…. they were unschooled, ordinary men …. they had been with Jesus …. the crippled man healed standing with them – Acts 4:13,14

Authority, Submission & Spiritual Abuse

As a layman, now and then, I meet sincere brethren who have honest questions/doubts on church leadership behavior, submission/authority issues, or suffer some form of spiritual abuse from church leaders.

Some of these marketplace brethren have at times seen and experienced better collaboration, management, governance, conflict and escalation frameworks at their workplaces.
Inevitably, a comparison is subconsciously made.

Thankfully, there are many inspiring leaders faithfully serving, loving and caring for their flock.

As Paul wrote:

1 Corinthians 9:18 (NKJV)
What is my reward then?
That when I preach the gospel,
I may present the gospel of Christ without charge,
that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel.

In ministering to the Corinthians, Paul’s leadership is concisely summarised,

2 Corinthians 1:24 (NASB, MSG)
Not that we lord it over your faith,
but are workers with you for your joy;
for in your faith you are standing firm.

We’re not in charge of how you live out the faith,
looking over your shoulders, suspiciously critical.
We’re partners, working alongside you, joyfully expectant.
I know that you stand by your own faith, not by ours.

Attitude – Not that we lord it over your faith
Relationship – We’re partners, working alongside you, joyfully expectant
Goal – you stand by your own faith, not by ours.

Similarly, Paul describes his relationship with the Philippians,

Philippians 1:3-6 (NIV)
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus

Partners together in the Lord’s work.
At the opposite end of partnership … is dictatorship.

Dr. George Simon, author of international bestseller In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People, explains further.
“Conscientious people possess good consciences,
and are capable of shame and guilt,” he says.
“So, by pressing your guilt button or inviting you to feel ashamed,
a skilled manipulator can easily sway you.”

Pastor Rhett Wilson’s well-researched sharing from his blog, addresses leadership authority problems well,  and is based on his doctoral thesis on this topic.  Here’s an excerpt,

Rhett Wilson:

Some authoritarian pastors may have been misled by a historical mentor. Watchman Nee 倪柝声, noted Chinese pastor and author, wrote a book entitled Spiritual Authority. Nee argued that God delegates his authority to human leaders who represent God to their followers. The response of the people should be unquestioned obedience; authority replaces reason, right, and wrong. Even if the authority is wrong, Nee argues, one should obey them unto the Lord. Though Nee provided many helpful resources to the Body of Christ, this one teaching has probably added to much confusion and misuse among spiritual leaders. Both Henry Blackaby and Ken Blue challenge Nee’s teaching. His error may have added to the tendencies and structures of some abusive leaders and structures.

Blackaby writes, “It is easy to see how dictatorial leaders could abuse this teaching in order to justify their tyrannical leadership style. Cult groups demand absolute obedience to their leaders. They denounce independent thought by their followers. Nothing could be more unbiblical! . . . God does appoint leaders into secular as well as religious leadership positions. . . . Nevertheless, while God may choose to work through leaders to accomplish his purposes, obeying a leader is not necessarily equal to obeying God. God will tolerate no substitutes for a personal relationship with Him. He exercises his lordship directly over his followers. People who obey leaders as though they were responding to God are in danger of committing idolatry. ” Henry Blackaby and Richard Blackaby, Spiritual Leadership: Moving People on to God’s Agenda (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, 2001), 90-91.

… Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority,” …. First, the Greek word translated obey, peithomai, refers to voluntary trust in response to proven character and the power of persuasion, not absolute obedience. The Bible uses another Greek word, peitharcheo to refer to implicit obedience (Acts 5:29). Second, the word translated “submit” means to yield or get out of the way rather than following an order. It implies not hindering the leader’s work. Third, the word authority, though inserted in the New International Version and the J. B. Phillips, is not found in the Greek text. So, the verse means to listen to your leaders, and if they win you over by persuasion, yield to their advice. “

He further elaborates on the symptoms and tactics in his posts:

Characteristics of Abusive Churches, part one (click here)
Characteristics of Abusive Churches, part two, Distortion of Truth (click here)
Characteristics of Abusive Churches, part three, Division and Paranoia (click here)
The “no-talk” rule (click here)
Attacking Dissenters – How Outcasts are Treated (click here)
Roles in a Toxic Church (click here)

Here’s a case study of a pastor Seduced by Power from Leadership Journal.  Click here 

A large pyramid submission/accountability network that lost credibility
– Shepherding Movement, click here.

