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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