State of the Church part 6/conclusion: Spiritual Leaders and Humble Relationships

Part 1: Introduction, Love growing cold
Part 2: Are you tending your anchor?
Part 3: The numbers aren't good
Part 4: Carnal Carnival, & the greatest sin pastors commit
Part 5a: When carnality leads to spiritual abuse
Part 5b: Is your church spiritually abusive?

The Lord by His grace and of no merit of mine, saved me from the just punishment I'd deserved as a sinner. Then, He sent the Holy Spirit to dwell inside me, and to grow me in sanctification. He opened my mind to understanding the bible as I grow and study diligently, and He sent me a ministry. I have a mission field, and that mission field is to fellow Christians.

Why do Christians need such, you ask. Because we are told that many people who thought they were Christians on That Day will cry out to the Lord for entry into the Kingdom, falsely believing that their works had saved them. The Lord will refuse. (Matthew 7:22). Many more will fall away from the faith. (1 Timothy 4:1). Others will gain inheritance into the Kingdom but as barely escaping the flames. (1 Cor 3:15). Clearly, the latter times will be dangerous for Christians. This is because there will be false doctrines, false christs, false prophets, false teachers...(2 Peter 2, Mt 24:5, Mt 7:15, Acts 20:29...)

They will come from among us as well as from outside us! “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.” – Paul (Acts 20: 29-31). If Paul warned and cried for three years, day and night, it behooves us to examine ourselves and be wary of those who are seeking to come in to us and destroy the flock.

My biggest sorrow are fellow believers who refuse to accept that some inside the church match the description of the many, MANY verses warning us of the danger. They believe that just because any teacher, evangelist, missionary, pastor, elder, deacon or lay person attaches the word "Christian" in front of their name, that they are safe. The only barometer to testing the pasture for safe grazing is to constantly check it. Some will be worthwhile Christians, loving and humble, cultivating genuinely spiritual relationships inside their church. Some will be weighed in the balances and found wanting.

It is incumbent on all of us to be watchful of the things we are told to watch out for. The Holy Spirit graciously warned us by telling the bible's writers, and who are we to dismiss the warnings simply because they are inconvenient, or point to a favored teacher, pastor, evangelist? Can we do less than our forefathers, who, by their blood, lived the lives we read about in the Bible and died so the fruits of His tree may continue to be produced? Christian, employ your God-given discernment! These are dangerous times where we are warned that there will be falsity inside our faith.

There is no one person in the church that is higher than another. Jesus is the head. (Matthew 23:8-9) We all are part of a gracious body whose Head is Jesus Himself. Let us warmly love each other unreservedly, and in so doing unite around truth, ALL truth, even the uncomfortable truth. The entire point of our existence is to glorify Jesus by our words, our acts, our lives. We glorify Him by loving well, being mature, and by standing on His truth. My heart cries for purity from the pulpit, I long for good food from the Word. I yearn to worship in truth with my brethren. I fear that as the days pass the prophesies of apostasy, falsity, apathy, and love growing cold coming more nearer to fulfillment, these things are harder to do. But one reason they are harder to do is because many don't have the discernment to know they are in a hazardous situation. Therefore, here is more information for you about spiritual abuse, or authoritarianism, the most hazardous situation of all. I know that the flock will not be spared, because the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write that they will not be spared. But my hope is that with information, prayers, and tears, that YOU will be spared.

I am reprinting an entire article by Dr. Bob Kellemen by his permission. In his three pastoral ministries, Dr. Kellemen has equipped hundreds of people as biblical counselors and spiritual friends. He is founder of RPM Ministries, and Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition. In the essay, Dr. Kellemen instructs us from a biblical perspective on how leaders and pastors should react to disagreement and what the body should expect and look for in spiritual relationships. It asks the question if a person is a mature or an immature leader.  Here is Dr. Kellemen:

Spiritual Leaders and Humble Relationships, Part 1: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
"There’s been a great deal in the Christian blogosphere lately about “spiritually abusive pastors” and “pastors who bully.” It started me pondering, “How does the Apostle Paul respond to those who disagree with him and criticize him?”

"I understand that the correlation is not one-to-one: Paul was an apostle, not a pastor. Of course, that’s all the more reason to ponder the question. As pastors and ministry leaders today, we should respond exponentially more humbly than Paul did."

