Category Archives: toxic church

Best Books on Spiritual Abuse: Broken Trust Tops the List

What are the best books on spiritual abuse?

I’ve sent out a few copies of my upcoming book on spiritual abuse, called Broken Trust. I’m grateful to see that one reviewer (Stephen A. Smith) put it on the top of his list of fifteen books on spiritual abuse. Here is his list in the order that he recommends them:

Best Books on Spiritual Abuse (libertyforcaptives.com) 

  1. Broken Trust: A practical guide to identify and recover from toxic faith, toxic

    Stephen A. Smith

    church, and spiritual abuse by F. Remy Diederich (this title available from Amazon Sept. 18, 2017)

  2. The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen
  3. Twisted Scriptures by Mary Chrnalogar
  4. The Heresy of Mind Control by Stephen Martin
  5. Churches that Abuse: Help for Those Hurt by Legalism and Authoritarian Leadership by Ronald Enroth
  6. Coping with Cult Involvement by Livia Bardin
  7. Spiritual Abuse Recovery: Dynamic Research on Finding a Place of Wholeness by Barb Orlowski, Ph.D.
  8. To Be Told: Know Your Story, Shape Your Future by Dan Allender
  9. Leading with a Limp by Dan Allender
  10. “Spiritual Authority” by Hal Miller (an article @ http://www.home-church.org/scc/authority.html )
  11. The Wrong Way Home: Uncovering the Patterns of Cult Behavior in American Society by Arthur J. Deikman, M.D.
  12. Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
  13. Families Where Grace is in Place by Jeff VanVonderen
  14. Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve by Lewis B. Smedes
  15. When God’s People Let You Down by Jeff VanVonderen

You can visit Steve’s helpful website here. 

If you would like a free copy of Broken Trust to review on your blog, please contact me here.

If you are not a blogger but would like to be on my launch team, please see the details in my previous post.

 

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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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Spiritual Abuse: the Fruit of Toxic Faith

I’m in the process of writing a new book that deals with toxic faith and spiritual abuse. It’s become a fascinating project because about ten people are actively working with me, giving me input from their own spiritually abusive history.

One thing that’s become quite clear is the difference between toxic faith and spiritual abuse. They are definitely correlated, but they are distinct from one another.

Toxic Faith vs. Spiritual Abuse

Toxic faith is the soil from which spiritual abuse grows. Without toxic faith there is no spiritual abuse. Spiritual abuse functions and is sustained, in both abused and abuser, by distorted thinking about who God is, and how he operates.

Put simply, toxic faith is performance-based thinking, meaning you have to earn the right to be approved and accepted by God. The better you perform, the more God likes you.

That, in a nutshell, is all it takes to completely mess with your mind. It sounds so simple. And, in fact, it sounds so normal. Isn’t that what religion is all about: performing for God? Your value is determined by your church attendance,  giving record, by how much you volunteer, or pray, or read your Bible, as well as by your obedience to church rules.

God keeps a spreadsheet on everyone with a complex algorithm that spits out your standing with God. But you don’t know what that value is. Church leaders have the unique wisdom and power to make that determination. They alone have the insight to know who is on the inside track with God and who is not. The worshipper is kept in suspense, not knowing if they are doing it good enough, dependent on the wise counsel of their leader.

What I’ve described is extreme, but only for making my point. This happens all the time in churches. Many people have outright rejected this kind of religion. They won’t let the church bully or intimidate them. This is why there has been a tremendous falling away from the church, first in Europe, and now in the United States. But others get trapped in abusive situations because of a sincere desire to know God and serve him.

What God Did For Us vs. What We Do For God

In the early church the apostle Paul was constantly waging a battle against purveyors of toxic faith. Paul had a very simple message:

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:10,13

Our confession is based on what God did for us, not what we did for him. Notice the activity of God in Paul’s words here:

You were dead because of your sins … Then God made you alive with Christ. He forgave all our sins. He canceled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ’s cross. Colossians 2:13,14 (emphasis mine)

We were dead, but God took action. Paul’s point was that God has done for us what we could never do for ourselves. We are incapable of saving ourselves. Our job is to believe in the One (Jesus) who rescued us from our broken relationship God. Anything we do for God should come out of gratitude for what he’s done, not out of obligation.

