Who’s Looking out for You?

I’ve recently been asked why it has taken me this long to share openly about the spiritual abuse that Barry and I endured years ago.  Simply said…we were still under the impression that we were to cover the leaders that abused us and misused their authority in our life.  For us to speak up and tell the truth would also mean that we would implicate people we dearly loved and respected.

While we were under their leadership, we did bring up numerous concerns only to have them shrugged off or dismissed.  We often felt misunderstood and frustrated as a result.  We were taught to trust, obey and that we could freely ask questions or appeal to our leaders.  However, whenever we tried to appeal or bring up concerns, we would leave each meeting repenting for not trusting, for not seeing the big picture…for being selfish.

This was so hard to handle and even harder to wrap our minds around.  It caused a great amount of confusion and pain.  We so badly wanted to be in God’s will and be faithful to the church and the pastors that we respected and loved.  But even with the purest of intentions we ended up doing more harm than good.  We enabled an abusive group of pastors…we allowed them to hurt us and many others.

So, I ask you…who’s covering whom and when it comes down to it…is anyone really looking out for you?  Check out this article…it may change your life.

Are you covering for a spiritually abusive pastor?

17 thoughts on “Who’s Looking out for You?

  1. Jana,
    I have been thinking about this a lot more over the last few days. I think there are two keys when it comes to authority and submission for me as a follower.

    1) I submit and obey because I love and respect both God and my leaders, not because I am told to.
    2) Changing my behavior to comply is behavior modification. It isn’t responding in faith or love and respect. When I am living with behavior modification I am actually tyring to contorl things instead of trusting the Lord to, in fact I am trying to do it for the Lord instead of letting him change my heart.

    I also was thinking about “we would leave each meeting repenting for not trusting, for not seeing the big picture…for being selfish.” Many authoritarian leaders ask people to repent to them and before them. Repentance as defined in scripture means turning to God and praying to him. We mess that up when we repent to man, especially if it is for an offense instead of for a sin.


    1. Sherie this is excellent insight and very helpful. Thank you for sharing this. I never thought about the fact that we were constantly led to repent to our pastors and leaders. And in turn, they taught us to “disciple” that way as well. It wasn’t a good meeting with a person unless they saw what we were pointing out in their lives and repented for their behavior. Now that I truly think about this…it makes me sick to my stomach.

  2. I have to chime in on the Watchman Nee comments 😉 Cultural context does not transmogrify scripture. Scripture clearly teaches that each man will give account to God for his actions, yet in his book Watchman Nee states that a believer should not worry about right or wrong. In his book Spiritual Authority on page 71 we read, “If God dares to entrust His authority to man, then we can dare to obey. Whether the one in authority is right or wrong does not concern us. The obedient one needs only to obey. The Lord will not hold us responsible for any mistaken obedience; rather He will hold the delegated authority responsible for his erroneous act.“ Another passage reads, “We should not be occupied with right or wrong, good or evil; rather should we know who is the authority above us” (page 23). This teaching controverts scripture and if taken literally is very dangerous. To even suggest that this teaching is acceptable in light of scripture is disturbing.

    1. Mike,

      C.S. Lewis says roughly the same exact thing. Paraphrasing: If one who is following the wrong ‘master’ his whole life but believes it is the right thing to do, as if he is serving the Lord, will be judged for the motives of his heart.

      People can take any number of words written down and misconstrue them (as we have seen in some of the blog comments and replies).

      As far as taking scripture literally. I would like to see some people take it literally (at least the stuff Jesus talked about).


      You are obviously upset about this book, or at least how it was administered to you. The way the book was recently handed to me was fine and I wasn’t afraid of what I was getting into. It’s a popular book and has many good teachings in it. I was not saying you were being ridiculous, only that to say (if anyone would say) that the book is a complete fallacy is a ridiculous statement. If you cannot say that, then you know there are some good things in it. I do not really want to argue about the book though, because I know that Scripture is important.

