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Identifying Abusive Leadership©
By Steven Lambert, ThD
This article is adapted from the book, CHARISMATIC CAPTIVATION,
by Steven Lambert. The book exposes the widespread problem of authoritarian
abuse in Neo-Pentecostal church-groups, and explains how it became infused into the
very fabric, foundation, and functions of the Neo-Pentecostal church arising out of
a false movement known as the Discipleship/Shepherding Movement
(1970-77). References to "Discipleship" or "Shepherding"
(and variables) doctrines, teachings, proponents and participants, and so forth,
allude to those pertinences that arose out of that movement.]
or hyper-authority is
predomination or psychological control imposed by spiritual leaders upon their
followers or congregants with respect to not only their involvements within the
church or ministry, but also regarding the personal and private
matters of their lives. Ministries and church-groups practicing this illegitimate domination
employ various means and degrees of psychological indoctrination and coercion to
compel congregants to subject and conform their personal activities, behavior, and affairs of their
lives with the leadership-prescribed standards, rules, expectations, and
corporate goals of the church or ministry. The purported pretext for the
imposition of this Scripturally-prohibited religious governance is an
adulterated concept of ecclesiastical
authority. Promulgators and practitioners adamantly claim that the mechanisms of
manipulation they employ are a perfectly
Scriptural system of "discipleship" in fulfillment of the role and responsibility of spiritual
leaders to "make disciples."
However, the fact of the matter is this kind of
"discipleship" exceeds by far the bounds and intents of
legitimate, that is, Scriptural and Godly, authority. This kind
of so-called "shepherding" is not that which is
inspired by the Good Shepherd, but by His arch-rival, for it is nothing other than witchcraft and unauthorized meddling into the
personal lives of God's Flock. It is blatant misuse and abuse of
authority, and is Scripturally-prohibited usurpation of believers'
God-given prerogative of personal autonomy. God Himself declares:
For among them are those
who enter into households and captivate weak
women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses,
always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of
the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these
men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in
regard to the faith. (2 Tim. 3:6-9, NASB).
Indeed, the full context of this passage
indicates what ilk of individual it is who engages in this kind
of ungodly, self-aggrandizing governance over others, how others should
treat them, as well as their ultimate fate:
But realize this, that
in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be
lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant,
revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy,
unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without
self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless,
conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,
holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its
power; Avoid such men as these. For
among them are those who enter into households and captivate
weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various
impulses, always learning and never able to come to the
knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed
Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved
mind, rejected in regard to the faith. But they will not make
further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, as also that of
those two came to be.
(2 Tim. 3:1-9, NASB).
Such dominating autocrats indoctrinate adherents with
fallacious, psychologically enslaving teachings, predicated
on subtle twisting and outright perversion of Scripture,
requiring them to strictly adhere to rules and demands set by the leadership if they are to have the
approval of and be in the good graces of the leadership, as well
as the collective group. Ultimately, submissive members are compelled,
cajoled, and/or coerced to commit everything possible of themselves and
their resources unto the support of the group's leaders, mission,
calling, and purposes.
The following are some of the characteristics commonly
present in and control mechanisms practiced by hyper-authoritarian
groups. They are all subtle mechanisms of manipulation used to subjugate and
psychologically beat the sheep into complete submission and subservience to the
leadership as slaves to build their private kingdoms and achieve their selfish
Apotheosis (improper exaltation)
of the leadership. Leaders are ascribed God-like
homage and sovereignty, not only over the operations of
the church or ministry organization, but also over the
personal lives and private affairs of their followers.
They relegate to themselves "absolute
authority" by which they require explicit and
complete submission to themselves and their down-line of leadership appointees.
Open reproof and rebuke.
Members are subjected to private and public
disparagement, reproof, and rebuke by leadership for what
they deem to be insubordination and/or disobedience to
their counsel, teaching, instruction, or desires.
Members are subjected to disapprobation, disapproval,
shunning, and rejection by leadership and/or the
collective group-society for some aspect of conduct they
deem improper or unacceptable.
Open denunciation and curses.
Members are subjected to denunciation and disparagement
as well as voodoo-like witchcraft "prayers"
(curses) upon departure of the group.
Open threat of excommunication.
Members are subjected to excommunication from group for
Threats of judgment from God and
church discipline for insubordination. Members
are indoctrinated with unScriptural fear of judgment from
God and so-called "church discipline" for
insubordination to leadership.
Indoctrination with fear of
failure and judgment. Members are indoctrinated
with unScriptural fear of failure independent of the
group in order to foster undue dependency on the group
and its leaders.
Indoctrination with fear of
spiritual apostasy. Members are indoctrinated
with an unScriptural fear of ingenuine or lost salvation and inferior spirituality.
Members are subjected to unScriptural guilt projection regarding their sinfulness, weaknesses, faults, and failures in order
to reinforce insecurity, diffidence, and self-doubt, so as to make them feel
dependent on the group and leaders for direction,
guidance, and decision-making.
