“Spiritually abusive churches don’t set out to be abusive. They set out to be amazing.”
K.J. Ramsey, @kjramseywrites, 10/15/20
I read the above tweet and I was gobsmacked (I love that word but don’t get to use it often). I have been engaging with bad behavior (domineering, manipulative, and arrogance behavior) amidst the leadership of Christian organizations for over 25 years and have never seen the problem stated so simply.
Of course, not every problem has at its root the desire to be great, but this covers a lot of ground! And it shouldn’t surprise any of us. Instead of asking God what part se are to play in the kingdom… whether large or small… instead we desire to carve out a large place for ourselves regardless of God’s design. This was exactly the desire… and sin… of Adam of Eve. Being like God was not enough. They wanted to be gods.
Many churches and church leaders start out with noble intentions: serve the Lord, proclaim the message of God’s love and mercy, help hurting people. Too often, as a church grows and develops infrastructure, leaders feel the need to keep the machine going. They often feel the temptation as well to have a greater and greater influence. Success has its own risks. With that feeling of “success” comes a desire for more of it. The message of grace that is proclaimed from the pulpit is often subverted with the inner workings of the church. Results of ministry programs replace the fruit of the Spirit as the main aspiration of management.
Lead pastors feel pressure for results and pass this pressure on to staff. Is it any wonder we see so many clergy and ministry staff struggle with alcohol or other substance abuse?
Search committees feel pressure to find pastors who get results. Is it any wonder that narcissistic personalities find their way to the top position in so many churches?
And, voila! We have a toxic system that abuses staff, lay leaders and parishioners! Because we want to be amazing!
We would all do well to ponder in our hearts and minds the admonition from Proverbs 16 (a chapter dense with wisdom for the ambitious):
8 Better is a little with righteousness
than great revenues with injustice.
Better is a little with doing right than so called ‘success’ with hurting and abusing people.
Broadly speaking, the church in America has not embraced this wisdom. We would rather be “amazing” than Christ-like.