Ronald M. Enroth:
The leaders of many of these groups consciously foster an unhealthy form of dependency, spiritually and otherwise, by focusing on themes of submission and obedience to those in authority.   They create the impression that people just aren’t going to find their way through life’s maze without a lot of firm directives from those at the top.

Martin Luther:

Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason —
I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other —
my conscience is captive to the Word of God.
I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me.  Here I stand.  I cannot do otherwise.

Richard Halverson, former US Senate Chaplain:

In the beginning the Church was a fellowship of men and women who centred their lives on the living Christ. They had a personal and vital relationship to the Lord. It transformed them and the world around them.
Then the Church moved to Greece, and it became a philosophy. Later it moved to Rome, and it became an institution. Next it moved to Europe and it became a culture. Finally it moved to America, and it became an enterprise. We’ve got far too many churches and so few fellowships.”

Billy Graham:
Leaders are admired most when they exemplify strong character, depth of integrity, and a heart for others.” 

William C Pollard:
When there is ineffective leadership, the people who follow suffer.
Without trust, leadership is not effective.

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?
Luke 15:4 (NIV)

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.
Isaiah 40:11 (NIV)

The good shepherd takes His time with nursing ewes,
He helps the lambs to keep up by carrying them.
He goes out to find the one sheep who was left behind somewhere.

Jesus said:
Luke 22:26 (NIV)

… Instead, the greatest among you
should be like the youngest,

and the one who rules
like the one who serves.

John 13:13-17 (NIV)
13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Matthew 18:1-6 (NIV)
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked,
Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child
is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

Matthew 7:15-20 (NIV)
15 “Watch out for false prophets.

They come to you in sheep’s clothing,
they are ferocious wolves.

16 By their fruit
you will recognize them.

Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?

17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit,
but a bad tree bears bad fruit.

18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit,
and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit
is cut down and thrown into the fire.

20 Thus, by their fruit
you will recognize them

We understand a person better by observing what they do, their deeds,
and not just based on what they say or verbally share.
Character is backed up by consistent walk-the-talk action.

Psalm 15:4 (NET)
He honors the Lord’s loyal followers.
He makes firm commitments and does not renege on his promise.

If we are not careful and humble before the Lord … we too can easily be led astray by the poison of ego, pride, power, fame, gifts, …
Whatever kind of person or leader we are … is evidenced/recognized by the fruit.
every good tree bears good fruit,
but a bad tree bears bad fruit

In whatever we do or are involved in  … let’s honestly check outselves and ask:
what is the fruit we are producing ?’,
(the short-term  & long-term fruit)

 be shrewd as serpents
and innocent as doves
 (Matthew 10:16)

From experience and observation …..when ministry flows out of guilt or duty or obligation, … rather than from God’s Spirit stirring our individual hearts in sincerity and truth … we can easily drift into an outward religion/piety of rules & outcome statistics, conformity, our need to belong, and keeping appearances.

All it takes are some overbearing leaders with seemingly noble aspirations/vision with great communication skills, who “hear from God
… for such groups to slip down into the unpleasant pool of manipulation, “too busy to think” treadmill, control through peer pressure, “do it for God” commitment/sacrifice drumbeats, “submit to your leaders” reminders, performance targets
… and soon, an “inner circle” forms, double-standards appear …
subtlely,  … the spotlight falls upon the leaders, and the leaders’ vision/organization …
rather than the Lord Jesus & the Kingdom of God.

Church subtlely becomes an organization of managed resources and objectives,
… rather than a loving family, a fellowship of believers
… where forgiveness, acceptance, and trust flows, a sanctuary for the weak and the strong.

There is a thin line between truth and deception, only the Word of God can divide it.

Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV)
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Inevitably, transparency, accountability, integrity and trust is broken,
… and if not handled properly …
unfortunately, … unleashes gossip, hurt, distrust and bitterness,
poisoning/stumbling the lives of individual believers, … especially new believers who see no difference between the church and other societal/business organizations.

Whether in the marketplace or in church, people are looking for leaders who have character (eg 1 Timothy 3:1-12) and live ART – Accountable, Responsible, Transparent … with a shepherd heart.  Leaders with character, who walk the talk and bear fruit.

Galatians 5:13 (NLT)
For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters.
But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature.
Instead, use your freedom
to serve one another in love.

