There’s Hope!

Jesus came “to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,” –  Luke 4:19

They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony”  – Rev. 12:11

You may think you’ll never be able to recover from or escape the controlling grasp of a spiritually abusive leader.  We know.  We’ve been there.  But you can move on.  You can recover.  God can use you in Kingdom work, for His glory! Don’t give in to the lies of the Enemy.  Healing will come, and you can plug into valuable, vibrant and significant ministry and service as well as a deeper walk with Christ!  Dive into the bottomless riches of His amazing love.  Launch into liberty and freedom in Christ as a fresh, fleet wind of grace and peace fills your sails and speeds you onward.

Not sure where or how to start?  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Immerse yourself in Scripture. Read, study, meditate, and memorize God’s Word.  Scarf it down daily.  Marinate your mind in Scripture.  Let the truth of the Word permeate and saturate your soul.  If you’re not sure where to start, we suggest Paul’s Epistle to the Church at Galatia (Galatians).

  1. Pray. This may seem obvious, but we don’t mean adding it to a “spiritual To Do list.”  Spiritual abuse victims may be too emotionally exhausted and/or spiritually spent to heap another item into the “gotta do” category.  By “pray” we mean having an open, honest conversation with God like you would with a close friend. Conversational intimacy.  Pour out your heart to Him about the people involved, your feelings, responses, effects, etc.  Be honest.  If you’re angry, say so.  If you feel betrayed, belittled, used, manipulated, shamed, etc., say so.  There are no shoulders broader than His.  Remember, His yoke is easy and His burden is light.  (Matthew 11:30.)

This may take some time.  That’s okay.  When you’re ready, be sure to turn your hurts, disillusionment, brokenness, etc. over to the Lord Jesus and ask Him to fill you with His love.  He will!  Psalm 147.3.

2.  Sing!  Yep, sing.  Out loud.  At the top of your lungs (if you’re not too self-conscious).  Pull out or locate a hymnal.  Focus on some of the marvelous, grand old hymns of the faith focusing on God’s faithfulness, mercy, love, power, etc.  Suggestions: O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus, Great is Thy Faithfulness, Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, Wonderful Grace of Jesus, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, And Can It Be That I Should Gain?, etc.  (If you prefer praise/worship tunes, Michael W. Smith has some great ones.)  As you praise Him through song, Jesus will meet you in the music.

3.  Find a safe, trusted person or group for support.  Be sure to choose wisely. You’ll most likely have to divest yourself of most or all of the relationships in your former toxic church or spiritually abusive system (especially if you want to avoid “tattle-tailing” back to perpetrators).  Ask God to bring people into your life whose walk of faith is deep, mature, and grace-filled.  They should also have a well-worn track record of being  trustworthy.  Then keep your eyes peeled and your heart open.

4.  Tell the truth. As is the case in other forms of abuse, spiritual abuse continues because people try to hide it, sweep it under the rug, deny and excuse it.  DON’T! Stop spiritual abuse cold by telling the truth, and do so sans saber-rattling.  (Don’t expect to win any popularity contests in the process).

5.  Get away physically if possible.  Take a vacation.  Visit out-of-state relatives or friends.  Make some calls.  Camp.  Watch sunsets at the beach.  Hike.  Picnic.  Walk in the park.  Dive into some new books and authors.  Take up a new hobby.  Develop some new interests, contacts, and networks (when you’re ready).  Explore your area and chart some day trips.  Do this alone or with a good friend or family member.

This doesn’t have to be expensive or extravagant.  The idea is to be deliberate about a change of scenery.  You may be surprised at how this – as well as enjoying the Great Outdoors and nature – can clear your head, give you some sorely needed perspective, invigorate your thirsty soul and refresh your weary, wounded heart.

