Category Archives: abuse

A New Book On Spiritual Abuse Available Soon

I’m pleased to announced that my new book on spiritual abuse is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com.

I’ve been working on Broken Trust for the past year. The book is subtitled: a practical guide to identify and recover from toxic faith, toxic church, and spiritual abuse. That’s an accurate description of what the book is about.

..this book provides the clearest, simplest, most helpful coverage of spiritual abuse and recovery.”

The book is so much better than what I had initially planned. I planned on simply spinning off a book from a series of blog posts I wrote with a few related sermons. Then I had the idea of inviting survivors of spiritual abuse into the process of writing the book. Good decision!

The book took on a totally different feel. Rather than a one-dimensional slant coming solely from my perspective, my helpers challenged me in many ways to consider new angles on the topic that I hadn’t personally experienced myself. The result is a much broader and more compassionate approach to the topic.

High Praise for the Book

I’ve sent out many draft copies of Broken Trust already for feedback. One survivor of spiritual abuse, and avid blogger on the topic, replied back to me saying:

“As a spiritual abuse survivor and blogger, I have now read dozens of books about this topic. Many are academic in nature, or very dense. I am comfortable saying that this book provides the clearest, simplest, most helpful coverage of spiritual abuse and recovery.”

That was great to hear and gave me the confidence to start finalizing the book and put the publishing in motion.

The book is scheduled to launch on September 18th. I still have some final tweaks to make on the book, but the clock is ticking.

Would You Join My Launch Team?

My hope is that my book gives grace and wisdom to readers who have been deeply hurt by abusive church leaders. I want so much for people to make a full recovery and not be reduced to spiritual “road-kill.”

Would you consider doing the following?

  1. Read a free advance PDF copy of the book.
  2. Post a review of it on amazon.com on September 18th.
  3. Repost your review on your blog and/or Facebook page.
  4. Share a link to the book on your Facebook page or other social media.

I’ll send a signed paperback copy of the book to the first twenty people who post a verified purchase review of the book on amazon.com and post a copy of the review on their Facebook page.

Reply to me here if you are game to help launch the book!

Read more about the book on amazon.com

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Survivors of Spiritual Abuse: Five Ways to Offer Your Support

I’m working on a new book called, Broken Trustreclaiming God’s survivors of spiritual abusegrace from toxic faith, toxic church and spiritual abuse. I want to help the many hurting people I’ve met find a way to healing and wholeness. In this post, I’d like to speak to pastors and other believers who meet survivors of spiritual abuse.

In my book, I describe survivors of spiritual abuse as the person that Jesus spoke about who  was wounded and found by the side of the road. The religious people were not willing or able to help him. Thankfully the “Good Samaritan” stopped and did what was necessary for healing.

It’s very easy to dismiss the concerns of survivors of spiritual abuse as overreacting. It’s tempting to minimize their hurt and expect them to “get over it.” But what many people don’t understand is that survivors of spiritual abuse often suffer from PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder). Minimizing their abuse and expecting a quick recovery only adds to their pain and may send them away, feeling like no one can understand them, or they are too broken to heal.

Helping Survivors of Spiritual Abuse

Here are five ideas to keep in mind when befriending or pastoring survivors of spiritual abuse:

1. Listen to their story. Survivors of spiritual abuse need to tell their story. It helps them to process their experience. They gain awareness of what happened to them even as they speak. Talking helps them to sort out what happened.

Don’t feel the need to jump in and correct them or offer solutions. That’s what they have experienced in abuse: people telling them how to think and feel. What they need is a safe context to speak without being corrected or judged for their thoughts or emotions.

2. Validate their experience. As people tell their story, they are afraid of being judged. They are afraid of being rejected because they are either too far off base or too broken. Let them know that you appreciate them telling their story and you believe their experience. Even if you don’t think their experience would have wounded you so deeply, be careful not to minimize or dismiss how it affected them. It’s their story to tell.

3. Don’t offer quick fixes. Christians are great at offering simplistic solutions to complex problems. I noticed the contrast in approaches when I joined a Celebrate Recovery ministry. The small groups gave each person a chance to respond to the evening’s teaching. But other members were not allowed to offer comment. We just thanked the person for what they shared and went on to the next person. This was so foreign to me (and refreshing).