"I also understand the vital hermeneutic issue of the original intent of the author. In other words, I can’t “cherry pick” a topic or theme and force it onto Paul’s writings, if that theme was not a part of his original purpose. That would be like reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and seeking to apply it to the American political issues of 2011—it’s totally out of context. However, in the Corinthian epistles, Paul is clearly focused on “body life,” “apostolic authority,” “divisions in the church,” and the relationship between shepherds and sheep."

"As I begin to explore this question, I don’t have any “target” or “agenda” or “end game” I’m trying to prove. I’m simply opening 1 and 2 Corinthians and asking section by section, in a running commentary, “How is Paul relating and responding to the Corinthians who are complaining about him, and what can we apply to our lives today?”

"1. Paul identifies them as holy and sanctified (1:1-2)."

"Wow! How different Paul is from us. As spiritual leaders today, if we’re not careful we can succumb to the temptation to label those who disagree with us: “rebellious, ungodly, arrogant, disrespectful of authority…”

"Later Paul will “call a spade a spade”—he’s not afraid to confront sin. However, he doesn’t label people as sinners, but as saints. He’s both a good theologian and a godly leader."

"If we’re immature leaders, we are terrified of dissent. We use labels against others as a way to put them down, put them in their place, intimidate them, and shame them. “You questioned me. Obviously you are immature and arrogant.” “I see a pattern of anger and a critical spirit that you must repent of.” Such labels heap shame and condemnation on the recipient, rather than offering wise counsel and constructive feedback."

"Picture yourself called into a meeting with Paul after you’ve voice some concern or disagreement. You’re expecting to be put down and shut up. He begins, “First, I want you to know that you are sanctified and holy.”

"Instead of pulling rank, Paul ranks his critics above himself (compare Philippians 2:1-5). Instead of choosing condemning labels, Paul chooses grace conversations (compare Ephesians 4:15-16; 4:29; Colossians 4:3-6)."

"2. Paul gives thanks for them (1:3-4)."

"Another wow! Paul’s thanking the Corinthians—yeah, those dudes who could be rude and crude toward him.

When we act as spiritually abusive leaders, we use our spiritual position to control or dominate others. We override the feelings and opinions of others, without regard to what will result in the other person’s life, emotions, or spiritual well-being. Spiritual authority is used defensively and abused to bolster our position and needs, over and above the person who comes to us in need or with a concern."

"Not Paul. Your jaw is still on the table after Paul said you were a sanctified saint. Now Paul continues. “Second, I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ.” Paul bolsters others up in Christ instead of boasting about himself."

"3. Paul affirms them (1:5-9)."

"A hallmark of a spiritually abusive and immature leader is the need to demean those who disagree with us. We act defensively—building ourselves up by tearing others down."

"Not so Paul. Imagine the conversation continuing. You’ve been ripping Paul, and you’re sure he’s ready to rip you, to put you in your place, to put himself above you. Then he says, “Third, you’ve been enriched in Christ in every way—in all your speaking and knowledge. You don’t lack any spiritual gift. Christ will keep you strong and blameless to the end.”

"If we’re immature leaders, we’re terrified of that type of scenario because it tips the balance of the scales of power. We consider ourselves above questioning. We interpret our position of authority to mean that our thoughts are supreme and our perspective is totally unbiased. We then assume that any questions come from a wrong spirit, not simply from an honest attempt to have give-and-take dialogue. The worst is assumed of the other; the best is assumed of oneself."

"Paul is so confident of who he is in Christ that he affirms who others are in Christ—even those who criticize him! Paul assumes the best of the Corinthians—because he knows who they are in Christ. They are enriched, spiritually gifted, and called into fellowship with Jesus Christ."

"In Part 2, Dr. Kellemen looks ahead in the running commentary to 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 to ask, “Where does Paul find the power and perspective to respond in such a humble way?”

"Join the Conversation: What principles can we apply to our lives from Paul’s humble spiritual leadership?"
End Dr. Kellemen's article. He ends with a very good question. I think it is a wonderful expression and model of how a pastor or leader or elder, or anyone, really, should handle criticism or disagreement in a mature and biblical way.

