Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse – Part 3F – Step 5, Layer 2. Abusive Leaders Need to Deal with Interpersonal Issues

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

Part 3F. Step 5, Layer 2.

Abusive Leaders Need to Deal with Interpersonal 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 2 ~ Abusive Leaders Need to Deal with Interpersonal Issues

Step 5, Layer 2 ~ Abusive Leaders Need to Deal with Interpersonal Issues

Word Studies

Do some word studies into these 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, 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)

Interpersonal Issues and an “Interlocking System” of Rebuilding Relationships

I believe these four stages in dealing with interpersonal issues create an interlocking system. By that I mean if the damage abusive leaders have done require a higher stage of relational repair work, they’ll need to apply the other remedies from lower stages as well, while working their way up to the higher stage requirements.

For instance, if you want to be trusted again because of severe damage you caused (Stage 4) you’ll need to rebuild trust by restitution (Stage 3). But that won’t happen unless you restore the relationships by spend enough time together to reconcile (Stage 2), and that can’t happen unless you invest yourself deeply into repairing by listening carefully, seeing/feeling the impact of the damage you did, and being touched in both your conscience and your compassion.

To use a specific example, say a leader has done something serious that substantially loses the trust of the congregation (a Stage 4 problem), such as misspends designated funds, using them for other purposes. (And that happens to be one of the top 10 legal/ethical problems at non-profits.) It’s an organizational issue, but it also has relational consequences. It is foolishness to think – theologically or personally – that the bare minimum of a generic apology to the parishioners would be sufficient to restore full trust. That may set some a few things in the right direction. But failure to conduct significant follow-through in establishing or restoring a transparent accounting system could put the church at risk of allegations and investigations of fraud!

Here are some other thoughts and questions about the series of actions needed to repair differing levels of damaged relationships.

  • If abusive leaders don’t do self-healing, can they restore other’s trust when they’ve betrayed others through victimizing them?
  • If leaders don’t do “relational maintenance” on a regular basis, what does that say about how well they will handle crisis situations when they arise?
  • If leaders don’t conduct restitution when they’ve harmed someone, how can they assume the status of being a role-model of virtue and a trustworthy leader?
  • If leaders who “epic fail” don’t go through all prior stages of taking responsibility, why should the organization they work for survive when they cannot provide it with sustainable leadership?
  • If leaders can’t/won’t go through all stages of repairing the specific issues needed in relationships, that’s a great indicator that they’re not qualified to give oversight into the lives of other people. It may also mean they should have been on a track to become a leader in the first place, and that some other vocation is what they were really designed and gifted to do.
  • If those offended lack a conciliatory attitude, things likely won’t work, regardless of the sincerity and activity of the one who originally caused the offense. This is not meant to “blame the victim,” but just to say that it may require far more patience and perseverance than at first realized.

A Few Resources


My “Slate of Eight” Restitution Suggestions for Sovereign Grace Ministries and Covenant Life Church. This post shares eight particular actions that seemed to me to fit the circumstances of SGM, given then recent disclosures under oath by a senior pastor that he believed he should have reported known child sexual abuse to civil authorities, but that he did not. So the context is specific to issues involving public figures (local pastors) and criminal issues on child abuse. Still, similar points could be applied to spiritual abuse. The restorational actions fall into three categories: Individuals, Institutions, and Injunctions, with several points in each as noted below.

That post, plus this one – Thoughts on Abuse, Postion, Power – and Restitutionare really about a range of actions from Repair to Reconciliation to Restitution. Here are the eight points, adapted from my tweet series for the Twitter campaign #IStandWithSGMVictims.

Overview: Restitution should be holistic, deal with past wrongs, and give survivors and their loved ones hope for the future. Excerpt: Typically, the only way toward that future requires first understanding the past so it truly can be put behind us, not simply denied, overlooked, or thinking it will never affect us again as long as we’ve forgiven the perpetrator … assuming we can forgive-then-forget, which I’m not sure is anywhere in the Bible. Restitution provides survivors of wrongdoing with opportunities to find resolve about what happened to them that was not their fault, and to move toward deeper levels of healing and recovery.”

