Tag Archives: pastors

Abusive Pastors, Understanding Why They Do What They Do

If you’ve been subjected to spiritually abusive pastors or leaders, you might wonder how that is even possible. Aren’t spiritual leaders supposed to be the ones who have their lives together? After all, how can they lead you into a healthy relationship with God if they don’t have one themselves?

According to NetCE,[i] there are three primary traits that cause people to spiritually abuse others:

  1. Narcissistic traits/tendencies, resulting from a deep insecurity. For many who spiritually abuse, having spiritual knowledge to hold over people becomes a way to meet their need for inner security or self-esteem.
  2. A genuine belief that one is doing “the right thing” (rarely an intent to harm). Many who act out in spiritually abusive ways genuinely believe they have found some type of “answer” and desire to share it with others, likely unaware of the subconscious insecurities that drive them.
  3. Skills in the language of love, emotions, trust, and intimacy.[ii]

These three traits create the perfect storm of spiritual abuse. It starts with insecurity.  In my opinion, shame is at the heart of the abusive pastor’s insecurity and narcissistic behavior. Shame is an inner gnawing that convinces them that they don’t measure up. Their deep sense of inadequacy is then transformed when they find the “truth,” but not always in a good way.

Abusive Pastors are Well-intentioned Dragons

Coming to faith can set you free, but it can also be misused to justify your much-needed sense of superiority. Your shame seizes the opportunity to exalt yourself over others, but you don’t see what you are doing because you think you are helping people find the truth like you did. Your leadership is tainted from the beginning.

Abusive pastors are often well-intentioned dragons, forcing their will on people thinking they are doing people a favor. When people resist, the pastor doesn’t think he/she is at fault. It’s the person’s lack of faith or spiritual interest. So, the pastor either increases his/her control over their member or dismisses them as unworthy.

In their classic book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, authors Johnson and Van Vonderen make this observation:

There are spiritual systems in which…the members are there to meet the needs of the leaders… These leaders attempt to find fulfillment through the religious performance of the very people whom they are there to serve and build. This is an inversion of the body of Christ. It is spiritual abuse. (p.23)

It’s sad to see people use spiritual leadership to meet their own emotional needs.

Confronting Abusive Pastors

In my new book, Broken Trust, I suggest that if you are being spiritually abused, you should either confront your abusive leadership or leave the church. Unfortunately, it’s often very hard to confront abusive pastors because they rarely see their faults and are very defensive when confronted.  

Converge Magazine wrote an excellent article looking at the ministry of a nationally known spiritual leader and why he needed to be confronted.

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.[i]

If you are waiting for a spiritually abusive leader to see their sin and change, you might be waiting a long time.

Helping Abusive Pastors

In Broken Trust, I include an entire section to help pastors dismantle their spiritually abusive church. Some pastors are evil. But many pastors stumble into abuse for a variety of reasons…as I mentioned, often related to their shame.

Many abusive pastors choose their tactics thinking they are serving God and believers. They don’t realize they are doing much harm. They are no different from well-intentioned parents whose poor leadership ends up hurting their children.

If you are suffering under the ministry of an abusive pastor, I hope you will confront him/her. But if you can’t confront, then I hope you will leave their ministry. One way or another, they need to get the message that their tactics are hurting people.

This post was adapted from Broken Trust…a practical guide to identify and recover from toxic faith, toxic church, and spiritual abuse.

[i] https://convergemagazine.com/real-love-mark-driscoll-14786/2/

[i]  NetCE offers Nationally accredited Evidence-based CME / CEU / CE for healthcare professionals.

[ii] Understanding and Treating Spiritual Abuse. Jamie Marich, Ph.D., LPCC-S, LICDC-CS, www.NetCE.com


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.



Free Book in Exchange for Your Review

PLEASE NOTE: This offer is no longer available. We have already exceeded the number of reviews Out.of.Exile.angleAmazon allows to post on a new book. My apologies. I got a greater response on this offer than I imagined. – Remy

I’m about to launch my third book, called, “Out of Exilea forty day journey from setback to comeback.”  It will eventually be released in two versions; one for pastors and one for the public. But the pastors edition will come first.

It’s always nice to have reviews on Amazon.com for people to read so they can decide if they want to buy the book or not. If you would agree to read and review the book I will do two things:

  1. Give you a free book. Your choice of PDF or Kindle formats.
  2. Put your name in my acknowledgements page and possibly quote your review in the book.

Your review doesn’t have to be favorable, just honest. And you don’t have to be a pastor. Actually, the book will help anyone who has experienced a setback in life. But most of my examples are of pastors or people in ministry. It’s a fairly quick read, about 150 pages. I’m hoping to get the reviews published by December 1, 2014.

