ReformedSpotlight”: Self-Promoting Wolves or Selfless Shepherds?

After writing the initial posts in my spiritual abuse series, I started thinking more about the leaders who have made the greatest impression upon me throughout my life. I thought about soccer managers, teachers, managers, investment brokers, business owners, and bosses from my pre-Christian life. In the Christian world, I thought about pastors, elders, deacons, professors, para-church leaders, and so on. And I came up with four characteristics that were universal.


The best leaders were not interested in managing decline, care and maintenance, or just reacting to the latest emergency. Instead, they wanted to lead people or an organization to the next stage of growth or development. They looked much further ahead than today or even the immediate future. They might not have formalized 1-year, 5-year, and 10-year plans, but they definitely had long-term plans which involved much more than just handing on what they had been given unchanged. They may not have been ten-talent servants, but they definitely were not “bury-the-talent” status quo servants. They might not have plans to take everyone and everything to the next level but they were always working on advancing some part of the team, company, church, organization, etc. If you asked them, “Where are we going?” they wouldn’t reply, “Eh, I dunno.” Rather,”Here’s where we’re going, and here’s how we’re going to get there.”


As I look back on forty years of being parts of various teams – sports, politics, churches, businesses, etc. – the leaders that stand out most and that did most good are the ones that seemed to have an extra Duracell or two in their powerpacks. Even now, as I think back on them, the Energizer bunny pops into my mind. It’s almost impossible to follow someone that is lazy and lethargic. Enthusiasm, on the other hand, is contagious. A person bursting with it can impact tens, even hundreds of people. That’s true on a natural level; but it’s also true on a spiritual level. It’s a hyper-Calvinist cop-out to say, “Oh, well, unless the Holy Spirit comes in power, there’s no point in trying too hard.” The Holy Spirit uses means, and, in my experience at least, He usually uses leaders – pastors, elders, deacons, teachers – who are characterized by vitality, zip, and zest.


No amount of vision or vigor can make up for vice. Talent and tempo cannot replace truth. Innovation and inspiration cannot overcome immorality. Double doses of dreams and Duracell cannot compensate for double standards. The leaders who have inspired me have always been characterized by integrity, just plain old-fashioned honesty and transparency. What you saw was what you got.


When I remember my two unbelieving soccer coaches, three of my four unbelieving bosses in the financial services industry, and my two favorite teachers (also both unbelievers), one quality stands out above all – they put the interests of those they coached, led, and taught ahead of themselves. I think I could even say they loved us. They sacrificed themselves for our good, often with no apparent benefit to themselves. There were selfless rather than selfish, leaving an indelible mark on me to this day.

How much more important is selflessness in ministry? It’s the most important characteristic of all in Christian leadership, and the lack of it lies at the root of most ministry fails and falls. It’s an utter shameful scandal when the one calling that is defined by “service” in the very name – MINISTRY – becomes a means of self-promotion and personal aggrandizement at the painful expense of those they are sent to serve.

In Matthew 7:15, Jesus warns us of wolves who wear sheep’s clothing. They may look like shepherds and sound like shepherds – note that, they NEVER look like wolves – but they have the hearts of wolves.

In John 10, Jesus warns of those who though they pretend to shepherd sheep, they are only interested in their fleeces. They are thieves and robbers that have come only to steal, to kill, and to destroy. Instead of giving their lives for the sheep, they take life from the sheep. They stand on their backs in their desperate climb for prominence. If any suffer along the way, there are always others to take their place. If I can get the attention of thousands, what does it matter if I’ve destroyed a few lives on the way to the pinnacle? Cheering crowds easily drown out a handful of bloodied, broken, bleating sheep – and my conscience. Why worry about one abused sheep when there are ninety-nine applauding me?

What a contrast to the Great Selfless Shepherd of John 10, the Great Selfless Servant of John 13, and the Great Selfless Sufferer of Philippians 2!

The measure of anyone’s ministry is not how many people are in their church, how many blog readers or Twitter followers they have, how many books they’ve written, how many conference invitations they receive, or how many famous friends flatter us. The biblical measure of ministry is how they treat “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40). How does a man treat the least important, least influential, least rewarding members of his congregation. That’s how Christ measures my ministry. That’s how my elders should measure my ministry. That’s how I want to measure my ministry.

