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Welcome to readingremy.com

Glad you stopped by. My blog has evolved over time. It has served as a place for me to discuss topics found in my books. But other times what I discuss turns into a book, as it did with “Out of Exile.”

Because I’m both pastor and an addiction spirituality consultant, I interact with people on how God can help them overcome their problems in practical ways. My writing isn’t hyper-spiritual but down-to-earth, no-nonsense advice. 

My writing isn’t hyper-spiritual but down-to-earth, no-nonsense advice.

A common theme with me is helping people make a comeback. I like to look “under the hood” to find what’s wrong with our thinking, help get things rewired, and then encourage people to trust God to find a new life.

Much of my writing is to pastors; both to help them and to help them help others. But I think everyone can find things here that will help them.

I hope you’ll subscribe to my blog and like my Facebook page in the margin. And feel free to send me a note. I promise to read it and reply. If you sign up for my monthly newsletter, you can download my latest book, Out of Exile, for free.  Thanks for spending some time on my site!- F. Remy Diederich

What is Spiritual Abuse?

In my last post I talked about how to confront a toxic pastor. Like my post on toxic church people, the post on toxic pastors was read by hundreds of people. The interest in these two posts tells me that there is a lot of toxicity in the church. We need to do something about this! Jesus called us to be the “light of the world,” but how can that be if we allow so much darkness to exist?spiritual_abuse

A toxic church is a church where spiritual abuse is allowed to exist. But many people don’t know what spiritual abuse is and are blind to it. Part of the problem is that so many Christians have been unknowingly exposed to spiritual abuse, they don’t see it for what it is. Spiritual abuse has been normalized to some extent, preventing believers from grasping the dangers of it.

This might not make sense to you right now, but follow along with me for the next few posts and I think you’ll start to see what I mean. I plan on releasing at least four posts over the next two weeks discussing the subtle power of spiritual abuse. Here’s what I have planned so far:

  1. What is Spiritual Abuse?
  2. A 20 Question Checklist on Spiritual Abuse.
  3. Let’s Not Revictimize the Spiritually Abused.
  4. How a Church Can Recover From Spiritual Abuse.

I’ll wade in slowly today with some simple definitions of abuse taken from the newly revised edition of my first book, Healing the Hurts of Your Past (not yet available).

First, my definition for abuse:

Abuse happens when someone crosses the boundaries of another person and enters that person’s personal space for their own gain (that is, the abuser) and to the detriment of their victim. Abuse involves a systematic pattern of manipulating, intimidating, or coercing their victim to gain and maintain power and control over them.  

Spiritual abuse has been normalized to some extent, preventing believers from grasping the dangers of it.

Now, my definition of emotional abuse:

Emotional abuse often works in conjunction with other forms of abuse. You can recognize emotional abuse when someone: 

  • dismisses your difficulties, issues, or input as unimportant, or an overreaction.
  • doesn’t listen to you.
  • belittles you by calling you names and humiliates you in front of others.
  • puts down your opinions or accomplishments.
  • acts excessively controlling or jealous:

- they limit your use of money, technology, travel, etc.

- they restrict you from seeing friends or family.

- they constantly check up on you.

  • ignores logic and gets dramatic and even hostile in order to get their way.
  • makes you feel responsible and guilty for things that have nothing to do with you. In other words, it’s always your fault. It’s never their fault.
  • attempts to destroy any outside support you receive by belittling your friends, family, church, counselor, etc.
  • causes you to “walk on eggshells” in an effort not to upset them.

Finally, here’s my definition for spiritual abuse. It incorporates the definitions above:

Spiritual abuse is a form of emotional abuse, but it happens when people use God, or their supposed relationship to God, to control your behavior. The physical abuser might use their fist to threaten you. The verbal abuser will use their words. The spiritual abuser uses God (or the Bible, church, or religion) as their threat.

