The following is some helpful advice from my friend Steve Crosby. Steve has written and spoken extensively on issues of church leadership and abuse. The following are some words to help Christian leaders and pastors understand their unique assignment in the body of Christ.
Equipper’s Survival Guide (By Steve Crosby)
Spiritual abuse is like finding a coin in your backyard. There are two sides of the coin, and they are both dirty.
I certainly have no time for ambitious, authority-addled manipulators who use and abuse the ekklesia (church) in the name of God to satisfy their own need for greatness: pimping the saints for their own needs, milking them of their time, talent, and treasure for ego-validating dreams and plans.
Yet there are also thousands of humble, self-sacrificing, and faithful men and women who tirelessly serve the ekklesia in love, who struggle to keep their sanity as they face the onslaughts of the adversary, their own brokenness, and alas, miserable treatment by the ones they serve: being pimped for others’ needs and being told it is “serving the body.” Sacrifice, yes. Pimping, no.
Just as the landscape is littered with human carnage from cult-like authoritarian abuse, so it is also littered with the corpses of honorable people who have had the life and virtue drained out of them by “vampire-Christians.” Using the term “Christian” charitably and loosely, these carnal, self-centered, and lazy people think nothing of sucking a person’s life and virtue for hours, weeks, months, and years, and give very little or nothing in return: no support emotionally, psychologically, practically, or financially.
Your degree of indignation on the issue of spiritual abuse is likely related to which side of the dirty coin you have experienced. I have experienced both.
The kingdom of God is based on gift-exchange in relationship: my gift to serve you, your gift to serve me. One-way gift expression is always inappropriate. If an equipper (Eph. 4:11-13) presumes upon or demands my virtue from a sense of entitlement to feed his ego and other needs, that is not mutual gift exchange. It’s illegitimate. If there is no chance for me to even express my gift because the equipper’s is so dominant, that is also illegitimate.
However, it is also true that if an equipper shares with me his/her virtue, imparts to me spiritual riches through the gift of Christ in him/her, there is a responsibility incumbent upon me to share with that person, to sow in reciprocity my gifts and resources (1 Cor. 9:6-15). Sitting passively in meetings for years and decades, doing nothing but listening to someone, contributing nothing in substance or service to the reality of mutual gift exchange between you and the equipper, is also abuse. This includes, but is not limited to, financial resources.
Folks, this is all a part of basic “one-anothering” in a culture of mutuality, relationship, love, and trust. If these qualities are absent, well, then forget everything I am saying. Nothing will work. You can’t administrate, legislate, and mandate the fruit of love . . . regardless of the brilliance of our expository preaching and the excellence of our system administration. Love is all there is.
Much of our pain is self-inflicted because of the ungodly beliefs and practices we have embraced, consciously or otherwise. If we are not operating on His grid so to speak, we cannot expect His sustaining power. If we want to be well, and more fruitful, we need to begin by making sure we are operating on God’s grid of values. If you are called to serve the Bride of Christ in an equipping capacity, I would like to offer here an “Equipper’s Survival Guide.” Perhaps these tips will help you keep your joy, your love, and your perseverance in a noble, and difficult calling.
If you have unhealed or unresolved identity issues, or if you’re looking for ego validation by being a “pastor” or “leader,” you’re shopping in the wrong aisle of life. If you need to “do ministry” in order to feel good or significant about yourself, or to be needed by others, you’re sailing on self-destructive seas.
“Ministry” attracts emotionally unwell people like buzzards to road kill. Many of your problems, pains, and issues are likely rooted in your lack of sonship with the Father. If just being His son is not enough for you to feel at peace and at place in the universe, apart from whether you ever have had, or will have, another day of “ministry expression” in your life, you are in a very unhealthy state.
Unfortunately, there are too many people who are too willing to prop you up by offering you honor, authority, privilege, power, control, status, finances, flattery, and other incentives so that you never have to face your own constitutional brokenness. It is an unholy agreement that you may or may not have consciously entered into. I beseech you in the name of the Lord: be honest with yourself and get help.
