselves in order to further our spiritual growth and maintain our spirtual health.

Perhaps the most gratifying paragraph in the chapter that I read is at the end:

“As sociologists, this indicates to us pretty strongly that this phenomenon is not due to a few misfit personalities or bad church experiences.  Rather . . . [it] is directly attributable to a pattern that exists in the organizational and leadership structure of many, if not all, congregations in the United States.” (pg. 20)

And that, my friends, is another confirmation that my journey to findingellen has been fruitful.

_____  Argue.

_____  Beg.

_____  Blame yourself.

_____  Attempt to force communication.

_____  Apologize even though you can’t figure out what you did wrong.

_____  Internalize the projections of negative messages.

_____  Show the person who is giving you the silent treatment that it is bothering you.

 

Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.

I found this list today  http://echorecovery.blogspot.com/2014/01/getting-silent-treatment-from-narcissist.html in the list of how to respond to those who give you the silent treatment.  Only before each item, it said “Do not.”

Of course, as I read through the list, I realized that I had repeatedly done each and every thing that I was not supposed to do.  For years.  And years.  And years.

The article, if you haven’t clicked on the link yet and read it yourself, is about those who give you the Silent Treatment.  Or Cold Shoulder.  Or Shun.  Or Exile.  Or Banish.  Or Ostracize.  And it is a metaphor for Death.  Because you are being treated as though you don’t exist.  I have often said that I was ostracized so that I would leave the church – so that I would no longer “exist” there.  The silent treatment is defined as “the act of ignoring or excluding a person or group by another person or group.”

Which describes what happened to me rather succinctly.

The word I have used most in telling my story is “ostracism,” so I will stick with that.  And this article reinforces all that happened in my spiritually abusive experience with a senior pastor who refused to respond to my begging, arguing, blaming of myself, attempts to force communication, etc.   Here is a synopsis of what I found:

Ostracism is used to control, punish, test boundaries, and avoid accountability, unpleasant issues, and responsibility toward a victim because said victim has done something the perpetrator does not like.  It includes blocking, stalling, stonewalling, and intentionally resisting communication and resolution.  It leaves the victim feeling abandoned, worthless, and without merit.  And while it is often defined as refusing to communicate, as I would often remind my former pastor, no communication is definitely a form of communication.  To not communicate expresses contempt, a lack of empathy, hostility, remorselessness, callousness, and passive-aggression.

In my case, as far as I can tell (because I have never directly been told) ostracism was the result in that I first pointed out a problem, and then I expressed dismay at the way I became the problem for pointing out the problem.  When the ostracism started and as it snowballed, I continued to ask, argue, beg, apologize, etc., which only brought on deeper and deeper levels of ostracism until, ultimately, we were tossed out of the church.

The results of being ostracized include:

* Being resented by the perpetrator.  He resented me because I kept asking what was going on – what I had done wrong.  He expected me to just “know” – or to read his mind.

*The victim (me) resented being made to suffer ostracism without being told what I had done wrong.  I’m sure this resentment showed through over the years as I continued to beg and argue to be told what I had done wrong and how un-Christian it was for him to allow me to be treated this way.

*Ostracism makes sure that resolution will not occur – how can you resolve a problem if you can’t talk about it?  Years of being ignored and avoided . . .

*Creates a cycle of the same issue arising because it has not been resolved.  Did I mention begging?  Arguing?  Confessing anything and everything I could think of – to the point of giving more reason for being ostracized?

*Anger and frustration are elevated.  Only proving that I was deserving of the ostracism.

*Kills the relationship.  Yep.

Ostracism robs people of their humanity in that it denies them belonging, value, and meaningfulness, and the ability to express their point of view.  It makes us feel that we are invisible, unwanted, unneeded, unworthy, unwelcome, unnecessary.

