Friday, March 29, 2024

New Book: Attentive Church Leadership


In my communication business, I enjoy coming alongside of other talented people, helping them market their product or service, writing their book or speech, or editing their project or proposal.

In other words, I help them make their words sing!!

I had the privilege of collaborating with my friends Kevin Ford and Jim Singleton on their new book, Attentive Church Leadership: Listening and Leading in a World We've Never Known.

The world has changed. The changes around us present daunting challenges to the church, and we minister in places we have never been in before. But there are no one-size-fits-all solutions because every church needs to attend to its specific situation and calling. We need to listen for not only what to do but also what not to do. In a world screaming in a thousand directions for our focus, it’s essential for us to become attentive to God, our congregation, and our community.


Kevin Ford and Jim Singleton call for attentive churches with attentive leaders who can discern cultural and organizational change and pivot accordingly. Healthy transformation starts with a posture of attention. We need to see what God is already doing in our midst: in our own soul, in our people, and in the communities and culture around us. Chapters explore key questions that attentive leaders ask and offer case studies of attentive churches that have navigated the issues and transitions facing them. As we practice habits of attention, God leads us through the highs and lows of change into the exciting adventure of being on mission with him.

Click here to learn more about the book. You can also sign up for our bonus Leadership Toolkit.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Don't Touch God's Anointed?

The pastor told my mother, "Marian, I am the only person in this church God speaks to." He taught people that he was God's anointed leader in the congregation. Their responsibility was to obey him - even if he was wrong. 

When I studied the concept of spiritual abuse for my doctoral research, I discovered one often misused Scripture passage in abusive, manipulative settings is the Old Testament verse to not touch God’s anointed. 

Many times this verse has been quoted to keep a toxic leader from accountability. This is a misuse of Scripture, taken out of context: "Do not touch my anointed ones" (1 Chronicles 16:22). They think, "I am a man of God who proclaims His truths, so you have no right to correct me. I'm above all that. I am the one who corrects you." The fact is we all need reproof. Such "wounds are trustworthy," says Solomon. 

The New Testament teaches that every Christian has an anointing available to them, as opposed to the Old Testament, when an anointing was reserved for select leaders over the people - like priests, kings, and prophets. John wrote, "But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth" (1 John 2:20 NIV).

Paul described the reality a different way in the book of 1 Corinthians: "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him" (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NIV). Today, in the New Covenant, the anointing, the indwelling of God, the presence of God us invested into every individual believer as well as the people of God collectively.

We should be careful how we treat every child of God - not just a select few.

Ken Boa writes how God’s people got into trouble in the Old Testament when they “trusted in human power and ingenuity rather than relying on the One who had gotten them this far in the first place. They found out the hard way what happens when you trust a person to accomplish what only God can do.”

Don't be deceived or manipulated to follow or protect a leader displaying punitive behavior in the name of "not touching God's anointed." B
ook after book on spiritual abuse say that line is used repeatedly in unhealthy situations to “protect” the abusive leader. 

Image used courtesy of Pexels

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Characteristics of Persons Mistreated by Churches

Spiritual abuse results in deep wounds occurring in the lives of people. The hardest struggle of those who have been spiritually abused may be dealing with the realization that they have experienced spiritual molestation. They will feel as if they have been raped, leaving their minds and spirits stripped of self-respect and filled with a sense of distrust in God and organized religion. A Christian who has been an active disciple and church member for decades may struggle with feeling betrayed by the Lord and wanting to not go to a church again. They may wish to distance themselves for a season or for the rest of their lives from Christianity. Other areas in which victims of spiritual abuse struggle are as follows: a distorted image of God, a distorted image of self, a hard time accepting grace, problems with personal boundaries, difficulty with personal responsibility, a lack of living skills, a hard time admitt
ing abuse, a hard time trusting people, or a preoccupation with spiritual performance.

Various authors offer different characteristics of people who have been abused spiritually. In this research, six correlating qualities emerge of people who endure this abuse: a loss of trust, shame and guilt, gripping fear, problems with personal boundaries, distorted images of God, self, and others, and the facing of a break-through barrier.

First, victims of spiritual abuse experience a distorted image of God, the Bible, self, and others. Because of this distortion, spiritual abuse is “ruinous to the overall mental and spiritual health of the victims.” People view God as distant, a tyrant unconcerned by the harm that came into their lives. Spiritual abuse causes people to view God wrongly. Arterburn and Felton explain, When a defective pastor crops up, those who have placed ultimate faith in him or her (rather than in God) come to believe that God is defective. They attribute all the evil of that one individual to all people of faith. While this toxic leap is irrational, it is the reason many people turn away from God. But just because a particular individual lacks pure faith doesn’t mean that the object of faith is impure.

Because the Bible has often been misused to control them, they may have a fear or even abhorrence of continuing to study the Word of God. They view themselves as failures, as unworthy of love and acceptance, and as fools. They view other people with the characteristic lack of trust.