My experience in church small group studies is that someone would share a concern, and everyone else in the group felt it was their responsibility to offer their 25 cent diagnosis of the problem along with as many Bible verses as they could remember. Point: don’t do that! Just listen and draw them out. Invite them to say more and give more examples. It will help them to heal.

4. Give them space and time to heal. People are often exposed to abuse for years. It will take years for them to regain their equilibrium. Don’t rush them. If they have recently joined your church, don’t push them to become a member or volunteer. You can offer the opportunity, but don’t imply that either are necessary to be fully accepted.

You have to realize that just returning to church is a big step for survivors of spiritual abuse. It might be months or years before they can do any more than that.

5. Appreciate their hyper-sensitivity. Survivors of spiritual abuse are prone to high anxiety and panic attacks due to their past experiences. Little reminders will trigger strong reactions. Many people have spoken to me about their fear of running into someone from their old church at the local store. Don’t brush this off as silly, insignificant, or “nothing to worry about.” Some people organize their day around avoiding people.

You can be a healing presence to survivors of spiritual abuse or another person along the way who adds to their pain. Consider how you might be a healing presence.

Get a Free Copy of Broken Trust

If you would like to read a draft of my book, Broken Trust, email me and I’d be happy to send you a free copy. It’s still a work in progress. Any feedback you have to offer me would be welcome. I’m doing my best to offer practical advice so people can move toward healing and full recovery.

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Are You a Victim of Spiritual Abuse?

If you are a victim of spiritual abuse, would you be interested in helping me to write my fifth book? The topic is toxic faith and spiritual abuse. The working title for my new book is: Toxic Faith, Spiritual Abuse…and AMAZING Grace.victim of spiritual abuse

This book is a book that I wish I didn’t need to write. In fact, it’s probably the last thing I WANT to talk about. No one likes to talk about it. But for the sake of Jesus and his church, we have to. 

I blogged about it extensively in the wake of a toxic church imploding two years ago in my area. Those posts have since become my most read posts. That’s sad to me! Really? There’s that much interest?

Of all the posts, the most read post is: How to Confront a Toxic Pastor. So disappointing. But that tells me it’s a huge problem.

I pulled together all those posts along with a sermon series I did on Toxic Faith from Galatians. As I started the drafting process I started to wonder if I had answered all the questions people have. Probably not. 

That’s where you could really help me.

Helping the Victim of Spiritual Abuse

I want to help two primary groups of people:

1. People in a toxic church who are SUPER confused. Why are people so passionate about teaching that makes you so uncomfortable? Why is it wrong to question it? Are you a bad Christian? Are you even saved? Do you really have to work THAT hard for God to love you?

2. People who realize the problem and want to do something about it. The right answer might be to quietly leave. For others it might mean a confrontation, if not a series of confrontations.

My hope is to pull together anywhere from five to fifty people who would read through my original writing and tell me what helps, what doesn’t help, and what’s missing.

I’d like people who are in one of the two groups above so they can give me personal feedback. I came out of a toxic church, but it was years ago now. I may have forgotten some of the pain and some of the issues.

What will you do on this team?

Read my work and write me your thoughts. If you have friends in the group, you might read it together.

My hope is that the group would not only help me (and thereby help my readers) but be a source of healing for people on my team.

Like I said, I’ve been there. I am a victim of spiritual abuse. It caused me to drop out of church for five years. I almost gave up on church altogether. Instead, God used me to start a church! Pretty ironic.

So there it is. If you are interested in being a part of this group, please email me here. 

One qualifier: some people come out of a toxic church both bitter and vindictive. I’m open to their involvement if they can restrain themselves from using the group as a dumping ground for their anger. But I’d love to help them work through that, so I’m happy to include them.

Please share this post with people whom you think might be interested.

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The Power Paradox: Gaining and Losing Power

Power is an interesting study. Reading the book, The Power Paradox, opened my eyes to how power power paradoxand powerlessness play into our lives in dramatic ways. I’ll talk about power in this post and powerlessness in an upcoming post.

Author, Dacher Keltner believes that our culture’s understanding of power came from Machiavelli’s book, The Prince. He says:

The Prince offers a philosophy of power suitable to such violent times, treating power in its purest form as “force and fraud.” We gain and keep such power by committing coercive and unpredictable acts that are impetuous, fierce, and violent.