Regarding this topic, Dr. Kellemen was interviewed by noted author and Christian book reviewer Tim Challies. In that Q&A, they discussed “symptoms” that we can identify that might point to a leader's heart moving toward spiritual abuse. These might include actions and attitudes such as:
  • Considering oneself above questioning.
  • Using our spiritual position to control or dominate another person.
  • Overriding the feelings and opinions of others.
  • Using spiritual authority defensively to bolster the position and “needs” of the leader.
  • Labeling the person who questions us as wrong and rebellious, thus subtly shifting the focus and blame. Questions are assumed to come from a wrong spirit, not simply from an honest attempt to have give-and-take dialogue. The worst is assumed of the other; the best is assumed of oneself.
  • Labels can include accusations such as, “You’re rebellious.” “You’re disrespectful.” “I detect a pattern of anger and a critical spirit.” “You are unspiritual and emotionally immature.” Such labels heap condemnation on the recipient, rather than offering wise counsel and constructive feedback.
  • Interpreting our spiritual authority to mean that my thoughts and opinions are supreme.
"Here are a couple of introductory comparisons of what spiritual abuse is not:"

"It is not abusive when a spiritual leader speaks the truth in love and confronts sin in a gracious way. It is abusive, however, if the leader seeks to defend himself, or shame or discredit others."

"It’s not abusive when a spiritual leader uses his best judgment and chooses to go against your opinion. It is abusive, however, if the leader uses his opposing view to devalue and demean others." -end interview-

Brother and sister, you are a precious child of the King.  "You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1Peter 2:5).

"You are valuable to the Kingdom, holy and sanctified. "Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks." (John 4:23).

I can imagine the hurt one would feel in working through whether to stay or leave an abusive church. The church is family to many people, and to still others, their entire actual family of several generations may attend along with you. Walking away would wound deeply, leaving behind friends, family, time, investment, ministries. This article may help you, "Walking away from spiritual abuse."

The greatest help in a time of trouble is our Lord Jesus Christ. He seeks ALL His sheep and brings them back, not losing even one. He will not forsake you. "For thus saith the Lord God; Behold I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day." (Ezekiel 34:10-12).

If you are in a church situation where you are contemplating leaving, or have been forced to leave, count it to the good for those who love Him that in effect, He is gathering you, His true sheep, to another place where it is safer from wolves. He will never abandon you! Rely on Him for comfort, for safety, for recovery. After all, "As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep." John 10:17


  1. Having been on the opposite side of this situation, and knowing 2 other pastors who have gone through even worse situations than we have, I read your articles warily and carefully. There are also spiritually abusive congregations. There is a reason so many pastors are hurting today and many end up seeking counseling, or should! There is a reason so many pastors completely leave the pulpit and sell insurance or real estate instead. I hope that you will follow this series up with a series on what a spiritually healthy congregation should be like, and what a spiritually abusive congregation looks like. You mention thinking of leaving a church where your friends and maybe family for several generations have attended. That type of church can be very dangerous for a pastor, especially if the elders/deacons/Sunday School teachers/most of the congregation are all related by blood, marriage, business or long-time friendships. Church discipline becomes a nightmare. Please do not put all the blame on the pastor and/or church leadership.

    But - I also have family who have come out of an authoritarian, spiritually abusive "Christian" church situation. Those kind of wounds usually take a long time to heal and can cause devastation in a family for many years. (Reminds me of the lyrics to an old song: "I've looked at life from both sides now".)

    See if you can find a copy of the book, "Well Intentioned Dragons", by Marshall Shelley. Someone gave us this book when we were in the first pastorate. We recognized several of those 'dragons' in our own congregation, laughed and cried over the stories this book contains because it was so *real* to our own situation. "Shelley's theme is found in one of his introductory remarks:
    "The rest of this book deals with various kinds of dragons, their tactics, and the ways to handle them. But from the beginning a premise stands clear: the goal in handling dragons is not to destroy them, not merely to disassociate, but to make them disciples. Even when that seems an unlikely prospect" (p. 34)."

  2. Hello Anonymous,

    I agree the sheep are also to blame. That is why I mentioned in part 1 that "Pretty soon, the parasitic nature of false teachings by the pastor and the carnal acceptance of them by the sheep meld us into this dance of death, and we happily all step onto the broad path." and also I said "You can't have a failing church if you have aware sheep, or a vigilant pastor who feeds them good food. One or the other, or both, must be missing." It takes two to tango.

    I also mentioned in part 5b Martin's 'sins of the sheep'.

