Clergy abuse in the Church is well-established and reported, including controlling behavior, manipulative leadership, financial impropriety, and even sexual abuse. But just like other professions (few doctors are drug addicts, few peace officers are racists, and few lawyers are on the take), the overwhelming majority of pastors regardless of faith tradition are dedicated, sincere, honorable, and faithful servants of God tending to the flock God has assigned to their care.
What has not been sufficiently addressed and written about is the systematic abuse of spiritual leaders by some members of the congregations they serve. The ignorance of the phenomenon where it is unknown, and the blatant disregard for the behavior where it is tolerated are taking an enormous toll on the Church in the United States. Every four weeks 1500 ordained ministers leave the ministry. The simple plan of the enemy is to decimate local churches of all denominations and polities by abusing, demoralizing, crippling, and displacing the local shepherds. What is simply amazing is that the devil’s primary tool in this offensive is not secular humanism in society, or persecution from the world, but internal abusive behavior by congregants. The weapon of choice is the mouth rather than a gun. The projectiles are words instead of rounds. The death is an emotional one rather than a physical one.
The vast majority of church members support, uplift, and encourage their shepherds in their ministry assignments as spiritual leaders. Unfortunately, too many shepherd abusers are allowed to function in the shadows of the otherwise functional church sapping the leader of energy, vision, hope, joy, and passion. Perhaps by shining the light on a few of the devices (or types of the personalities or spirits) the enemy uses and employs to abuse spiritual leaders, congregations can become more sensitive to the problem, begin to identify and mark the behavior, and then hold the behavior accountable when it is discerned.
First, the Jezebel in the congregation works to introduce idolatry by seducing the spiritual leader (and not just sexually) so that the leader is manipulated and controlled by the individual. The Jezebel usually has a hidden or competing vision or agenda for the house. If seduction, manipulation, and control fail, the individual will often attempt to destroy the leader through false accusations or by creating dissensions in the body. If the leader yields to the Jezebel, their ministry is compromised. If they refuse to yield, they incur the intrigue and wrath of Jezebel who wants the head (or the authority) of the leader. Just like with Elijah, the Jezebel is tireless in the pursuit of it.
Second, the Absalom, which means ironically “father of peace,” seeks to steal the hearts of the follower away from the God ordained leader. As in the day of David, often the Absalom is usually close to the minister or someone the spiritual leader has given a platform for ministry. Taking advantage of the platform, the Absalom stands at the social gates of the local church sowing seeds that suggest the leader does not care about the people or have time for the people. The Absalom intentionally becomes the unofficial complaint desk for the congregation, and has no ethical problem counseling church members without the knowledge or support of the pastor, abusing the visibility, access, and trust given to them by the leader. The result is the separation of the hearts of people from their spiritual covering and the compromise of their spiritual destiny. The Absalom selfishly fails to consider the true welfare of the people, concerned only with the advancement of an illegitimate kingdom.
Third, the most common abuser, the Demas, receives a significant investment in time, ministry, and personal development from the spiritual leader. Often, the Demas has experienced major breakthroughs, including salvation and even deliverance and restoration from life-controlling problems, life-destroying tendencies, and life-wrecking experiences. Just like with Paul, Demas just one day disappears from the scene. The biblical Demas left because of his love for the world (carnality). Church folks leave churches today for a variety of reasons, some valid and some ridiculous. Nonetheless, the thing that marks every Demas is that he or she deserts, forsakes, and abandons the ministry, and does so without even a word to the pastor, despite the substantial ministry, love, and benefit the individual received through their ministry. Most church members wouldn’t even think of leaving a job without giving a two-week notice. But the Demas just vanishes with no word or explanation (except to other people), and no consideration for the damage that is done to the local church and the local church minister. Surely the local church shepherd deserves at least as much consideration as a church member would give to Burger King.
Ministers are fully aware of the high calling they receive, the charge to speak the truth in love, the challenges of serving God’s people, the warfare that accompanies the responsibility of watching over their souls, and the need for proper self-care. The problem is the abuse of clergy over time has a cumulative and debilitating effect, the results of which may not manifest for years or decades. While it is the responsibility of the minister to remain faithful to the flock and maintain a strong and vital spiritual life to sustain them internally during the marathon course of their ministry, it is also the responsibility of the flock to value clergy lives by upholding them in prayer, supporting them with faithfulness, strengthening them with words of encouragement, and confronting and holding accountable the abusive personalities like the Jezebel, the Absalom, the Demas, and others as they manifest. These simple efforts can dramatically increase the tenure of local pastors and increase the health of the churches they serve.