Index to futuristguy Posts on Recovery from Spiritual Abuse

January is Spiritual Abuse Awareness Month

In case you hadn’t heard already, January has been designated as “Spiritual Abuse Awareness Month.” You’ll find information about this at the Spiritual Abuse Awareness page on Facebook. That page offers many helpful principles, comments, and links there about freedom, choice, and hope in Christ. Also see the Raising Awareness page on the Spiritual Abuse Awareness website for details.

In recent years, I have written extensively on abuse by people in roles of spiritual influence and authority, inherently toxic ministry systems and movements, and recovery from the trauma of spiritual abuse. I thought one of the most helpful things I could do is share an index and links for what has already been published. I am reworking much of this material for a forthcoming book series that will cover personal and organizational topics related to spiritual abuse.

[UPDATE AUGUST 2014. This index was originally posted in January 2011. I have updated it several times, and just recently expanded the index to include additional posts up through this month in my blog category on Recovery from Spiritual Abuse. Posts in this category profile human and organizational aspects in systems of abuse, suggest their source problems, and lead survivors toward constructive personal and institutional responses.]


 Malignant Ministers and Personal Recovery from Spiritual Abuse (2008-2011)

  • About My Series on Recovery from Spiritual Abuse
  • Part 1 – My Experiences
  • Part 2 – How to Choose a Healthy Fellowship
  • Part 3 – Dynamics of Leadership: Abusive Versus Healthy
  • Part 4 – Recovering from Spiritual Abuse

Other Posts and Resources on Spiritual Abuse (2008-2010)

Deconstructing Malignant Ministries and Toxic Systems (2011-2012)

Trends in Spiritual Abuse Survivor Communities (2012-2013)

Thoughts on the Missional Movement (2013)

Documenting and Writing Your Account of Spiritual Abuse (2013)

Synthesizing Reflections on Spiritual Abuse (2013-2014)

  • Indicators of Power Abuse versus Safe Ministry Environments
  • Abuse of Power, Plus Restitution and Redemption ~ And Case Study of Sovereign Grace Ministries
  • Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse ~ And Case Study of Mars Hill Church

Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse (2014)

Deconstructing the Christian Industrial Complex (2014)

Other Case Studies of Spiritual Abuse (2008-2014)

  • Defamation Lawsuits Involving Alleged Spiritual Abuse
  • Situations Involving Issues with Child Sexual Abuse
  • Kingdom Leadership After Lakeland – The New Apostolic Reformation and the “Lakeland Outpouring”
  • Mars Hill Church / Mark Driscoll
  • Emergent Village / Emergent Movement

Malignant Ministers and Personal Recovery from Spiritual Abuse (2008-2011)

About My Series on Recovery from Spiritual Abuse

I supposed if I could determine all things for myself, I would never have undergone the difficult series of encounters I did with spiritually abusive leaders, unsustainable ministry structures, and toxic church systems. Who in their right mind would want to earn the equivalent of a Ph.D. in experiencing church toxicology?

And yet, this area of unwanted expertise does have a redemptive side, as I have been finding out since some processing of the big-picture lessons learned. My intentional exercise in externalizing the experiences has involved connecting the dots of periodic abusive situations during the last 35 years. These ongoing encounters have all occurred in theologically conservative churches and ministries that are evangelical, non-denominational, Baptist, and/or mildly charismatic. I’d thought a lot about specific instances before, but focused on discerning the overall patterns when I completed a survey in January 2008 for doctoral student Barb Orlowski’s D.Min. project on leaders recovering from spiritual abuse and her Church Exiters website.

My series was originally designed to have four parts, dealing with a range of personal and systems issues in toxicity versus sustainability. Here is an overview of those four sections, plus links to the posts.

Part 1 – My Experiences

The Spiritual Abuse Part 1 post addresses the five main personal lessons that I have distilled out of my experiences:

  1. Do not enter or exit church relationships lightly.
  2. Listen to my gut intuitions, and consider them carefully.
  3. Do not protect toxic leaders, organizations, or people, or I am adding to their body count of traumatized victims.
  4. Steward my life experiences and giftings as well as possible, considering that I am a subject of Jesus Christ, not of church leaders.
  5. Healthy context, forward trajectory, and transformational hope are critical to sustaining my personal involvement in a church or ministry, so look for those before committing to deeper involvement.

Part 2 – How to Choose a Healthy Fellowship

In a mini-series of six blog posts, Part 2 overviews the five main criteria I now use to choose a healthy fellowship (governance, dealing with difference, sustainability, biblical church discipline, and theological similarity), and goes into extensive consideration of these criteria, especially how they show up in ministry systems.

  • Spiritual Abuse Part 2A overviews the five criteria and what healthy leadership looks like.
  • Spiritual Abuse Part 2B looks at learning discernment – interpreting the realities between appearance versus substance among leaders – illustrated by Pride and Prejudice.
  • Spiritual Abuse Part 2C considers the framework of intervention when toxic patterns are entrenched, interception for those at risk but before their abusiveness is too far confirmed, and prevention so future leaders will act in healthy ways and avoid toxicity. It also gives a bit more detail on each of the five critieria.
  • Spiritual abuse seems to be pervasive in the North American church, and many wounded disciples seek for resources on the internet. The Interlude post allowed readers to comment on issues they would like to see explored.
  • Spiritual Abuse Part 2D adds material on organizational cultural dynamics and governance. It gives a framework on monocultural, multicultural, and intercultural approaches to structuring an organization, and then analyzes potential church governance models in several three generational paradigms – Traditional (Builder), Pragmatic (Boomer), and Holistic (younger generations). [NOTE: This article has been removed for updating.]
  • Spiritual Abuse Part 2E completes this section with a portrait of a healthy church that is intergenerational and intercultural, and also looks at the redemptive role of suffering in building leaders who leave a legacy.