Exclusivity and isolation. Members
are indoctrinated with teaching about the necessity of
them "separating" or isolating themselves from
all outside relationships and influences under the
supposed pretext of insulating them from philosophical
contradictions and criticisms of the particular improper practices and
unScriptural beliefs of the group. Leaders
also forbid their members from having any kind of exposure to
any ministry or ministers outside of the internal
hierarchy of their organization and those they have
approved, and members must obtain the prior approval of
the leadership for any form of exposure to outside
Excessive and virtually comprehensive internal
involvement and group-dedication is required of each
member to in effect keep them indentured to the mission
and development of the organization.
Improper Dependence on Leadership.
Fostering or requiring of excessive and inappropriate dependence on the corporate
group and leadership for guidance and decision-making regarding their ministry as
well as personal affairs. Leadership approval, often referred to as a
"witness" by the leadership, is required on virtually every decision
regarding the personal affairs, sometimes including mundane matters, of members
and their entire family. Congregants are taught that their leaders have been
placed in a position as a watchman or a guardian over them by the Lord, as the
"bishop (overseer) of their souls," which they interpret to mean that
the members need to obtain permission or approval from their "personal
pastor" or leader for life matters. The commonly purported reason for this
necessity is in order that the member can ensure that they are "in the will
of God." Though most of them would vigorously deny and refute the charge,
the leadership in such ministries have, in effect, imposed
themselves as the members' spiritual mediators. Despite public allusions
to the principles of domestic authority explicitly expressed in God's Word,
in practicality and privately, the husband's headship over his wife and family
is often undermined and even usurped in authoritarian groups by their
"shepherd" or "personal pastor" and the requirement
for members to obtain their approval or "witness" for ministry
and personal matters. In the culture of these groups, the boundaries
and sacrosanctity of the family delineated in Scripture
are obscured, and members are taught that the church-group is the
members' "true family," and that because the pastor(s) or
leader(s) are the spiritual head(s) of the "spiritual family," they are
therefore the ultimate authority over the individual members as well their family.
and crafty concealment or obfuscation of the true nature,
agenda, beliefs, teachings, and practices of the group to
the general public, prospective members, and new
proselytes, who are fed such information piecemeal only
as they progress through incremental stages of
"enlightenment" or "spiritual maturity" (i.e.,
indoctrination) so that they can properly understand the teachings and
culture of the church-group (i.e., cult).
unnatural, idyllic, Pollyanna, excessive, ushy-gushy, showy,
humanistic, carnal, and very conditional
"love" and artificial "acceptance"
used to anesthetize members against the potent predomination
being imposed upon them. Members are incessantly told how
much the leaders love them and how dedicated they are to
looking out for the members' personal and spiritual welfare. Not
ironically, this is a
characteristic common to all bona fide cults, whether they be
"Christian" cults or otherwise.
Economic exploitation and
enslavement. UnBiblical, erroneous, excessive
demands and requirements imposed upon members for
financial contributions under the guise of
"financial accountability" or "good
stewardship." Many groups require their members to
sign a "covenantal agreement" committing themselves
to an iron-clad, exacting requirement of submission of tithes
and offerings to the organization in order to retain their
membership and to be "considered for leadership
positions" in the church.
Multitudes of sincere and trusting believers are caught in the virtually invisible web of religious captivation in Charismatic and other Neo-Pentecostal churches, and don't know it. They are unaware victims of spiritual abuse and exploitation under the heavy-hand of hyper-authoritarianism.
The leadership of the church-group of which they are a part is dominating, controlling, and manipulating their followers, and exploiting them for their own personal gain and private kingdom-building.
And, it is transpiring not merely in radical, fringe religious sects and cults,
as some would suppose, but rather in otherwise bona fide church-groups espousing orthodox Christian beliefs, whose memberships
are comprised of a cross section of average Americans, individuals and families, of every race, education level, station, and walk of life.
How unfortunate and troubling it is that this terrible blight on the church has been able to
prevail and prosper for so long. May God send forth a move of His Spirit to
judge and put and end to it soon!
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Recommended related articles:
This article is adapted
from the book, Charismatic
Captivation, by Steven Lambert,
ThD. An abridged version of this book in the booklet form, entitled,
Charismatic Control is also
available. You can read more about this book and booklet, as well as all the other
writings and publications of Dr. Lambert on the Real Truth Publications
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Lambert is a Bible and theology scholar, and has been ministering as an
apostolic-prophet and church-development consultant since 1977. He is an ordained
minister, a Christian Counselor, and holds several earned theological degrees. Apostle
Lambert is becoming increasingly recognized as a leading advocate/advisor regarding
the nascent apostolic/prophetic/Fivefold Ministry renewal. He also serves as the
Executive Director of Concinnity
Network International, a fellowship of Fivefold Ministers relating and
colaboring for common purposes. Dr. Lambert is also a prolific writer, serving as
contributing editor/publisher of two Internet E-zines (links below) featuring scores
of online articles, and is the author of an ever-increasing number of books, booklets,
courses, and other teaching materials. He is also consulted by the media as an expert
on Christian cults and authoritarian abuse.
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