Victims of spiritual abuse experience this loss of trust often characterized by disillusionment. To be disillusioned is to be disenchanted or to lose the illusion one kept. Church members under a toxic leader often have an illusion they cling to that their pastor is a wonderful, godly man. Even when the warning signs of abuse arise, these people keep believing the illusion. When finally faced with the reality that their leader was abusive, they experience a tremendous deflation. Some never come to terms with the truth of the situation. Some spend a lifetime and never recover.

In an abusive system the leader subtly takes the place of God. The perversion of roles in the system creates an unhealthy dependence on the pastor. Because people place so much trust in the abusive pastor, when they finally realize he has manipulated them, an incredible loss of trust occurs. The persons feel extremely violated and used. Johnson and VanVonderen write, “Those who have been spiritually abused will have a hard time trusting a spiritual system again. This is extremely significant, because the essence of living as a Christian is a trust relationship with God, within God’s family.”

Third, victims of spiritual abuse experience guilt and shame. People feel great guilt if they were used as pawns by the abusive pastor. Co-conspirators and enablers who were tools to victimize, scapegoat, and silence outcasts will experience waves of guilt if they ever accept the reality that their leader was toxic. One author shares that one of the results of long-term spiritual abuse is shame. Shame makes one fell worthless, like something is wrong with them. One feels flawed and alienated. Shame is a wound felt on the inside. Shame will cause a person to withdraw from other believers who could help them. Like Adam and Eve’s hiding from God due to the shame of being naked, victims of spiritual abuse feel the need to hide from even healthy churches and spiritual leaders, sometimes even from God, because of the shame they feel. They are often deeply embarrassed that they allowed themselves to be deceived and abused. This pain is “massive and immobilizing.” Sandra Wilson explains the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt says, “I made a mistake.” Shame says, “I am a mistake.”

Fourth, victims of spiritual abuse experience gripping fear. In extreme cases, when the practice of cursing is used by authoritative leaders, victims experience incredible fear related to being cursed by the leadership if they oppose the leadership structure or leave the church. People fear their name being publicly maligned. But they also deal with the dysfunction of removing themselves from the umbrella of the toxic leader; while in the past they trusted and respected his judgments, now they have to teach themselves that his rejection of them does not actually reflect reality. What a difficult transition for many people. Some people will allow themselves to continue to be abused mainly because they cannot break free of the fear of going against that leader.

Fifth, victims of spiritual abuse experience problems with personal boundaries. A boundary is an invisible barrier that tells others where they stop and you start. Spiritual abusers disregard the boundaries of other people and institutions. Given enough time under an abusive pastor, a person will begin thinking that it is wrong to have personal boundaries. They will feel that they are being selfish if they do not let other people take advantage of them. This violation of boundaries could take the form of being expected to share too much personal information about self and others, to give money by coercion or manipulation, to give approval to plans without knowing enough facts, or to blindly and without question support a pastor’s decisions. People who leave a situation of spiritual abuse have to learn again to put up appropriate personal boundaries.

And sixth, victims of spiritual abuse must experience a break-through barrier in order to move forward.
This barrier describes the point when they are confronted with the truth that the system is abusive and they must decide to leave the abusive church. An authoritarian pastor will perpetuate the myth that there is never a legitimate reason to leave that church. Those who do leave do so without his blessing. Mike Fehlauer shares pointedly,

If you find yourself needing to leave an abusive and controlling church, you
need to realize that many times it will bring attacks against your character.
If you discover that you are in an abusive or unhealthy church and must make
the decision to leave, it will be one of the most difficult challenges you will
ever face. How you leave will determine and affect the condition of your heart.

When someone decides that the best decision for their well-being is to leave an abusive church, they must break through the barrier in spite of the risks. They will be attacked. They will be maligned by others in public and in private. They will lose friends. They will lose their church. They will experience a death, leaving one season of life for another. They will experience emotions and hurts similar to that of a divorce. But they must break through the barrier in order to move forward toward healing.

As victims recognize their break-through barrier, they come to the realization that to stay and support the church and pastor means becoming enablers of a toxic system. A pastor can be dysfunctional and an entire system can become dysfunctional. One unfortunate result of abusive leadership is that a church that has basically been healthy in the past, after hiring a pastor with abusive tendencies, will gradually move toward becoming dysfunctional, unhealthy, and a system that enables abuse unless the pastor is dealt with and removed. As the church begins to assist or enable the abusive pastor, victims may realize that their continued presence will actually feed the system, not stop it. 

If the pastor has already positioned certain people to have power, if the church is characterized by a consistent misuse of that power, if there is closed, secretive communication among a few, if truth is regularly distorted, and if a spirit of division and paranoia overcomes the church, then the system, though once healthy, has become abusive. Not only is the pastor abusive, but the church as a system has become abusive. Therefore, not only does the pastor need to change, but the “new” church must change. Even as individuals need to repent, or change, so the church system must go through repentance, or serious changing, if she is to regain health. However, it is highly unlikely that a system that is enabling abuse will quickly recognize and admit their faults and change. 

It will often take much time and much carnage for real repentance of a system to occur – if ever. The victim stuck in this system realizes that for him to continue to support the church in attendance, service, and money is to enable an unhealthy, dysfunctional one. To stay in the church but not support the church financially and with their service is not healthy for anyone. To remain quiet while a pastor and church system manipulate and abuse people is unethical and unhealthy. So, the victim comes to the realization that in most cases he must prepare to leave the abusive church.