Parents can spiritually abuse their children by threatening their children with what God will do to them if they don’t obey their parents. Ministers can do the same thing. I was talking to a friend once about why he left his church after going there for years. He said, “I was just tired of getting beat up every week” (referring to harsh sermons). I’ve actually heard this a lot. This is spiritual abuse.

It’s unfortunate how quick some people are to defend spiritual abuse. If I went to my friend’s pastor and told him that people were leaving his church because he was spiritually abusive, he’d probably say, “No, I’m just preaching the Word of God. I can’t help it if they find it offensive.” Spiritual abusers are quick to explain away their behavior, justifying it as their service to God and people’s lack of commitment. 

One of the subtlest forms of spiritual abuse is when a religious person speaks emphatically about God and faith with no room to disagree. I bet you’ve been in a group where this has happened. You were with one or two people who were going off on what the Bible says on some topic and how their way of interpreting the Bible was the only way to see it. They belittled any person that dared to disagree with them, and all the while you were thinking to yourself…Well, I disagree! But you didn’t want to say anything because you didn’t want them to think you were a bad or unspiritual person. That’s spiritual abuse. 

But They Aren’t Trying To Hurt Anybody

People often can’t see spiritual abuse because they think of an abuser as someone who purposefully sets out to harm others. In their mind, an abuser is an evil person with evil intentions. But that’s not necessarily true. An abusive person can simply be someone who is not aware of how their behavior adversely impacts those around them.

Pastors can easily fall into abusing others precisely because they do care for others. They want to help so much that they force their beliefs and behaviors on others, thinking that their ways will rescue people, when in reality, their behavior crosses personal boundaries that create emotional and spiritual damage. People excuse their behavior because they trust their motives. But there is no excuse for spiritual abuse. Good intentions don’t absolve them of their abusive behavior.

I’ll talk about this more over the coming days. Be sure to send me your comments and questions and “like” this or forward this post to a friend if you found it helpful.

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How to Confront a Toxic Pastor

I recently posted an article on how to confront toxic people in church. It was designed to help toxicpastors confront difficult people.This was my all time most read post. I had no idea it would attract so much attention. There must be more toxic church people than I realized!

One of the comments I got back was someone asking me to write about how to confront a toxic pastor. Ah yes. I guess that’s only fair!

The truth is: there are many toxic pastors out there. It’s sad that so many people are being hurt by them. It’s so contrary to what they are called to do. And yes, they DO need to be confronted. I’ve had to do my share of it over the years.

Traits of a Toxic Pastor

Thom Ranier is a church consultant who has quantified Fourteen Symptoms of a Toxic Leader. His article is worth the read. Here are a few symptoms that come to my mind:

  • they manipulate people to promote their personal agenda
  • they dodge, deflect, or reject criticism
  • they consistently rationalize and minimize their negative behavior
  • they intimidate people with their biblical and persuasive arguments
  • they twist scripture to support their claims
  • they turn criticism back on the person who confronts them, shutting them down
  • they shield themselves from critics and marginalize them
  • they insist on their agenda despite the concerns of others.
  • they justify their agenda by saying that “God told them.”

It always amazes me how a pastor with these traits can get into power and stay there. How does it happen? I think it happens because the pastor is often one of the few people in leadership who is educated in ministry. Everyone around him or her is a volunteer and no one feels confident to challenge the pastor’s decisions. One leader is silent, which causes the next leader to doubt what they see, and then they also stand silent.

Before you know it there is an unintentional conspiracy of silence. This can last for years allowing all kinds of toxicity to develop and people to be hurt. 

Before you know it there is an unintentional conspiracy of silence. This can last for years allowing all kinds of toxicity to develop and people to be hurt.

The pastor’s inner circle is muted, eliminating any kind of accountability. Those on the outer circle don’t feel like they are close enough to the pastor to say anything. They notice questionable behavior but don’t have enough evidence, or proximity to the pastor, to feel confident to say anything. If the inner circle is silent, who are they to say anything? And so it goes.

