Signs of Spiritual Abuse in your church.

Corcovado jesus
Corcovado jesus (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Ok … here’s the thing. We’ve covered a lot of this ground over the years but I cannot remember a generic post dealing with the obvious signs of spiritual abuse in a church. We’ve tended to go for the jugular over specific church movements such as Hillsong and C3. We’ve gone after particular doctrines such as tithing.

What we haven’t done is look at the signs a church is becoming spiritually abusive and cult-like.

There are many hurting and confused believers out there who may well question their faith or even their sanity after one of the most terrible abuses of trust that there can be. There are many more people still stuck in situations that perhaps need a little more encouragement to stick with Jesus, even if that means leaving an abusive church situation.


So here goes …

Signs of Spiritual Abuse:

  • This is a special church … all the other churches are dead churches.
  • leavers MUST be shunned … they have gone over to the devil and are enemies (particularly husbands/wives/parents/children)
  • touch NOT the Lord’s anointed … The Pastor speaks for God and must never be criticised.
  • Tithing is mandatory. (Tithing is not a sign per se, only if it is mandatory)
  • Special Rules … such as “Women must wear a head covering”
  • You must attend every meeting … especially Sundays, otherwise you aren’t showing enough commitment.
  • You must OBEY everything you are told to do by the Leader and be completely submitted to them.
  • You are also to be submitted to your cell/house group leaders
  • You MUST confess all your sins to your leaders … to move on.
  • You must run all major life decisions (change job/house/get married) must be approved by your leader … or else.
  • A lack of oversight of your Pastor … a lack of accountability.


There are many churches that are completely independent … however, if the leader has to be re-appointed by the membership every few years and if there is a plurality of leadership as well then this is fairly safe.

If the leader has no way of losing his/her position then that could lead to abuse of position and power.


I know that there are many stories out there and if people have the courage then please share your life stories here. I know a few people now that I am actively praying for. Jesus didn’t come to place upon us a heavy burden. His yoke is light. He is gentle, loving and kind. He is not oppressive. He didn’t come to place us under rules and regulations. He came to get us into a relationship with the Father.



20 thoughts on “Signs of Spiritual Abuse in your church.

  1. I think most of the Charismatic churches i’ve been in would figure high on that list. MInd you that list is just somebody’s opinion.

  2. it isn’t someone’s opinion when you start asking questions about why the Pastor needs an £80000 car and he and his team start telling the entire church all the sins you’ve confessed … from the pulpit.


  3. Good on ya Bull.

    You are a legend mate.

    By calling out someone’s sins from the pulpit I’ve no doubt that Jesus was writing down theirs.

  4. well … on the original Signposts blog, liberal theology mixed with calling out bad practice. we are missing that side of things at the moment on SP02.

    The above example is not necessarily true … it is merely an example of the things that can happen.

    Peoples sins have been made public to shut down criticism. (was the criticism justified? Dunno. Should someones sins be made public for that reason? Definitely not.)

    A Pastor in a london church who went to prison for sexual misdemeanors was given an £80000 BMW by his church … and the charities commission had a serious look at it. But the church was shut down and re-opened elsewhere.

    I know of people in Wales who have had outright lies told about them. I have no idea why, but a Pastor felt threatened and/or under pressure and people have been burned. People I know to be lovely christians with genuine heart for Jesus and the lost.

    SIgns of spiritual abuse might not lead to a cult … but cults do grow out of this kind of thing.

  5. I had my eyes opened in the early 90s through a book called ‘The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abbuse’, which I’m sure many here have read. It’s essential to be aware of the tricks and techniques used by church leaders to chaperone the flock in a way which is ultimately totally self-serving.

    The bottom line is that a pyramid church structure will always produce serious abuse at worst, or low (no) quality spiritual fruit at best.

  6. When people are taken in by these “churches” it is hard to see at first. People genuinely believe that they are doing something good. Often the “church doesn’t appear abusive at first at all and it is not untill one make a challange they even get an incling of what is going on.

    I unfortunatly read The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abbuse’ at little late after being in a church that got steadilly more abusive for 6 years.

    I had my doubts for some time but most of my friends and imediate family were members too so I kept going and tried to make myself fit with it.

    I have seen many hurt and broken people get a bit more hurt and broken and lose a good few quid to the pastors retirement / new car / ego fund! And if they weren’t hurt and briken they certainly felt a dose by the time they got out.

    From being love bombed to shunned by your family its a bumpy ride!

  7. zeibart,
    The bottom line is that a pyramid church structure will always produce serious abuse at worst, or low (no) quality spiritual fruit at best.

    So you’d say that Episcopalian, Catholic, Lutheran and Calvinist churches are always abusive, then?

    I’m always amazed at these sweeping comments made by objectors which are so often disproven by fact.

    I’ve been around churches which were run in a definite liturgical, hierarchal, episcopalian way, which have been so fruitful and full of love you really feel you belong and can grow there.

    I’ve been around some presbytery run churches which are as hardline as any. There are abusive home-churches. There are legalistic Bible-focused churches, icluding Pentecostals, Reformed and Baptists.