We hold on to such power by appearing virtuous even though we harbor other intentions. This kind of power quiets (or kills) rivals and critics, inspires allegiances, and mutes the masses. Through coercive force and fraud, we dominate. Dacher Keltner. The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence (p. 20). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This definition relates so closely to what I’ve written in this blog about toxic pastors and what I observed in the recent political campaign. The “force and fraud” isn’t as blatant as in Machiavelli’s era, but is present nonetheless.

This expression of power doesn’t stem from confidence but fear. The Machiavellian leader is afraid they are losing power so they resort to manipulation to grasp power before it slips away.

This grasp might work in the short run but, ironically, it eventually leads to a loss of power…the very thing they feared. People subjected to abusive power will only submit to it for a season before they say, “enough” and revolt (think abusive marriages, churches, bosses, and governments).  The author explains:

People resort to coercive force when their power is actually slipping. In our professional lives, people who endorse Machiavellian strategies to social life— lying, manipulating, and stepping on others to rise in the ranks— actually report experiencing less power and influence than the average person…Today coercive force is a more likely path to powerlessness than to gains in power.  The Power Paradox (p. 21).

The Power Paradox and Gaining Power

So, how does one gain power? Keltner says that power is not gained by grasping it but by receiving it from others. People are eager to give you power in their lives when you show acts of kindness that benefit them. The author says that power:

…is given to us by others rather than grabbed. We gain power by acting in ways that improve the lives of other people in our social networks…Our power is found in simple acts that bind people together and yield the greatest benefits for the group. The difference we make in the world depends …on raising the right question, offering encouragement, connecting people who don’t know one another, suggesting a new idea. Power is surprisingly available in daily acts of social life.   Critical to avoiding the power paradox is recognizing   that enduring power hinges on doing simple things that are good for others. The Power Paradox (p. 35).

Kelner adds by saying:

…we empower others through daily acts of influence: by acknowledging another’s good work, by offering an encouraging phrase or making appreciative eye contact, or by giving others responsibilities, resources, and opportunities. The Power Paradox (p. 38).

The Power Paradox and Losing Power

What I found especially interesting is how people who gain power can easily lose it. While gaining power came from showing kindness, the power they receive often causes them to distance themselves from others, lose empathy, grow selfish, and eventually lose power.

People are eager to give you power in their lives when you show acts of kindness that benefit them.

I saw this played out recently in my study of King David in the Bible. When David was young he fought for the people and they championed him as their king. But once he gained power he grew distant and selfish, choosing to commit adultery and even murder to cover up the adultery. The people took note and when David’s son Absalom offered them his leadership as a viable alternative, their hearts went with him. Power gained and lost. (You can find this story in 1 & 2 Samuel).

Whatever your position of power might be (teacher, pastor, parent, manager, etc.), be aware that your position naturally tempts you to neglect the empathy and kindness that put you in power in the first place. Don’t fall into the trap of coercing people to maintain your power. What got you power (empathy and kindness) will keep you in power.

Check out The Power Paradox here.

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I Left My Toxic Church…Now What?

Last year I posted a number of articles (see more links below) helping people to identify a toxic church. I  took a long look at spiritual toxic churchabuse, along with steps to deal with a toxic church. But I’m realizing that I left out at least one important post: what do you do when you leave a toxic church?

Entering a new church can be tricky. It’s like rebounding off a bad relationship. Some people swear off dating altogether while others fling themselves at the next person walking by. Both are unhealthy reactions. So let’s take a look at this.

Engaging Your New Church

First you have to realize the condition you are in. You belong to the walking wounded. You might look good, but all is not well inside. If you’ve been in a spiritually abusive church it’s affected your thinking. You aren’t seeing straight. Your view of God and other people has been skewed.  So be aware that you are prone to misread situations at your new church. That’s not bad, you just need to be aware of it and factor that in.

That means: go slow. Sit in the back row and observe. Don’t be too quick to judge the new church as right or wrong because, remember: you are off center. It’s going to take some time to recalibrate.

Be careful not to overreact. Talk to the pastor about any concerns rather than jumping to conclusions and assuming the worst. You don’t want to infect your new church with the toxicity from your past.