Interestingly, the abuser often turns the tables on the victim by claiming victimhood themselves.  They vilify the victim and incite others to abuse them by proxy.  This is why the pastor himself never personally spoke to me when I was told I was not to be involved in the church other than warming a pew.  He always had others carry the messages to me.  It is also why any attempts on my part to clear the air or to be understood by others in the group (church) were met with the proxy feigning confusion, misunderstanding, and an inability to see or acknowledge the true problem.  And, once we were tossed out of the church, and damage control was enforced, no one in the church ever contacted us to see how we were doing, what our side of the story might be, or what they might do to help.

There was a time when I would have read an article like this with deep shame.  Why did I grovel?  Why didn’t I just walk away and shake the dust from my feet?  But today, I know that I was operating from a belief that these were good people and I just hadn’t found the right words to get through to them.  Today, I’m not so naive.  Today, I know that people can be very intentional in their abusive behavior and I am not responsible for their choices.

If you have been the victim of ostracism, shunning, exile, banishment, the silent treatment, the cold shoulder, being ignored or excluded – all in the name of Jesus – please know that you are not responsible for others’ bad behavior.  You are loved.  You are valued.  You are worth far better than they were able to give.

 

 

 

For the first several weeks after we were tossed out of our church I felt like I still had sea legs.  I had learned over the years to walk somewhat steadily – or at least with a great deal of familiarity – as the wind and waves of spiritual abuse crashed over and around me.  Though I found myself on solid ground, my body, mind, and spirit continued for a time to lurch and sway as though I were still on board that hulking monstronsity of a church from whence my spiritually abusive treatment had pounded unabatedly.

The deception of sea legs once one is back on solid ground is that you feel as though you are wobbling, rolling, and shifting.  It is more than unsettling.  It is nauseating and frightening.  I lived in a panic not knowing if I could or even should move forward in a life devoid of church, Christian friends, and that all-important to-do list that had made me moderately acceptable the last few years as I gave inordinate amounts of time and money to the church.  For years while I was in the church, I was scourging myself to show my agreement with the leadership that I was completely unworthy.  So, too, I was exhausting myself trying to prove that I was changing into a better person by attempting to make things right, to grovel, to repent for sins of which I was unaware, to give more, do more, be more of what they wanted me to be.  I tried so hard to win their favor – it was like riding on a ship in a storm.  I would lean one way as the ship rolled and crashed, but just as I thought I was finding my footing it would writhe in the opposite direction.  After years and years, this became my “normal.”  I knew how to navigate on the ship, how to stay upright on my feet. Truly, I clung to the railing of the ship for years and vomited and vomited and vomited over the side – a sure sign to my abusers that I was not yet worthy of their acceptance and favor.  I was so incredibly sick from the way that the ship church kept rolling and twisting and if affected every aspect of my life.

And yet this had become the life that I knew.  It was the life I was comfortable with.  It was my world.  And I didn’t know how to live without it.  So when I was thrust onto the solid grown outside the church, I continued for a time to roll and twist and vomit. My initial reaction upon being irradicated from the church was to do anything and everything to win my way back onto the ship.  My husband and I attempted to set up meetings.  I was willing to admit to anything, confess that I was the wicked witch of the west, take whatever punishment was deemed appropriate – no matter how degrading, shaming, or humiliating.  

But after a few days, the nausea began to abate, the room around me stopped spinning and roiling, and as I realized that none of those whom I had counted Christian  friends in the church were not going to make any effort to reach out to me, my perspective began to change.  Though I had been blogging for a couple of years about my experience with spiritual abuse, until my dependency began to wear off, I was like an addict who knows that what they are “using” is killing them.  I had been willing to “pay ” anything to stay in that noxious environment and it wasn’t until I was out of it, which was for me a short while, that the mesmerization began to loosen its hold on me.

Still not completely free, for a while I entertained the idea of trying to accomplish outside the church what I had wanted to achieve inside the church.  I had always felt called to minister to people who struggled with being “lesser than” – from supporting aspiring worship leaders to helping people grow in their relationship with Jesus.  So, I of course thought about starting a ministry for the spiritually abused.  I met with a few people and communicated with a counselor about having her input or even leadership in a group.  (The counselor had also been abused by the same person in leadership who had tossed me out of the church.)  I thought about writing a book – and still am often encouraged to do so.

