Writers note: Grab a comfortable blanket, a cup of tea and a snack. This is just my story that will maybe help a brother or sister in the Lord who may be struggling as I did after escaping an abusive church system. Feedback is always welcomed!
…I received a phone call two days ago from a family member who had also been a church member at the ministry that God delivered us from. This ministry was so spiritually abusive that the members who were able to escape ended up looking like refugees from a concentration camp – in the spirit realm. Anyway, this phone call was to let me know that my former pastor and his wife sold the church (for a half million dollars), packed up the few members who were willing to abandon the lives that they have in that city, and moved south. I do not know which city that they have gone to, but I know that they are in Florida – Floridians, beware! I at first wondered why they would suddenly, after almost 20 years in the same location, sell all, pack up and leave their children, grandchildren and extended families? Then I decided that it is not my issue. Finally, what settled on my heart was what about those who were “left behind”?
For the average blog reader this may not apply, but there are countless numbers of Christians out there who have entrusted their lives, their souls, their spirits, their families and their livelihood to someone who has spiritually abused them. You may think, “why their souls and spirits?”, well I say that because in our naivete we tend to trust the Pastor rather than to acknowledge God for ourselves; spiritual abusers make us think that they have a greater connection to God than we ever could and we buy into that philosophy out of spiritual ignorance. Once you come out of the abusive system, there may be a sense of, “Now what, where do I go? what do I do? Who can I trust?” I know this because I was there. Hang in with me while I take you on a journey of my survival of spiritual abuse.
I remember avidly searching the Word of God when I first left the ministry hoping to find something that would explain to me why I felt the way that I felt. I believed that something was wrong with me because that is what we had been taught; that those who left were in direct disobedience to God because He had placed us in that ministry. At the time, I would encourage my husband to keep going to church for I felt that I was the one with the problem, not him and certainly not the Pastor and ministry. I felt that my spirit wasn’t right. Because of my ignorance of the Word I could not find reconciliation for my feelings, so I stopped searching. I would only pray because it was all that I knew how to do. There were no answers forthcoming from God, I thought, my church “family” had turned their backs on me…including my parents at the time, my blood family had long ago turned their backs on me. I had no outlets, no one to talk to, no one that I thought would understand my point of view. I was spiritually adrift.
At the time I was pregnant with my youngest son and I remembered acquiring a copy of the book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by D. Johnson & J. VanVonderen, and I read it voraciously, often times grabbing my husband and begging him to read passages in it, because in it I saw our former ministry and ourselves. By the time I finished reading that book (in one day) I was a puddle of tears. However I knew then that it was not me, and certainly not God who was flawed, it was that church system and the man who ruled over it. I did not know at the time that it was a pervasive spirit that had taken over a lot of churches making them dens of iniquity. Ironically, despite this new revelation I still partially blamed myself. I had always been a fiercely independent young woman, I had traveled to many different countries exploring on my own. I had met many people of differing cultures and languages and was able to interact with them seamlessly. In the world. When I gave my life to Christ I let all of my worldly knowledge go, along with that went my instincts. Usually I could smell a predator coming a mile away, and I would pride myself on my instincts and street smarts. Since I am being honest here, I *never* really liked or trusted my pastor fully, there was just something a bit smarmy about him. I did really love his first lady though, and I loved and trusted my mother who brought me into the ministry.
While I could sit here and say that the ministry was all bad because of my personal experience, that would be a lie. Many good things came out of it to include:
- Meeting my awesome husband!
- Really learning how to minister to others who have yet to learn of Jesus Christ.
- Learning love, patience, temperance, kindness, meekness, humility.
- Learning to give of myself without expecting anything in return (selflessness).
- Gifts and callings are without repentance and I got a lot from many of the sermons delivered.
However, the bad definitely outweighed the good in that place. The irony is that when I first joined the ministry many unsaved people warned me about both it and the pastor, but being quickly indoctrinated into the ministry I dismissed their concerns as envy that I was into God and they weren’t. Foolishness! So back to my main point, how did I recover?
- The first thing that I had to do was to get real with myself and understand that I did nothing wrong in trusting the supposed man of God. It was he who was in err; however, I was naive and ignorant in the ways of God and depended on someone else for my spiritual direction instead of seeking it for myself.
- A big mistake that I made was retreating. I did not want to talk to anyone about what happened in that ministry, and how violated I felt. My husband and I were both victims, but I blamed myself because it was my fault for “bringing him there”. I should have found another pastor to confide in or possibly a counselor. I did neither, but I did begin to pray to God more, even when it hurt, I prayed.
- Forgive, forgive, forgive! Not only the pastor who betrayed the trust that I had placed in him for my spiritual welfare, but the others who I considered family who turned their backs on us as if we never existed. I had to realize that they too were under the same demonic influence that I was, so they walked lock step with the direction of their leader.
- I did not join or even go to another ministry for a while. I believe that this was important for my recovery because for one I had an extreme distrust of pastors and ministers for a while, and also because I did not want the bitterness that I held for my former pastor to carry over somewhere else, and until God healed me I would not be good for another ministry. Another reason was because I did not want to expose our children to just any type of ministry. I prayed constantly for the place that the Lord wanted us to settle. It was not overnight, it took years.
- I sought restoration. This was crucial for my spiritual recovery, and was not to be entrusted to just anyone; I had constant encouragement from my husband, but I knew that he had his own pain to deal with, so many times I would fast and pray for God to restore my faith in Him and that He would heal the brokenness. I knew that only God would be able to restore, rebuild and renew me, and He did, but again it was not an overnight process.
I knew when I married my husband that he was called to Pastor, and even after we left the abusive church system he would not acknowledge the call that God had placed upon him. At the time I didn’t blame him because he did not want to become what we had escaped from. With years of nurturing through the Word of life and the ministering to his spirit, I can see how God has changed his mindset. We also understand now why God had us go through what we went through; we had to understand this end time ministry to help others during this great falling away. Many people are walking about as spiritual abuse victims, afraid to speak out or seek help. For those in my former ministry who were left behind, my prayer is that they will seek the true Savior, and that their walk will be in Him from this point forward. What God is saying to those of us who are/have been victims of spiritual abuse:
Gal. 5:1, Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free , and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
Jer. 29: 11-14, For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.
And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
And I will be found of you, saith the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the LORD; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive.
A Pastor’s Wife