Grieving the Toxic Church Experience

A toxic church causes a number of losses that need to be grieved. You need to come to terms with those losses before you reengage in a new church. I’m not saying you shouldn’t attend a church, just don’t jump in and start leading or serving in any significant way. You might end up hurting yourself and the new church.

The best thing you can do for your new church is to get healthy. There’s plenty of time for you to get involved later.

Let me walk you through the fives stages of grief as they apply to recovering from spiritual abuse:

Denial. It’s hard to admit that someone could take advantage of you spiritually. No one likes to admit being duped or that they elevated a pastor beyond human status. It’s embarrassing. But the first step to any healing is to admit what went wrong.  Yes, you bought into the toxicity hook, line and sinker. You are in a place you never thought you’d be. There. You said it. Now you can move on.

Anger. Anger is the natural response to any loss. Don’t kid yourself. You have lots of anger at the church, specific leaders, and anyone who convinced you to “just trust the pastor.” You might even be mad at God. The tendency is to cover it up. But that will only hurt you in the long run.  Instead, get in touch with your anger. Anger is appropriate when you’ve been hurt like this. Give yourself permission to feel the God-given emotion.

List out the losses you experienced at the toxic church. What did the toxic thinking rob from you?  Maybe a sense of dignity? Control? A true concept of God? Healthy relationships? Money? The list might be long.

But here is one tip for dealing with your anger…find healthy, constructive ways to process it. Too often the “ex’s” of a toxic church spend inordinate amounts of time obsessing with each other about the bad old days and how awful they were. Plus there is the constant update on who is still in the toxic church and who has left.  This is so tempting to do and so unhealthy.

Looking back is only helpful if it exposes the faulty thinking that you absorbed. But it’s very easy to slip into slander and gossip. People will quickly grow tired of you singing the same sad song all the time. So find a support group, or friend, or counselor where you can process your anger without infecting others with the negativity.

Bargaining: This is when you look for a quick fix to solve your problem, like, “God get me out of this mess.” It involves a desperate mindset that encourages you to look for simplistic solutions. For example, you might pray, “God, just show me a new church where I can jump in and forget about the past.” You don’t want to do the hard work of healing. You just want a quick fix. Be careful. That can backfire on you in the long run.

Depression: It’s easy to give up on church altogether. You assume that church is broken and it’s not worth the effort to try again. It’s all an illusion. You become cynical and distrusting of every leader and what church is all about. You might even give up on God. So either you quit church, or you attend, but you are a negative influence because you’ve lost hope.

I know what’s that like. I was there once. But this is where you need to believe in the God of resurrection. God wants to bring something from the ashes of your experience. He’ll use what you learned for good, if you let him. He did with me.

Acceptance: This happens when you are willing to accept that something died and believe that life can be good again. You no longer try to make the past work or make sense. You put the nails in the coffin of your experience and bury it. You no longer talk about it with your ex-church mates. You have moved on and are willing to accept the new church experience God has given you. You won’t let your past experience infect your new experience.

I love the church and its people. I hate spiritual abuse. Spiritual abuse is bad enough when it happens. But simply leaving a church doesn’t solve the problem. You can carry the disease of spiritual abuse with you if you don’t treat it properly.  I hope these few tips help you find the road to recovery and to reengage in church in a healthy way.

What kind of problems have you faced after you left a toxic church? Leave a comment below and it might not only help you but help others in the same situation. I’ll do my best to give you some advice.

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How to Reclaim Your Church from Spiritual Abuse

nextstepsThis is part six in a six part series on spiritual abuse. Today I want to suggest steps a church might take to help them move on from a past with spiritual abuse.

Please read parts four and five before reading this post because my recommendations are based on the problems I outlined there.

The problems in MHC’s (Mars Hill Church) communications were for every issue, they denied, hedged, evaded and accused others for as long as they could. Then, once there was undeniable evidence, they made excuses, laid blame or made diversions by nitpicking the details. Even the few times they had a “buck stops here” moments or Mark Driscoll “accepted responsibility,” he blamed his elders and claimed he never knew. blogger

So the LORD will cut off from Israel both head and tail, both palm branch and reed in a single day; the elders and prominent men are the head, the prophets who teach lies are the tail. Those who guide this people mislead them, and those who are guided are led astray. Isaiah 9:14-16

A lot can be learned from a major fallout out like Mars Hill Church in Seattle. And a lot can be learned from Israel in the Old Testament. Some things never change. Israel dissolved. Ten tribes were lost to the nations. Mars Hill also dissolved. I was part of a church of 2000 in Minneapolis that dissolved after immorality was revealed in the leadership.