      I apologize for not making my other statement clearer about Christians reading the Bible then branching out. My point was, that if all they ever read was the Bible/Holy Infallible Word of God, then sometimes whenever they read Christian literature which looks/sounds like the Bible, they take it as absolute Infallible Word of God.

      For Mike/Jana,

      Mike’s post on being taken reading the Bible for 20 years then going to a Church service…I am wondering if it would look more like some of the Asian/African churches (and even some of what Nee alludes to) rather than our Protestant American churches. According to Scripture would some of these blogs be considered divisive/anti-christ ? These are not accusations just merely questions for dialogue.

    2. Interesting. This reminds me of something my old pastor taught. He taught that when we submit we follow unconditionally. It is not our place to ask questions. Being accountable to them means we do what we are directed to do. They will be responsible for their decisions, and we will be responsible for ours. Even if the person we are submitting to is abusive, he said that according to scripture it was our role to submit, and we needed to obey.

      You said this controverts scripture. How? There are passages about submission to teachers, masters, spouses, and owners that would seem to match with this, but it has never sat right with me. My view of God does not allow me to believe he wants us to submit to abuse, but I don’t have direct scriptural support for my convictions. It is just based on my overall view and understanding about the nature and character of God. This is part of why I am still trying to sort out the issue of spiritual covering.


  3. I’ve been reading through your site and am grateful for the clear expression and thoughtful phrasing of your experiences with this type of spiritual abuse. You show a keen understanding of the problem and – what is refreshing – try to understand what good motives the abusers might have, trying to understand them instead of just lambasting them.

    I haven’t known the Shepherding kind of abuse, fortunately. Simple authoritarianism was bad enough. Thanks for linking to the Provender site. Because I found myself among those covering for their pastors, I had to do a lot of soul searching after coming out of our abusive group. Common denominators I found while researching spiritual abuse, and the roller-coaster-like emotional whiplash of my own experience (running interference for our pastor earlier) led to the Are You Covering post

    I was very touched by Barry’s account, too. I was wondering if I might be able to reprint/excerpt and/or link to Barry’s post and yours on Provender. Thanks for this site. I know it will help many.

    1. Thank you very much! I found your site to be incredibly helpful and so eye-opening. At times I felt as though you were describing our exact experience. Please feel free to use my husbands account in any way that will help others and of course you can link whatever else you need as well.

      I appreciate the support and I look forward to working together to help stop this cycle of abuse.

      Many Thanks,

  4. A topic few are probably afraid to discuss. I have been on the raw end of this. It hurts, it hurts deep. Recovery is not quick. There is so much confusion. Much was learned but my eyes were only open to what was learned after I went through the stages of “grief” over it, which included anger on my end. This is a hurt I have only barely touched on with others, maybe I find it embarrassing to admit to? Maybe I am still protecting? It is a subject someone needs to open the door on so others can discover there is healing to be obtained through honest discussion. Knowing who one can talk to is of concern and question. Thank you for opening up about this Jana. You are a blessing to many.

  5. The issue of spiritual covering is one that I am still trying to sort out. It has definitely been abused in the Shepherding movement. Due to that some claim that it is false, a myth, deceitful, evil, etc. I see some scriptural support for it though, and have not been able to work through all my thoughts on that.

    The dilemma you describe of wanting to be in God’s will and be faithful but having others tell you things that cause confusion and pain is very painful. I have been there. Sometimes leaders are not right, they are human. Ultimately the only truth and direction comes from God, and strong healthy leaders should be able to back up all of their leadership and decisions with biblical support. When they can’t, there are reasons to be wary. Some of them are deceived also, and they have learned to give answers that support what the are saying. Abuse from leaders is wrong, but sometimes the people in the church can also be abusive, demanding, and controlling toward their leaders. That too is very wrong. Wow, so many thoughts and questions get stirred by this.

