Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse – Part 3E – Step 5, Layer 1. Abusive Leaders Need to Deal with Personal Issues

Part 3 – Concepts, Questions, and Continuums for Building a Comprehensive “Remediation Plan”

Part 3E. Step 5, Layer 1.

Abusive Leaders Need to Deal with Personal Issues


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.

[Click on the chart to view a larger version.]

Step 5, Layer 1 ~ Abusive Leaders Need to Deal with Personal Issues

Step 5, Layer 1 ~ Abusive Leaders Need to Deal with Personal Issues

Character Requirements for Healthy Leaders – Can’t Haves, Must Haves

Because most churches are set up as tax-exempt non-profit corporations, there are two levels of qualifications to consider: (1) biblical mandates for spiritual qualifications in serving as a pastor and role model for parishioners, and (2) understanding of civic responsibilities and regulatory requirements for running a non-profit.

What are biblical qualifications for elders and others in public roles of leadership ministry? What do you see as differences between people who are qualified for service in ministry, unqualified through lack of skills or maturity, or have made themselves disqualified? (See at least 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5 for lists of must-have/can’t-have character qualities and behavior patterns.)

What are the must haves and can’t haves for leaders, in terms of running a tax-exempt non-profit organization? This is not to imply that church leaders must have administrative gifts or be CEO material in order to serve in a church. It does mean they must at least understand what is required and commit themselves to follow through. Otherwise, they may knowingly or ignorantly put themselves and the congregation at risk of serious violations of legal and ethical standards. So – do those in charge of carrying out the legal governance of the corporation hold the appropriate qualifications required?

What are Typical Abuse Tactics of Unhealthy Leaders?

While every experience of spiritual abuse surely feels uniquely horrific, it turns out that the kinds of tactics that different abusers use show a high degree of similarity. Whether you read various personal accounts of abuse survivors, or read research-based material and analysis, sooner or later, the patterns appear.

For thinking through Layer 1, you would benefit from reading a range of narratives and analysis pieces, to come up with your own framework of what most makes sense to you about strategies and tactics for abuse of power. Here are a few suggestions for analysis articles.

Think about what appropriate relational remedies are for each of these tactics.

  • Layer 1 – What does an abusive leader need to do in his/her own life to counteract this destructive domination of abuse?
  • Layer 2 – What does he/she need to do to repair relationships with those he/she victimized?

What Does the “Repentance” Process Look Like for an Individual?

I believe the whole process of dealing with Layers 1 through 4 all together constitutes “repentance.” But for the personal side of things in Layers 1 and 2:

  • It starts with recognizing our propensity to do things wrong and do wrong things, both of which inflict harm on ourselves and others.
  • We must choose to renounce indulging that propensity, and block it as much as possible (empowered by the Holy Spirit and not just legalistically white-knuckling our way through it).
  • We must continue learning where our weak spots and strongholds are, and keep making course corrections to fill in our spiritual gaps and file off our excesses. This is how we stay on track with a trajectory of transformation.

What does “personal repentance” look like? It starts with one’s self (Layer 1) and must include those specific victims who were wounded (Layer 2). And “personal” also means personally taking care of remedying the damage. It cannot be left generic, but must be specific. Nor can the responsibility to fix things or apologize directly to people wounded by assigned to anyone else. Perpetrators of abuse need to both take responsibility for their actions and to repair the effects thereof.

What does “personal repentance” look like? How is it demonstrated? My impression has only deepened over time that those who defend abusive leaders equate an apology or asking forgiveness to “repentance.” While that is necessary, is that enough? I don’t think so. It is insufficient, even if it is perhaps a start. And we can only discern how genuine it was by observing changed behavior over time. That indicates there has been indeed been a “change of mind” (the literal meaning of the Greek word metanoieo). Otherwise, either a commitment to change or an apology without follow-through give evidence of yet another self-serving strategy.

Those who sign on for public roles of leadership and serving as role-models also sign on to be watched carefully and have their attitudes and actions scrutinized. When things go wrong, different levels of repair work will be needed, corresponding to the level of damage. I chose following series of words to represent four stages where each advancing stage of damage requires:

  1. increasing intensity of personal problems to deal with,
  2. a longer period of time for making corrections and demonstrating transformation is happening, and
  3. more oversight and mentoring is needed to help with the personal healing process.

Do some word studies into this series of terms and where they came from. (I’ve added links to, which is one of my preferred online dictionaries because it includes word origins and a thesaurus.) Also consider the illustration images I picked for the chart, and descriptions I wrote that go with each term. Tie in with material from other Steps – especially Step 4 on degrees of maladies, and see what you think about how these all relate to a process of personal repentance.

And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either.

Go. From now on sin no more.” (John 8:11, NASB)

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