As time goes by, habits are cemented into place. The pastor is effectively insulated from any correction. He or she is free to perpetrate their toxic behavior because the insiders are silenced and the outsiders have no access. The majority of the church has no idea what’s going on because they only see the pastor on Sunday. If someone does suggest a problem they are often shot down as being critical or rebellious because most people aren’t aware of what’s really happening.

Converge Magazine has an excellent article looking at the ministry of pastor Mark Driscoll and why he needed to be confronted. They noted that it’s hard to confront toxic pastors because they are blind to what ails them:

The greatest difficulty in ministering to abusers is this: they don’t believe there is anything really wrong with them. Their skills at self-deception, combined with their distortions of thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes, fortifies them against recognizing their soul sickness.

Ron Wheeler used to work with Driscoll and be mentored by him. If you have the time, it’s insightful to read his lengthy blog post reflecting on his relationship to Driscoll and how he was sucked into his deception. Driscoll was finally confronted and forced to resigned. His church was so greatly impacted by his fall that it had to close it’s doors at the end of 2014. This was a megamega church.

Seven Steps to Confronting a Toxic Pastor

So, what does one do in the face of a toxic pastor?

1. Pray. Confronting a pastor is no small task. You want to make sure your heart is pure. You don’t have to be perfect to confront someone. But you also want to make sure you have good intentions and not on a personal crusade.

2. Seek confirmation. Before you confront a pastor, talk to your spouse or a trusted friend in confidence to make sure it’s not just you. I run many things by my wife because she is very perceptive. When she confirms my thinking I’m confident that I’m onto something. Be careful not to use this as an excuse to gossip. The goal is to check the accuracy of what you see wrong.

3. Go to the pastor. This can feel overwhelming. Who are you to challenge a pastor? Well, if the pastor isn’t open to being challenged then he or she shouldn’t be a pastor. Pastors need to model transparency and humility. The door should always be open. If you feel overwhelmed, I think it’s fair to speak to a trusted friend or counselor to prep you for the meeting, and even go with you for support.

  • Write out what you want to say to make sure you stay on point. Feel free to read what you wrote as well. If the pastor is truly toxic, she will find a way to turn your criticism back on you. Unfortunately, people often end up apologizing for wasting her time and then kick themselves all the way home for being manipulated. So write it out, read it, and stick to the point. Know in advance what you want to accomplish. If they bring up your issues, tell them you are happy to discuss your problems at another time but today you want to talk about your concerns. Don’t leave until you feel heard and are satisfied with their response.

4. Involve a trusted friend or elder. If the pastor is truly toxic, he will either reject your criticism or placate you with false assurances. Then you need to take your concerns to the next level. Jesus said the next step is to go with two or three witnesses (Matthew 18). These witnesses are people that see the same problem you see or at least trust what you see and will support you and your concerns. If they agree with you, ask them to go with you to the pastor and have them support you and even represent you.

5. Involve the denomination. If the pastor still rejects you, don’t give up. If your church is part of a denomination (I hope it is!) then contact the denomination with your concerns. Sometimes the denomination is so out of touch that they will defend the pastor without even knowing the situation. But who knows, you might be the fifth person to complain and you tip the scales so the denomination finally does something.

6. Consider leaving. If you are not being heard, then you have to decide if your presence at church is some how encouraging bad leadership. Some people choose to stay and persistently stand opposed to the toxicity. Others feel like the biggest statement is made by leaving. There is no right or wrong response. You have to do what you feel is best.

7. Trust God. Once you’ve done all you can, you need to trust the results to God. It’s not your responsibility to change the pastor. Your responsibility lies in confronting the pastor. So do your part and then let it go. Paul’s words to the Romans are helpful here:

19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12

You are not the Savior of the church. Jesus is. So don’t carry the weight of the church. The church might suffer. It might even dissolve. But the Church of Jesus will carry on.

I mentioned above that I am shocked by toxic pastors in power, but what shocks me more is how LONG they are in power. Why do people let this happen? Once you see a pattern of toxic behavior, it needs to be addressed. Don’t wait. The church is supposed to be a blessing to the world. The pastor should be the greatest champion of grace and truth. There is nothing more perverse and distorted than a toxic pastor. Please do something! So much abuse has been allowed to happen because people have been overly cautious.