    1. I just had a comment the other day about the flip side of the coin and my heart ached for them as well. There is so much confusion on this topic. I know we were taught from Watchmen Nee’s book on Spiritual Authority and I have found that teaching to be misleading and false. Do you know anything about his teachings? If so…what have you discovered on the topic?

      Thanks Sherie…I appreciate your opinions and comments on these important topics. Also, do you have anything on your site that deals with abusive congregations? I would like to reference that for the comment I received from a PW feeling the pressure from their church.

      1. I do not know much about Watchmen Nee, just the name and little more. I did an internet search about this and found some summaries of his work, and I think I can see why you were taught his teachings. I don’t know if they are sound or not though.

        The best resource I know of for pastors, ministry leaders, etc. that feel the pains and pressures of a toxic church is Broken Hearts, Shattered Trust by Dr. John K. Setter. I only mentioned it once on my site at http://restoringtheheart.wordpress.com/2008/03/18/survival-skills-to-avoid-trouble/. Sometimes it is not that the church is that toxic, but just the burdens of ministry are so great that they are feeling burnout. A good resource for burnout and stress is Mad Church Disease by Anne Jackson. I think both of these books are good, but just like the link you posted above, they give some good advice and try to add some faith to the issue. In my opinion, the very best way to deal with things is to dig into scripture, and measure all advice against what God says. It takes a lot of work, but it has helped me so much that I think the price is worth it.

        The more I hear of your story, the more amazed I am at the power of God and the amazing testimony your life is. Thanks for continuing to share.

      2. It might help to clarify (not justify) where watchmen nee is coming from…Asia. The cultural context in which this book and it’s ideas w written really needs to be taken into consideration. The asian culture as a whole has a system of “authority” set up and in place. It is not always easy to understand but it is there. This is why Cho’s small group strategy does not work in the States. (His strategy was to have an empty chair at all small groups meetings and the command was to have it filled by the time semester was over, his church is VERY large now). People in america do not like taking orders…from anyone. It’s how our country was founded and gained it’s “freedom.” Again, not justifying either side, but it does help to know the contexts of these things.

        Anne Jackson’s book is an excellent resource, and probably better for the cultural contexts than watchmen nee’s. What would be interesting, would be to hear from Asian or African Christians on “church abuse.” I think they would have a different idea all together.

        It helps to put context to these blogs.

    2. Jana,

      I do think some of the teachings have truth. I don’t think anyone could say that his teachings are completely false. That is a ridiculous statement. Its a good book, and was handed to me on my first day at the church I am currently at. Albeit it was under different circumstances, the senior pastor was just excited about the book and wanted to know if I had a copy.

      The bottom line with Watchmen Nee, Augustine, or C.S. Lewis, their works are good but they aren’t the Bible. There is a problem with Christians who read just the bible then begin to read these other sources. They can’t differentiate between what is holy scripture and what is Christian Literature. I think it is the Christian’s responsibility (and privilege) to be knowledgeable of the Scriptures.

      1. Well Tim…I must say I would be worried if a pastor handed me Nee’s book on Spiritual Authority on my first day at church. 🙂

        I did not refer to that book as completely false as you mentioned, but I did say I found this particular book and the teachings it contains to be misleading and false. I don’t find my thoughts or statements on this topic to be ridiculous.

        I also must disagree with your point above. “There is a problem with Christians who read just the bible then begin to read these other sources. They can’t differentiate between what is holy scripture and what is Christian Literature.”

        That is actually what we should do. We should read the Bible first and then branch out to other sources of literature once we have a firm foundation in the Bible. However, I find it interesting that many churches who support Nee’s teachings do the opposite. They hand out this book and then back it up with Bible references. It would be wonderful to see a church invite people to do an in-depth study on what spiritual authority really is and if that were to happen…I can’t see them backing up their findings with Nee’s insights on the topic. Once someone has truly been taught the Word of God and has taken time to be grounded in Truth…they really have no problem with seeing the difference between Christian Literature and Holy Scripture.

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