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Spiritual authority or spiritual abuse?

“I didn’t grow up in the church at all and my very first experience of a mentor relationship was a youth pastor who wanted to be my spiritual father etc. I didn’t know what that meant, but sounded good to me… Long story short, I got burnt pretty bad by him, he said a lot of pretty hateful thi…
By Seth Barnes
“I didn’t grow up in the church at all and my very first experience of a mentor relationship was a youth pastor who wanted to be my spiritual father etc. I didn’t know what that meant, but sounded good to me… Long story short, I got burnt pretty bad by him, he said a lot of pretty hateful things to me in the end, and walked away from the relationship.” -Mike
Yesterday’s blog fostered some good dialogue. Raise the subject of spiritual authority and people immediately have flashbacks to a pastor or group leader that in some way abused their position in their church or ministry. Maybe they were controlling, maybe they “beat the sheep,” or maybe it was something worse and they can still feel the hurt when they think about it.
 
Kari summarized the undercurrent to this issue of spiritual authority with this comment: “I hear what you’re saying. My first reaction, as a 44 year old, is that I have seen authority in a church misused. So, I have developed a jaded sense of authority, because I’ve seen it used inappropriately.”
Another commenter, Kathy, asked the question about authority that a lot of people seem to have: “How do you address this subject in an age of a faulty church structure and for those who are called out of it?”
I was just at a World Race training camp. Over 200 20-somethings in attendance. And what’s remarkable is how many of them have suffered from some kind of abuse: sexual, emotional, and yes, spiritual abuse. 
 
The good news is that there is a clear standard – the Bible gives us a detailed description of what a person who wields spiritual authority should look like (see 1 Timothy 3). The bad news is that too many religious leaders use their position in illegitimate ways.
Rather than equipping “God’s people to do his work and build up the
church” (Eph. 4:11-12), they use their position for some kind of personal gain.
 
I have been victimized by what felt like spiritually abusive leaders who rather than helping me grow, used their power in ways that hurt badly. It happened three times and in each instance I went through a time of depression. And I drew the conclusion that it might be better to just not trust myself to people like that ever again.
 
Positional and religious authority has little to do with actual spiritual authority. Many of you reading this are stuck in your spiritual growth because of the illegitimate use of religious authority by someone in your past. And as a result, perhaps you’ve gotten tangled up just wondering who you can really trust in ministry. It stinks. And it’s normal for victims to wind up in spiritually dark places.
 
Frankly, I’ve got no easy answers except that it’s worth the struggle to find a way to trust again. The members of the body of Christ don’t get connected and don’t begin to operate in a coordinated way that moves toward unity unless we work at wielding spiritual authority correctly.
 
And I’ve learned this truth the hard way: You and I have been targeted for destruction by a personal evil. I needed to learn how to wield authority in combating those attacks. It’s made a huge difference in my life and I believe it will for you as well. A big part of discipleship involves training others in how to properly wield spiritual authority. Jesus did it with his disciples and asked that we do the same (Matthew 10:1).
It’s worth learning from one another if we can. It’s worth further discussion and prayer. If we’re kind of stuck because of our inability to fully trust those who wield positional authority, it may well impact our growth spiritually.

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