I am beyond thrilled to have Matt Appling of The Church of No People fame guest posting today. Matt is a great writer with fantastic, out-of-the-box thinking. I hope you enjoy his offering below. BTW Matt has a book coming out on April 1st, Life After Art. Go check it out.
Spiritual Abuse is a Two Way Street
Where does “spiritual abuse” come from?
That term kind of reeks of “culty” churches, of patriarchal systems that keep women in their place, of churches that keep secrets and wield the Bible like a weapon, of churches that use fear to keep control.
To be sure, these are all serious forms of abuse, and they are a perversion of the gospel and the church. In no way is this post going to make light of any of that, say it does not exist, or say that victims are just bitter and are making too big a deal of it.
But I want to look at spiritual abuse from another angle. Because when we say “abuse,” we assume it’s always coming from one direction. It inevitably comes from the man up front.
But I never really hear the conversation happening the other way. I never hear people asking if they themselves have been perpetrators of spiritual abuse.
And I never, never hear anyone confess that they have spiritually abused their pastor. It seems impossible, right? How can a layperson abuse a pastor or a church?
Trust me, it’s possible.
Not Up to My Standards
What is the measure of a man? What is the measure of a pastor?
Too many times than I can count, I have heard friends and acquaintances complain or denigrate (read: abuse) their pastor over his oratorical abilities. Not his ability to interpret scripture or his character, but just his ability to entertain them. For one reason or another, a mere man is not able to live up to their sky-high standards of performance.
I have seen people withhold their attendance in protest of their pastor’s talents. I have seen people show up to church, but passive-aggressively refuse to participate in worship. Withholding approval from your spouses unless they do ‘X,’ ‘Y,’ or ‘Z’ isn’t love, and withholding approval from your church leaders based on their level of God-given talent to perform isn’t Christian love.
That’s Pastors’ Work
Likewise, I have heard so many people leave churches for the last time with the parting words, “I’m just not being fed.”
I get it. There are times to break fellowship. And maybe the pastor is just lousy.
But nine times out of ten, the first question I want to ask is how much time in prayer and Bible study do these people spend each week. Chances are, it’s not much. (We all know a lot of American Christians are pretty bad at this.)
If you starved yourself for a week, and tried to eat a week’s worth of food in an hour, would you be satisfied?
No? Then how can you expect a church to spoon-feed you everything you need? You know how some couples fight over housework? Some guys think that cooking meals equals “woman’s work?” Well the same abusive attitude exists at church. Keeping everyone spiritually fed somehow equals “pastor-work” while everyone else sits back and relaxes. That’s not what church is about.
Raise My Kids
In many ways, churches have set themselves up to take on an impossible task, a task that they are almost certain to fail at.
I’m talking about the task of turning your children into Christians. Millions of Christians (of various levels of luke-warmness) have outsourced their children’s spiritual formation to churches. Take the kids to church and youth group, and blame the church when faith doesn’t stick.
I think we’ve seen how that turned out. Fully 7 out of 10 young Christians today will give up their faith in college. There is even some evidence that kids turned out better who didn’t go to youth group at all.
Two Way Street
It is sad and ironic to me how much we can talk about spiritual abuse, but the conversation only goes one way. In a church landscape where thousands of pastors burn out and give up each year, we have to start fessing up. The culture of abuse doesn’t just come from the stage. It’s not limited to cults or fringe splinter churches. It’s right there, in the church down the street.
What do you think? Are the people in the pews just as capable of spiritual abuse as the guy behind the podium?