1 Timothy 1:5 (NIV)
The goal of this command is love,
which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 

James 3:16 (NIV)
For where you have envy and selfish ambition,
here you find disorder and every evil practice.

1 John 1:7 (NKJV)
But if we walk in the light
as He is in the light,
we have fellowship with one another,
and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 1:18 (NKJV)
There is no fear
in love

further thoughts to consider …
… is a leader submitted and accountable to others?
… a teamplayer, open to correction, open to contrary views? (this also applies to ourselves too)
(1 Peter 5:2,5)
…. Are people afraid of telling the leader things ? (Emperor’s new clothes)
… is there a big emphasis on  submission, commitment, sacrifice,  … rather than the grace of God?  Loved by God?
… are other people empowered by the leader?  An atmosphere of love or fear?
… hierarchical, corporate, organisational, top-down culture, …. or a loving, respectful community of fellow believers with Christ the head?
… focus on leader, priest/reverend …. or priesthood of all believers, diversity of gifts/ministries?
… When Bible verses are shared/taught, is it taught in the context of the passage?

1 Peter 2:9 (NIV)
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

It is good to regularly remind ourselves of the weaknesses in all of us.

The heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9)

Interestingly, the symptoms of  leadership snares are accurately described, and wisely addressed in Deuteronomy, when the Lord gave Moses instructions about appointing kings.

Deuteronomy 17:16-20 (NIV)
16 The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” 17 He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom,
he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law,
taken from that of the Levitical priests.

19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees

20 and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites
and turn from the law to the right or to the left.

Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.

Thankfully in this passage, the Lord also gives us the safeguard antidote,
he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees

Without the piercing light of God’s word,
we can easily be blinded by
success, fame, ambition, ego, pride, riches, over-confidence, and superiority complex,
and stray off the narrow path of serving others in love.

Moses had amazing gifts, revelations, experiences & prophetic impact.
However, Moses was not puffed up with spiritual pride.

Moses was very humble,
more than all men who were on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3 NKJV) 

In the Bible, when God commended Moses as more humble than anyone else in Numbers 12,
that’s when his leadership was being challenged by those most closest to him, who served alongside him.
Moses humbly submitted the matter to the Lord … he interceded for those who challenged him (Numbers 12:13), … the Lord vindicated Moses.

We do well to learn from Moses’ humble example & character.  Hence, the Lord entrusted & used him in amazing miracles of power, … and lead not just a congregation, but a whole nation.

Jesus said,

for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and he who humbles himself will be exalted …

For whoever makes himself look more important
than he is will find out how little he is worth.

Whoever does not try to honor
himself will be made important.”
(Luke 18:14 NASB, MSG)

When Jesus was on earth,

John 2:24 (NIV)
But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people

He also understood and did not step beyond the boundaries of His ministry on earth.

Luke 12:13,14 (NIV)
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”

Further thoughts:

About church, body of Christ,

Colossians 1:18 (NASB)
18 He is also head of the body, the church; …

1 Corinthians 12:27 (NASB)
Now you are Christ’s body,
and individually members of it.

1 Corinthians 12:24,25 (NIV)
… But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

1 Corinthians 14:26 (NIV)
What then shall we say, brothers and sisters?
When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.
Everything must be done
so that the church may be built up.

Consider, how is what is being done, build up people?

Ephesians 5:21 (NIV)
 Submit to one another
out of reverence for Christ.

About pastors,

The English word ‘pastor‘ appears only once in the New Testament  in Ephesians 4:11, in the Greek it means ‘shepherd’.
Reverend – from Old French, or from Latin reverendus ‘person to be revered’

Acts 20:28 (NLT)
o guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders.

1 Peter 5:2,5 (NIV)
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble

Luke 22:25,26 (NIV)
25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them;
and those who exercise authority over them
call themselves Benefactors.

26 But you
are not to be like that

the greatest among you
should be like the youngest,

and the one who rules
like the one who serves.

(see also Ezekiel 34)

Further Reading:

Dr. Richard J. Krejcir, Why People in Church Fight?.  Click here


How to serve in church … without hurting others and ourselves (click here)

 Daily Rice | Serving Quietly

by 林弟兄, bro Lim
October 27, 2014

Copyright © 林弟兄 bro Lim, Laymanointing, 2014-2016 – All Rights Reserved
Creative Commons License




This entry was posted on October 27, 2014 by in cross-culture, Daily Rice, Ministry, Serving Quietly and tagged .

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