Feel free to email me with your specific questions or comment below. I always write people back. If you found this helpful, please forward it using the buttons below. Thanks.

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Other articles you might like:

Admitting is the First Step to Change

I’m a change dealer, so to speak. Wherever I go, whomever i speak to, it’s usually to help people make a change for the better. It’s a good trade. I enjoy it.admitting

One thing I hear myself talk about a lot is the need to admit…FULLY admit…the problem. It’s human nature to cover up our mistakes, or to at least minimize them. But you only hurt yourself by doing that. As painful as it is at first, you need to put everything on the table if you want to make a change.

I’ve written about the importance of admitting in past posts (see links below) but let me add a few more thoughts today. Admitting to yourself that you have a problem is one issue. Today I want to talk about the importance of admitting to others.

Five Reasons to Fully Admit Your Mistakes.

1. Not telling the truth destroys trust. We tend to shave the truth, that is, to minimize it. Why tell ALL the truth when you can save face and only tell half of it?  One reason is for your own peace of mind. God knows the truth and when you minimize what happened you have to live with the guilt of your cover-up. But another reason is people WILL find out the truth eventually. And when they do, their anger will be rekindled…now TWICE as much as before. You broke trust before, but when you “told the truth” they thought they could trust you. When they find out you held back the truth you may never regain their trust. Is it worth it?

2. It’s always better for YOU to be the bearer of bad news. You don’t want your friends and family hearing about what you did from others. When your friends and family hear things through the grapevine that you should have told them, it breaks trust and adds to the offense. It would have been so much better if you just told the truth up front. 

…when you tell ALL the details, you show people that you are serious about coming clean.

3. When you admit more than you think you need to admit, you build credibility with people. People will recognize that you didn’t “have to” tell them all the details. You could have skipped some of the details and no one would have known. But when you tell ALL the details, you show people that you are serious about coming clean. You aren’t protecting your image. You are pursuing truth no matter what the cost is to you. 

4. Fully admitting shows people that you are a new person. They are used to hearing half-truths and rationalizations.  They expect it. That’s your M.O. But when they see you going out of your way to tell the truth it takes the relationship to a whole new level because they realize that you must be a new person. You are no longer hiding behind lies. You are no longer trying to manipulate them. They can finally relate to you without questioning your motives. That’s refreshing!

5. Finally, telling the whole truth is cleansing. Once you tell the truth you don’t have to carry the weight of a cover-up. You are free. You don’t have to fear your secret getting out because it’s out. And the relationships you now have are free from deception. You can experience true intimacy and joy because you aren’t haunted by the lies you’ve told. You can be confident that people love YOU, warts and all, not a fabrication of the person you’ve presented through your stories and lies.

If you are looking to make a fresh start in life, spend a good amount of time on the front end: admitting. The better job you do at admitting, the better your recovery will be over all.

Get my latest book, “Out of Exile” for free when you sign up for my newsletter. http://readingremy.com/newsletter

Seven Steps to Confronting Toxic Church People

So how do you confront “that guy?” (see my previous post). Let me outline one approach.

Seven Steps To Confronting Toxic Church People

toxic church people1. Assess their health. As I said in my previous post, the first step is to understand where this person is coming from. You have to discern if this person is emotionally and spiritually healthy. Are they credible? Often not. Please read yesterday’s post to understand the shame factor and how it drives people’s motives. Don’t get sucked into their vortex. If they aren’t reasonable they have needs they are trying to meet that reason can’t solve.

2. Seek the Truth.  Before you dismiss their complaint or issue, ask God if there is any shred of truth to what they are saying. Not every mouthpiece for God is pure (myself included). There can be mixed motives. So I want to humbly be open to what I might learn from what the person has to say, even if it seems extreme at first. Can you strip the message from the messenger and find any truth?