ReformedSpotlight”: Spiritual Abuse Resources

As part of the series on spiritual abuse I’m beginning to collect resources and make them available on this page. If you have any other recommendations you can either email them to me or leave a comment. You can find more recommended resources on a variety of subjects here.


Suffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores by Diane Langberg.

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen.

Healing Spiritual Abuse: How to Break Free from Bad Church Experience by Ken Blue.

Exposing Spiritual Abuse by Mike Fehlauer.

Spiritual Abuse: Religion at Its Worst by June Hunt.

Spiritual Abuse Recovery: Dynamic Research on Finding a Place of Wholeness by Barbara M. Orlowski.

Faith That Hurts, Faith That Heals/Understanding the Fine Line Between Healthy Faith and Spiritual Abuse by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton.

The following books are more about spiritual and emotional abuse in marriage, but many of the principles apply to abusive churches too.

The Emotionally Destructive Relationship: Seeing It, Stopping It, Surviving It by Leslie Vernick.

A Cry for Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in Your Church by Jeff Crippen and Anna Wood.

Safe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren’t by Henry Cloud

The following are secular books but still many helpful observations.

Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft.

In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People by George K. Simon.

Rethinking Narcissism: The Bad-and Surprising Good-About Feeling Special by Dr. Craig Malkin.

The following are out of print but may still be purchased used.

Recovering from Churches that Abuse by Ronald Enroth (or download Free PDF)

Recovery from Spiritual Abuse by Juanita and Dale Ryan


HeadHeartHand Series

A Reformed “Spotlight”: Fighting Spiritual Abuse in the Reformed Church | HeadHeartHand

Reformed “Spotlight”: What is Spiritual Abuse? | HeadHeartHand

Reformed “Spotlight”: 10 Characteristics of Mr Controller | HeadHeartHand

Reformed “Spotlight”: What about the Victims? | HeadHeartHand

Reformed “Spotlight”: The Humblest Conference I’ve Ever Attended | HeadHeartHand

Reformed “Spotlight”: Self-Promoting Wolves or Selfless Shepherds | HeadHeartHand

Phil Monroe Series

Spiritual Trauma and Abuse: Assessments and Interventions | Phil Monroe

Spiritual Abuse: What it is and Why it Hurts | Phil Monroe

Why do some spiritual leaders abuse power? | Phil Monroe

What factors support the use of spiritual abuse? | Phil Monroe

Why are some people prone to spiritual abuse? | Phil Monroe

Belief System Supports for Spiritual Abuse? |Phil Monroe

Do you enable spiritual abuse? | Phil Monroe

Preventing spiritual abuse? Listen to that little voice plus |Phil Monroe

Spiritual Trauma and Abuse: Assessments and Intervention | Phil Monroe

Other Blogs

The Narcissism Test

Pastoral Bullies | Sam Storms

Spiritual Abuse: What it is and why it hurts | Phil Monroe

Warning: Dangerous people | Wisdom for life

Evangelicals and Toxic Masculinity | Samuel D. James

Reflections on Fallen Pastors |Timothy Raymond 

What is Spiritual ABUSE? | Geeky Christian

Spiritual Abuse | David Henke

Spiritual Abuse: It’s Not Just Celebrity Pastors | Gentle Reformation

How Church Bullies and Abusers Deceive Us « The Reformed Reader

Help in Overcoming Church Hurt | Desiring God


Culture, Christendom, and Christ with Diane Langberg.

Are We Pastors or Platform Builders? | Mortification of Spin

ReformedSpotlight”: What about the Victims?

It’s good to see that The Journey church has set up a Member & Attender Support Page. No doubt this must be a time of spiritual crisis for many in the congregation as they try to understand how a beloved pastor can sin so grievously. I personally know the tremendous confusion and distress that results when a preacher that God has greatly blessed in your life falls into sin. Many questions arise: Was I deceived? Is it all a deception? Was the blessing a delusion? Are other preachers just the same? Who can I trust? Why would God use such men to bless so many people? Was God not able to stop him from falling?

In such painful and puzzling circumstances a support page is a good pastoral use of technology. I especially liked the way that various preachers were invited to send living and vibrant video messages of pastoral and prayerful support towards the congregation and also to the fallen pastor and his family.