My point is that if you don’t handle a crisis well, your church may cease to exist. It happens. So please be careful how you handle a crisis. If you don’t want your church to dissolve from spiritual abuse, you need to take bold action.

Next Steps to Reclaim Your Church From Spiritual Abuse

These are the steps I recommend to church leaders if they want to get back on track:

1. Get outside help. Whether you realize it or not, your thinking has become distorted. You don’t see straight. If you did, the abuse wouldn’t have taken place in the first place. You need outside influence – fresh eyes – to see what’s wrong and make objective decisions. When spiritual abuse exists, there is a dysfunctional system in place that supports the abuse. Even if you stop the abuse, the dysfunctional system remains. Until the dysfunctional system is dismantled your problems will continue.

Hopefully you are part of a denomination. One of the primary roles of a denomination is to provide outside support and direction to a church in a time of crisis. Use them. If you don’t have a denomination, hire a consultant, or invite a respected church to help lead your church out of your mess. It’s humbling to ask for help, but it will give you clear, objective thinkers during a cloudy season and your congregation will trust you more moving forward.

2. Change up the leadership. Every position in leadership, staff and elders, should be up for consideration. It might require termination, resignation, paid or unpaid time-off, etc. New people need to be brought in who don’t share the tainted past.

Your denomination can help you with these decisions. Most people don’t like to take bold action like this. They are afraid of overreacting and regretting it. But my experience is that taking bold action during a time of crisis is what saves the day. People who try to walk the middle line, and please everyone, end up inviting the disaster they are hoping to avoid.

3. Review what happened. Abuse didn’t just jump out of a box one day. It developed over time. Think through how it came about. What were the steps that led you and others to compromise what you knew to be true, and/or allowed someone in authority to take advantage of innocent people?

4. Isolate the errors and false teaching. As you review the past and find the missteps, name them. List them out. Understand the depth of the error: relationally, spiritually, biblically, etc. 

Coming out of a time of spiritual abuse is not the time to be passive or equivocate. It’s time to clear the air as quickly as possible. People need to know that you see the problem and are doing everything you can, as fast as you can, to right the ship.

5. Tell your stories. The abuse happened in community. It needs to be processed in community. People like to think the consequences of abuse will magically go away. They won’t; not unless you take action to make them go away. You need to shed light into the darkness of abuse by openly talking about it.

One way you help that happen is by telling your story. When you tell your story you will see the horror in people’s eyes, validating your experience. For years you minimized the abuse. You told yourself that you were wrong and your abuser was right. They were smarter than you and you just needed to toe the line. But seeing the reaction of people who hear your story will help empower you. They will confirm what you felt deep down all along. Hearing their story will do the same.

6. Fully admit and own the abuse. This will help you to clean house and regain trust from the congregation.

7. Grieve the losses. A death has happened. Life has been stolen from people. Time has been taken. Relationships have been broken. You don’t skip away from these things. Most people don’t understand the importance of grief. New life can’t come to you, or your church, unless you embrace the sorrow and confusion of grief. If you try to move on prematurely, the wounds of abuse will get buried and fester and putrefy, coming back to haunt you in years to come.

8. Be patient with each other. Everyone heals in different ways and at different rates. Two people may have had the same experience, but because of their personality and past experience, one can rebound quickly while the other seems lost for a few years. There is no right or wrong way to recover. Don’t judge people for not recovering like you do. This will only revictimize the abused. Don’t rush things. Recovery takes time.

9. Trust God. God is the god of resurrection. That’s his game. All roads lead to resurrection and renewal with God if you will consistently take his hand and let him take you there. But it’s a process. It took years for the effects of spiritual abuse to sink in. It may take years for it’s grip to let you go. Don’t give up. God is faithful to complete the work he started in you.

Coming out of a time of spiritual abuse is not the time to be passive or equivocate. It’s time to clear the air as quickly as possible. People need to know that you see the problem and are doing everything you can, as fast as you can, to right the ship.