3. Engage.  If your assessment is that they are toxic (and not just having a bad day) move to contain their toxin. I like the adage from Bill Hybel’s: If something feels funky, engage. We tend to walk away from toxic people hoping they’ll just go away.. Most likely they won’t. Their agenda is bigger than you imagine.. So move toward the person ti contain the toxin. .

If something feels funky, engage. Bill Hybels

4. Take it offline. Toxic people are looking for an audience. They will typically find an audience in a class, business meeting, through social media, or in the church lobby. Some people incessantly ask questions or offer comments that bog down classes or meetings. Other people camp out in the lobby and pick people off one at a time with their agenda. Tell them that you are happy to discuss their issue where you can give them your full attention. If they launch into a diatribe, interrupt them. It’s not rude. THEY are rude. People are looking to YOU to DO SOMETHING. They will appreciate you taking leadership. By taking it offline you deny them their audience.

Other people lob grenades through emails, Facebook, and blogs. If these are impacting your church, you need to talk to them about stopping. Just because it’s online, doesn’t give them free access. It might not make them cease and desist but you need to speak to it and possibly alert others in your church that what is being spoken is unhelpful. This gets dicey, so discretion and wise counsel is needed.

5. Set boundaries. Just because you take it offline doesn’t mean they can dominate your time. Give them 30 minutes, or whatever amount of time you think is appropriate. Discuss their issue. Listen. Affirm what you can. State your differences. And then thank them for voicing their concerns. You will take them into consideration. But let them know you will no longer allow the topic to dominate any forum within the church. If they can’t support your ministry then they need to find a ministry they can support.

6. Don’t waste your time. Too many pastors allow toxic people to dominate their time. They end up spending 30% of their time on .5% of the congregation. That’s not fair.  I know you think that your love and reason will change them, but that’s not your job. If they show no openness to dialogue, then move on…quickly. You’ve got hurting people under your care, or a sermon on Sunday, that you need to attend to.

7. Ask them to leave. This is a last resort after you’ve done your best to speak with them. But sometimes it’s necessary. You are the overseer of the flock. You need to protect your church from toxic people. And people need to see that you ARE seeking to protect them. If your church is the kind of place that allows loose cannons to roam free, you’ll lose good people.

Paul was clear in speaking to the Romans: I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. Romans 16:17. So, if this person refuses to comply, they must leave, for the sake of the Body. You don’t have to be harsh.. Let them know it pains you that it’s come to this, but you regretfully must ask them to leave.

Like I said in the previous post, this is not easy, but necessary. When’s the best time to confront a toxic person? As soon as possible. Good luck.

There are always exceptions to the rules, so I’m happy to entertain scenarios that might require altering my suggestions. I’d also like to hear some success stories (or horror stories) from your experience. It might help others.

Toxic Church People and Their Shame

Have you ever met someone, usually at church, who comes loaded for bear to convince you, and anyone within earshot, of “The Truth?”

Silly question…of course you have!

handling_toxic_peopleA friend of mine recently pointed out that in secular culture, you’d quickly dismiss this kind of a person as a crackpot. There is a natural social response to such a person. Once you realize that they aren’t interested in dialogue, only demagoguery, people begin to distance themselves from the person. They become isolated like a toxin in your body before they are flushed from the system. Eventually, they leave. Problem solved.

That’s in secular culture. In church, it’s a different story.

In church, since this person is proclaiming the Bible as his or her authority, they demand, and often get, immediate recognition. They position themselves as a prophet proclaiming the truth and woe to anyone that dare dismiss their words, for they are the very words of God!

So, in church, rather than being flushed from the system, they get a voice…a voice they don’t get in any other place. That’s very empowering! Not only do they get a voice, they might get a position. Not wanting to diminish anyone, the church might let them head a committee or even be on the church council. Now, they not only have a voice, and a position, but they have authority.

Do you see a problem here? Is this your problem: you’ve got a toxic person loose in your church? I bet you are hoping I’ve got an easy answer for it!  Not easy, but I do have an answer.