Part 3 – Dynamics of Leadership: Abusive Versus Healthy

In a mini-series of three blog posts, Part 3 focuses on personal elements in spiritual abuse versus healthy leadership, such as what background issues make some people more susceptible to being misused by leaders and some to become abusive leaders, and what makes for respectable leaders.

Part 4 – Recovering from Spiritual Abuse

This series originally was meant to be capped off with a mini-series of posts on personal and corporate recovery from spiritual abuse. However, I did not get this section of posts completed. I had outlined topics related to moving forward after surviving the trauma of spiritual abuse by a person in a role of power/authority. It was designed to focus on coping emotionally, relationally, and spiritually, plus learning to hope again and imagine a different future, as we attempt to regain our bearings, overcome spiritual deflation from the barbs of abuse, and find a redemptive edge to experiences that no one should ever have to endure. What I have completed of these topics between futuristguy [1] and futuristguy2 are noted below. If opportunity for publication of this material as a book presents itself, I will add more about recovery principles, practices, and experiences.

  • Redemption and Restoration Part 1-The Power of the Powerless illustrates restoration: what it means and what it looks like for someone to return to a functional life after deep brokenness, how that comes about, and what it means for the Kingdom.
  • Redemption and Restoration Part 2-The Restoration of the Powerful explores briefly some signs of genuine restoration to watch for in those who have abused their ministry position, versus indicators of a counterfeit repentance hiding under the garb of reinstatement to leadership.
  • Strategies and Tactics of Leaders Who are Abusive offers a list of specific actions by people who attempt to manipulate, control, or directly harm individuals and/or organizational systems. Because various kinds of abusers typically use very different approaches to getting their own way, many items on this list seem to contradict each other. But, these actions serve as indicators to warn us of both probable perpetrators of spiritual abuse and those who act as protectors of perpetrators.
  • How Do I Know I’m Healing From Spiritual Abuse? shares lists of observations, analyses, feelings, action decisions, and theological conclusions that help us reflect on our level of healing and identify continued “spiritual sore spots” that need attention.
  • Spiritual Abusers, Toxic Systems, and God’s “Gestalt of Grace” concludes the planned blog posts with thoughts on how God’s grace and mercy respond to difficult questions we typically have in interpreting why God doesn’t just immediately remove all abusive leaders from their positions of power, why good things apparently happen to “bad” people like them, why there seem to be no consequences to their toxic actions and inactions. It’s because God is keeping the entire system of both individuals and community in mind, doing what is best for everyone and not only any particular one.

Other Posts and Resources on Spiritual Abuse (2008-2010)

Additional posts in the Spiritual Abuse Category addressed Barbara Orlowski’s ground-breaking doctoral research on spiritual abuse, issues of redemption and restoration, and a guest interview with therapist Dr. Margaret Jones on leadership and spiritual abuse. Also included are bibliography resources on spiritual abuse.

Chronology of Books on Spiritual Abuse and Recovery. I’ve been working on this reference/resource list for a while now. It’s a select list (but I’m trying to get it more and more comprehensive over time). I’m looking for Christian books primarily, plus a few that are from other religious/spiritual backgrounds and some academic volumes. I’m also including a few select titles on spiritual abuse and cults that are now considered “classic,” regardless of whether they are Christian in their perspective or not. Overall, this includes books that deal with such topics as: Authoritarian Leaders. Church Discipline. Dechurched Disciples. Faulty Teachings, Heretical Teachings, and Cults (some general, some very specific). Legalistic Theologies. Recovery and Restoration. Religious Addiction. Spiritual Abuse. Toxic Churches/Organizations.

I also wanted to put these books in chronological order, as a potential study tool for understanding how the history of wider Church-based concern about “malignant ministry” has developed. This is in part because, as a 20-something-year-old, I endured a devastating church split that came closer to claiming my faith than anything before or since. That was in 1978, and it would be a dozen years before some of the very first (and also what have turned out to be some of the very best) resource books were published for survivors of such horrific experiences. All I had then were the Scriptures, a few friends to process things with, and a tenuous clinging onto Jesus Christ, that gradually over time turned into a tenacious commitment.

Deconstructing Malignant Ministries and Toxic Systems (2011-2012)

Malignant Ministry ~ Excerpt 1. The title of this excerpt from forthcoming Opal Design Systems curriculum is, Malignant Ministry: Discerning and Dismantling Systems of Spiritual Abuse. It focuses on the essence of “malignant ministry” and some basics of identifying it. It includes a five-year-old’s view on the differences between sin and evil, and I share some thoughts on why spiritual abuse at least constitutes evil.

Malignant Ministry ~ Excerpt 2 ~ “Safe Houses for God’s People.” I believe all followers of Christ need to become safe people to serve those who have endured the grievous wounds of spiritual abuse (and other kinds of human frailty). Also, as teams and congregations of His disciples, we need to ensure that our churches, ministries, and activities are safe places where bullying is never tolerated. The house of God should be a safe house for discipling all people … even for repentant abusers … and we should consistently deal with any attempts at manipulation or control in the name of Christ there and, in fact, vigilantly prevent them.

