Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

You Have Met this Person – Diotrephes

3 John 1:8-10 Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth. (9) I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. (10) So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.

There he is. Diotrephes. The classic narcissist in Scripture (of course there are many more). The chief problem in dealing with such a person is that we don’t really initially understand what they are. They can be a family member, a fellow church member, a pastor, a spouse – people who we assume love us. And many times they do appear to demonstrate love toward us.

But then there are the warning signs – those troubling things such people do or say which just seem, “off.”

Notice in the Scripture above that Diotrephes had a motive in all that he did – he puts himself first. This is what drives him. It is who he is. He believes that he is:

  • Entitled
  • Superior
  • A lord to be served
  • An authority unto himself

He has no empathy. Love is not present in him. He is jealous of anyone he perceives to be a threat to his position. This is why Diotrephes talked “wicked nonsense” about John and it is why he refused to welcome the Lord’s genuine servants in the church. He even threatened anyone who did, and tossed them out of the church.

I cannot even start to tell you how many of these kind I have come across in the churches I have pastored during my 40 years of ministry. And the chief problem for me has been not understanding what these people really were. I assumed they were Christians (though “difficult” people). I assumed they wanted to serve the Lord, that they had the same purpose as I did in the church, etc. I assumed because I did not understand Diotrephes. I was not wise in respect to this evil.

As a result, I still assumed certain things about them even when they said or did things which produced that unsettled “something isn’t right here” feeling in me. In other words, I covered for them. I made excuses for them to myself and sometimes even to other people.

  • Diotrephes is basically a good Christian. He can be difficult at times but….
  • He struggles with sin like all of us and sometimes he seems to be prideful
  • He had a bad upbringing and so he wrestles with shame

But what was the truth? What is Diotrephes, really? He is:

  • A person who demands to be praised and worshipped
  • He is a person with NO empathy or love
  • He is a person who will tolerate NO perceived threat to his position
  • He is a phony. His persona is a false front to dupe people into thinking, “boy! that Diotrephes is the godliest man in the whole church.”
  • He is intensely vengeful when anyone shines light upon his real nature
  • He covertly communicates to those around him that he will tolerate no dissenting opinion

Only when we understand who Diotrephes really is can we properly deal with him. John knew what he was and he announced to the church that when he arrived he was going to publicly expose this wicked man and you can bet that Diotrephes ultimately left the church, breathing threats and blame, and went right down the road to reboot his “ministry” among others who were naive about his kind.


More Followup on the Earlier Post about “The Sin of Forgiveness”


The Smirk – A tool of the evil one


  1. Lurker

    >A person who demands to be praised and worshipped

    That quality left me dumbfounded when I first saw it in my toxic Ex. Unfortunately I didn’t credit my perception, so I had an extra 5 years of toxic exposure before I could break free and sever all ties.

    When I had my “born again” experience, he seemed furious and complained that “he lost me”. I couldn’t believe my ears, since obviously I’m still dating him so how could he have “lost me”. But the clues were there that he thought I should esteem him more than Christ. But I just couldn’t believe that he could mean that.

    Thank God I never married him despite the pressure. One of the only reasons I stayed was because he kept destroying any social network which supported the perception that he was the one who was off. My family of origin certainly didn’t. The 3rd time he destroyed my contact with a group of friend I started to see the pattern. But it was years after I left before I could comprehend that it was deliberate rather than accidental. So, so toxic. Plus he was crazy vindictive which I found out when I started prospering after I left. More destruction.

    Thank God he is 30+ years behind me. But I so wish there was some explanation of abuse while I was in such hopeless confusion. I almost didn’t make it, and he did destroy many dreams of mine.

  2. Saddened

    All of this sums up my ex-husband.

    One line though that especially jumped out at me, applied only recently:
    “ you can bet that Diotrephes ultimately left the church, breathing threats and blame, and went right down the road to reboot his “ministry” among others who were naive about his kind.”

    Even after he badly bullied our senior minister and nearly got the senior minister of our church fired (or perhaps because he did this) none of the leadership in our church were willing to expose or expel him. After my exhusband led the minister to have a major depressive episode and not long after that to stop being a preacher altogether (the minister now works for the denomination in other ministry where he is not exposed to people like my ex), my exhusband assumed that he had the church leadership under his thumb. But he quickly discovered that, even though they were too fearful to expose or expel him, they were going to continue to place private restrictions on him while he remorselessly continued to abuse my daughters and me (we have been separated/ divorced for several years but the abuse continues to escalate not cease).

    From a man who misused family violence restraining orders to prevent me from attending Sunday services in person for five years, getting his lawyers to send me threats of jail if I attended my own church in person (while our church publicly refused to “take sides” saying “all are welcome”), stating it was “his” church and he would “never” leave, all of a sudden recently he up and left and went somewhere else, an entirely different denomination, far from where we live, a denomination that he doesn’t believe most of their extra-biblical teachings, with literally dozens of churches that do practice what he claims to believe, much closer. We live in a large city near each other at the edge of one side of the city and yet he now drives to the very far other side of the city.
    The church leadership didn’t even realise he’d left for several months and I believe that was quite deliberate on his part. We had a legal agreement he was to inform me if he didn’t attend Sunday services so that I could attend with our daughter on the weekends I have her. But he never stuck to that, meaning our daughter missed church every second weekend, which he’d then tell others was a failure on my part.
    I just can’t believe his new church is so gullible, installing him in volunteer ministry positions weeks after starting attending there, without even checking with his past church (which he went to for more than a decade) as to why he really left and what sort of person he is before allowing him into ministry.

    • Saddened- I could insert names into your story and the facts you recounted would tell the same story. I have seen it over and over. This is largely why our present church has only about 20 people – we stood up to the evildoers and the Lord protected us. I cannot tell you how many times these wicked types have tried to drive me out.

      It is also why we began the online branch of our church and we welcome people like you to join us.

      Anyone interested just email me and I can tell you how to become one of us via livestreams, midweek Bible studies, and you can email or text me whenever you want.

  3. Caitlin

    I was a very new believer when I encountered a “Diotrophes” head pastor

    The amazing thing is that I didn’t know the majority of the Bible since I had not grown up a Christian.. but when I talked to the Lord about this man’s behavior and asked for clarity on whether or not it was wrong .. I opened my Bible up directly to the section about Diotrophes which I had never read and I was amazed honestly.. that God answered me so instantly and supernaturally

    It’s comforting to know that He sees all of it and is well aware that these “pastors” are not truly shepherds at all. And there will be judgement even though it doesn’t happen in the timeframe I would like

    Dealing with my first Diotrophes and many other wicked people in that church masquerading as Christians was a brutal crash course in learning to be wise about evil. And looking back I’m very grateful for it.

    God used your blog to help me solidify that education as I left that church. Thank you so much for all that you do! It is so refreshing to see a pastor who GETS IT that there are so many wolves in sheep’s clothing hiding in churches and is willing to go to bat for abuse victims. Your ministry is so vital and I share your articles on my tumblr account often

    As a side note, the Lord also urged me to write a letter when I left and send it to everyone in the church. In that letter I detailed the abuse I was put through by specific church members including the head pastor and rebuked them for willful ignorance, strengthening the hand of evildoers, showing partiality, and denying justice. I initially told God I didn’t see the point in sending it because no one would listen anyway. I had another supernatural moment where I opened my Bible hoping for His response and my jaw dropped when I read “Whether they listen of refuse to listen- for they are a rebellious house- they will be made fully aware that a prophet has been among them” I forget the exact verse but it is in the book of Ezekiel.


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