Understanding the Toxic Person

First, it’s important to understand what makes these folks tick. There are many possible answers, but since I write about shame a lot, let’s look at this person through a grid of shame.

Shame is the feeling/belief that you are worthless. Many people are attracted to God and religion because of their shame issues. But it’s not the draw you might think.

Ideally, people with shame issues will be drawn to God to find their true value in God. The message of Jesus dying for us and filling us with his Spirit is a made-to-order solution for shame. That’s what I wrote about in my book: Healing the Hurts of Your Past.

But sadly, many people miss that message and reach lower to salve the pain of their shame. Instead of grabbing onto Jesus they lock onto a doctrine, dogma, or ritual and make it their area of expertise. Finding their worth in the presence of God isn’t enough. Anyone can get that. They want to stand out from the crowd to feel special. That’s how they get their worth. 

What they don’t realize is that the rush they assume is the Spirit of God, is the same endorphin rush that every junkie gets after getting their fix.

Having an expertise in doctrine, dogma, or ritual gives them the power and control they’ve always longed for. When they can corner someone in church (maybe even the pastor!) and instruct them in their pet topic, it makes them feel alive. This new control gives them a sense of worth and purpose that they’ve never had before. 

What they don’t realize is that the rush they assume is the Spirit of God, is the same endorphin rush that every junkie gets after getting their fix.

And you just put this guy on the church council. Uh-oh.

Confronting the Toxic Person

Since you are a good, reasonable person, surely if you just talk to this person they will see the error of their ways and change. Not happening. They aren’t interested in reason. They are beyond reason. What they want is control and they want it because it meets their shame needs.

You’ll realize this when you confront them because they won’t listen to your concern; they just dig in deeper and increase their circle of influence. They have a vested interest in this issue and it’s not the issue itself. It’s their worth. Their entire identity is wrapped around this issue. To give up on the issue is to give up on themselves and they don’t want to go back to that life. They rather die a martyr in church (a Somebody) than be a nobody again.

So if this guy is your guy, you are in a no-win situation. He will only accept unconditional surrender from you. Until then, watch out.

What’s the answer? My goal today is to simply lay out the problem and help you understand what might be the motivation behind toxic people. Before I offer some suggestions, I’d like to hear back from you about your guy. What’s the situation?

You can comment below or you can email me directly in case you are afraid of exposing this situation. I get that. I’ll offer some solutions in a few days.

Get my latest book, “Out of Exile” for free when you sign up for my newsletter. http://readingremy.com/newsletter

Welcome Covenant Pastors to MidWinter

Just a little “shout-out” to my fellow Covenant pastors. Thanks for dropping by my site to pick up your free download for my book, OUT OF EXILE.

I hope you will be encouraged by it. Take a few seconds to write me back and give me your thoughts or share your exile experiences with me.

Enjoy the conference!

God Can Refill Your Losses

Everyone is hit with loss. How you view your losses determines if you get stuck in loss or bounce back.

I’ve talked in other posts about the difference between a scarcity vs. an abundance mindset. Let me contrast these two again with pie charts.pie chart

Each wedge in this chart represents a loss and the damage to your life:

  • A: Abuse
  • B: Rejection
  • C: Failure
  • D: Betrayal
  • E: Your ever shrinking sense of wholeness

If you view your losses through the grid of scarcity, you see your life getting smaller. You become increasingly hopeless as you feel losses chipping away at your life. You wonder if you can hang on any more because bad things keep happening. This view is often accompanied by anger and depression.Pie-chart-icon

But if you look at loss through the grid of abundance, your life isn’t chipped away. The loss causes a temporary set back (the blue wedge) but as you invite God into your life, he helps you to grieve the loss, absorb it, and continue on with your life.

A scar remains, reminding you of the loss, but the wedge is gone. It shrinks back to nothing. So instead of loss chipping away at your life, with God’s influence, loss actually expands you as a person; it makes you deeper and able to be a resource to other hurting people.

I hope this helps you or the people you might work with.