During those first few months, I so wanted for my life outside of the church to continue just as it had when I was inside the church.  It was where I found my identity and I didn’t want to let that identity go.  But with time, I began to realize that my desire to have a “ministry” outside of the church was simply my continued attempt to convince myself and others that I was worthy, I was good enough, I did measure up, that I was valuable.  All of those messages from the church that I was unloved, unwanted, unneeded, unnecessary, were still rambling around in my head and heart and I was still trying to board a ship of my own making – trying to do something to convince those who had abused me – and myself – that they were wrong.  

Gradually, as the ground beneath my feet became more and more stable, I my heart began to realize that which my head had known for many, many years:  that my value was inherent in that I was made in the image of God and I am one of His beloved.  The head-heart connection is, ultimately what kept me in that abusive environment for so long.  I knew in my head that the messages the church and senior pastor had been communicating to me all of those years about not measuring up were wrong.  It was this “knowing” that kept me from being acceptable to him because I would tell him how wrong he was – theologically and with scripture as proof.  Time and time again I railed to the pastor that what was happening to me was wrong and why it was wrong and why it needed to stop.  And I demanded answers about why it wasn’t changing.  Yet, he refused to respond.  At one point he even derided me for being a “theologian” as though the fact that I could support my stand with scripture was another negative about me.  

I responded that I am not a theologian but I do understand grace and mercy, forgiveness and reconcilliation and restoration.  And the fact that I demanded those things for myself and for others was the impetus for it being denied me in deeper and deeper ways until I was totally ostracized and then eventually tossed out fo the church. Being in that situation – fighting for what was right and what was true and what was most Christ-like, yet living under tyranny and judgment and ostracism created an atmosphere like a ship in a storm at sea.  It was my strength of faith and survival instinct that allowed me to endure nearly debilitating abusiveness for so long.

The journey of truth from head to heart over time brought me to a place where I was able to gradually let go of my need/desire to prove my worth – to anyone.  My value is not determined by anything other than my existence.  And the only accomlishments I need to make are to do what is placed before me each moment of each day.  Leading my students to discover, expressing the delight of seeing my granddaughter, watching my sons turn into gentlemen of character and integrity, walking side by side with my husband as we grow old with grace, encouraging friends, neighbors and acquaintances, offering a kind word to everyone we meet.

When the ground is solid beneath your feet, you discover that striving is unnecessary.  You discover what it means to walk humbly with God.  

Shawn Nelson has written a free eBook entitled Spiritual Abuse: Unspoken Crisis that you can read here: http://geekychristian.com/spiritual-abuse/.

I was sent the link to this book by a pastor’s wife whom I befriended over the past few years.  She has read my story and messaged me saying, “I was stunned by the similarities to your experience.  God bless you!”

My husband and I read this short book together and, once again, found ourselves shaking our heads at how my experience could have been a case-study validating the author’s conclusions.

From the very beginning when Nelson explores the definition of spiritual abuse, he quotes Merriam-Webster: “Abuse in its broadest sense is using or treating something in an improper way.” (pg. 6) Mishandling the Matthew 18 process, breaking confidentiality, disregarding my requests for help, having staff whom had never spoken to me deliver directives, giving no explanation for judgments and persecution were just a few of the issues that would qualify for “treating something in an improper way” in my story.

Early on (pg 9), Nelson points out that there are four major reasons that the abused fall prey to a “spiritually abusive environment.” These include trust, loyalty, not wanting to cause or be a problem, and the investment we have in the church.  For my part, I was very trusting of the senior pastor.  As time passed and the level of wounding that I experienced increased, I continually declared my trust to the senior pastor.  I so wanted him to be the man of integrity I imagined him to be.

Also, having been abused at a previous church (part 2 of my story), I came to this church determined to “get it right” – by being loyal and obedient.  I never wanted to be a problem – I wanted to help solve a problem.  I was accustomed to being respected as a professional and had no idea that my experience and education were of no value.  My only value was to do everything in my power to make others look good – by covering for them, doing their work for them, stroking their egos, etc.

