Spiritual Abuse: It’s Not Just Celebrity Pastors

When I was in seminary there were two sins—all too common among pastors—that frightened me so much I nearly gave up my pursuit of the ministry. One of those was the sin of spiritual abuse. After all: “Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed by lambs.’” Twice more he brought Peter’s love to the test, and each time bid him to have a careful regard for his sheep. Our love to Jesus is, to a certain extent, shown by the way in which we treat the sheep. If he is a liar who says he loves God but hates his brother, I suspect it cannot be good for that one who says he loves the Great Shepherd but hates the Shepherd’s sheep.

Yesterday Christianity Today reported that celebrity pastor Darrin Patrick, had been fired from the mega-church he pastored in St. Louis. They reported: “[The church] cited a range of ongoing sinful behaviors over the past few years including manipulation, domineering, lack of biblical community, and a history of building his identity through ministry and media platforms.” Unfortunately, Patrick isn’t alone. Manipulation and dictatorial rule are becoming an increasingly common headline, and that’s only from those instances that catch the public eye. There are countless untold stories of those who have suffered spiritual abuse at the hands of those who should be tending them. Even in my short tenure as pastor I have met those inside and outside of the church whose hearts have been wounded or crushed by those who “will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). It’s as if many have become deaf to Jesus’ words: “Feed my sheep.”