But old habits die hard. Paul lived and preached in a Jewish world. Performance defined the Jewish mindset. Circumcision, Sabbath, and observing the Law were central to honoring God. People were convinced that if you did not abide by this performance framework, you were lost.

As Paul traveled about the world with his message, the Jewish evangelists would follow right behind him with their own message contradicting him.

Distorted Thinking

We get a good glimpse of this tension in the letter that Paul wrote to the church in Galatia, a region in modern-day Turkey. He made these accusations to people he had previously won to Christ:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all.  Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 1:6,7

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? 3:1-3

Toxic Faith and the New Believer

Toxic faith has a powerful impact on new believers. They are eager to know God. Their heart is open to learn and quick to obey. They are ready to be conformed into the image of God. The innocence and trust displayed makes it a beautiful time in one’s faith journey.

But that same innocence and trust is spoiled with the introduction of toxic faith. Instead of living a life of devotion out of gratitude for God’s unconditional acceptance, the believer is convinced that a life of devotion is necessary to be accepted by God.

I really don’t think people intend their faith to be toxic, nor do religious leaders conspire to offer a toxic faith. Our problem is we misunderstand the nature of God’s unconditional acceptance and it naturally develops into abusive scenarios.

Slowly and subtly spiritual abuse begins to grow out of our inadequate view of God. People in power begin to use performance-based religion to control their followers “for their own good” because they “know best.” The young believer, not knowing any better, acts against their own instincts in fear of letting God and others down.

Spiritual Abuse: the Fruit of Toxic Faith

A while back I read a story that gave a good example of how toxic thinking led to spiritual abuse.[1] An eight-year-old girl went to take her first communion at church. She had a wheat gluten allergy, so she brought her own rice based communion wafer. But when the church officials heard that she used a rice wafer, they invalidated her communion. You see, they thought that the bread that Jesus used for the first communion was wheat based, so only wheat can be used for communion bread.

The mother of the girl was disgusted, saying, “This is a church rule, not God’s will, and it can easily be adjusted to meet the needs of the people, while staying true to the traditions of our faith…I didn’t know that the divinity of Christ depended on wheat.”

This didn’t need to happen. This devoted family shouldn’t have had to make a choice between worshipping God and the health of their child. But this is a perfect example of how toxic faith naturally leads to abusing people rather than helping people draw closer to God. Thankfully this mother wouldn’t stand for it, but many believers are not that wise. They will conform to the rules to their own detriment, thinking they are showing God true devotion.

Jesus spoke of wolves coming in sheep’s clothing. There is no better disguise for falsehood than the church. That’s why it’s so important that you are careful in what you believe and whom you believe. Toxic faith is fertile soil. Wherever it exists, spiritual abuse is sure to grow.

If you would like to receive drafts of the book I am writing, please email me here and I will add you to the list. Please share this with others who might find it helpful.

[1] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/communion-mom-looks-to-vatican/

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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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Toxic Pastors and Why They Are Not Confronted

Why is it so hard to confront toxic pastors? If they are clearly in the wrong, it seems like it would be the obvious thing to do. But if you’ve ever been in a toxic church, you know how hard it can be.

Here are ten reasons why people don’t confront toxic pastors.