But, there’s something vital missing from all this. What about the victims? According to the church’s letter to their members, the pastor had hurt many people along the way over many years. His sins included:

  • Refusal of personal accountability (I Pet. 5.1)
  • Lack of self-control (I Tim. 3.2)
  • Manipulation and lying.
  • Domineering over those in his charge (I Pet. 5.3)
  • Misuse of power/authority (I Pet. 5.3)

Each of these sins involves a victim, perhaps many, and most of these wounded sheep will now be scattered across many churches, or perhaps even churchless through disillusionment. But watch the videos and read the statements. You would think these were victimless sins. Yes, the pastor and his family need prayer and support, but the victims need it first and foremost.

I’m not picking on The Journey, it’s just that this gives such a sadly typical example of the way most churches ignore or forget the victims. Usually it’s not done deliberately, but rather thoughtlessly. Oftentimes, it’s because the victims have moved on and are no longer part of the church. Sometimes, crisis-management is just so focused on survival that the wider consequences are not thought through. But it’s also possible that the same celebrity-worship that contributed to the pastor’s fall is still skewing extra pastoral attention to him to the omission of the lesser-known victims.

One way to put this right would be to post a “Victim Support Page” with similar videos, but this time directed towards these bleeding sheep for whom this disciplinary intervention came too late. Whatever support and care is being poured into the pastor and his family, the victims deserve double that. And if the victims can face it, the pastor himself should be involved in reaching out to each and every victim to ask for forgiveness before any consideration is given to any future ministry role.

Yes the pastor needs grace. But the victims need justice.

Other posts in this series here.

ReformedSpotlight”: 10 Characteristics of Mr. Controller

This is a slightly edited re-post of an article I wrote a couple of years ago which is relevant to our discussion of spiritual abuse. I also want to say that my focus in this series is not primarily the spiritual abuses of celebrities that end up on the “front pages,” but rather the largely unnoticed and unreported spiritual abuse that goes on in “ordinary” churches and Christian organizations. However, there is often a connection as the examples of the well-known are copied, and those motivated by the desire to be famous are more likely to resort to spiritual abuse when anyone or anything gets in their way.

In any discussion about spiritual abuse it’s important to distinguish between authority and authoritarianism? Let’s begin with some broad definitions:

Authority is the lawful use of lawful authority: God, the church, the state, or a business has given someone the right to govern and guide your life in a certain area, and that authority is being exercised in the right areas in the right way.

Authoritarianism is the exercise of unlawful authority: It’s someone who has not been given any authority over my life trying to rule and run my life, or someone who has authority in one limited area of my life, trying to rule and run other parts or every part of my life.

Authoritarianism is also the unlawful use of lawful authority: Someone takes the authority they’ve been given and abuses it by exercising it in ways that only benefits them and usually damages me.

Definitions help us to some degree, but illustrations can take us further. So let’s put together some marks of authoritarianism. What does this look like? How do I recognize it? How do I know if I’m being authoritarian or just exercising legitimate authority? How do I know if I’m being a victim of authoritarianism? Let’s see if we can build a description of “Mr. Controller.”

1. Mr. Controller is power hungry. He’s always trying to get more control over your life. He’s never satisfied with knowing what he knows about you, but always want to know more. He’s never content with power in one or two areas, but wants power in every area. He gets his biggest thrills from ordering other people around and making them feel subservient.

2. Mr. Controller never suspects he may be abusing his power. He never says, “Please let me know if I you ever think I’m overstepping my bounds.” He has little or no awareness about his own tendency to misuse power.

3. Mr. Controller gets easily and terribly offended whenever anyone questions his authority. “How dare you speak to me like that!” “Do you know who I am?” Any questioning is viewed as insubordination, rebellion, disrespect, etc.

4. Mr. Controller thinks of himself more as a King than a servant. He rarely thinks or asks “How can I serve you?” Instead, his prevailing attitude is “How can I rule you?” He’s out to gain more control not to give more help.  He empowers himself rather than others.

5. Mr. Controller threatens when threatened. Whenever his authority or power is questioned or challenged, even when it’s done humbly and appropriately, he warns of unpleasant consequences for the questioner. He certainly never pauses to ask, “Did I exceed my authority? Did I handle this correctly? Have I made a mistake?”

6. Mr. Controller keeps a long record. His position of power has enabled him to build big memory files on his “victims,” which he does not hesitate to use (or hint at using) when necessary.

7. Mr. Controller tells rather than teaches. He orders people around without explaining why. “Just do it!” He doesn’t take the time or make the effort to explain himself or his “guidance.” He prefers law and sanction to teaching, instruction, and motivation. He’s afraid that if he teaches principles and aims at changing the heart, that people will then work out things for themselves rather than be dependent upon him for everything.

