The following is an excerpt from an article:
The Signs of Spiritual Abuse,
by Steven Lambert
…Often, these are the symptoms of a church or group laboring under the heavy-hand of hyper-authoritarianism. That is to say, the leadership is dominating, controlling, and manipulating their followers, and exploiting them for their own personal gain and private kingdom-building. Wholesale abuse and misuse of authority is an integral part of the very foundation, fabric, and functions of such groups.
…The proper role of human under-shepherds is to lead people to the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ, and teach them how to be His disciples, in submission to Him and His authority. Hyper-authoritarian leaders, instead, lead people to themselves, and indoctrinate them to be their followers, in total submission to them and their authority. In essence, these dominating shepherds teach they are the church-members’ de facto lord, master, and savior, rather than Christ. They indoctrinate members to believe the spiritual leaders of the church themselves are the members’ “spiritual covering” (a totally false and patently unbiblical concept), and any member who ever leaves the church will be “out from under” their “covering,” be without any covering or what they call, “uncovered,” and will experience terrible curses and other horrible consequences as a result. From the pulpit often come “horror stories” about what happened to such-and-so person or family, who were so spiritually bereft or rebellious as to leave the group without the blessings and approval of their “spiritual authority.”
In these groups, the “authority” of the “shepherds” is absolute, sacrosanct, and inviolable, that is, without reprisal. Any semblance of anything other than total and unquestioning obedience to the desires and counsel of the church’s leadership chain is considered rebellion and insubordination, and simply is not tolerated. Members live under the constant threat of being branded with the Scarlet Letter “R” for “rebel,” openly denounced and shamed from the (bully-)pulpit, and consequently shunned by the “covenant-community” for failure to comply with the unwritten, unspoken rules and expectations established by the leadership. An oppressive performance-based approval and promotion system keeps members in constant internal turmoil and fear as they jump through all the hoops the spiritual taskmasters put before them, in an attempt to seek their leaders’ approval and favor. Moreover, members are indoctrinated and compelled to accept the leadership-set agenda of the group, regarding which they have next to no real say, as their personal burden and responsibility, and thus to commit their time, talent, And most importantly, their tithe, to its successful completion. Sadly, most never see past the spiritual smoke and mirrors to realize that the so-called “church” to which they have sworn allegiance and promised their wholehearted and unflagging support, is nothing more than the personal “business” of its leaders, and not only are they free labor, but they actually pay out of their own resources for the privilege of being a participant, i.e., member.
The following are some of the common signs and symptoms, or common characteristics, of authoritarian abuse manifest in hyper-authoritarian groups, churches, networks, and ministries… Bear in mind that the list is by no means exhaustive, and that these are somewhat general, rather than, exact descriptions. Many variations on these basic themes exist in authoritarian groups. Bottom-line is: any ministry in which more than one or two of these signs of abuse are manifest should alert you to the undeniable fact that it is a hyper-authoritarian organization, regardless of how large, popular, or well-known it and its leader are. … “He whom the Son sets FREE is FREE INDEED!
(NOTE: from me, I deleted symptoms that I had not yet noticed nor read about from recovering MHC members and from Driscoll’s books and sermons)
Apotheosis of the leadership — exalting them to God-like status in and over the group;
Multi-level authority/government hierarchy;
Absolute authority of the leadership;
No real accountability of the leadership to the corporate body;
Hand-picked sub-leaders, based on their demonstration of submissiveness to the ultimate leader rather than on the basis of their leadership skills, spirituality, and anointing and appointment by God;
Pervasive abuse and misuse of authority in personal dealings with members;
Paranoia and insecurity by the leaders;
Abuse, misuse, and inordinate incidence of “church discipline;”
Personal materialism, covetousness, and self-aggrandizement by the leaders;
Members and/or sub-leaders must make a “spiritual covenant,” sometimes a signed covenant agreement, pledging their total commitment and financial support to the leadership and church/ministry;
Partitioning of the group into smaller groups that are led by internally “raised up” lay-leaders who have not been anointed or appointed by God for leadership within the church;
Financial exploitation and enslavement of the members;
De facto legalism, or works mentality, and its resulting loss of the “joy of salvation,” though “freedom” is forever preached from the pulpit
Esotericism — hidden agendas and requirements revealed to members only as they successfully advance through various stages of “spiritual enlightenment,” i.e., unorthodox, unproven indigenous doctrines;
Isolationism — corporate and individual, especially with respect to exposure to outside ministry sources;
Performance-based approval and promotion system of members predicated on “proven” “loyalty” (i.e., submission) to the leadership;
Devaluation, suppression, and non-recognition of members’ bona fide God-given talents, abilities, gifts, callings, and anointing, as a means of subjugation;
Constant indoctrination with a “group” or “family” mentality that impels members to exalt the corporate “life” and goals of the church-group over their personal goals, callings, and objectives;
Members are psychologically traumatized and indoctrinated with numerous improper fears and phobias aimed at keeping them reeling in diffidence and an over-dependence or co-dependence on their leaders and the corporate group;
Lack of true personal spiritual growth and development, especially in terms of genuine faith and experiencing the abounding grace, forgiveness, goodness, blessings, kindness, and agape-love of God;
Frequent preaching from the pulpit regarding not getting out from under the “spiritual covering” of the leadership;
Members departing without the prior permission and blessing of the leadership leave the group under a cloud of manufactured suspicion, shame, and slander;
Horror stories frequently told by leaders about individuals or families who left the group without the prior permission and blessing of the leadership, and the terrible consequences and curses they suffered as a result;
Departing members often suffer from various psychological problems and display the classic symptoms associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).