How Church Leaders Can Damage Families

download (6)Can a belief come from God if it is ultimately damaging to family life? The Bible may state a particular thing, and WE develop a wrong belief system around that verse. “Obey them that have the rule over you” (Hebrews 13:17) is often extracted from it’s surrounding content to push authoritarian rule. Consider this. In the Bible, the creation of the family (Adam and Eve) preceded the establishment of the church, and the family was created by God. How then can churches hold belief systems that damage family relationships?

On this post, I want to expose teaching that negatively affects families.

I’ve been writing about the damage done to children in dysfunctional church systems. The last two weeks I’ve posted statements from adults who suffered as a result of childhood spiritual abuse. As I research this subject I see a reoccurring cycle of belief that affects children:


download (3)This comes from the belief that all spiritual authority is in the hands of the Pastor (its actually in God’s hands); or the Pastor was chosen by God, and therefore like the leaders in the Old Testament (Moses, etc.) we must obey him, or God will do to us/me what he did to Isreal. I may become cursed with leprosy or suffer a calamity of some kind. It’s the same craziness that often surrounds tithing in the Christian world.

Under such beliefs, parents are fearful of disobeying their church leaders, and children are affected by the parents’ actions to please those leaders or their church community. Having lived this way for many years, I know I wasn’t the only person afraid of the consequences of non-conformity. There are too many testimonies that this fear was the norm in our church.

Connecting Old Testament Isreal with the New Testament church often leads to mistakes in practice. Yes, some similarities, types and anti-types exist, but the New Testament is precisely that. It is new.  God changed the structure completely. Plenty of things that applied under Moses and Isreal wandering through the dessert do not apply under the law of Jesus Christ. This notion of a Pastor as this Moses-like leader who is THE one that speaks to God face to face has only led some leaders to believe that they are more than what they really are in the church body. A study was done in 2015 that showed that 1 in 3 pastors in the Canadian Presbyterian church had Narcissistic Personality Disorders.giphy.gif

Plain and simple, a Pastor, bishop, an overseer is a caretaker. One who is given the responsibility to preach and teach the word of God to build up and care for a congregation as a part of the body of Christ until the Chief Shepherd makes his return to gather his (4)

Since the Bible describes a minister as a figure that is not supposed to act as “Lords” or rulers over God’s people ( I Peter 5:3) and (2 Corinthians1:24). How do churches get the point of “following “ in such a way that is fearful?

It’s a fine line I know, but there’s a difference between leading with the authority of the word of God and authoritarianism.

Authoritarianism requires obedience based on the desires of a person. Under authoritarian leadership, no personal freedom is allowed. Parents are not left to their own devices to raise their kids. Opinions of the leader on a variety of life’s issues become the law of the congregation. One single power dictates regulations that often have nothing to do with, and can’t even be found in scripture, but everyone must follow.

Some pastors may have even been taught that authoritarian leadership is biblical. It is not.

Fearing God does not equate with fearing a Pastor. It can get crazy sometimes. I’ve seen people bow their heads and shake in fear because of a person’s position of authority in the church. They honestly believe this is being respectful to God. We are not supposed to fear man in this way in the church. The Pastor is a helper of your faith, a person whose faith may inspire you but he is never a substitute for God in your life.

Hebrews 13:6 So we say with confidence: “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

For example, if the leader feels going to an amusement park is a worldly endeavor or going to see Avengers’ ENDGAME is wrong and unchristian, then it will be preached as an unchristian thing to do. Since the Bible tells the parent to “despise not prophesying” or rather admonishes them not to hate/reject prophetic utterances, the poor parent, to respect the leader will stop going to these events. The parent does not dare say this didn’t come from God. The one parent that says ” hey, that’s God didn’t show me that” will be labeled as disrespectful, disobedient, stubborn and rebellious against the ministry. They may be manipulated into compliance by saying “you don’t want to hurt the rest of the body by not conforming,” and other ways to get people to be a “team player” when frankly it was never something dictated by God at all.

Consider these points:

  • The term pastor is only mentioned once in the New Testament in Ephesians 4:11 as one among several ministerial gifts designed to build up the body of Christ.
  • Beliefs always start with someone’s interpretation of scripture. In this case, the idea that the Pastor is the King of his territory and whatever he says goes, comes from connecting the New Testament pastor with the Old Testament anointed King. However, in the new testament, Jesus was the only particular individual described as the anointed one– period. Nowhere else in the new testament do you see church leaders described as unusually “anointed” by God as we see in the Old Testament.
  • Christians, in general, are described as anointed though. ( I John 2:20, I Corinthians 1:21) I Peter 2:9 says:

    But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

  • The job of a preacher is to preach the gospel and leave people in the hands of God since the people belong to God.
  • The term in I Timothy 3:1 for bishop is “episkopes.” Here, it means the office of an overseer but can also mean a guardian or caretaker or divine visitor. It was translated “bishop,” and over the years, I believe in the Christian church we have practiced that position with king-like power. However, the original meaning seems to have been one of a shepherd who worked with the flock and helped them follow the Savior. It has morphed into a ruling position over people’s faith and beliefs.

If I’m afraid to have a different opinion than my Pastor, I need to ask why? If I believe that not conforming to his or her wishes feels like disobeying God, then I need to ask myself what do I think about his or her position that would support such a feeling. And if my Pastor accepts that position in my life, then he or she is taking the place of God and the Holy Spirit in my experience, and that is not what God intended in the structure of his church.

Author: Renee

I am an author and a retired minister. My passion is helping others find their sense of self and identity after so many years of losing my own. So often we go to church and are still not aware of our disconnection with our true selves. The person inside that God deeply values. My husband and I have been married for over 30 years and have 3 children. I love gourmet cooking, swimming, all kinds of music, and political and religious discussion- the two things my mom said never to talk about at the dinner table.