Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

How to Create an Abusive Church

I don’t like to think about spiritual abuse, or abusive churches, or abusive pastors.  I don’t like it.  For one reason, this is because the abusers I have had to deal with over the years as a pastor LOVE to accuse me and our elders and our church of having abused them.   So I am sensitive to this subject.  Sometimes when it comes up, my self-doubts kick in.  Maybe I am guilty?  Maybe we have abused people?  But then, and I think it is the Lord helping me at those moments, I go back and remember what those abusers did and how they abused.  And I realize that the mere fact that I am presently anxious about the horror of us as a church abusing people is probably not an attitude to be found in a truly abusive church.
I think we are a church, and I am a pastor, who has certainly made mistakes in handling people in the past.  There have probably been instances in which we have even sinned – and in those cases I hope that we have confessed to anyone we have wronged.  No pastor can truly study the subject of domestic violence abuse and not conclude that there were instances in the past that he would have handled at least somewhat differently – and in some cases, entirely differently.  Oh, and one other thing that comes to my mind when I study abuse and think about abusers in the church and how they are to be dealt with – I realize that we were blind to them far too long and let them do their evil far, far too long.  If anything, I think that has been our major error in this regard.
I don’t like to think about spiritual abuse.  But we MUST think about it, see it, and reject it, lest we become like it.
Well, that’s the rather rambling prologue to the subject – How to Create an Abusive Church.   Listen once again to those verses in 1 Cor 2 –

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ESV And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. (2)  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (3)  And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, (4)  and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, (5)  that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

I highlighted verse 5 because that is the one I want us to think about.  How do you create an abusive church?  How do you build a “thing” that has all the “Christian” exterior frills, but is devoid of the presence of Jesus?  Well, Paul says that one way to do it is to build it on a man’s (or woman’s) personality.  Charm.  Charisma.  Call in Pastor Golden-Tongue.  Team him up with Pastor Novelty.  What will happen is that as this cult of personality expands, the faith of the populace will be based upon (have its object as) – these ring leaders.  The church bookstore will be filled with Golden Tongue’s books and sermon tapes.  He has plenty to say on any subject you can think of.  The youth group and children’s ministries and even the senior ministry will have that flair that only Pastor Novelty can pull off.
And it will grow.  Oh, how it will grow.  And the money?  The buildings?  Who can argue with success, right?
Yet none of it, NONE of it is of God.  The “faith” there rests upon the so-called wisdom of man (which is foolishness in reality), and is totally devoid of the saving, regenerating power of God.
And the POWER.  Feel the electricity of the power.  Listen to it in the voice of Golden-Tongue and in the excitement of Novelty.  It streams through in the music too.  Tears flow.  Hallelujahs are shouted.
And none of it is of Jesus.  None of it.  So guess what you have.  You have a thing, a monster, that is devoid of the love of Jesus.  You have created a house made comfortable for some uninvited guests, who most certainly are going to show up one day –

Matthew 12:43-45 ESV “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. (44)  Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. (45)  Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”

Victims of abuse simply will not find mercy and justice and kindness in such a place.  Furthermore, the widespread experience of the many Christians who have been victimized by abuse and who have told us their stories of how they were mistreated and rejected by their churches, tell us something else.  It tells us that perhaps Pastor Golden Tongue and his associate, Pastor Novelty, are not only to be found in the huge mega-churches.  They may well be standing in far more of our pulpits today than we would even want to admit. How many of Jeremiah’s words here apply to the condition of the evangelical church today?

Jeremiah 6:14-19 ESV They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. (15)  Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,” says the LORD. (16)  Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ (17)  I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Pay attention to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not pay attention.’ (18)  Therefore hear, O nations, and know, O congregation, what will happen to them. (19)  Hear, O earth; behold, I am bringing disaster upon this people, the fruit of their devices, because they have not paid attention to my words; and as for my law, they have rejected it.



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  1. Diana

    God bless you for speaking out on this…and may He protect you from attacks from the enemy. Satan loves these churches.

  2. no one down here

    Secrecy is another big thing, as far as I can tell with personal experience. The pastor doesn’t have to be particularly charismatic, if any issues that come up are hidden away and covered up. When only the select group of men are allowed access to details (because shame if you gossip), no one in the church even has a chance to make an intelligent decision of right vs. wrong. When all the regular pew sitter knows is what is put out in the pulpit, everything seems fine. Then when people leave the church, seemingly with no reason … you are left to wonder, but mostly assume that there was something wrong with those people. “Obvious malcontents” or whatnot. But maybe, there’s a different story that no one really knows outside the select group of “church leaders.” Secrecy is a huge factor in control and abuse.
    Still reeling from betrayal on multiple levels.

  3. Alison

    “Honoring the Truth Teller”
    Is a great article about how churches, businesses and organizations are set up based on loyalty rather than truth, and how dysfunctional it is. Leaders need Truth in proportion to their Influence. Not valuing Truth results in Abuse and Blindness. Loyalty wins over Truth every time and maintains a False Righteousness. Truth Tellers are Unappreciated!

  4. Alison

    Great article, Pastor Jeff! The Church is in Apostasy so we MUST have our eyes opened! Strong delusion is covering the earth….we cannot afford to be asleep to these problems!

  5. justsaltwriter

    I love your honesty and how you put this:
    “Sometimes when it comes up, my self-doubts kick in. Maybe I am guilty? Maybe we have abused people? But then, and I think it is the Lord helping me at those moments, I go back and remember what those abusers did and how they abused. And I realize that the mere fact that I am presently anxious about the horror of us as a church abusing people is probably not an attitude to be found in a truly abusive church.”
    Regarding charisma and golden tongue preachers versus the Apostle Paul showing up in Corinth trembling and not using his eloquent words, what an excellent point. It is affirmation that I was right in some hard choices made about a church led by golden tongue types. It is also affirmation in how I need to go forward myself with difficult people — resisting the urge to use my own ‘charms’ to try and win them over and letting Christ come forward instead. Sometimes, when we are faced with abusers, it is tempting to use their own tactics right back at them. But that is how we become abusive ourselves, I’m afraid. The key is letting Christ come forward.

  6. Anna

    Pastor Crippen,
    Thank you for all the work you are doing in the arena of abuse. One year ago I was let go at a church because I had the audacity to notice the extent of image management, abuse of power, unspoken rules, and the shaming of people who disagreed with them. It wasn’t the noticing that go be fired, it was the saying out loud the things I notice. Lots of people, staff past and present knew what was happening but the church leadership (all men) managed to keep them in their place by naming them jealous, dissenters, trouble makers, or disparaging their character is some way. It’s baffling to me the extent and longevity the abuse has been able to continue, even to this day. Your voice is proof that I am not crazy, nor are at least a dozen past employees who have been harmed by these people.
    Kindest regards,

    • Jeff Crippen

      The image at all costs. The money must keep coming in. Interesting that churches in Scripture all had their flaws laid right out in the open and they were called to repent.





    • Jeff Crippen

      There is no way to tell from this information [admin edited out the links in the original comment]. Nothing I saw in the links you provided really jumps out at me as a red flag. But to really find out would take personal participation in the church. What is presented on websites and in print does not always represent the real climate of a church.

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