8. Mr. Controller clings to power. Unlike true leaders who love to train other leaders and delegate power to them, he clings to power and refuses to let go. Because, of course, no one is as wise and competent as he is.

9. Mr. Controller hates to be controlled. He’s often resistant to anyone being in authority over him or telling him what he should be or do. He’s often a vociferous critic of other sources of power and authority around him. He figures, “If I can weaken him/her/them, then I strengthen myself.”

10. Mr. Controller lacks self-control. This is his weirdest characteristic. You’d think that such an addiction to control would produce a deeply disciplined person. Not at all. Most controllers have major deficits in the self-control department. Perhaps it’s because they are so busy interfering in other people’s lives that they neglect their own. Maybe it’s because they find it easier to direct and discipline others than themselves. I don’t know, but watch out for this. Behind most authoritarian personalities is usually a lack of biblical authority, often manifested in bad morals or bad temper.

And remember, there are Mrs. Controllers too.

Other posts in this series here.

ReformedSpotlight”: What is Spiritual Abuse?

In my first post on spiritual abuse, I said I would provide a definition that would help in subsequent discussions. I’d welcome your input on this so that we can develop a clear and comprehensive definition, but here’s my suggestion to start the conversation, followed by my “exposition”:

Spiritual abuse is a sinful use of spiritual authority by Christian leaders to promote, protect, or enrich a person or a Christian institution regardless of the spiritual damage done to innocent parties and the cause of Christ.

First, the term “spiritual abuse indicates that unlike physical or sexual abuse, the primary pain is felt in the soul. Calling it “spiritual” also highlights that it is more difficult to detect because its primary weapons are usually more psychological, mental, emotional, relational, and, well, spiritual.

Second, notice the use of the word, “sinful.” There is good and proper ecclesiastical authority. God has ordained officers in his church to administer his kingdom on earth. We must not let the abuse of this by some push us to the extreme of rejecting all pastors, elders, deacons, membership standards, discipline, etc.

Some of the sinful tools used by spiritual abusers include injustice, misrepresentation, intimidation, exclusion, isolation, humiliation, manipulation, authoritarianism, demands for unconditional loyalty and obedience, shame, legalism, false accusation, self-pity, suppression of dissent and criticism, use of rules to silence, inability to admit wrong, covering up and minimizing leaders’ sins, and so on.

Third, “spiritual authority” refers to any office, role, or responsibility in Christian churches, para-church organizations, charities, conferences, seminaries, etc. It is not confined to ecclesiastical office or church courts. Spiritual abuse can take place wherever someone is given any degree of spiritual responsibility or spiritual authority over others.

Fourth, the term “Christian leaders” (plural) underlines that although there is often one person who is the primary abuser, there are usually others who cooperate with him due to fear, desire to please, personal gain, or pragmatism.

Fifth, the aim of the Christian leaders is no longer the good of souls and the glory of God but the promotion, protection, and enrichment of a person or an institution.” The leader, the church, or the organization’s existence, reputation, and wealth becomes the over-riding concern.

Sixth, this is all done “regardless of the spiritual damage” suffered by the victims, such as false guilt, shame, inability to trust spiritual leaders, draining of self-confidence, disillusionment with the church and with Christians, serious distortions in their view of God,

Seventh, damage is also done to the “cause of Christ.” The abuser’s church or organization may continue and spiritual abusers may still occupy positions of influence and popularity. But the cause of Christ as a whole is damaged, as people see the hypocrisy, the double standards, the self-centeredness.

Spiritual abuse is a sinful use of spiritual authority by Christian leaders to promote, protect, or enrich a person or a Christian institution regardless of the spiritual damage done to innocent parties and the cause of Christ.

So that’s my definition. I’m very open to correction and other suggestions.

Other posts in this series here.

A ReformedSpotlight”: Fighting Spiritual Abuse in the Reformed Church

I am so angry – and, I fear, not all of it is holy anger.

Earlier this week, I sat with a young man who, six years later, is still recovering from spiritual abuse at the hands of a “respected” Reformed pastor. He’s one of a number of this pastor’s victims, all of them gifted and godly men, but all of whom have had their confidence shredded and their faith devastated by this man’s abuse of his spiritual position and authority.