    These are in the minority, however. Most churches, regardless of their government and systems, provided they serve God and His people, have enough of the love of God, and enough of a focus on Jesus for their members to grow in grace.

    In the end the methodology isn’t as important as the Christology. If Agapé is missing, no matter what the system used for governance and care, then there is a possibility of some kind of abuse.

  8. Steve, I love what you said above.

    But how does a church get back to that Agape love it used to have if the leaders have become abusive?

    DD, glad to have your contribution! I guess you know quite a few people in the same situation as yourself with respect to your former church. What mechanisms are in place in your former church to redeem or replace the current leaders?


  9. Well none what so ever from what I can tell. There is now no direct accountability whatsoever. The leaders maintain that they are anointed etc. There are loose connections with Hillsong ALC etc but no mechanisms in place safeguarding the “flock” I continue to see a lot of people very hurt and confused. Those who leave are accused of being deceivers and regularly “shunned”

  10. That’s very disappointing …

    Has there, to your knowledge, been any example of anyone disagreeing with the leaders and not being labelled a deceiver?

    Even on something mundane, like the colour of the chairs?

  11. I would have thought they would get away with that!!! The way it has been put by leadership is that you are free to ask questions but those with questioning spirits will not be tolerated. Wherein lies a discernment issue, who has a questioning spirit? Well the answer is quite plain. Those who are not satisfied with the answers they are given.

    Deceivers usually ask deeper questions than chair colour, they probably question finances or even doctrine, they are liable to have lapsed in their tithe as well.

    The problem is if you do not come under the covering anointing of your leaders you are likely to start giving the devil free reign in your life!

  12. But for the record there was definitely a sense of “agape” when I initially joined many years previous but becoming obsessed with building a mega church, tithing, sins of the fathers, covering etc unfortunately took over.

  13. If you believe that God wants you to be prosperous (i.e. the transfer of wealth from the ungodly to the godly) then your personal wealth becomes a measure of your personal holiness.

    You will want to associate with similarly wealthy (holy) people. If you are in church leadership then you must also have large numbers of members. You must also have the church own large amounts of real estate to show how much holier your church is to the rest of the riff-raff.

    Your belief system, while still calling itself christian, has switched to mammon-ism. Love of God is replaced with Love of Money, which is the root of all kinds of Evil.

    Money is neutral, but the love of money can destroy people.

    I once heard a church pastor preaching a sermon about Ezekiel but managed to tell the congregation about how much stuff he’d collected … even getting an AGA oven for a good price. He then proceeded to tell everyone that if they “were poor, or sick all the time, don’t tell people that God has blessed you. The world doesn’t think so.”

    I got really angry. It was all I could do not to lose the plot and get all medieval on him.

    Anyone there with a long term illness would be condemned.

  14. Think I was at that one! And many similar.

    There is just no need for it.

    Its offensive and basically blasphemy.

    I can not believe that in the 21st century we still need to have this debate. Jesus was quite obviously skint?

    Unless we count the millions of shekels worth of Gold Frankincense and myrrh he was given at birth to aid his later ministry etc etc. At least that is what I have been told by people who believe in AGA blessings…..


  15. but then saying all that I’ve met some great people and while I may have some strong disagreements with different groups, churches and doctrine. I firmly believe that we all have rights to our own beliefs and need to respect each others. At least that is how I prefer to be treated, its only fair that I try to return to favour…

  16. Steve said:
    The bottom line is that a pyramid church structure will always produce serious abuse at worst, or low (no) quality spiritual fruit at best.

    So you’d say that Episcopalian, Catholic, Lutheran and Calvinist churches are always abusive, then?

    I’m always amazed at these sweeping comments made by objectors which are so often disproven by fact.”

    No I wouldn’t say that the denominations you listed are always abusive. Read the sentence again – I actually said they could be abusive, but more likely to exhibit poor quality spiritual fruit.

    I am always amazed at sweeping statements of support that use no facts at all.

  17. ”In the end the methodology isn’t as important as the Christology. If Agapé is missing, no matter what the system used for governance and care, then there is a possibility of some kind of abuse.

    Best thing I’ve see you write Steve.”

    This is not Steve at his best, to be honest Greg. It sounds all nice and schmaltzy, but lacks true scriptural insight. You see, Steve, if your Christology is scriptural, your ecclesiology (methodology) will then line up, and the false structures you so ardently support will crumble as easily as Jericho’s walls.

    To say ‘no matter what the system for governance and care’ displays how trapped your thinking is. There is only one ‘system’, not a cornucopia (that’s a cracker Zorro, isn’t it?) of choice. Jesus is the true head, as opposed to the multiple layers of men that we see in nearly every single church imitating agape to varying degrees of success.

  18. “[…] cornucopia (that’s a cracker Zorro, isn’t it?) ”

    Indeed is, Ziebart, indeed it is.

    Take care, though, not to make a habit of emulating my example – you have doubtless seen how my somewhat turgid, loquacious and circumlocutory manner of expression has proved so utterly disconcerting for a certain individual (who was, as a result, brought to the verge of incoherence by the ensuing apoplectic rages).

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