Reflections on Malignant Ministries and God’s Mercies Thereafter. I spent some time over the past week thinking through a series of malignant ministries and ministers I’ve encountered in the last 40 years. It turns out that I spent 26 years in churches and ministries that turned out to be majorly abusive spiritually. I was shocked! But in looking for the redemptive edge in these experiences, I identified five patterns that I believe can offer hope and encouragement to people who’ve survived similarly devastating experiences of spiritual abuse. God was merciful in providing: (1) personal support, (2) justice, (3) validation, (4) beauty/creativity, and (5) constructive experiences to counteract the destructive ones. Hopefully we sense God’s presence with us always – even if we don’t always perceive His many acts of providence on our behalf until later …

Reflections on Malignant Ministries 2: Three Additional Lessons Learned. The past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting on my experiences with various kinds of churches, ministries, and Christian non-profits. Mostly I’ve focused on situations that relate to spiritually abusive leaders and toxic organizations. But I’ve also considered relationships with other Christians where they got into or came out of “christian cults.” I won’t be going into the details here, but I did want to share the big picture of what’s happened. Keeping that big-picture perspective in mind, here are the contours of what I’ve experienced. (1) Some characteristics of cultic (and even occultic) ministries. (2) Church discipline – used too often and mostly done badly. (3) Key questions for personal reflection and ministerial responsibility (doctrine, enablers, exclusion, inhumane treatment, monocultural supremacy, power-lust, resource misappropriation).

Lessons from The Hunger Games – How Do We Discern Dystopian Dynamics and Totalitarian Tactics? This three-part series introduces and overviews Robert Jay Lifton’s eight criteria for totalitarian thought reform (“brainwashing”) systems. He did this research in the 1950s and it is considered a foundational work for the framework used in what became the psychology of trauma and for sociological studies of “cults.” This series also gives some learning exercises for two groups: survivors of spiritual abuse and their personal network, and organizational designers/leaders who want to develop healthy and sustainable ministries. Note: I have split this material into three parts so readers can receive the best benefit from it.

  • Part 5A – Dystopian Dynamics, Totalitarian Tactics, and Lifton’s Criteria for Identifying “Cults.” This article prepares our thinking with a review of previous points in the series for discerning an abusive/dystopian system, thoughts on totalitarian tactics from The Hunger Games trilogy, and the “before” part of the learning exercise.
  • Part 5B – Identifying Cults: Authoritarian Communications, Motivations, Restrictions, and Confessions. This installment summarizes Dr. Lifton’s system for identifying “cults” and how the various elements work together. It then explores the first four of his eight criteria, dealing with: communications, motivations, absolutism, and confession.
  • Part 5C – Identifying Cults: Ultimate Vision, Reductionist Language, Ideological Conformity, and Social Ostracism. This concluding article explores the final four of Dr. Lifton’s eight criteria: ultimate vision, language, ideological conformity, and ostracism. It also gives the “after” part of the learning exercise, and draws out three key issues for putting “brainwashing” into perspective.

Definition and Description of the Term “Calvinistas.” I wrote the original version of the following article as a comment on a spiritual abuse survivor blog post about a controversy involving a “Calvinista” denunciation of gender parity in a particular parachurch ministry’s leadership teams. This “neo-Reformed” movement has become pervasive in the past few years, and I have already written extensively on many of the individual elements in its faith and practice. So, I expanded upon my comment and presented it here as a summary of how I define and describe this movement of “the Calvinistas,” based on my readings about individuals and organizations that have been so labeled, and my analyses of their paradigms (dominant forms of information processing, values, beliefs, organizational structures, forms of collaboration, and cultures).

“Hangover Unholiness” Left by Malignant Ministers: Spiritual Abuse Recovery Questions for 2013. I’ve been blogging on spiritual abuse the past five years, mostly on analyzing dynamics of “malignant ministers,” spiritually abusive organizational structures, and toxic cultures they create. Some of my writing has been on personal recovery issues, and it seems some new dimensions on this topic are on line for me to explore this year. Much of my practical synthesis of materials comes out of questions raised by personal experiences, and this year’s writings incorporate those, plus what I’ve been learning from the experiences of others. For 2013, it seems my focus may be shifting to writing about questions dealing with the aftermath of years of intact cultures of toxicity, and how to dismantle them – if they can even be salvaged. And what unique issues will be faced by multiple generations when they have been immersed in these abusive environments of faulty doctrines (e.g., authoritarianism, patriarchalism, legalism, perfectionism), and the organizational structures that institutionalized those anti-biblical rules?

Trends in Spiritual Abuse Survivor Communities (2012-2013)

Spiritual Abuse Awareness Month: Emerging Issues, 2012. For a few years now, January has been designated as “Spiritual Abuse Awareness” month. So, I wanted to post a list of “barometer” readings of recent events in the “spiritual abuse survivors’ community,” plus suggest emerging issues that help us identify indications of change in the cultural atmosphere on issues of spiritual abuse. This post considers changes to the number of support and resource networks for survivors of spiritual abuse. It also looks at four emerging issues of note: (1) De-Churched Christians. (2) No virtual pass for abusive actions by leaders. (3) More “citizen journalist” reports with detailed documentation of alleged spiritual abuse. (4) Expanding the concept of accountability to “system partners” that enable abusive behavior by celebrity Christians. 

Spiritual Abuse Survivors: The “Community” Becomes a “Movement.” If you read my post on ““Hangover Unholiness” Left by Malignant Ministers: Spiritual Abuse Recovery Questions for 2013,” you may not have caught the comment that came in from my friend Linda of Kingdomgrace. She’s been a pioneer blogger in the spiritual abuse survivors community, and I appreciate her big-picture perspective on healing for individuals and how this works out in systems. Here’s what she said: “Brad, Really good questions. It seems detox has mostly been addressed at the personal level. You are doing important work identifying systemic issues at the organizational level. I think there is also a social-cultural aspect of detox that exists beyond the organization having to do with social identity, relationships, group think, etc. Your questions reminded me of how complex this issue is and how comprehensive approaches to healing must be.” My reply covers some things I’ve been thinking about for a while on the impact of toxic systems dynamics, and I felt it was important enough to highlight in a follow-up post to the one on “Hangover Unholiness.”