We were very invested in the church with our time, money, physical labor, and friendships (or so we thought).  And we had a desire to “get it right” – to be patient, kind, good, faithful, long-suffering.  We believed God would eventually work everything together for good.  As Nelson points out on pg. 11, we were also afraid to leave.  I was terrified that if we left and went anywhere else, there would be a smear campaign to sully my name and keep us from ever being accepted at another church.  As the abuse continued and escalated, I began wondering and then believing that I was tarnished.  So badly, in fact, that if the church didn’t want me, then God, I reasoned, must not want me either.  I was “only getting what [I] deserve.” (pg. 11-12)

Nelson also recognizes that larger churches are often seen as having a greater measure of God’s blessing (pgs. 12 and 25) which can make them more prone to spiritual abuse.  Our church had grown to 2500+ and the people saw that as a move of God.  Both the senior pastor and a lay leader have said to me over the years, “We may not do everything perfectly, but we do it better than everyone else.”

People also hang on the senior pastor’s every word.  His preaching schedule was often kept a secret because if people knew he was going to be gone, attendance and giving would plummet.  The first service of three each Sunday, was aired on the local radio station.  We knew several people who would tune in to the first service and if the senior pastor was not preaching that day, they would not attend.

Nelson points out on page 13 that churches are being run more like businesses with pastors functioning as CEO’s.  When the governance was changed at our church so that only a small group of “yes men” were on the executive team, the pastor’s title changed to CEO.  There must have been some backlash, though, because this title was quietly dropped from the church literature and web site.  Page 13 also mentions pastor’s offices being in an “executive suite.”  At our former church, the pastor’s office is ensconced behind a tall counter and has four secretarial cubicles between the counter and the pastor’s outer office where he holds meetings.  His inner office is further behind where he cannot be seen, let alone accessed.

Pages 14 and 15 describe the “thirst for more money . . . people . . . expansion.”  Several years ago a children’s ministry staffer resigned after a short time saying that every meeting was a discussion of how to get more money out of people and that numbers were too important.  The current building was built in three phases.  When planning for the first phase, the decision was made to not build unless the money was raised beforehand.  The church believed that if God was in it, the funds would be there – and they were.  When the second phase came along, the principle was the same – the funding needed to be in place for the project to move forward – and it was.  But the third phase was planned after the governance was changed to a small executive team.  This time, the money did not come through before the project was started.  But the executive team decided to go ahead anyway.  This was at the beginning of the recession.  Instead of the planned three years to pay for this addition, it took more like eight years to pay off the loan.

Nelson addresses two types of abusers: the insecure leader and the narcissistic leader.  While reading these sections, my husband and I concluded that our former pastor is a combination of both.  Page 17 – 18 speaks of “insecure leaders [who] typically build a protective structure around themselves to keep themselves safe.”  Followers of my blog know that the senior pastor never handled conflict.  Instead, lower level staff and leaders were assigned to deal with “problems” while the senior pastor did all that he could to keep his hands clean.  These “yes men” were honored to carry out his wishes, often believing that they were “doing the right thing.”

Nelson also mentions the “BHAG” – a “big, hairy audacious goal” which narcissistic leaders often endeavor to carry out.  The BHAG was a big thing for a while in our former church.  And over the years, while the title “BHAG” was dropped, the principles were continued.

The senior pastor often proclaimed to the congregation that he is “highly educated” and that his primary spiritual gift is prophecy.  As Nelson states on pages 19 and 20, making this clear bolsters the pastor’s public support.

Page 20 also explores the fact that abusive systems operate with role reversals – ministers and staff are to be served rather than to serve.  It became clear to my husband and I that the staff was to be served when we were volunteers in the church cafe and as servers at special events such as special services (Easter, Christmas Eve) and conferences.  At these events, staff always got better food than the rest of the people volunteering or attending.  For example, staff got strawberries dipped in chocolate, special cakes, cheeses, sauces, and breads, while congregants and volunteers got donut holes.  When I realized that even the servers were not getting “thanked” by having special treats, I began to provide them myself, which the staff person in charge could not understand.  And if ever there were “left-overs” after these events, rather than offer them to the volunteers or find a needy family to give them to, they were stowed away in the church kitchen for staff to enjoy throughout the following week.

