Some of the sure signs that you are in an unhealthy church or under the leadership of someone who is controlling; is that you are forbidden to question any church teaching or doctrine or under no circumstances may you question the teachings, decisions or actions of those in leadership. Saying “no” to anything requested of him is simply out of the question. Members are shamed into performing according to the church leaders.
Peer pressure and ridicule are used against the person who dares to ask the wrong question or express a negative feeling. They may even shun you, or disown you for “making waves” and you may even be branded as having a “divisive or rebellious spirit.” Your salvation may even be questioned! The results is that members become non-communicative. They do not have any context other than what comes from the pulpit or from their leaders.
Socially, the leader only excepts the members to fellowship with other members – and they will impose mandatory church attendance. Church members are judged by their attendance record. The Pastor uses one of the many intimidation technique by saying that “faithful members are to be in their places.” Little jabbing comments are made to those who miss a service.
Restrictions are sometimes placed on church members concerning personal friendships. These mind and body control tactics prevent the members from having a close friendship with anyone outside of the denomination. Contact with casual friends and neighbors is acceptable to the point where the member invites the friend or neighbor to the church. Once the friend or neighbour refuses the invitation to attend the church, the member must discourage further contact.
The members are initially very friendly, almost to the point of being overly affectionate and welcoming, they will invite you to all their functions, bible studies, dinners, only to become an iceberg if you won’t attend their church or decide to leave. The truth is they will only befriend you and remain your friend if you participate, contribute and conform to what the leader says. Should you not, then you are quickly forgotten and shunned.
You may often find that if one spouse no longer attends the church, the leadership may try and separate them, claiming that they are unequally yoked, or subtly hint that they are no longer on the same “spiritual level as you” or that “they will prevent you from fulfilling the calling God has on your life.” They may even issue warnings that Satan is trying to use them to pull you away from God.
These techniques are common in cults and false religions but should never be the practice in the Christian church.
Theologically, there is very little or no discussion concerning doctrine or that there may be a possibility of there being another way of interpreting scriptures. The member is expected to get all of their doctrinal interpretation from the leadership of the church. Members are taught to not trust their own interpretation of Scripture and avoid doing so. Some even forbid their members to get spiritual food anywhere else except from them, as they are the only ones who know the truth.
Another control tactic controlling pastors will implement is they will often slander other pastors from other fellowships and claim that “they do not walk with the Lord” or plant seeds of doubt in peoples minds so that should people wish to attend another church they might fall into sin, come under a curse from God or no longer have their pastoral covering.
(Sean Cameron Gunn)