Thoughts on the Missional Movement (2013)

For a long time, I’ve been writing on culture, creativity, and compositing teams of people with different strengths to forge better collaborations. I see teamwork as one way to navigate the choppy waters of the world as it now is, a way to expand the surface area of the raft we float on together in that ocean of uncertainty.

The problem is, collaboration doesn’t work well when there are deeply-rooted, irreconcilable differences between potential ministry partners. It brings out paradigm clashes rooted in paradigms of legalism or license instead of liberty. It’s not that we can’t find a level of appropriate tolerance in letting people be where they are, not where we wish they were. It’s about what to do when conflict occurs not in the content of our perceptions but in the deepest processes we use to make those perceptions. These are what keep us from linking together effectively … and maybe that disconnection is something that we cannot or even should not try to overcome.

This nine-part series explores some key aspects of how the Church in the US has fragmented during the modern-to-postmodern paradigm shift, what the field looks like in its missional re-formation, and what this may mean in very practical terms for our discipleship systems, collaborations, and potentially toxic organizations.

  • Part 1 – Making Taxonomies in the Midst of Transformation.
  • Part 2 – Six Streams in the “Missional Movement.”
  • Part 3 – Principles of Paradox, and Magnetic Attractions and Repulsions in the Making of a “Missional Movement.”
  • Part 4 – When Collaboration Just Won’t Work Well: The Way We Process Information and What We Value Create “Irreconcilable Differences.”
  • Part 5 – When Collaboration Just Won’t Work Well: “Irreconcilable Differences” on Operating Systems for Discipleship.
  • Part 6 – When Collaboration Just Won’t Work Well: Operating Systems of Legalism or License Instead of Liberty.
  • Part 7 – The Big Picture of Features and Frameworks in Our Discipleship Systems – Approaches to Discipleship Access.
  • Part 8 – The Big Picture of Features and Frameworks in Our Discipleship Systems – Approaches to Discipleship Activities.
  • Part 9 – How These Frameworks Play Out in Our Overall Attitudes, Styles of Interaction, and Community Connections.

Documenting and Writing Your Account of Spiritual Abuse (2013)

Is It Time To Tell My Story? Suggestions for spiritual abuse survivors on how, when, and why in sharing their accounts of abuse and recovery.

I highly recommend Barbara Orlowski’s 20-question survey, which provides an essential framework as you begin thinking through the before, during, and after periods of the abuse and recovery processes. This survey was the basis for her research project for her Doctor of Ministry degree. It would be helpful to at least look at her questions to see the flow of how they work together – it is a well-constructed survey, and can be immensely helpful in processing your experiences.

Many people are now writing or commenting on spiritual abuse survivor topics. Given the damage to our souls wrought by such so-called “discipleship,” it is no surprise that some of what we write demonstrates anger, sarcasm, innuendo, curses, and harsh or vulgar language. However, if this does perhaps help us in our venting about abuse and abusers, it can also prove “triggering” – not edifying – for others who read it. So, in the following post, I offer some practical advice on Writing Respectfully and Defusing “Triggers” that I have learned over the years in my research writing on abuse, violence, and social action.

For advanced suggestions on writing your story, see Tutorial #9 on Transformation. This tutorial covers a series of critical thinking skills and tools for detailing events and discerning the times, with the ultimate goal of moving beyond our current paradigm and past factors that shaped it, and pursuing a future that is both possible and preferable. It contains a list of spiritual abuse investigation and archive sites, many of which present the stories of individual survivors – especially from very specific church denominations or ministry organizations.

Resources for Research/Writing on Situations of Spiritual Abuse. [This is a page at the top of the futuristguy blog, not a post.] For a long time, I’ve wanted to collect together bits and pieces of research writing I’ve done on technical topics that keep cropping up in the spiritual abuse survivor communities. And I finally got that together. I still have a few sections to add, but this covers most of what I think will be helpful to pass on to next waves of people who are considering how to share their own accounts of surviving spiritual abuse, “citizen journalist” bloggers, case study writers, church-change social activists, etc. Here are the topics covered:

  1. Key Legal and IRS Problems for Tax-Exempt Non-Profits
  2. Filing a Complaint/Referral with the IRS Against a Tax-Exempt Non-Profits
  3. Types of “Threshold of Evidence” Required
  4. Child Abuse and Neglect / Child Sexual Abuse
  5. Recording Phone Calls and Conversations
  6. Sexual Harassment / Hostile Work Environment
  7. “Citizen Journalists,” Blog Reports, Digital Dissent
  8. SLAPP and Anti-SLAPP Lawsuits
  9. Documenting and Writing Your Account of Spiritual Abuse

Synthesizing Reflections on Spiritual Abuse (2013-2014)

Indicators of Power Abuse versus Safe Ministry Environments

What Do “Safe” Versus “Abusive” Environments for Personal and Social Transformation Include? Someone working on a research project recently asked me for my definition or description of “spiritual abuse” and how I would “measure” the levels of abuse and recovery that a person experienced. I’ll get to that task eventually, as it is part of my own research work on metrics of transformation.

But, to answer my researcher friend, I realized that first I needed to figure out the contours of what makes a system conducive to either constructive growth or to harm. A quick checklist of abusive actions would be meaningless for measuring the degree of destructive impact from spiritual abuse. At the least, a workable checklist needs a reasoned and relatively comprehensive theory behind it. If we’ve developed a clear context for said checklist, that makes it possible to interpret the abusive actions, not just observe their presence. And my intuitive hunch is that a systems approach will also make measurement more possible for the overall negative impact or positive recovery from abuse.