Individuals – Taking Personal Responsibility – Points #1, 2, 3

  • Restitution #1. We publicly admit to moral, ethical, legal responsibility for failure to report sexual abuse, and we accept the consequences.
  • Restitution #2. We apologize in person to survivors, their families and supporters – if they will let us – THEIR choice.
  • Restitution #3. We use our own resources to help pay survivors’ fees to the counselor of their choice for at least 10 years.

Institutions – Developing a Safer Congregation – Points #4, 5, 6

  • Restitution #4. We ensure the church that we lead institutes and follows preventive practices against sexual abusers and abuse.
  • Restitution #5. We require prevention, interception, and intervention training on abuse by all paid and volunteer leaders.
  • Restitution #6. We teach regularly on and demonstrate God’s care for those made victims by the misuse of power by others.

Injunctions – Dealing with Those Who Refuse Responsibility – Points #7, 8

  • Restitution #7. Anyone with culpability in enabling abuse, but refuses consequences, is fired and whole church is told why.
  • Restitution #8. Any culpable church, ministry, or agency refusing their responsibility should be decried and dismantled.
  • So, I offer that as my “Slate of Eight” concrete suggestions to address enablers of victimization and making restitution
  • Finally: Love covers a multitude of sins; don’t let sins of abuse negate covering survivors with God’s love. Restore!


I think the best example I have to show how trust and authority works in a group is found in my four-part series on Reflections on Doxology. This was an interactive art exhibition in 2005 where the purpose was for viewers to challenge their assumptions about who Jesus was/is. Overview, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Here’s a quote from Part 3, and it should yield clues to what it means to re-establish trust in order to re-engage in ministry.

You know, I just realized that I’ve used the terms trust and entrustment repeatedly in my reflections on Doxology, but haven’t really framed exactly how I mean them. So, here is a description of how I’m thinking about them: So often, we use financial metaphors to talk about our relationships. Investing in others. Expecting relational pay-offs. Account-ability. These words easily carry implications of me sharing the best of what I have with you, so that I can do something productive with the overflow of my assets. Meanwhile, entrustment is my relying on you to share your best, while I do the same, and perhaps in that connection we will also draw out from each other what has been underutilized in each of us. Quite a different set of implications! Entrustment returns the us into trUSt.

Restitution versus Revenge

The original opening I wrote to that “Slate of Eight” guest post had to be edited down for reasons of space. However, I did save the longer version on “Restitution versus Revenge” and put it in this post: Thoughts on Abuse, Postion, Power – and Restitution. It captures that pairing of attitudes that I believe help things work best when there are sincere attempts to make things right in a relationship where wrong things happened. You need humility on the part of the perpetrator, and a conciliatory spirit on the part of the survivor.

I see the essence of restitution as an understanding and public acknowledgement that someone’s actions caused damage, and that they seek to restore conditions to what they were before insofar as humanly possible, or at least to redress the wounds to open new possibilities that were stolen from someone by the damage done. Thus, restitution is a fruit that demonstrates an underlying root of repentance. It isn’t about obediently fulfilling a list of requirements in order to supposedly “prove” you’ve changed. It’s part of a genuine personal change process. And it takes place in sight of others so there’s accountability. That’s needed in part because activity just means motion … it doesn’t mean you’ve done a 180-degree course correction. In fake restitution you could just do some required list and have done a 360-degree pirouette of pride and you’re right back on the same course as an agent of damage – the very same one that led to people being hurt by the agency of your negligence.

In contrast, revenge takes people with already brittle souls and seeks to apply the one cruel stroke that shatters them forever. An eye for an eye, a deadened heart for a deadened heart and all that. But that’s ultimately just more Law – when everybody is dieing to receive grace that calls them to become something more, and gives them a chance to respond. Grace empowers the opportunity for their spirit to be rescued from who they were and be more transformed into someone more conformed to the character of Christ.

Look, restitution may pinch our pride, but it won’t destroy our soul. It simply applies a bit of heat to get the wax of our character soft enough to receive a new impression that reshapes us more and more into the character of Christ. And He’s supposed to be the aim of our endeavors as disciples, right?

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