Monday, March 28, 2011

Performance-based? Not MY church!

   We believe in grace through faith, not salvation through works. So how could my church be performance-based?

  The interesting thing about spiritually abusive groups is that, while doctrine and preaching say one thing, the actual working rules of the church say something else entirely. By working rules, I mean those unspoken rules that govern what people do or don’t do in a church.

  One sign of an abusive church is the stress on performance. The teaching may say “grace through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,” but in a performance-based church what matters most is a set of behaviors the pastor or leaders expect you to perform.

  This isn’t always a list of do’s and don’t’s. Though the pastor can come right out and say that you must do this or should never do that, he doesn’t have to. Simply by castigating a behavior from the pulpit, or preaching in favor of another, he can make it clear what the rules are.

  In a performance-based church, the pastor doesn’t need to say “You must attend Wednesday services to be saved.” Instead, he may just excoriate lukewarm Christians who "only attend on Sunday mornings." You get the message. If you don’t come on Wednesdays, the rest of the congregation will believe you are sinful or backslidden. You are not a “real” Christian if you don’t perform.

  In a performance-based church, the pastor doesn't need to say that people who attend Saturday prayer breakfast or workers luncheon are more pleasing to God than others. He need only say that the devoted or committed believers will show up for a certain event. You know, then, that if you don't show up, you are not devoted or committed. You are a lukewarm Christian and God will spew you out of His mouth.

The pastor doesn’t need to say, “You must not wear make up, watch football on Sundays or wear shorts in public.” He only needs to make it clear that it is a worldly or reprobate type of Christian who partakes of these behaviors.

 Since in abusive churches, authority is what the pastor is aiming for, the actual banned or promoted behaviors differ widely from church to church. To the abusive pastor, the behavior lauded or prohibited isn’t as important as the results that come from drawing the line and watching the people decide whether to choose their conscience or his directive. A feeling of power over others gives an instant emotional boost. Abusive pastors thrive on this. It is a mood booster. Abusive pastors will line up a series of situations that require someone to choose between the pastor's way or their own conscience. The pastor will intimate or even come right out and say that their way is God's way.
If the subject chooses the pastor's way, a little thrill of victory comes and he then begins to look forward to the next little test in the series.

  The law of the pastor goes far beyond any reasonable interpretation of essentials of scripture. You'd really have to isolate scripture and twist it into pretzel-like contortions to believe that Jesus had in mind the laws that come down as unstated performance rules in these abusive churches. But rather than doubt the "man of God," many members do just that. They twist and bend the scripture, looking down on the inferior who don't quite make it -- and hoping the pastor doesn't discover their own little lapses.

  In our abusive church the pastor and his wife made it clear that Wednesday night attenders were "sold out to Jesus." If you didn't witness frequently to friends and neighbors you were callous and uncaring, and not a committed Christian. They also made it clear that members who wanted to hold potlucks, host a Halloween alternative night, take children's church kids across the street to the park, play music at a bar, believe in intelligent design or bring up troubling issues to the leadership were all weak Christians.

Performance-based churches say that you are saved through faith, but insist you show your gratitude for salvation by doing x,y and z. But the x, y and z are always random issues the pastor brings up, and rarely line up with the issues Jesus thought most important.

People given "church discipline" are rarely given it for serious sin: adultery, theft, violence. Instead, it is the sins against the pastor or the leaders that are punished. It's called rebelliousness, gossip, lying, selfishness. Attitudinal sins become the biggest issue. These sins are punished more because they aren't sins against God, but sins against the pastor. People caught in fornication or theft may be given a talking to, or they may be prayed for. A man guilty of domestic violence might be counseled. But those who question a leader's decision will be shamed or shunned, preached against or disciplined for heresy, a critical spirit or rebellion. In abusive churches, discipline is usually reserved for sins against church leadership. Sins against God are generally overlooked if the member is in good standing with the leadership.

  Punished infractions are surprisingly peripheral to the heavy concerns Christ voiced when He walked the earth. Whatever the issues are, they become a line in the sand and used as tests. Books you should read or not read, hair length, matters of dress, proper Bible translation, music you must avoid, proving you are worthy by babysitting the pastor’s kids, how you spend your money, tithing details, acceptable or unacceptable marriage partners. Sometimes the decree reaches into the most intimate of relationships, in places a pastor has no business dictating choices.

  In our church, there were periodic loyalty tests. The pastor, out of left field, would make a bold statement sure to divide or, at the very least, raise questions. Or he would do something brazen to see if anyone reacted. Once, he replaced the church statement of faith with his own self-manufactured one and then waited to see if anyone complained. Another time, he simply disbanded the board.

