Jesus defined the elements of volunteerism in Mark 10:42-43 and Matthew 23:8. There is only one Master, the rest of us are servants of whom the least will be the greatest. Problem is, when it comes to highly visible ministries such as the church’s web page, parties involved tend to forget that Christ is the Master, and being the least does not mean being a door mat to bullies and blow-hards.
It’s been almost 12 years since I involved myself in any study of spiritual abuse. No need to since I was helped out the door of a church suffering said ailment in the form of pastoral worship. Here’s the short story:
- A pastor of 39 years gets the heave-ho by the deacons, and is soon replaced with a new, charismatic personality guy pastor arrives
- I teach a Sunday school class where I generically warn the 10th graders to test everything, including a pastoral message
- I get a note on New Year’s Eve telling me I’m no longer a teacher, a week later followed-up by a ‘lay staff’ member, also a Secret Service agent by day, who explains to me that I’m not qualified as I insist my students bring their Bibles to Bible study (he, NOT noting that I gave free Bibles at my own expense to those who didn’t own one &/or were still equipped with a ‘kids’ version).
- I’m told I need to change my attitude. Others are similarly given the boot for equally bogus reasons.
- Later it comes out the pastor has a past in the form of an SEC investigation and a personal bankruptcy.
- Pastor gets up in pulpit and divides church with “those who are with me come forward and show your support” … pastor of singles ministry takes note/names of those who don’t go forward.
- Five years later, the Washington Post reports said pastor resigns, something about a very, very large sum of money missing due to a tuition scandal/scheme involved with the church’s Christian school.
- Going back in hopes to see if thing can be healed, I’m excoriated along with others as being the cause for the pastor’s demise.
So when I read a comment regarding volunteerism being an issue of authority – understand that while I agree one must have a servant’s heart – on the other hand one must be careful of church and charity organizations that exhibit some of the following qualities based on Jeff Van Vonderen’s book, ‘Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse:’
- Out-loud shaming
- basically belittling born out of “something is wrong with you” if you don’t step into line with your attitude.
- Focus on Performance
- how important you are is based upon earning favor w/those in charge, rather than by administering God’s Grace
- relationships and behaviors are manipulated by very powerful unspoken rules that facilitate shaming messages
- focus on performance is facilitated by impossible-to-please judges who distort the image of God to get their goals
- Preoccupation with Fault and Blame
- responsibility and accountability are not the issues here: Fault and blame are the issues. The shame-based system wants a confession in order to know whom to shame.
- Obscured Reality
- if you’re thinking critical about those in authority – even if it is based on truth, then something is wrong with you, you need to change your attitude bub; this starts by ignoring and/or obscuring the actual truth.
- Unbalanced Interrelatedness
- rules take the place of people that feeds upon one’s fears and need for structure in the form of placing the burden of all problems on your shoulders, making you feel selfish and guilty for having needs, not submitting entirely to pastoral authority and/or noting that anything is wrong.
Note – I’m not asserting that said commenter implied any of the above, but rather their comment jogged my mind into putting the topic of volunteerism and spiritual abuse together. A topic which I could write and speak about for hours, but for the sake of brevity – there are three simple solutions to overcoming spiritual abuse masquerading as volunteerism:
- personal boundaries
- technical specifications
One need only read about Christ’s interaction with the authority figures of His time to see how ancient the problem of Spiritual Abuse is – and how a single Master, servant-hearted Body focused on loving one another by Grace will get around said problems;
I might start with Matthew 23, where Christ defines some serious boundaries so the volunteering of your time and technical talents isn’t turned into an opportunity to shame and guilt you into adding animated gifs, auto-loading audio, and a huge image worshiping the pastors proboscis on the front page.
I’d then do some reading on how to structure a software design description (SDD); the IEEE 1016-1998 has always been my favorite. Having such a formalized process – and an established timeline – will further keep glory seekers and self-appointed ‘experts’ in check, while protecting you from enslavement to never-ending feature creep.
I’d also then consider reading my post entitled “Mr. Zeldman meet Mike Boyink, one of â€˜The New Samaritansâ€™” – and realizing then the need to structure your relationship with your church as you would with any web project and client; even if it means running it like a business. Trust me, the alternative only provides the evil-one with opportunity to ruin your walk, and divide your church.
There’s more on the topic, much more on this topic that can be found at Watchman.org – starting here:
- Profile: Spiritual Abuse defined
- Beating the Sheep by David Henke
- Watchman.org – Elements of Spiritual Abuse
Some other useful URLs on this topic as well:
- Spiritual Counterfeits Project – Is Your Church Free from Cultic Tendencies
- Spiritual Abuse Recovery Center – Spiritual Abuse Defined
- A Pastor’s Authority – Ray C. Stedman
- Patrick Zukeran of Probe Ministries – Abusive Churches
- Warning Signs of Spiritual Abuse, Part One (of 3) – Mike Fehlauer & CBN
- How to Tell if a Ministry is Cultic – Brevia.com
- Hendrik H. Hanegraaff – The Untouchables: Are “God’s Anointed” Beyond Criticism?
Again, let me make it clear that I do not interpret last night’s comment was from the spiritual abuse camp, I don’t interpret it that way. It just merely made me think about the topic of where a good servant attitude ends and where spiritual abuse begins; and how perhaps some good old fashioned technical specifications might help avoid the whole mess.
Yes, please feel free to discuss this topic freely here – disagreement in love is always welcome here!