Spiritually Controlling Leadership

I wrote this piece several months ago, and have been sitting on it until now. It is with fear and trepidation that I share it, because I don’t want to inadvertently mislead anyone. I wrote it in response to something happening in my life, and I wasn’t sure if it was just a way of dealing with my situation, or if God would ever lead me to share it.

I had an awesome conversation with a friend recently, who had been a close confidant for many years. We had both been under controlling leadership. When I left the situation, I explained why, but she wasn’t ready to hear it. Our relationship drifted, and although we always loved each other deeply, we just couldn’t be close anymore.

Years later, she finally called me, and we got together over lunch. God had opened her eyes to some of the things that were happening, and she had finally left. She asked me to lunch to rekindle our friendship, and be open about how she had felt. It was so incredible to be reunited with my dear friend, and I realized that I needed to share. Especially after reading The Black Cloister, I needed to share – just in case there is one person who is dealing with this issue. One person who has come out of it, but still feels guilty for leaving, like I did.

I’ve been in controlling leadership situations twice now, and I just don’t think it’s a coincidence. I sought guidance from my wonderful pastors, and I’m convinced it wasn’t just in my mind. I want to share some of the things you may feel as God begins to open your eyes and lead you away, just so you know you’re not alone.

If you’ve ever been subject to a spiritually controlling authority, it can be one of the most hurtful experiences as a Christian. Many times, a leader may not intentionally move to control. For a variety of reasons, he/she may believe it is the right thing, even denying that it is happening, perhaps subconsciously. Many times a leader, who feels out-of-control in his/her personal life, will begin to make up for it by “over-spiritualizing” and complicating a true life in Christ.

As you begin to feel more and more uncomfortable, you may be told that you are being “divisive” and are not in “unity” with the group. All the while, told not to discuss it with others, so as not to gossip. You may be made to feel as if you are the only one feeling uncomfortable with the direction the leadership is taking.

A word about unity: While I am all for supporting and respecting authority, Jesus is the ultimate authority in the life of a Christian. Unity without Truth is useless. The Heaven’s Gate cult was in complete unity. Did they get picked up by the mothership? No.

A Controlling Leader:

* Presents their opinion as “God’s view,” and often rejects concerns because “I prayed about it” or “God spoke to me.” They may find a Scripture that could be construed as supporting them.

* Assigns outward requirements for “spiritual” growth and expresses disappointment when these criteria are not met. ie: Church attendance, “super-spiritual talk,” Bible Studies, spiritual gifts. (All wonderful things, but not necessary to “earn approval” from God or man) Matt 15:9 “And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

* Moves to a more exclusive group of insiders, who are perceived to be spiritually superior. Asks other leaders who have misgivings to step down for “personal differences” or vague issues of “sin in their life.”

* Consciously or unconsciously pushes away people who may disagree with decisions. Begins to share plans with only a select group of supporters.

* Puts more works-based programs in place to project their vision of the spiritual growth of others. Begins to believe that if others do not line up with this thinking, they are just turning away from what God wants. Acts 15:10-11 “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

* My former pastors used to use the word, “Divine Subtraction” to describe loss of members. It wasn’t his/her lack of Biblical leadership, it was the people’s refusal to follow “what God had shown the leader.” He/She promises the re-building of the group with more devoted followers. Periods of growth usually happen, but are usually followed by another split.

* Deflects the charge of being controlling by assigning duties to others, while keeping spiritual control. Thus, they can deny that they are trying to control. Duties will mostly go to those who are wholeheartedly on-board with the leader.

Most controlling leaders are very dynamic, popular, and very intuitive into others’ thoughts and motives.

So, the question then becomes: What to do if you are under a spiritually controlling leader?

I do not know the answer to that question. I think it is different in each situation, and has to be a subject of great prayer. First, of course, is the hardest part:

· Share your concerns in a respectful, but knowledgeable way. Search the whole scripture (in context) for God’s Truth, and share it.

· Cite specific examples, and stick with “I messages:” “When you…I feel….”

· Try to work with the leader and have mercy on him/her, because he/she truly may not realize the effect of his/her actions.

· Realize that you may be wrong, as well, and ask God to open your heart to that possibility.

· Leave the group only as a last resort, and in the case of your local church, DO NOT forsake going to church altogether. “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb 10:25) Find another place to get plugged in and serve.

This exposition is not meant as absolute advice or a substitute for sound spiritual guidance, but is based on my own experiences. I have seen it happen several times as mankind substitutes his “good” for God’s “best.” Please consult many knowledgeable people before making any judgments or decisions. And above all else, listen to God’s voice, through the Scripture, and His leading in your heart.

Anyway, what do you think? I know this is the longest post in history, but let’s make it longer by adding your comments.

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