Western ideals of success are demonic and do not belong in the kingdom in any expression. We are bombarded in Christian media, seminaries, and Bible schools with demonic images of what “ministerial success” looks like. Driven by our own need for greatness, we voluntarily sign up for the gerbil wheel of more, more, more, more, more, more, more, and more—more money, more people, better sound system, “hotter” praise and worship, a better building, nicer carpet, and so forth. Lies, lies, lies, lies, and more lies. If you choose to believe in, and live in lies, well, your pain is of your own making. If you birth that ministry monster, that monster will demand to be fed, and the diet will be you: your soul, your self-respect, and often times, your marriage and your children.
We need to settle it, once and for all, that the essence of “ministry,” or “fathering” or “mentoring” or “apostolic life,” whatever your particular communion calls it, is summed up marvelously by Paul:
And I will very gladly, spend, and be spent by you though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved. – 2 Corinthians 12:15
Welcome to kingdom camp boys and girls. Settle it, once and for all. If you are in any equipping capacity and you have any expectation of outcome other than giving your life away, for free if need be, and to be despised for it, you have made a wrong choice.
If you cannot embrace this reality, you should not be engaged in equipping ministries. It is one thing to spend your self for others. That’s volitional. You hold the key to the gate of your life. Being spent by others is giving up the key. And to do it most gladly, and to be loved the less for it? Well, that is a TALL order. But it is reality.
I was recently in a meeting with 3-4 friends, and 2-3 new acquaintances. We had a dynamic time of life and love together. One of the new acquaintances said, “I have experienced more life and love in this one day with you all, than the previous 25 years of affiliation in my denomination.” Bill Bright documents the following:
- Ninety percent of pastors said their seminary or Bible school training did only a fair to poor job of preparing them for ministry.
- Fifty percent are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way to make a living.
- Seventy percent of pastors do not have a close friend, confidant, or mentor.
- Eighty percent of adult children of pastors surveyed have had to seek professional help for depression.
Loneliness is pervasive. I have been in some “leadership training seminars” where we were taught not to open ourselves up to people because if we did, they will lose respect for us as leaders—painful . . . doctrine of demons.
If you are to survive mentally, emotionally, and spiritually you must make finding a real FAMILY of loving relationships (notice I did not say organic church, denomination, organization, or home group) an urgent, top, life-priority. Do whatever you have to do. Change whatever you have to change. Risk whatever you have to risk. But, in the name of our Father, please, do it. Search for family like a man dying of thirst in the Sahara. I beseech you in the name of the Lord.
The phrase “servant-leader” is thrown around quite a bit. It has been my experience that in practical expression, it almost always degenerates into too much leader and too little servant. That is the natural gravitation of our fallen nature. We are servants one to another . . . period. No need for another descriptive. It just muddies things.
The entire image in an American/Western Church of what a “pastor” is and does is utter mythology. The expectations that the overall culture, our church culture, and people demand are all biblically illegitimate. I can’t unpack all the specifics here, but let me say it shortly. You’re not good at everything. So quit doing it! So what if something doesn’t “get done?” If you have been “leading” or “pastoring” for five to ten years, and you’re still doing everything, what does that say about your equipping ministry? You are supposed to be equipping others, not just expressing your gift. The need to be needed is one of the biggest sources of self-inflicted pain. Ah, but the paycheck . . . ah . . . the paycheck. Well, that is a conversation for another day
Jesus said that we are to seek the kingdom and that He would build his ekklesia. If you are trying to “build the church,” you need to stop. Jesus said He would do that. Ah, but your sense of value and the esteem of your peers pull so hard. Yes, they do. If you want to have any hope of mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness you need to stop trying to “build the ministry.” Just love and serve people . . . period.
Whether or not they ever associate with you is completely irrelevant to seeing Jesus’ kingdom expand in the earth. They may or may not. That is not your call. You are not called to be a “soul-collector.” You are called to help people discover who they are in Christ, equip them for love and works of service, and release them into whatever arena of life the Lord of the Harvest would have.
-Steve Crosby is an author and former pastor. He lives and ministers in a community of believers in the greater Charlotte, NC area. His materials are available at www.stevecrosby.com and you can read his blog at www.swordofthekingdom.com.