Tag Archives: toxic faith

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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Churches That Abuse: Six Warning Signs

In researching my new book on spiritual abuse (Broken Trust), I’m unearthing a number of good resources. The following is a recap of an article about the book, Churches That Abuse, by Dr. Ron Enroth. The book is currently out of print but this outline is still helpful.

Six Signs of Churches That Abuse

Spiritually abusive churches have many markers but here are six signs to help warn you of the presence of abuse:

  1. Dependency: The church fosters a dependence on its teaching and input from the leadership with what’s called “learned helplessness.” Members are instructed on every facet of life, who they can associate with, where they should work, how much they should volunteer, etc. The leaders imply that life is too complex for people to make it without the informed guidance of their spiritual wisdom. To operate without their input is to put your life and success at risk.
  2. Legalism: Legalism is the ladder that you climb in an attempt to reach God. The problem is that when you get to the top of the ladder, there is another ladder. You never get to where you hoped to be.
  3. Isolationism: this is where your church is insulated from outsiders. It’s a closed system. People within the church community are the only ones that can be trusted. People outside of the system are often spoken of in disparaging ways. Anyone that has left the church is belittled and cast as a threat to members. The church leader is often seen as the ultimate source of truth.
  4. Discipline: Abusive churches are obsessed with exposing detractors and publicly exposing them or excommunicating them. On the front side, the church might seem warm and accepting, but on the backside they can be incredibly cruel if you cross them in any way.
  5. Disrupted Family Relationships: A sign of a true believer is when they are willing to cut off ties with their family. Abusive churches often encourage this and discipline the people who refuse to do it.
  6. Surveillance: To keep people in line with the five areas above, surveillance is required. Church members are told to keep an eye out for how people behave under the guise of mutual accountability.

All of these attributes work in consort to control the person and develop strict allegiance to the church.

Jesus spoke of wolves coming in sheep’s clothing. There is no better disguise for falsehood than the church.

If you would like to receive a free copy of my book, Broken Trust, before it is published, please email me here to let me know. I will send you a PDF copy for your review.

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Making Progress on Book About Spiritually Abusive Churches

Here’s a quick update on the new book I’m working on. It’s a book that helps people in spiritually abusive churches identify what’s wrong with their setting and what to do about it.

Four Changes

I’ve invited people to read my first draft and give me their honest feedback. It’s been very helpful, causing me to make the following changes:

  1. Change the name of the book to reflect a primary feeling associated with experiencing spiritual abuse: Broken Trust.
  2. Eliminate half the material I suggested. It didn’t flow with the main purpose of the book, which is to give practical “how-to” steps” for people in spiritually abusive churches.

  3. Soften my approach. I’m a straight shooter and most people appreciate that about my writing. But people who have suffered in spiritually abusive churches have been shot at enough. I need to be more careful with my words with this audience.

  4. Answer more questions. People in spiritually abusive churches are hurt, confused, and often full of guilt. They don’t know what to do. It seems that everything they do is labeled as wrong and incurs the condemnation of many. They want answers, so I included a whole chapter on FAQ’s and gave more detail to many questions I had already answered.

These changes will make the book much more readable and helpful. If you would like to receive advance drafts of the book, email me here and I’ll add you to the e-list.

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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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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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