Page 20 also addresses “those who do not support the pastor’s mission are ignored, or worse, cast out” and “may go through an official shunning process.”  The beginning of my story at our former church describes how I was supposed to make the worship leader look good which in turn would make the pastor look good.  When I refused to continue working with the worship leader (as a volunteer), I was “cast out” and no longer allowed to serve.  I believe we are now officially being shunned.  I have described a few of these incidents in blog posts over the past year, and just a few days ago we ran in to a couple from the church at an event in a distant city.  They turned their backs and walked away into another room when they spotted us only five feet away from them.

Pg. 21 speaks about pastors who are able to “break free from accountability.”  This, again, happened when the governance structure changed from an elder/deacon board to a small executive team of “yes men.”

Nelson goes on to identify abusive leaders as having “no feelings of remorse.”  The senior pastor first told me over ten years ago that when he stands before God he will have nothing to apologize for.  And, again, for those who have read my blog and/or my story, you know that we were tossed out of the church when my husband insisted that there be a sincere and deep apology made to me.

These abusive leaders’ followers (pg. 23) are dependent on the leader for their own self-worth.  There are several people in the church whom I considered people of integrity and high character until we were thrown out. It was then that I realized those “friends” would ever and only side with the leadership in order to maintain their own position in the church.  “If and when a leader shows signs of abuse, people who derive their sense of worth from the mission may willingly overlook the red flags.  They may rationalize blatant inconsistencies in conduct and even excuse sins directly committed against them by the leader.” (pg. 24)  Oh, how true!  We recognized several years ago that those who are raised up in leadership in the church proved their commitment by the amount of money they had and gave.  The senior pastor even told me that he pays attention to little old ladies who give a majority of their retirement income to the church.  “Gag orders” are mentioned on pg. 28.  I and two other women were all told that we were not to tell what was happening to us.  Of course, when I told, I was tossed.

Another way that the roles are reversed is described beginning on page 28.  “People’s needs go unmet; the church’s needs are more important.”  This explains why when we had family deaths and physical emergencies, no one made any attempt to visit or call.  Rather than care for the hurting, the emphasis was always on how much people were giving.  The pastor often spoke about people throwing “a few bucks” in the offering plate – and he would pull out a dollar bill, wave it in the air, throw it across the platform, and at least once, he tore it up.  He also often declared, “Show me your checkbook and I will tell you what you treasure!”  We were especially taken aback when we received an itemized list of donations we had made for the church landscape for tax purposes and saw that the list had been cc’d to the senior pastor.  The only reason he would be interested in what we had donated was because the value of those contributions were indicative of the value he would place on us.

Also on page 28, the high turnover rate of staff is mentioned.  While we attended the church for over fifteen years, the turnover rate was astounding.  Especially noticeable was the months surrounding when the governance was changed.  Several high-level staff people left.  It was a well-kept secret as to whether most of them were encouraged to leave or if they made that decision on their own, but basically, other than the senior pastor, nearly all of the upper level staff moved on.

Over the years, the church became more and more obsessed with appearance, hiring professional worship leaders and displaying a message that those in leadership were on a higher spiritual plane than others.  There was never an invitation to the general congregation to go to out-of-town or out-of-state conferences.  These events were attended only by upper level leaders and were invitation only.  No one else even heard about them.  (page 29)

The “inability to discuss concerns” is brought up again on pages 30 and 31, noting that “people who raise concerns are labeled ‘divisive.'”  Many a sermon was preached over the years about unity and it was made very clear that everyone was to keep their mouths shut.  The pastor often invoked, “If you can’t say anything good, don’t say anything at all.”  Nelson points out that “discipline is not out of love for the goal of restoration; rather it is a means of protecting the interests of the church and/or controlling people.” (pg. 31)  The abuse that I suffered looked very much like discipline, though it was never formally addressed or called that.  And it definitely was not for the purpose of restoration.  It was to shut me up and to hope that I would just go away.