Within 24 hours I was sitting with another young man, whose details I cannot reveal, but let’s just say he had also suffered from another Reformed church’s failure to follow basic biblical, and even just humane, process.

I wasn’t looking for these men. They just “happened” to be in my life this week.

As I pondered their painful stories, I “happened” to watch an online video of a respected Christian leader abusing his position as a conference speaker to demolish the reputation and Christian character of a godly man and a friend of mine. He didn’t just criticize his views but his character, his faithfulness, and his spiritual state. All of this in front of a couple of thousand people and without any opportunity for the man to defend himself. (UPDATE: I’m not referring to T4G).

The Dam Bursts

And today the dam burst when I read in Christianity Today  that “celebrity-pastor,” Darrin Patrick, has been “fired for violating his duties as pastor” at the Journey Megachurch in St. Louis.

“The Journey cited a range of ongoing sinful behaviors over the past few years including manipulation, domineering, lack of biblical community, and a history of building his identity through ministry and media platforms.”

As Christianity Today points out, this is just the latest in a way-too-long line of prominent “Reformed” pastors who have either voluntarily or involuntarily stepped away from ministry due to spiritual failings that have impacted many people (I think it’s unfair to include John Piper in this list as his case did not involve spiritual abuse). Sadly, Christianity Today’s list is incomplete as other prominent names could easily be added. Even more sadly, there are multitudes of other non-celebrity pastors whose stories will never hit the headlines, but will result in even greater multitudes of victims.

Apart from one exception, I’ve generally refrained from giving publicity to such abuses of spiritual authority, mainly out of a desire not to damage the church’s witness before the world and a fear of undermining Christians confidence in their leaders. However, that was the argument the Roman Catholic Church used for decades as it covered up their priests’ sexual abuse. And victims continued to multiply in the silence.

So, yes, for me the dam has burst. And it’s not just the past week. I’ve had increasing numbers of emails from victims of spiritual abuse over the past years. It’s now time to speak out. It’s time for the Reformed church to take responsibility and clean house. It’s time to stop pointing the finger at the Catholics’ sexual abuse scandals and start exposing the spiritual abuse scandals in our ranks.

There have been brave voices in the wilderness here and there who have been calling for reformation in this area for years. But they’ve been dismissed as cranks, as obsessive, as outside the mainstream. That’s what the Catholic church used to say of their victims and critics too. It’s time to listen to these voices and stand with these victims.

And I speak as a fellow victim. I too have a story of spiritual abuse. I too have a story to tell. I’ve not only seen spiritual abuse, I bear the marks of it in my mind, my heart, and my soul.

Five Roles

So what can I do? I don’t want to be a conduit for unsubstantiated allegations. I don’t want to be a gossip blog. I don’t want to abuse my position in the process of highlighting the abuse of others. I won’t name names unless in exceptional circumstances; a lot of good can be done without personalizing issues. Rather I see my role and responsibility in five areas: warning, preventing, confronting, recovering, and modeling

Warning: I will regularly highlight the warning signs of a spiritual abuser, how to identity them, what to look out for, how to spot them early on, and also how to see danger signs in oneself! That’s one of the most fearful aspects of spiritual abuse – the abuser is usually totally blind to it. It could be you! Or me!!

Preventing: I want to help churches prevent spiritual abuse in their midst, to stop it before it starts, to nip it in the bud, and so on.

Confronting: I want to help individuals and churches confront spiritual abuse and root it out; how to use legitimate spiritual authority, including church discipline, against abuses of it.

Healing: I want to aid the healing process, helping wounded individuals, families, and churches recover their sanity and their souls and build solid foundations for spiritual life where at present there is only rubble. And I’ve got to believe that healing is possible for the spiritual abuser too, that, by grace, the most deformed leadership can become the most cruciformed.

Modeling: I want to promote godly models of leadership both in the church and in the family; because this is not just confined to pastors. As too many stories confirm, Christian husbands and fathers can also abuse their God-appointed leadership roles. We need to skillfully apply the Bible’s principles to our practice, and to advance positive and beautiful models of what it means to lead both in the church and in the home.

In summary, I want to be constructive more than destructive. And I want to start with a definition of spiritual abuse – stay tuned.

Let’s shine the “Spotlight” on ourselves before Hollywood does.

**UPDATE** Thanks for all the comments. These will all be very useful going forward. I’ve closed the thread due to a couple of people abusing the privilege.

Other posts in this series here.