 Anyone taking issue with his strange remark or action would be shamed in some way, or have a ministry taken away. This, then, would become another loyalty test. How will the subject respond to the shaming or the whisking away of a ministry? Will the subject complain, or meekly go along? It was like prodding a beetle with a stick to see what it would do, a kind of game -- and the object was power over people.

 To the abused, it seems as though the behavior itself is what is important, but to the abuser, the issue is secondary. How the subject responds to an outrageous, inappropriate or oddball prohibition is the important part.

  Loyal members struggle. They follow the dictates as much as possible, but there are always areas where their conscience is troubled. They learn to keep quiet about certain subjects around the pastor.

The pastor thinks that those who see psychologists aren’t trusting the Bible? Well, then. We won’t mention that we see a counselor for  post traumatic stress disorder. The pastor thinks that using the Internet is satanic? We won’t talk about the news sites we visit online. The pastor thinks using Time Out with your kids is worldly? We’ll just not say anything about it to the pastor. The pastor thinks that exercise videos are immodest? We'll keep ours under wraps.

  Members constrain themselves to fit the pastor’s decrees. They may not follow as strictly as those decrees mandate, but they abuse their own conscience repeatedly, always wondering whether they are right or not in following, or not following to the letter, those behaviors the pastor equates with godliness.

 It is a performance-based faith and has nothing to do with true grace, despite all the fine words to the contrary.


The Blog bites better than the Bullet. said...

This is where I highly recommend Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend, who are, admittedly, into that dangerous thing called psychology... Seriously, though.

Unknown said...

GREAT article! Thank you.

Unknown said...



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What is Spiritual Abuse?

Spiritual abuse. It can happen in big churches and small. It can happen in churches that at first seem sound, biblical or healthy. Certain signatures define spiritual abuse: authoritarian leadership, claims that the group or leaders have a special calling or gifts, inability of leaders to handle criticism, harsh treatment of those who question or try to leave. These are just a few. Though the manifestation of abuse differs in externals, underneath are similar traits, repeated in abusive groups. Become familiar with spiritual abuse in a variety of churches and you will soon see how these leaders manipulate and control.

Are you covering for a spiritually abusive pastor?

What's happening to my church?

A message to culty group defenders

Cult Next Door posted this excellent response to those culty-group defenders -- who lambaste victims on blogs exposing spiritual abuse. These folks see nothing wrong with the abusive leader, defend the hurtful practices and blame the one exposing the tactics. They needle victims, and pile on blame. They excuse the harm of abusers, and belittle the pain of victims. Provender wishes every blog on spiritual abuse would have a little message like this for these folks.

Sometimes, they apologize

Every once in a while, church leaders in these situations apologize. A Florida blogger, FBCWatchdog, was kicked out of church and given trespass warning documents after being outed as a church blogger critic, and later was branded a "sociopath" by the pastor of his large, Florida church, in the local paper. The blogger eventually brought suit. After the ruling (and likely as part of the settlement), the pastor publicly apologized. There is much more to the story, but these are the highlights.

Using words to manipulate

It can be subtle, or it can hit you head on. When spiritual abusers are cornered, certain techniques crop up again and again. Here are some samples.

What does elitism have to do with spiritual abuse?

Does your church think it's special? What does it think of other churches? Elitism is a big sign your church or group could be spiritually dangerous. CLICK HERE for more

Misusing Scripture to Abuse

Check out The Cult Next Door's interview with Provender on twisting scriptures.

Stories of abuse and survival

Links to stories of spiritual abuse:

She had to choose between church or daughter

When he wanted to move out of state, the pastor of this Kansas UPC church said he'd be going "down, down, down."

This cult church made a virtual slave of one blogger -- 15 years of misery

What is it like to lose your son to a spiritually abusive church? One mother's story.

Her husband gave up law practice to give his all to church, and the whole family ended up shunned by order of the leadership.

Cruel stepfather is also pastor of a California "Bible-based" church (a Calvary Chapel). His children suffered beatings meted out by this pastor/stepdad. Church leaders would not disassociate themselves, only minimize and cover up the pastor/dad's violence.

This pastor said God gave instructions on how to roll and fold toilet paper properly. Soon the TP police were on the job Also, edicts on not smashing pennies!

They told her terrible things would happen if she left, and no other church would help her.

The man behind the curtain

Church blogger critic experiences wrath of abusers (including fake letter-of-resignation sent to employer) and major harassment with few attempts by church leaders to stop the abuse.

Caught in a Bible-based cult for 13 years

Holey coverups

Abusive voices remained in her head after she left the cultish group

A good blog on spiritual abuse, and some great links in the sidebar also.

This sad story includes 15 signs of abuse

This woman left the frying pan of one cult for the fire of another

Parents of woman who cut off baby's arms blame pastor 's influence for taking her to the edge

College senior trapped in abusive group for years finally escapes

Many, many stories mostly from UPC members

An SGM pastoral intern finds leaving isn't all that easy

When husband beat her after worship service, this mom sought help from church only to be abused further

Hedged in at her Canadian Baptist college, this young women had few places to turn, but managed to survive.