The fear of being honest is that you’ll lose people. But you’ve already lost people. You’ll lose more either way. So the question is: do you want to lose people because you are not being fully honest or because you were fully honest? I think the answer is clear.

I hope these six posts have given you some insight into the problem of spiritual abuse and how to move on from it. I’m happy to answer any questions you might have. Thanks for reading!

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You Can Smell Spiritual Abuse

Stop-spiritual-abuseThis is part five in a six part series on Spiritual Abuse. Track back to read all the posts so far.

I left off on my last post talking about the dangers of minimizing spiritual abuse. If spiritual abuse is minimized, a church will be quick to move on and not give abuse victims the care they need to heal.

Victims will be made to feel like they are the ones at fault. They overreacted. They are overly sensitive, etc. This subjects them to abuse…again. This is equal to throwing salt on an open wound.

Don’t Create a Cover Up

I understand that it’s very hard to fully own something as ugly as spiritual abuse. No one wants to admit the depth of it. No one wants to own that it happened in their church. But if you don’t admit it – fully – you will only add to the tragedy. A church that is quick to move on chooses to sacrifice the abused for the sake of their own reputation. They mistakenly think that, by not admitting the abuse, they will be saved from the pain and shame of fully disclosing it. In their mind, it’s for “the greater good” that they minimize what took place and move on.

But creating a cover-up is a very sad legacy to afflict on your church. A few years back I took a team of people to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Houses were flooded up to two stories. The only solution to save these houses was to gut them, stripping them down to the studs. Once the houses were stripped, they needed to be sprayed down with an antibacterial solution, left to dry, and then rebuilt.

A church that is quick to move on chooses to sacrifice the abused for the sake of their own reputation.

It felt terrible to throw out totally new appliances and woodwork. But trying to save them would have allowed the bacteria to grow and would cause the ultimate demise and destruction of the houses. It was better to gut them and start over. 

This is a perfect example for what needs to take place after abuse has “flooded” a church community. You can’t soft-sell what happened. You have to own it and clean house.

You Can Smell Spiritual Abuse a Mile Away

What people don’t understand is how sensitive and perceptive survivors of abuse are. They can “smell” abuse a mile away, even when others can’t. They hear it in the teaching, the tone of people’s voice, the subtle manipulations used, and by what’s said and not said.

Let me use another analogy from my past. When my wife and I were first married, we lived in married student housing at the University of Minnesota. Before living there, I had never seen a cockroach. After living there I became very familiar with them! The roach population got so bad that the University resorted to monthly fumigation. All the residence would have to leave for the day while they set off a fumigation “bomb.”

That insecticide has a very unique smell. The smell is permanently etched in my brain. I smell it sometimes when I’m in apartment buildings and occasionally in restaurants. I’ll often mention it to whomever I’m with, “Can you smell the insecticide?” I’ll ask. They never can. I’m just super sensitive to it. But when I smell it in a restaurant, it’s a warning sign that the restaurant has a roach problem, not some place I want to eat!

It’s the same way with abuse. Once you’ve been abused, once someone had forced themselves into your personal space without your permission, you never forget it. Not everyone will see what you see or hear what you hear. They might call you oversensitive and diminish what you sense. But you know you are right. No one can tell you differently.

If you’ve suffered spiritual abuse in a church, you can’t go to that church if there is the slightest scent of abuse in the air. You know what others don’t: they haven’t fully rooted out the last vestiges of abuse. Instead of getting the abused to be quiet, they should be sought out and used as a “Geiger counter” to detect and eradicate any traces of abuse in the church.

Eliminating Every Trace of Abuse

The false teaching used to control people needs to be actively rooted out and corrected, not merely downplayed or ignored. Respected teachers from outside the church should be brought in to reset the biblical compass in the church. The errors that were used to perpetrate the abuse need to be spelled out and fully exposed so people understand the threat they are to God’s glory and the purpose for his church.

Bold action should be taken to get a church back on track. Spiritual abuse introduces a toxin to the lifeblood of the church and needs to be removed before it causes any more damage. I’ll talk about some possible steps a church might take in my next post.

If you found this helpful please “like” it and share it with the buttons below. I’d love to hear what your experience is as it relates to what I wrote today.

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