What are some of the signs of spiritual abuse from a pastor?

Member Question – Can you give some clear examples of signs of how a pastor or church leader is crossing the line from being a shepherd to a spiritual abuser? It would be helpful to know when to support a pastor when he is truly trying to defend and protect his flock from outside/wrong influence vs. a pastor who has an agenda and is above questioning/accountability. It seems like the lines are sometimes blurred.[1]

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Spiritual abuse happens when someone mentally manipulates another person in order to accomplish an ungodly agenda. All abuse, including physical and sexual abuse, is spiritual abuse.

You cannot physically or sexually abuse someone without harming their inner being–their spiritual selves. Your question is not asking about physical or sexual abuse, but solely about the internal harming of one’s soul.

Humans are two parts–a dichotomy–physical and spiritual. The spiritual aspects of a person include the soul, spirit, mind, will, emotions, and so forth. The physical also has several parts, e.g., brain, bones, internal organs, and external body parts.

Spiritual abuse is abuse of the soul, which primarily affects the mind–how a person thinks. If the internal harming continues unabated, it will affect the person spiritually–how he relates to God, to himself/herself, and to others.

A darkness comes over the soul, which can lead to depression, despair, despondency, and even suicide. It can also lead to erratic behaviors like unstable anger, fear-motivated withdrawal, or alleviating mechanisms like alcohol and medications.

This happens more than we generally think, which makes your question relevant. The most common place where you will find spiritual abuse is in contexts where someone has authority over a person, whether the authority is God-given or self-proclaimed.

The two most common places where spiritual abuse happens for a Christian are marriage and the local church. In these contexts there is a God-given hierarchical structure. This biblical structure is not bad or necessarily wrong. It’s only

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  1. [1] Due to the amount of email traffic I receive on a daily basis I can only answer questions from our Members–those who support our ministry–which are asked through our Community Forum. Occasionally I will take a Member question and turn it into one of my 2000 word daily articles.
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About Rick Thomas

Rick has been training in the Upstate of South Carolina since 1997. After several years as a counselor and pastor he founded and launched his own training organization in order to encourage and equip people for more effective living. In the early ’90’s he earned a BA in Theology. Later he earned a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry and in 2000 he graduated with a MA in Counseling. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow with ACBC. Today his organization reaches people in every country through consulting, training, blogging, and coaching.
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