Review of *UnLeader* by Lance Ford. This was my first-ever book review on Amazon – well over a year after I received a review copy from Lance in September 2012. I was planning to post a review that year, but other circumstances took over for a while and many things disappeared into that vortex. However, what the time-lag added to the writing of my review was the reality that for 16 months, UnLeader keeps coming back to mind as really something extraordinary. I hope what I’ve posted will give a fresh and helpful perspective on grasping the value of what Lance Ford has produced, and the gift it is to the Kingdom. I also hope you will buy a copy, read it, and be changed by the  powerful and empowering message that Lance Ford offers! And here is that review …

Abuse of Power, Plus Restitution and Redemption ~ And Case Study of Sovereign Grace Ministries

Thoughts on Abuse, Position, Power – and Restitution. If you’ve followed my blogging at futuristguy on WordPress, you’ll know I’ve been doing research writing on systems and dynamics of spiritual abuse and recovery for 7 years, tracking various aspects of the Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) situation for a minimum of 3 years, and first blogged something about the SGM system in 2012. Spiritual abuse survivors and others who follow what happened at the SGM association of churches and civil lawsuits from it knew that a related criminal trial was scheduled for this May. The results of the first trial came in Thursday, finding Nathaniel Morales guilty on all counts. A second trial for Mr. Morales begins next week.

I find in the civil suit against SGM and related criminal cases a complex situation with many kinds of victims, perpetrators, and enablers – each category of which could use some specific messages at this time. I felt compelled to do what I could to address key issues as constructively as possible. This post is a compilation of writings posted so far. My hope is that they provide some insight into how the human systems of real people intersect the organizational systems of SGM and Covenant Life Church (CLC) in ways that caused damage – and, potentially, could bring recovery for individuals who’ve survived abuse, restitution by those who were “agents of damage,” rehabilitation of the extended SGM system (if that is even warranted, and where it is even possible) to bring health, transparency, and accountability, and restoration of  a besmirched testimony of the Church before a watching world. (This post is part of the #IStandWithSGMVictims campaign on Twitter, and #IStandWithSGMVictims campaign on Facebook.)

Thoughts on Redemption in the Wake of Abuse: Agents of Damage versus Agents of Healing. I suspect that acquiring a deep understanding of how relational dynamics works in the real world is something that takes us all a lifetime – as does our applications of those healing skills to bring Kingdom transformation on earth as it is in heaven. My journey with Jesus on that pathway to peace has unfolded in unexpected ways. But the longer I go with Him, the more spiritual sense it all makes. Here are some snapshots from my journey in learning about victimization and recovery and how it involves Agents of Damage and paradoxical parallel Agents of Healing. (This post is part of the #IStandWithSGMVictims campaign on Twitter, and the #IStandWithSGMVictims campaign on Facebook.)

Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse ~ And Case Study of Mars Hill Church

A Brief Timeline for Young Leaders Network and Terra Nova Project, for Understanding Ron Wheeler’s Open Letter to Mark Driscoll. In the ongoing efforts to call Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church to account for past and present behaviors, his former colleague and protégé Ron Wheeler posted the following open letter: I. Am. Not. Anonymous. In it, Mr. Wheeler details his early history with Mr. Driscoll and mentions the Young Leaders Network, Terra Nova Project, Emergent, emerging, and New Calvinism. This post gives some historical context, focusing on a timeline of Generation X-oriented networks, terminology for ministry during that period of the mid-1990s to early 2000s, and suggest how this movement settled out into various “streams” in contemporary Christianity.

Part 1- Questions of Culpability, Complicity, and Recovery for Spiritually Abusive Individuals and Toxic Organizations. Real-world problems in discerning what constitutes a toxic organization, who is a spiritually abusive leader, and what to do about them and others who keep a harmful system going. This post includes a list of questions. Some apply generally to any individual or organization apparently engaged in spiritually abusive practices, and some deal specifically with the current situation of the leaders and institution at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington.

Part 2A and Part 2B – The “Pyramid of Responsibility” in Toxic Systems. When it comes to spiritual abuse, who has higher or lower responsibility/accountability and for what – whether they are leaders preaching from the pulpit, or people sitting in the pews, or outside individuals and organizations that keep a sick system propped up? This framework is based on my own experiences of malignant ministers and ministries. I suggest a pyramid of people with different roles and levels of responsibility in creating and perpetuating a toxic system that ultimately harms people, despite any good that its leaders or members may do.

Part 3 – Onlookers Aren’t Necessarily Innocent ~ Moving Toward a Theology of Complicity. This moves from questions and initial ideas of how to organize observations, to figuring out relevant biblical concepts about levels of responsibility when things turn malignant in a ministry. This is my first attempt to forge my reflections into a more coherent theological approach on moral responsibility and accountability for spiritual abuse. The issues I’ll deal with arise out of my own experiences of figuring out peace-making responsibilities I had for reconciliation and restitution as a result of involvement in several churches that turned out to be toxic. I’ll address both the culpability of those who are primarily responsible for creating sick systems, and the complicity of those who might general consider themselves nothing but bystanders and therefore without blame. But are they innocent? I’ll also talk about how I discovered hope and help in the midst of attempting to cope with the confusion, anger, and grief of realizing I’d been victimized … and also served malignant ministers as a surrogate victimizer.

There may be a Part 4 – Current Case Studies from Abuse Survivor Communities ~ Looking for Larger Patterns. Several situations have dominated the focus of spiritual abuse survivor communities the past few years, and there is far more use of “digital dissent” and online documentation to push back on people/organizations who need to be held accountable for the direct harm they inflict under a guise of righteousness. But, this has expanded to holding “Commenders” accountable for indirectly keeping abusive people and their systems propped up though endorsements, certifications, speaking engagements, publishing contracts, positive-spin media exposure, etc. What might these patterns mean for a more transparent, accountable, and responsible Church in the internet era?

Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse (2014)

This series on Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse is an excerpt from the book I’m developing as a combination “field guide” plus workbook to exploring why things go wrong in organizations, even when we want to do good, and processes to repair any damages we cause. I have broken down this extensive series into what I hope are more reasonable-length “chunks” for reading and reasoning through. Many of the posts in the series include discussion questions, word studies, visual illustrations, and/or case studies.

Note: This series is cross-listed with the category on Mars Hill Church, which includes the series on Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church Research Guide. That series and this one were both written at the same time, and I was sharing some of this material with survivors of alleged spiritual abuse that happened in the Mars Hill system. I believe this helped ensure the material in this series was as practical as I could make it so the how-to’s here could be cross-referenced to the ongoing and unfolding story of authoritarian control at Mars Hill.

Part 1. Questions of Culpability, Complicity, and Recovery for Spiritually Abusive Individuals and Toxic Organizations. Real-world problems in discerning what constitutes a toxic organization, who is a spiritually abusive leader, and what to do about them and others who keep a harmful system going.

Part 2A and 2B. The “Pyramid of Responsibility” in Toxic Systems. When it comes to spiritual abuse, who has higher or lower responsibility/accountability and for what – whether they are leaders preaching from the pulpit, or people sitting in the pews, or outside individuals and organizations that keep a sick system propped up? This framework is based on my own experiences of malignant ministers and ministries. I suggest a pyramid of people playing 10 different roles in creating and perpetuating a toxic system that ultimately harms people, despite any good that its leaders or members may do. The 10 roles are sorted into layers of what I believe run from greater to lesser levels of responsibility – from higher culpability on the upper layers of the continuum, to higher complicity (“accomplices”) at the lower layers.

Part 3A. Taking Responsibility, Being Conciliatory, Exploring Just and Appropriate Remedy. People ARE responsible for abuse they inflict – but TAKING responsibility for the damage done is a different matter. This section moves from questions and initial ideas of how to organize observations, to figuring out relevant biblical concepts about levels of responsibility when things turn malignant in a ministry. It reviews the “Pyramid of Responsibility” and organizational roles involving culpability and/or complicity, and overviews cultural and organizational modes of blame-shifting. It concludes with an exploration of three main attitudes it takes to make “remediation” (remedy) plans work, and how that can tie perpetrators and survivors together in a redemptive process.

Part 3B through 3H. Concepts, Questions, and Continuums for Building a Comprehensive “Remediation Plan.” The rest of the series presents a five-step framework for building a comprehensive “remediation plan” in the setting of what’s become a toxic organization. It lays out four Layers to consider: personal growth and recovery, peace-making in personal relationships, qualified leadership in the organization, and how to discern whether a toxic organization should even survive.

Steps 1, 2, and 3 develop a set of questions and concept frameworks to address recovery issues both for organizations that have become toxic and for the people who control them. It begins with a few key ideas for analyzing problem situations for patterns. Then it looks at a general continuum for thinking through how healthy or sick a person is, using analogies like injury triage, hospitalization, and recuperation. It extends that health/toxicity continuum analogy to parallel situations in organizational systems.

Steps 4 and 5 set up the frameworks to apply to four specific layers in a system that needs healing – whether the healing needed by leaders and organization is relatively slight, or all the way to very substantial. Step 5 also includes a series of seven real-world case studies in ministries with toxicity problems. They are presented in order of increasing severity of relational and organizational issues to address, and with ever more likehood of a need to be shut down completely (or probability of implosion, regardless of whether the group affected wants to dismantle it or not).


Layer 1 – How to determine the levels of personal growth and recovery needed by leaders who harm others, regardless of how gifted they are or how much they help others.

Layer 2 – How to identify what levels of peace-making are needed in personal relationships where a leader has caused damage.


Layer 3 – How to ensure individuals qualified for roles to lead the organization stay, when those disqualified should be removed, and when/if they should ever be restored to a former position.

Layer 4 – How to discern whether an organization that is toxic can be repaired, or should not even survive.

Here are links to the entire series on Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse.

Deconstructing the Christian Industrial Complex (2014)

SERIES SUMMARY. A question that’s arisen lately on spiritual abuse survivor blogs has to do with the “Christian Industrial Complex,” or some variation thereon, such as: the Evangelical Industrial Complex, the Emergent Industrial Complex, the Resurgence Industrial Complex, the Patriarchal Industrial Complex. These are contemporary versions of the idea of a Military-Industrial Complex that President Dwight Eisenhower warned against in his farewell speech. I’d describe it as a gridlock of military, political, and business interests that formed a self-benefiting association of preferential relationships that went against the public interest. (Some of the classic research behind the Military-Industrial Complex comes from The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills.)

When it comes to Christianized variations of this organizational complex, what exactly is that all about? Why the increased interest at this time? How do we dissect what this thing is, how/why it affects us, and why it’s even relevant?

This series introduces three major frameworks I use for analyzing social movements and toxic systems, and builds toward describing what this phenomenon of a Christian Industrial Complex is, how it works, and how it can inflict damage. It also suggests a list of indicators for identifying layers of enmeshed involvement among celebrity leaders, Christian business industries, and followers/consumers in such probable toxic systems as this. It ends with some initial analysis and interpretation of toxicity issues in two streams that came out of the “emerging ministry movement” – the more conservative New Calvinism of Mars Hill Church/Resurgence and the progressive Emergent Movement of Emergent Village.