Image courtesy of Pexels

Sunday, March 10, 2024

The Unrealistic State of the Union Address

Jody Hice, President of the Family Research Council’s Action group, offered a good response to the State of the Union . . .

President Biden's State of the Union (SOTU) address last night desperately attempted to convince the American people that our country is healthy and moving in the right direction. But reality tells another story, and political spin cannot eradicate the truth facing our nation. Nonetheless, the President charged forward, much to the agony of informed listeners.

Like a lecturer who knows his talking points are laden with feeble opinions, Biden's only choice was to "yell loud" in an unimpressive attempt to convince people that his policies are good for America. And "yell" he did, virtually the entire speech. Although his Democratic colleagues cheered him on, I do not believe he achieved his desired outcome. He neither fooled the American people nor overcame the torrents of truth that contradict his frail assertions.

That said, the speech highlighted a frightful certainty: both President Biden and his allies seem to completely believe the myths and deceptive mantra. To them (America's radical Left), this speech was not simply a rehearsed set of political talking-points. It represented their agenda.

So, what were some of his major points we need to take note of?

  • Requesting more financial aid for Ukraine
    It was strange that President Biden chose to begin his speech with an appeal for more financial aid to Ukraine. Such a strategy begs the question, why would a president who is giving a State of the Union Address, required by our Constitution as an update regarding the condition of our country, begin with a call to support another nation? One would think that America would be first on the president's mind. It definitely felt as though he was more concerned about Ukraine's national security than he was about ours.
  • Calling to expand abortion
    Another disturbing issue that dominated President Biden's speech was a call for expanding abortion and the culture of death for babies, all in the name of "reproductive rights." In fact, he and the Democrats on the House Floor spent a heartbreaking amount of time cheering and celebrating the "right" to kill innocent unborn babies. It was painful to behold.
  • Passing blame regarding the border crisis
    When he finally addressed our open borders, President Biden essentially blamed Republicans for not signing a bill he supports, which would actually do little more than provide faster processing of illegal immigrants rather than securing the border and stopping the chaos. It certainly appeared that he is not serious about stopping the flow of illegal immigrants into our country. Unquestionably, because of this reckless policy, nearly every state and community has now become a "border state" and is suffering the consequences.
  • Walking both sides of the fence when it comes to Israel
    When mentioning Israel, President Biden tried to walk both sides of the fence. He expressed support for Israel's right to defend herself while at the same time essentially pressuring them to bend to some of the tactics of Hamas. Hamas' attack on Israel was detestable, and it now uses civilians as shields in the ongoing conflict. Biden also revealed that as Commander in Chief, he is ordering U.S. troops to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza. Undoubtedly, that will be a very complicated mission and likely escalate tensions in the region.

Many other issues were discussed, ranging from the economy to gender ideology to the Second Amendment to a call to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act (which would essentially federalize elections). But on the other side of the coin, it is interesting to note the issues that were not dealt with like the botched Afghanistan withdrawal, illegal criminals or terrorists who have entered our country, the weaponized government, etc.

But truth is hard to refute, and President Biden's depiction of America is far from the reality average citizens experience daily. In fact, most people I talk with believe America is rapidly declining. Their concerns are deep and varied.

They are alarmed about:

  • The open borders that are allowing terrorists, criminals, and others to enter our country unchecked. Crime is out of control in many cities, and an open border only exacerbates the problem.
  • The devaluing of their hard-earned money as inflation steadily increases the cost of living and the national debt continues to soar.
  • The weaponization of the federal government against Christians, conservatives, and political opponents.
  • Parental rights being replaced by government guardians and education degenerating into indoctrination by promotion of harmful theories such as CRT, DEI, and transgender ideology that are destroying children's lives.
  • The world being on fire with unrestrained tyrants. Meanwhile, our current administration exhibits no significant leadership but rather continues focusing on things like chemical abortion drugs, woke policies, and climate change.

The list goes on and on.

Again, no amount of political spin can change the facts.

But make no mistake: the need to address these problems facing America is the driving force behind our efforts at FRC Action. If there has ever been a time for us to unite in prayer and action, the time is now! This 2024 election cycle will determine the future of our nation, and we need your partnership and support in order to continue shining the light of truth as we pursue the right path forward.

President Biden says this upcoming election is about "protecting our democracy." But like many of you, I believe his policies and the current trajectory this administration is leading America on is, in fact, the greatest threat to our republic.

I urge you to pray. I urge you to take a stand. And I urge you to partner with us. Your generous donation will enable us to stand in the gap. Together, with God's help, we can move the moral, spiritual, and political needle into greater conformity with the biblical principles upon which this nation was founded.

FRC Action is heavily involved in this upcoming election. Among a host of activities, we are attempting to distribute 14 million voter guides, register new voters, identify and train biblically informed leaders to step into the arena, and help them cross the finish line victoriously.

Jody Hice

President, Family Research Council Action

Picture courtesy of Pixabay