Ten Reasons People Don’t Confront Toxic Pastors:

  1. You don’t want to be accused of being rebellious. Toxic pastors make you feel like disagreeing with them is equal to questioning God. And we all know that bad things happen to people who question God, right? The Old Testament has more than enough stories to give you pause. You don’t want the ground to open up and swallow you, and you don’t want to be labeled a rebel, or God forbid, having a “rebellious spirit.”
  2. You get filled with self-doubt. Toxic pastors make you feel like YOU are the problem. They say things like, “The reason you disagree with me is because you aren’t as spiritually mature as I am. You need to trust my leadership and submit to my authority like the Bible tells you too.” That can mess with your mind. They turn things around and before you know it, you are asking for THEIR forgiveness when it should be the other way around.
  3. You fear losing your circle of friends. Sometimes we tolerate a toxic church simply because that’s where our friends are. When I left a church, after being there for seven years, I lost my entire network of friends.
  4. You don’t want to lose your equity investment. If you have a home mortgage, you have an equity investment. Each month that you make a payment, your equity, or ownership of the house, grows. But if the bank foreclosed on you, you lose your equity. All that investment would be lost. That happens in relationships too. You feel that you’ve invested so much time and energy into the relationship/church that you don’t want to lose your investment. So you try a little harder, a little longer, hoping it will work. You even tell yourself that God will reward you for persevering. So you invest another year, but the system doesn’t get any better. Now you’ve lost another year and your equity has increased which makes you feel even MORE obligated to stay.
  5. You like to be liked/needed. If you are a good performer, the toxic system can be very rewarding. You feed off of the praise. Or, maybe you simply can’t handle the thought of the church people not liking you if you leave. Your low self-worth keeps you trapped.
  6. You fear losing your salvation. They had you convinced that their way was the only way to God. Even though you know they are wrong, you fear falling away from God without their strong input into your life. You’re not sure you can make it on your own.
  7. You fear exposure/humiliation for leaving. You know if you leave that your name and reputation will be trashed by those in the church. You’ve seen it happen to others who left the church and you don’t want it to happen to you.
  8. You fear being wrong. What if they ARE right? After all, what do you know? You don’t know the Bible like they do. And the pastor and his/her followers seem so convinced.
  9. You lack boundaries. You were raised to believe that people had the right to impose their thoughts/beliefs/will upon you. You don’t feel like it’s your right to question others. You are used to being violated. You think that’s your lot in life, so you let it continue.
  10. It’s not worth your time. You are so sick of the craziness that you are just done. You don’t think talking to the pastor will change anything, just aggravate you more. So you up and leave. End of story.

As you can see, confronting toxic pastors isn’t so easy. There are lots of reasons people fail to follow through on their intentions. It takes maturity to stand tall and confront the madness. Someone has to do it. Why not you?

Can you think of other reasons that people don’t confront toxic pastors? Leave a comment below.

If you need help in confronting church leadership, see my post on how to confront a toxic pastor here.

If you have encountered a toxic pastor, let me know about your experience. I am in the process of writing a new book on how to handle a toxic church experience and your insight would be helpful to me. Email me here. Thanks.

 

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Toxic Church, Toxic Faith… a new book in the works

People often ask me what my next book will be. My answer has been that I’ve got nothing in the works. But then I noticed that my blog series last year on toxic church and toxic pastors has gotten a lot of reads. In fact, they are always in the top ten of my years of posts.

I wondered why that was and so I googled some of the topics I covered on toxic church and saw that my posts are near the top of the list. Hmmm… maybe there is an interest out there that I didn’t realize existed.

Checking Amazon.com there is only one book on the subject. So…I have a new answer to the question about my next book. I just started a new book to help people discern a toxic church and know what steps to take with it.

Would you contribute your thoughts on toxic church?

I’m letting you know about this because if you had an experience in a toxic church, I’d like to hear about it. You can email me your thoughts by clicking the link in the margin. I may or may not include your story/thoughts in the book but whatever is included will be anonymous with some details changed so no one could trace the story to you. Whatever you send will broaden my understanding and make for a more helpful book.

It’s a sad statement…

It’s really a sad statement that a book like this is even needed. “Toxic” and “church” should never be two words that are linked. But when it happens, people need to know what to do, so I’ll do my best to offer advice so believers can discover the true church that Jesus had in mind for us: a gathering of people that encourages people to know God and find freedom.

Let others know

Please share this post with your friends who may have interest in contributing their experience with a toxic church. I’d love to hear from them. Thanks so much.

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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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