    The theme running through this series is "love growing cold" as Jesus prophesied in Matthew. The reasons that happens is carnality, something I addressed in all the parts and focuses on pastors AND congregations- it applies to all believers. The first 4 parts really is a statement on congregations and why their love grows cold. You can't have a healthy congregation if 92% of the people attending don't hold to a biblical worldview (part 3 deals with this more specifically). Part 4 shows what happens when a pastor caters to the carnal people, and this leads to abuse. The series should be taken as a whole.

    A healthy church overall (not just congregation) is biblically literate, has a solid biblical world view and therefore loves as Christ loves.

    I agree there are sinning and abusive congregations. However the one in leadership always assumes the greater role in the consequences. And it is so in the religious context also: James 3:1 "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly."

  3. I have a question, I'm not baiting you, it is honestly asked. Is it biblical to leave a church? I see the NT examples and it seems in each case the hard work was done to correct the problem -- jumping ship doesn't seem to be what we are asked to do.

    I know we are told to test our leaders for false teaching. But do we leave a church with a false teacher in the pulpit or dig in and do whatever it takes to bring in another leader?

    Leaving the bad guy in the pulpit seems to be throwing the entire congregation under the bus. I'm curious what you think about this, but of course Scriptures would help :-)

    I've enjoyed reading your 6-part teaching here. Well done! Not an easy topic to tackle.

  4. Hi WingAbouts,

    Thank you for reading the series. I really appreciate it.

    You ask a really good question. It is a tough one to answer, especially in these times of apostasy and deception. Without exception, most solid, bible-based churches I visit online say that the number one question they get asked is "where can I find a good church?" People are crying for truth and having a hard time finding it.

    But on the other side of the coin, people are living in times of Gospel Lite, and many churches are fueled with entertainment. Lightweight Christians enter and leave churches at the drop of a hat and often for trivial or personal reasons of convenience.

    I think if you are even asking when it is right to leave a church you are on the right track. I take church membership seriously. It means I am committing to the people there, to their lives, and they are committing to me.

    But if there is untruth coming from the pulpit, and/or sin is rampant and unaddressed in the congregation, it is a problem. Stay and help? Or go and find truth?

    This essay from GotQuestions, answering your question, "When is it right to leave a church?" may be helpful.

    In my own case, I recently went through that. In January 2011 I became a bit troubled at something coming out of the pulpit. The first thing I did was pray, and wait. I wanted to make sure it was a Spirit-driven concern and not my own flesh. During that time, I watched, because the Spirit had raised my alert level. I said nothing.

    Then about six months later another concern raised up. I read the bible and followed the dictates for how to raise a concern. I raised it in private and after much research and prayer. My concern was not received in like manner. I was the recipient of ad hominem attack and the bible wasn't opened. Hmmm. My alert level raised again.

    I prayed more and I stayed put. I always find that if I am not sure what to do, if I keep doing the last thing the Spirit has guided me into, I am OK.

    Four months later a huge concern, a different one, now raised up. I followed again the dictates of the bible with how to raise a concern. Through this process I prayed a lot and I read the bible even a lot more than usual.

    Through the process of raising this second concern, it was like a can of worms opening. Not only was the concern rejected in unbiblical manner in a harsh personal attack, I discovered that in their vitriol some at the top levels were weak on the foundational doctrines of our faith (John 14:6 and Matthew 22:37-40). I was shocked. 2 Peter 2:1 applied here, false doctrines secretly brought in...

    At that point, I left. I could not stay where the basics were slowly but obviously being set aside. Staying would have caused more controversy than leaving. This essay by John MacArthur, "Turning away from false teachers" may help here. Lots of scripture in it, too.

    Sometimes staying allows you to live the truth and others follow your example. Sometimes going allows us to live the truth and that also makes the most Godly impression. It all goes back to what the first line in the GotQuestions essay says, "Perhaps the best way to *discern* whether one has grounds to leave a church is to go back to the basics"

    It's about discernment, and that means being led by the Spirit and not by the flesh. If you pray, stay close to Jesus in the word, and plea for guidance, you will receive it. Though my process took a year, when it was time to go, it was extremely clear that it was the right thing to do.

    God bless you.

  5. Thank you so much for the thought put into this response. I will be reading those links you've given me here. As for my situation, I'm doing something difficult, and you're right, it drives you into the Word and into prayer. I think if the road were easier I wouldn't be growing so much closer to the Lord, so perhaps I'm right where I should be! Thank you again for your help.

  6. Wow, God bless You for the article.


Post a Comment