To help YOU decide if you want to read this book, here is what is on the back cover:

When pastors respond to God’s call, most think they will save the world, but too often they end up on the backside of a desert, what the Bible refers to as “exile.”  That’s not the worst thing. In many ways, exile is a rite of passage: a preparation for ministry to come. But too often pastors get stuck in exile. Rather than exile being a time of spiritual growth and intimacy with God, it becomes a time of disillusionment and despair, with no clue how to reclaim their lives or ministry. 

It doesn’t have to be that way.

In Out of Exile, F. Remy Diederich looks at the losses all pastors face in ministry, how the losses create a feeling of “exile,” and then shows how to return from that exile. It is set up as a 40-day devotional journey: short essays followed by questions to help you move through your time of loss to a place of restoration and renewal. 

If you have suffered a significant life or ministry setback this book might be what God uses to help you make a comeback. If you’ve given up hope, let God use this book to breathe life back into you.

As a pastor for over twenty-five years, F. Remy Diederich knows the pain of exile himself. He shares openly about his journey from setback to comeback, showing pastors how they can do the same.

Thanks for your partnership. I’m hoping God uses this book to encourage many broken pastors and helps them to get their lives AND MINISTRY back on track.


Welcome to readingremy.com

Glad you stopped by!

I’m a pastor and author, plus I consult in an addiction treatment center where I help people consider how God might join them in their recovery.

My goal is to help people overcome everyday problems in practical ways with God’s help. I purposefully write and speak in a way that makes God approachable and understandable.

I hope you’ll subscribe to my blog and “like” my Facebook page in the margin. As my way of saying “thanks,” please download the Kindle version of my book, “Out of Exile” for free right now.

Feel free to send me a question. I promise to read it and reply. Thanks for spending some time on my site!- F. Remy Diederich


Out of Exile: Day 25 – Discipline of Darkness

I’ve said, in these past days, that you need a companion or guide to help you through your exile. I hope this series has served that purpose. One person that has helped me is Richard Rohr.

Another guide for me has been Oswald Chambers in his devotional, My Utmost for His Highest. He talks about exile as a darkness:

At times God puts us through the discipline of darkness to teach us to heed Him. Song birds are taught to sing in the dark, and we are put into the shadow of God’s hand until we learn to hear Him…

Have you seen your exile as that…a discipline…a time of intense teaching/training?  Or has it just been a time of disappointment? 

When you are in the dark, listen, and God will give you a very precious message for someone else when you get into the light. Oswald Chambers

When you are in the dark, you lose sight of what was once so important. When a small candle burns, suddenly it becomes the most important thing to you, drawing all your attention. That’s exactly what God wants to accomplish in exile. He wants his light to become your focus while everything else fades to black.

Exile is meant as a place to detach from everything  unnecessary in your life so you will attach yourself  fully to God. As you attach yourself to God you can let go of the things you felt were so important to your survival. It’s one thing to talk about God and faith. It’s another thing to live it. Exile helps you live out what you’ve been speaking for years. If there was a better way to effect this change, God would use it. But there’s not.

In the book of Hebrews, the writer refers to the priest in Genesis that met Abraham (Melchizedek):

Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning  of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually .   Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils. Hebrews 7:3,4

Melchizedek was without everything that typically gives one their identity. His only identity was as a priest of God.  Because of it, he was called “great.” Are you willing to undergo that kind of a stripping to obtain that same identity?

Oswald Chambers offers this final insight:

Are you in the dark just now in your circumstances, or in your life with God? When you are in the dark, listen, and God will give you a very precious message for someone else when you get into the light. 

How does that land on you? Is it hopeful or does it just make you shake your head and say, “Right now I’m not concerned about having a precious message for someone else. I’d just like to make it through one day happy.” Be honest.

What is it that God might be teaching you in the darkness that you could share one day in the light? Please take a minute to comment below and click the share buttons.


Out of Exile: Day Fifteen – Personal Trauma

Over the last few days I’ve looked at the losses that land us in exile.  I looked at invalidation and then limited choices.  Today I want to look at the losses involved in personal trauma.

In his book, A Grace Disguised, Jerry Sittser tells the story of how three members of his family were taken in one tragic car accident. This is what he said about loss after experiencing his own:

We live life as if it were a motion picture. Loss turns life into a snapshot. The movement stops; everything freezes. We find ourselves looking at picture albums to remember the motion picture of our lives that once was but can no longer be.   