  1. You may have to sever old relationships.  As noted previously, when escaping a spiritually abusive church, pastor, or system, it’s usually best to make a clean break.  Don’t look back.  This may be painful, but necessary, particularly if old relationships threaten to suck you back in to an abusive system.
  2. Slow down. Resist the temptation to rush into another church, group, organization or system where the abuse will just repeat itself.  Be sure to set aside significant chunks of time for quiet reflection and contemplation.  You’ve been through a lot.  Slow down. Be deliberate about working some silence, stillness, and serenity into your calendar.  (Recommended resources: The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers by Amy Hollingsworth, Walking With God by John Eldredge, Secrets of the Vine by Bruce Wilkinson.)
  3. Pray for your abuser(s). Matthew 5:11, 44.  You may be surprised to find out that he/she/they aren’t nearly as all-powerful, persuasive or influential as you thought.  Keep your heart and motives pure.  Repent and confess as indicated.  Trust God to deal with the abuser’s heart/life as well as protect you from any attempts to malign or impugn your character, etc.
  4. Give yourself time.  Chances are, the longer you’ve been in a spiritually abusive system, the longer it’ll take to recover, “de-tox” and find some healthy relationships.  Be patient.  Healing will come at its own pace.  Don’t panic and don’t hurry.
  5. Don’t lash out at the abusers.  While confrontation may be in order in the future, “rushing in where angels fear to tread” isn’t a good idea – nor is it likely to solve anything.  Again, give yourself time.  Realize that abusers aren’t likely to respond favorably to your concerns or perspective.  Nor are they likely to pay much attention.  You’ll only undercut your own credibility by lashing out.  Resist the temptation.
  6. Speaking of time, take as much as you need to sort through what happened and why. With outside help if needed, understand the principles and dynamics in play so that you can be alert to them in future.  Call a spade a spade. Don’t rush and don’t let others rush you, either.  Emotional healing and spiritually recovery will come.  Take your time.
  7. Laugh. That’s right.  Laugh!  You may not find much to laugh about at first, but willfully work into it.  You might start with old episodes of I Love Lucy (particularly the bon-bon factory and Vitameatavegamin.)

Trust God. He is faithful.  Hebrews 13:5.

A Personal Note

This series is one of the most challenging we’ve ever undertaken.  A few tried to talk us out of it.  Others urged us on.  We offer it here to you, our brothers and sisters in Christ, in the hope that this topic will be better understood, the Body of Christ alerted, further damage avoided, and that grace may abound to God’s glory as truth sets many free.

Finally, if you’ve suffered spiritual abuse, you’re not alone.  Help is available.  Healing will come.  The Lord Jesus knows your heart.  He will meet you where you’re at.  There is hope. You can recover from spiritual abuse.  We echo Johnson and VanVonderen a la Acts 4:29-30 and the following:

“God, please pay attention to how those who have given their lives to serve you and are getting intimidated and abused.  And even in the middle of that, authorize and empower them to keep telling the truth.  And keep moving your hand over your people to bring healing and rest, in the name of Jesus.” (p. 232)

Selah and Shalom.

For further reading:

  • Many links and articles in the library at: Spiritual Abuse Recovery Resources
  • Ken Blue, Healing Spiritual Abuse, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993). ISBN 0-8308-1660-7
  • Ron & Vicki Burks, Damaged Disciples: Casualties of Authoritarian Churches and the Shepherding Movement (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992). ISBN 0-310-57611-3
  • Ronald M. Enroth, Churches That Abuse (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992). ISBN 0-310-53290-6
  • Ronald M. Enroth, Recovering from Churches That Abuse (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994). ISBN 0-310-39877-0
  • David Johnson & Jeff VanVonderen, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1991). ISBN 1-55661-160-9
  • Agnes C. Lawless and John W. Lawless, The Drift into Deception: The Eight Characteristics of Abusive Christianity (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1995). ISBN 0-8254-3163-8
  • Flavil Yeakley (ed.), The Discipling Dilemma (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1988). ISBN 0-89225-311-8

An interesting quote from Scot McKnight coming up next.  Whaddya think?


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