When humility is not humility

After divorcing for verbal abuse, this woman was disfellowshiped from a Baptist church with a message on a large screen in front of the church that read: CONDUCT UNBECOMING A CHILD OF GOD

His family chose the elders and shunned him

"Untouchable, unaccountable, unknowable, and alone"

Abusive pastor destroys congregation he was "called" to serve

Check main site

Make sure to check out the main Provender site

Contact Provender

If you have found an especially helpful site on spiritual abuse, please email Provender and we'll see about adding it. If you need to tell your story, you can also email Provender. We'll always keep your story confidential unless you wish to post it in the case studies section.

Also, if you notice broken links on this site, please contact Provender: Click Here

Featured link: The Web of Narcissism

Provender's guest posts

A Sense of Futility on Quivering Daughters blog

Spiritual Abuse is Hidden Trauma on The Cult Next Door blog

Are you covering your pastor's nakedness?

In Predators in the Pulpit, Chris Efinda discusses the covering nakedness doctrine. Enablers of spiritual abuse justify cover-ups of abusive pastors using this pseudo-scriptural approach. Efinda says that the spiritual "sons" of abusive leaders feel that hiding the wrongdoing of abusive pastors becomes a divine test of their own faithfulness. If you are acting as a go-between, or "filtering" what comes from your pastor and to make it seem more acceptable to others, are you trying to cover your pastor's nakedness? It's very likely.

Also see, Are You Covering for a Spiritually Abusive Pastor

A word from Ezekiel

The word of the Lord came to me: "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them."

Ezekiel 34:1-6

A message to abusive pastors from Jeremiah 23

Woe to the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD.

Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; You have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, says the LORD.

And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase.

And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, says the LORD. ...

For both prophet and priest are profane; yea, in my house have I found their wickedness, says the LORD.

... for from the prophets of Jerusalem is profaneness gone forth into all the land.

Thus says the LORD of hosts, Do not listen to the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the LORD.

They say still to those who despise me, The LORD has said, You shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you.

...I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.

But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.

...I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed.

How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart;

Which think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbour, as their fathers have forgotten my name for Baal.

The prophet that has a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that has my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? says the LORD.

Is not my word like as a fire? says the LORD; and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?

Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, says the LORD, that steal my words every one from his neighbour.

Jeremiah 23

Tell your story

The Cult Next Door blog invites those who have been spiritually abused to tell their stories. This can be a healthy exercise for victims of abuse, especially those living under a "can't talk" rule.

Follow the leader, but with care

An editorial on how easy it is to fall into the trap of following dangerous leaders.

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Order of Posts

I like to keep the list of helpful sites on Spiritual Abuse at or near the top because providing links to the best resources on this topic is the main purpose of this blog. If a post seems to disappear, you can usually find it below the first post.

Psalms for the Oppressed

A glimpse into life under the thumb of controlling church

Breaking the Chains: Overcoming the Spiritual Abuse of a False Gospel by Shari Howerton details life under the thumb of an oppressive church.

Spiritually abused woman needs prayer, help

How they use words to manipulate and abuse

Spiritual Abuse Quote of the Month

Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in order to promote learning the group's ideology or belief system and group-approved behaviors. Good behavior, demonstrating an understanding and acceptance of the group's beliefs, and compliance are rewarded while questioning, expressing doubts or criticizing are met with disapproval, redress and possible rejection. If one expresses a question, he or she is made to feel that there is something inherently wrong with them to be questioning...Approval comes from having the new member's behaviors and thought patterns conform to the models (members). Members' relationship with peers is threatened whenever they fail to learn or display new behaviors. Over time, the easy solution to the insecurity generated by the difficulties of learning the new system is to inhibit any display of doubts -- new recruits simply acquiesce, affirm and act as if they do understand and accept the new ideology. -- Step 5 of MargaretSinger's Six Conditions for Thought Reform, found on ICSA

Covering and Manipulation

Two sites I want to emphasize:
The site Covering and Authority ends up buried and hard to find because it was a late discovery, so I thought I'd make a handy sidebar link to this page on the concept of covering or theology of covering. This site includes many scriptural references refuting the idea of human responsibility for the sins and behavior of others.

Also, a Rest Ministries page on manipulation and spiritual abuse disappeared when Geocities closed its sites in October. Before it disappeared, I preserved part of it and now have it linked HERE. This site exposed, in vivid detail, techniques abusers use to get followers to do their bidding. Very insightful

Additional resources

Dr. Barb Orlowski has provided these additional resources she came across in the course of her research. Thanks, Dr. Orlowski.


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