Loss turns life into a snapshot. That’s an interesting analogy. Lenore Terr, author of Too Scared to Cry, uses another film analogy:

The memory of trauma is shot with higher intensity light than is ordinary memory. And the film doesn’t seem to disintegrate with the usual half-life of ordinary film. Only the best lenses are used, lenses that will pick up every last detail, every line,   every wrinkle, and every fleck. There is more detail picked up during traumatic events than one would expect from the naked eye under ordinary circumstances.

That’s what happened with Sittser. His life was moving along fine, like a motion picture, until the car crash. Then he was handed a snapshot of loss to always remind him of what once was but can no longer be.

He comments on how anger relates to loss:

Anger is simply another way of deflecting the pain, holding it off, fighting back at it. But the pain of loss is unrelenting. It stalks and chases until it catches us. It is as persistent as wind on the prairies, as constant as cold in the Antarctic, as erosive as a spring flood. 

Maybe that has happened to you. Trauma can mean the death of a loved one, the loss of your job/ministry, the end of a marriage, a miscarriage, or any kind of life altering setback. Remember it’s not just the loss that sends you into exile. It’s the secondary losses associated with the loss. 

Many people live with the unrealistic belief that they live in an impervious bubble that protects them. Other people are subject to the cruelties of life. Not them. 

So what are some of the secondary losses of trauma?  One of the biggest losses is the sudden realization that life is not safe and predictable; you have no control. You are vulnerable to the whims of nature and the choices other people make.  

Many people live with the unrealistic belief that they live in an impervious bubble that protects them. Other people are subject to the cruelties of life. Not them. When trauma strikes, that bubble bursts and it can send a person reeling. Not only is there a loss of a sense of safety and control but often a loss of faith. Why would God let this to happen?

What kind of snapshots have you been holding in your hand that have kept you in an emotional exile? Leave a comment below. And please share this on Facebook.


Out of Exile: Day Eight – Eight Exile Categories

Today is my last day of trying to define exile. In days to come I’ll look at what we learn in exile

Out of Exile: A 40 Day Journey

Out of Exile: A 40 Day Journey

and then ultimately, how to return from exile.  Be patient.  There is no quick fix to exile.  It’s like a seed in the ground.  It needs to suffer many days in the dark before something is birthed, grows, and bears fruit.

In the Bible, exile happens when people leave their country. But living in exile isn’t just about leaving your country. Exile can happen on a personal level when life throws you a curve and you end up in a place you never planned on being. Exile is a place of feeling displaced, disconnected, disillusioned, depressed, and full of doubt. 

There is no quick fix to exile.  It’s like a seed in the ground.  It needs to suffer many days in the dark before something is birthed, grows, and bears fruit.

Exile comes in many shapes and sizes. I’ve discussed five different types of exile before. This is a different way to slice it. Here are eights categories of exile that we experience:

  • Emotional:  Emotional issues can be a dark place.  They include things like depression, PTSD, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, bipolar disorder and more. One commenter to this series said he struggled for years with addiction until he was diagnosed as bi-polar and medication delivered him from his addiction.
  • Spiritual:  A lot of people struggle seeking and finding God. For some it’s natural.  For others, God is confusing and covered in clouds.  Some have called it the “dark night of the soul.”  Bad church experiences or bad encounters with “spiritual” people can add to this confusion/disillusionment.
  • Relational: God created us to be relational beings. When our relationships break down or never happen to begin with, they can consume us. Divorce, estrangement from children/parents, death of a loved one, and bad marriages are to name just a few.
  • Financial: Nothing consumes us quicker than the loss of income. It immediately grabs our attention and insists on controlling every waking thought.
  • Career:  We all long for purpose. We want our careers to match our purpose but it’s well known that 70% of people feel like they aren’t in the right place.  Like marriage, we might feel like we are in exile as we look for the right fit, but once in a career, we might also feel like we are in exile and want to get out.
  • Health:  We take our health for granted until it leaves us.  Wrestling with the inability to have children, chronic pain, or a terminal disease are just a few examples.
  • Season of life: Transitions between seasons of life might seem minor but they often surprise us and leave us feeling out of sorts.  When young people go to college, when parents experience the empty nest, the time between college and marriage and/or career, retirement and managing old age can all present exile experiences.
  • Success: This might not be obvious but success can lead to a transition in life that you aren’t prepared for. I’ve experienced some ministry success that I didn’t anticipate. When I achieved results that went beyond what I ever imagined, I was disoriented for a number of months and even depressed. I achieved what I wanted and didn’t know what to do next. I lost my purpose for a season before getting refocused on the next phase of my life.

Can you relate to any of these?  Each of these “exiles” create a loss.  Take special note because you can experience many of these simultaneously.

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