Note: These posts are designed to be read in order because of the sequence in which terms and concepts are introduced.

Part 1 – Culturology, futurology, and three frameworks for decoding the Christian Industrial Complex.

Part 2 – Framework #1. Trajectory arcs of emerging subculture movements and interactions with the mainstream.

Part 3 – Framework #2. Power dynamics that corrode populism into consumerism.

Part 4 – Framework #3. Psycho-social strategies and structures that lock people into toxic systems.

Part 5 – Christian Industrial Complexes, institutionalized social movements, and the dark side of toxic systems.

Part 6 – Thoughts on Mars Hill Church and Emergent Movement as Christian Industrial Complexes.

Other Case Studies of Spiritual Abuse (2008-2014)

If you are interested in some examples of my writing about complex issues involving aspects of spiritual abuse, check out the following archive sites and blogs. These show how I used various of the above principles in creating as comprehensive of a “case” as I could about allegations of abuse of spiritual authority. I often built the entire historical narrative by starting with just a basic timeline of major events, a list of “key players,” and a few main source documents. Factual details and the overall context got filled in by bits and pieces from items in the bibliography. Logical issues, gaps in evidence, overgeneralizations and other problems became more evident as the factual narrative got longer and stronger, and as some well-reasoned comments on blog articles and news reports pointed out inconsistencies. In some cases, parts of the archive/site were done by teams, but I did the majority of the writing/editing. See the first page or the “About” page for an overview of the archive/site.

Defamation Lawsuits Involving Alleged Spiritual Abuse

Beaverton Grace Bible Church Defamation Lawsuit Archive. The purpose of the BGBC Defamation Lawsuit Archive is to present a time capsule of factual information about the dates, documents, and decisions in Beaverton Grace Bible Church v. Smith, as well as curate reasoned analysis, invited commentary, and moderated public comments on this defamation lawsuit case. In this 2012 case, a pastor and church sued five former members and attenders for defamation, based on “negative” Google Reviews, other online comments, and blog posts and comments that alleged Beaverton Grace Bible Church demonstrated characteristics of “spiritual abuse.” The defendants’ attorneys filed an anti-SLAPP lawsuit on the basis of freedom of speech in topics of public interest. A judge ruled in favor of the defendants and the lawsuit was dismissed.

Grenier Defamation Lawsuit Archive. This Archive covers Grenier & Grenier v. Taylor & Grenier, a civil lawsuit that pits Pastor Bob Grenier of Calvary Chapel Visalia (California) and his wife Gayle against his step-son/her son Alex Grenier and against former CCV member Tim Taylor. The plaintiffs alleged the defendants committed “Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress,” “Defamation,” and “Conspiracy to Defame.” The defendants publicized allegations of physical and sexual abuse perpetrated by Bob Grenier, as well as ecclesiastical corruption and spiritual abuse of authority.

The case was filed in Tulare County, California, on October 17, 2012. Seeing it as a freedom of speech case, the attorney for the defendants filed an anti-SLAPP motion. If successful, this motion will expedite the case, and require stringent proof for the allegations as “defamation.” The anti-SLAPP motion will be determined by Superior Court Judge Paul Anthony Vortmann. A tentative decision is due to be posted March 4, 2013, followed by a court hearing on March 5.

Situations Involving Issues with Child Sexual Abuse

Prestonwood Baptist Church Silent No More.

Sovereign Grace Ministries. See the descriptions in the above section on “Synthesizing Reflections on Spiritual Abuse (2013-2014) for descriptions of the following posts:

Kingdom Leadership After Lakeland – The New Apostolic Reformation and the “Lakeland Outpouring”

Systems Dynamics in Toxic Organizations: Learning from What Happened at Lakeland. There is far more discussion lately on “systems dynamics” in toxic churches and ministries, and the “collateral damage” they inflict over the years. The need to help new waves of survivors and “nones” (no religious preference) will never go away, but it feels like a radically new dimension of diagnosis and treatment has opened up, for dealing with organizational dynamics that need either radical transformation to survive, or closure to shut down. But these are not topics we’re generally aware of. At least, not yet. Where do we go to learn more? Here are links to posts in this case study.

If you’re interested in some do-it-yourself study and reflection on toxic systems, consider going through the extensive case study I posted on the “Lakeland Outpouring.” This series of seven posts from five years ago offers a detailed “culturology case study” look at Kingdom Leadership After Lakeland. Many systems dynamics that fed into what happened with the “Lakeland Outpouring” and disqualified leader Todd Bentley in 2008 have eerie parallels to what we’ve been seeing emerge in the analysis of the organizational systems that have shaped Sovereign Grace Ministries and the people therein. The authoritarian leadership systems and forms of legalism in the New Apostolic Reformation have much in common with documentation that has emerged about Sovereign Grace Ministries – despite the doctrinal differences between these two networks. Perhaps there is much to learn from the past, to apply now for a more healthy, constructive future.

Part 1: Discernment and the Costly Descent into Darkness. This is the first in a series of seven posts related to: (1) Making sense of the recent lapses in leadership concerning the Lakeland “outpouring.” (2) Interpreting the implications of these failings for constructive movement forward. (3) Profiling what healthy/sustainable leadership should look like in emerging cultures.

Part 2: Considering Various Sources …. Further exploration of the concepts of individual and communal discernment, and how they play out in looking at the organizational systems behind what happened in Lakeland. This post also lays out a historical case study on events, responses, and lack of “apostolic” authority figures owning the problems they helped create.

