Spiritual abuse is a very real issue in the church. Some congregations are toxic and controlling and insist on micromanaging a believer’s walk with God so that it falls within “accepted” parameters. There’s very little room for those that are sincerely God’s but whose experience and walk with Him differs from the norm.
Pastor G and I have experience with toxic fellowships, having been members of one and having attended another. Like with all abuse, it takes a while to break free from spiritual leaders and brothers and sisters in Christ who truly believe they are doing the right thing but aren’t in God’s sight. What it boils down to is a misunderstanding of what God’s love is about. Many times, they think that speaking the truth in love means shaming and rebuking a person who may not seem outwardly to conform to the group but inwardly and spiritually is indeed blameless and connected to God.
The first fellowship, which we both belonged to and began our Christian walk with, literally required us to inform them when we were not going to services and approved events and why. Sickness was not looked upon as a reason but an excuse, and the same went for just plain being tired and worn out. They were so into doing things with each other and for God that people literally burned out and left the fellowship. I knew I had different encounters with God, and I didn’t share them with most people because I was afraid I would get reported or suspended for a time or, at the worst, disfellowshipped. So, I didn’t exactly live a lie but I didn’t exactly live as the woman God had changed me into while interacting with the people.
To say that this fellowship was legalistic is putting it mildly. The only thing that saved me and allowed me to be there was that, despite the legalism, there were relationships that were truly loving. We genuinely cared about each other. Years later, God showed the fellowship some areas where we were sincerely wrong, and there were mixed reactions. Some stayed but resisted the changes. Others left to form splinter groups that ministered to their spiritual comfort zones, and others like Pastor G and me knew we were and are God’s and that He would make all things work for our good. (Romans 8:28). We eventually had to leave because we felt spiritually stifled. The brethren resisted moving forward spiritually, and God was showing us so much we didn’t know about Him that we had to keep to ourselves. So, we decided to leave and follow God wherever He lead us to learn and worship.
Our journey was through many fellowships, and we learned much from each one. It’s interesting that the fellowship we associated with but didn’t join was also legalistic and controlling and had a habit of shaming and rebuking members they thought were in spiritual trouble. We formed some wonderful friendships there, but left on our quest to learn more about God and His way of life.
I pray that God grants you the courage to break free from your fellowship if it’s toxic. A fellowship should be a place where you feel spiritually safe and encouraged to grow in your walk with God. You should feel free to ask questions and not feel judged while doing so.
Let’s pray: Father God, may the words You have inspired me to write touch the hearts of those who are reading them and encourage them to make changes and break free from toxic fellowships. may they live the serenity prayer, which asks You to grant them the serenity to accept the things that they cannot change, the courage to change the things they can and the wisdom to know the difference. may all deeply understand that the core of following Jesus is living Your spiritual law of love towards You, others and self. May all learn what it means to appropriately value the self. In Jesus’ name, amen.
copyright 2013, Pastors George and Sharon Billington, All Rights Reserved