Nelson concludes his eBook by addressing what one should do if in an abusive situation.  “If victims chose to stay and confront the issues directly they must be prepared for a prolonged and arduous battle . . . resistance should be expected. The victims will likely be vilified and possibly shunned” (pg. 32).  My battle was definitely long and arduous – over a decade and I was certainly vilified and shunned.  Page 33 sums up my story best: “Sometimes the most loving thing we can do for abusive leaders is to leave them.”

Shawn Nelson’s eBook is a very well-written, hit-the-nail-on-the-head synopsis of what spiritual abuse is and how it plays out in many churches with many pastors and leaders.  If you are wondering if you or someone you know is or has been spiritually abused, this is a great free resource and is very validating for those of us whose claims of spiritual abuse have been called in to question.  I hope that those who are looking for help and healing find a measure of it not only through my writing, but through Shawn Nelson’s, as well.

Every once in a while, someone will say to me, “Well, there are two sides to every story.”

Yes, that’s true. And that’s why in my series, “21 Days to Healing,” day 6 encourages people to write down “just the facts” of their story.

Facts are difficult to dispute. They aren’t cluttered with emotion, nor do they bring with them the discoloration of perspective. They are simply facts. In my day 6 post, I listed the following facts about what happened to me in my former church (not an exhaustive list):

1) I was told that I could not attend, serve, or participate.
2) I was never told the reason for being ostracized despite repeated requests.
3) I was told that the reason could not be revealed or there could be “legal ramifications.”
4) I was treated harshly by the personnel committee.
5) My requests for help from the senior pastor were ignored and avoided.
6) My requests for meetings were ignored or cancelled.
7) The people who delivered the messages that I was unworthy had no relationship with me.
8) Denominational and church protocol for handling church discipline were not followed (I was never told I was under church discipline, but I was treated that way.)
9) I was told that I could not share what had happened or how I was being treated with anyone – not even my husband.

Now, if you were to sit down with the senior pastor or his brother (the one who told us not to come back), and read off each of these items, and they were to dispute these facts, they would be liars.

I was told repeatedly that I could not attend, serve, or participate. I have documentation to prove it.

I was never told the reason. I have myriad emails asking the senior pastor for this information with no response forthcoming. They would have to provide documentation that refutes this claim.

My requests for help and meetings are well-documented, as well, as are the cancelled meetings. I have the emails making the requests. The pastor would not be able to provide responses to those specific requests. I also have emails indicating cancellations of meetings.

The lack of relationship was and is still true. Were you to ask any of the message-bearers to list pertinent instances in which they communicated with me beyond a “hello” in the hallway, they could not provide an answer.

If denominational and church protocol for handling church discipline had been followed, there would have been formal meetings and written documentation presented to me. It doesn’t exist.

I realize the other things on this list probably fall into a “he said/she said” catagory, but I don’t even need those points to shore up the facts as they stand. And, as I said earlier, this is not an exhaustive list. But it is enough to justify my claim that I was spiritually abused.

So, the next time someone, whether hinting or blatantly stating, tells you that “there are two sides to every story,” make sure you have your facts ready. Challenge them to ask for evidence that what you are saying is in error or discolored or just a product of your emotionalism.

To any of my detractors, go ahead. Ask the senior pastor or his brother for documentation of the ways that my requests for help were answered. Or documentation of their appropriate handling of church discipline through formal meetings and written documents that were presented to me. Ask them for the documentation of the meetings they set up and mediated with those who had grievances against me and the steps that were taken to reach a resolution.

And when they can’t provide the evidence or the documentation, ask them why they didn’t do those things. Because that has nothing to do with our conflicting stories and everything to do with the facts of what actually took place.

Or, just keep quiet so that you don’t risk your own position of power like you have done all of these months so far. Just another fact.