Cheryl is a poet, freelance writer, author, and former newspaper columnist. She has degrees in Psychology and Biblical studies
Defining spiritual abuse
Anything that is taken to the extreme is abuse. Spiritual abuse has been defined as the use of spiritual or religious beliefs and practices to control and dominate a person. Mark Dejesus says that it is abusive if a spiritual father hovers over your every move like a helicopter mom, trying to micromanage and control. He says to watch out for the master/slave mentality. If you have to run everything you do by your spiritual father as if you ar not capable of making your own decisions then there is a problem. I know of churches where elders and ministers cannot accept engagements to preach unless their pastor gives them the green light. I recall a pastor who did not want his members to do anything on Wednesday nights unless it was working their jobs. He demanded that every church leader be in every service or give a viable excuse, the same way you do on your job. Obeying man-made demands does not indicate that you are pleasing your Heavenly Father who desires that He is first in our lives.
I recall a church where members were told they were required to give money to the pastor on Father's Day because he was the spiritual father. It was not a suggestion but a command. There is a saying that respect must be earned and not demanded. Abusive spiritual fathers demand respect and then tell you exactly what to do that will please them. This is not allowing people to give as they have purposed in their own hearts. (2 Corinthians 9:7).
1. Name dropping
A few weeks ago my husband was listening to a pastor on Facebook live and I heard this teacher mention two other ministers that were connected with this particular church. The following week I tuned in to a broadcast by this pastor and again, before preaching, a shout out was given to the two preachers who are considered as overseers of this ministry. It brought back a memory from about a decade ago. A relative of mine who is a minister was about to do a radio broadcast and mentioned that his pastor asked him to give him a shout out. I wondered why this was necessary and pointed out that Jesus should be the Name that is dropped during a sermon.
I had been in this particular pastor's church and heard him name two famous preachers as the spiritual father and grandfather of his ministry. I realized he often mentioned the first one before preaching. I wondered why those who proclaim the gospel thought they had to give props to other preachers instead of simply giving the word of the Lord. Later on I read the book, "Going to church to catch hell," by Kermeshea Hilliard, the daughter of Bishop IV Hillard. Her book opened my eyes to some things I had not been aware of. She said that her father required all of the ministers in the church to mention his name each time they gave a message in another venue. In my opinion, this amounts to networking and getting one's name out there, but the early Apostles only lifted up the name of Jesus. Paul wrote letters where he addressed Timothy and Titus as his sons, but there is no biblical example of bragging on other preachers before you speak.
2. Paying for protection
I once heard a prominent Bishop say that one of his sons in ministry would send him $1,000 every month and he could count on it. I was shocked because Jesus said to look out for the poor and this Bishop was known to be a millionaire. I liken this to the mob extorting money to protect people in certain neighborhoods. Decades ago I went to a ministry website where a popular Bishop offered spiritual covering to those who connected with him through giving. it was $100.00 to join and $50.00 annually. Those who were under his covering also had to promise to send a monthly donation of their choice. This Bishop is now retired and his daughter has taken over the church, so I wonder who is covering all those preachers now? I have found no scripture in the Bible that says you have to pay another preacher to cover you if you are in ministry. This seems to me as just another way to extort money, without earning it, then say that God has blessed and prospered.
What gives any one person the right to lord themselves over others and claim they have all authority to cover you spiritually if you pay them? Christ paid the cost for us on Calvary and we are not our own but His. We do not belong to pastors but in certain denominations the pastors visit each other's churches, reiterating that the members are to obey and not question their particular leader. Hearing multiple preachers say the same thing is a form of brainwashing and ends up being mind control. You hear it so much you don't dare question and you simply obey.
3. Abusing Spiritual Fatherhood
According to Jeremy Myers, (Pastoral Power and Spiritual Fatherhood), there is much abuse where this term is used. Meyers points to 1 Corinthians 4:15-16, 11:1, Philippians 2:22, 4:9, and 2 Timothy 3:10, 14 where Apostle Paul refers to those who are learning from him as spiritual sons. Myers says that there are pastors who use this to force people to obey their every command. He says that Paul operated as a servant while many of those today who call themselves spiritual fathers are abusing their children, by lording the position over them. Myers points out that Paul never demanded that anyone listen to him alone as happens with some preachers today and emphasizes that Jesus said in Matt 23:8-11 to call no man father. Jeremey Myers also indicates there is a difference between mentoring someone and being considered as their spiritual father. He says demands of obedience is not the way Paul or Jesus operated and believers in Christ should be careful of those who are making demands.
I recall being in a church where the members were asked to donate $,5000 to the spiritual father of the pastor for a special occasion. Just imagine how much money this one man ended up with if many churches complied with this command. Abusive pastors come across in a manner that makes the members believe they owe it to them to give them large monetary donations, as well as the preachers who are over top of them. This is nothing more than a Ponzi scheme where the person on top gets the money that flows from every stream.
The Bible says to give honor where it is due but does not say to demand it. (Proverbs 3:27). A lot of what is going on today in the name of being a spiritual father is simply self-promotion. Preachers brag on the number of members in their church, the number of churches they pastor, and how many sons in the ministry they have. This gets away from the purpose of the body of Christ, which is not to add notches to one's belt. The church grows by getting sinners saved and adding to the number of names in the Lambs book of life. Anything else should be a byproduct and not the focus. When people attend a church service they want to hear from the Lord and not 15 minutes of accolades while the speaker gushes over the pastor, first lady, and all the top preachers in the fellowship or denomination.
Asking subordinates to drop your name, give you extra money, and to obey your every command puts the focus on you in the place of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is one mediator between God and man, His Name is Jesus. (I Timothy 2:5-6).The bottom line is that spiritual leadership is supposed to lead by example and not lord over His sheep. "Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock". – 1 Peter 5:3, KJV. Search the Internet and you will be amazed at the many articles on the necessity of a spiritual father and this is dangerous. Those who have been licensed to preach the gospel should spend the majority of the time promoting salvation through Christ, and not themselves and their preacher buddies. There should be as many or more websites emphasizing why we need Christ for salvation.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Cheryl E Preston
Cheryl E Preston (author) from Roanoke on April 30, 2020:
Yes true. Only some abuse the position.
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on April 30, 2020:
An interesting problem that I cannot judge in completeness. I have to look case by case. I simply no longer face these problems except in my wife's case. But they have a disconnect. Stuff all about father is not part of faith but part of community. I think a leader can do both.
Cheryl E Preston (author) from Roanoke on April 30, 2020:
Yes this is so very true.
OLUSEGUN from NIGERIA on April 30, 2020:
It is sad. I used to tell people in my land that, how many of the so called pastors, founders, general overseers etal have really been broken down by God? They can easily preach and teach about being broken down, but when they are to practice it then we know that even the unbelievers are better than many of them.
It is those who have been broken down by God who are headed for heaven and his Kingdom, but others, are simply "playing" and are hardly heading anywhere.
Those who pay to be protected are ignorant of the words of God. You talked about a retired minister...It crossed my mind that what of if the person even dies? Or is the person immortal? Now if he dies, who would be protecting him.
What many have introduced into the faith is what I simply called "modification of the herbalists and idol worshipers means of serving their masters".
This would better be understood by those who are living in the area where darkness prevails, where idol worshipers have upper hands like in some parts of my country, the region where I belong to.
Many of them like Jesus says in Matthew 23, are one leg in faith their entire bodies outside the faith, they are not entering and they are preventing those who want to enter from entering, it is worrying.
Except they know their God, then they shall continue to be a slave to mortals who would appear in the morning and die in the afternoon.
It is a pathetic thing that the devil has introduced into the Kingdom.