Part 3: Seven Critical Lapses in Leadership and an Appeal to Own Our Responsibilities. Here I offer my analysis of what I see as lapses in leadership and discernment in the “apostolic abuses” at Lakeland. I explore in brief a key issue of making the Kingdom more sustainable, namely, how to move from intervention when situations or people are already out of hand, to interception when they are at risk, to prevention so they do not become at risk. Also, I issue a “challenge and an appeal” to several categories of leaders whom I believe need to take responsibility for their actions regarding Lakeland.

Part 3 – Addendum #1: Notes, Quotes, and Questions on Reconstructing Authority. In this post, I share some other resources as tools for those who choose the route of do-it-yourself reflection: especially quotes and questions for their value as a jolt of provocation. My purpose is not to label specific people, but to highlight behaviors that we are ALL susceptible to. ALL of us can fall prey to shadows, but the searchlights of real biblical discernment can lead us beyond destructive and deconstructive cycles, and into positive reconstruction. This leads into one of the larger big-picture cluster of issues we need to consider with tainted systems: How can we prepare ourselves for a future with less toxicity, more sustainability, and reliable authority instead of authoritarianism?

Part 3 – Addendum #2: Reconstructing Ministry Systems-Six Trends Toward Systems Solutions. This post and the next one pick up the theme of moving beyond the rubble of deconstruction. They deal with reconstructing ministry systems. After these, I’ll plan to continue with the planned posts on reconstructing “spiritual parenting,” and then on to reconstructing leadership. This may not seem like a very logical way to present this material, but all I can say to that is I post them when it seems like time to post them. I trust there’s a Spirit-directed flow to them for reasons I cannot fathom, and I’ve learned to be okay with that. And there you have it, so here we go!

Part 3 – Addendum #3: Reconstructing Ministry Systems-When Churches are Like Leaky Ships, How Do We Fix the Boat? This post looks at faulty church systems as being like leaky ships. It explores the following questions: (1) In the changeover from old-world to new-world paradigms, how do we in the church discern what combination we need in deconstructing our pasts, and reconstructing our futures? (2) But what is stabilization about? If solidifying our systems is such a critical crossroad on the path to adaptation in this chaotic age, why haven’t we heard about it more? (3) When it comes to systems stabilization, are we there yet? (4) Meanwhile, what happens when we don’t have stabilized ministry systems in place?

Part 3 – Addendum #4: Reconstructing Ministry Systems-How Do We Fix a Leaky Boat, and Who Can Best Lead in Doing So? This post suggests questions to ask and tools to use for “fixing the boat” of a leaky organizational system. It also previews who might be providentially best equipped to lead the way in fixing the boat and launching it into new paradigm waters.

Mars Hill Church / Mark Driscoll

Here is the category link for all posts on Mars Hill Church. It includes the entire series on Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse, as this was written at the same time as the Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church Research Guide series. The former provided theoretical and practical frameworks, and the latter the real-world case study in the process of unfolding.

This post provides a Table of Contents to the Research Guide. The titles and outlines there will serve as an overview description for the series:

Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church Research Guide – Part 2E – Research Guide Table of Contents

Posts and links:

Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church Research Guide – Part 1 – Research Guide to Mark Driscoll’s Personal Issues

Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church Research Guide – Part 2A – Five Types of Organizational Forms at “Mars Hill” (UPDATED)

Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church Research Guide – Part 2B – General Background on Top Legal Problems for Non-Profits

Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church Research Guide – Part 2C – Five Potential Legal/Ethical Problems for Mars Hill Church, Mark Driscoll, and Its Other Leaders

Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church Research Guide – Part 2D – Putting It All Together

Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church Research Guide – Part 2E – Research Guide Table of Contents

Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church Research Guide – Part 3 – Recommendations for Public Remediation by Mark Driscoll, Other Mars Hill Leaders, and Mars Hill Church

Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church Research Guide – Part 4 – Research Guide and Recommendations for Issues Related to “Commenders” of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church

Capstone Series Links:

Synthesizing the “Mars Hill Research Guide” and “Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse” Series – Introducing the Capstone Articles and Case Study

Capstone Article 1 – A Critique of the Three Official Options for Dissolution of Mars Hill Church

Capstone Article 2 – Some Words for Discernment by Those from Mars Hill

Capstone 2-1: Consequences

Capstone 2-2: Restitution

Capstone 2-3: “Decisive Moments” and Trajectories of Transformation

Capstone 2-4: Trends, Turning Points, and Tipping Points in Spiritual Abuse Survivor Communities (2014) – Part 1: Setting the Stage

Capstone 2-5: Trends, Turning Points, and Tipping Points in Spiritual Abuse Survivor Communities (2014) – Part 2: New Observations, Analysis, Interpretations

Capstone 2-6: A Lawsuit Against Mars Hill Church Could be a Just Cause Because …

Lawsuit Against Mars Hill Church Leaders – Resource Bibliography

Captstone 2-7: Seven “-Ologies” in Mars Hill’s “Parasitic Paradigm.”

Capstone Article 3 – Answering the Original FAQ List About Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill

Emergent Village / Emergent Movement

Here is the category link for all posts on Emergent Village. There are some key posts that set up my perspective on the larger context of the “emerging ministry movement” that started in the mid-1990s, one stream of which turned into Emergent Village and later a post-Emergent movement. This post addresses the fragmentation of contemporary evangelicalism into six streams, while this post gives more of a historical timeline, plus terminologies and descriptions, for these six streams.

Like Mars Hill Church (which likely spun out of the “emerging ministry movement” to become the theologically conservative New Calvinism/Resurgence movement), the theologically progressive Emergent movement has been going through a sort of deconstructive meltdown from critiques of both early-on insiders plus outside observers. For a truly historic post and comment thread that has been highly insightful and relatively constructive about key figures and issues in Emergent, see this post on David Hayward’s nakedpastor blogTony Jones on Mark Driscoll: What came first, the thug or the theology?