Michael Kruger had written an excellent series exposing a serious problem. Because this is such a serious issue and Kruger has captured the problem so helpfully, I’ve decided to collate his series here and provide a few comments that I think would be helpful.
- The first article introduces the series and highlights that spiritual abuse is a growing problem. https://www.michaeljkruger.com/bully-pulpit-a-new-series-on-the-rising-problem-of-spiritual-abuse-in-the-church/. One of the reasons it’s an increasing problem is that it often goes undetected. People have grown tolerant of pugnacious behavior, as strange as it may sound. So when it’s pointed out, people seem to be confused. This behavior is clearly disqualifying, but we have ignored it.
- The next article defines spiritual abuse: https://www.michaeljkruger.com/what-is-spiritual-abuse/. What’s notable about Kruger’s definition is the fact that Biblical goals can easily justify spiritual abuse for the pugnacious pastor. Abusive pastors can even justify their own behavior because they claim to be trying to achieve biblical ends. They might even convince themselves that their conscience is clear before the Lord. The problem is how other people receive their behavior (which Kruger will cover more later).
In the next article: https://www.michaeljkruger.com/key-signs-of-an-abusive-pastor-1-a-long-track-record-of-broken-relationships/, Kruger further defines spiritual abuse in this article. He states that it’s when a pastor “manipulates, domineers, bullies, and intimidates” to achieve spiritual goals. He also explains a key and important issue when it comes to speaking up about spiritual abuse. He notes that people don’t want to because they know there will be repercussions. He also identifies people who dismiss abuse because abusive pastors just “ruffle feathers,” have a Paul and Barnabas-like experience, or people haven’t experienced it themselves. This article is beneficial as it instructs us to consider that abusive pastors have a track record. The continued, ongoing failure in relationships due to abuse is the issue. A repeated pattern has been established. That’s a major issue.
- One initial observation from Kruger’s next article, https://www.michaeljkruger.com/key-signs-of-an-abusive-pastor-2-hyper-defensive-about-their-own-authority/ shows a very real concern about how an abusive pastor continues in ministry. Kruger notes, “abusive pastors often create an entire church culture that perpetually affirms and protects their authority.” This reminds me of Dr. Lillbeck’s comment, “No public figure frozen in his flaws can long be followed as an example. When the leader's failures are duplicated in the followers, the whole community is infected with a poison that will breed harm and hurt.” It also reminds me of Proverbs 29:12, “If a ruler pays attention to falsehood, everyone under him becomes wicked.” There is a very real danger of allowing an abusive pastor to continue in ministry. That danger affects everyone who is under him. Kruger notes that abusive pastors need to surround themselves with “lawyers.” The defense is mounted in the protection of an abusive pastor by turning on those who attempt to speak up. They’re the ones who are the real problem, according to the defendants. This article is particularly sad to me because it shows that the pastor and his lawyers are much more concerned about protecting the pastor than they are about protecting the sheep. I appreciate Kruger’s comment, “You don’t lead by demanding your rights, but by giving them up.”
- https://www.michaeljkruger.com/key-signs-of-an-abusive-pastor-3-overly-critical-and-harsh-with-others/ This article identifies another tactic of abusive pastors. I also find it particularly helpful for counseling. It exposes the “et tu quoque” fallacy of counselees. When counselee A is trying to explain a problem with another counselee B, counselee B responds by bringing up a list of sins on counselee A. The result is a downward spiral of back and forths where each counselee is trying to one-up the other both in self-righteousness and other-condemnation. The result is that you can get so far off track from the original problem that you might not even remember what you were supposed to be talking about in the first place. In the context of Kruger’s article, he identifies it as a defense mechanism to keep people in submission by “demoralizing” them. It seems like a very effective tactic to try to make people think that they are the problem, that they’re going to cause harm because of their sin or their beliefs and then offer the solution to them (through submission). What an awful thing. The alternative is much more desirable, “Therefore an overseer must be . . . not violent but gentle. (1 Tim 3:3; cf. Titus 1:7).”
- https://www.michaeljkruger.com/why-dont-churches-stop-spiritually-abusive-pastors/ This is the last article in Kruger’s series. As the title suggests, he exposes more issues that allow an abusive pastor to continue in ministry. He notes that abuse continues because people respond to accusations by focusing on all the good that an abusive pastor has done. They also go on the offensive against those who are speaking up, and they accuse them of being slanderers. He also notes that another defense is an appeal to the fact that we are all sinners and that a person who identifies an abusive pastor is just being unforgiving. In response to this, one thought that comes to my mind is how inconsistent the defenders are. They appear to be so quick to appeal to the Gospel for the abusive pastor but also unwilling to do the same for the accusers. It seems clear that there is a problem when one side will appeal to the Gospel for themselves but refuse to do so to the opposing side. This reminds me of a quote from Thomas Manton, “When men are once engaged in a way of error, whosoever is an enemy to their error is counted an enemy to themselves.”
One of the things that I brought up in another article is the fact that we as Christians need to be more focused on the Gospel and to prefer the side of Christ. A crucial way of maintaining the integrity of the Gospel and the integrity of our churches is to strive to maintain qualified pastors. Herman Witsius described the danger very well, “[Ministers] destroy more by a bad life, than they build up by sound doctrine; they disgrace religion, insinuate a skepticism as to what they preach, and open a wide door to libertinism and atheism.” Charles Bridges offers an important solution, “The best of us probably are far more spiritual in our pulpits than in our closets, and find less effort required to preach against all the sins of our people than to mortify one of them in our hearts.” He goes on to describe even more explicitly how pastors can avoid disqualification as he examines the life of a missionary,
The missionary Eliot is said to have 'become so nailed to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, that the grandeurs of this world were unto him just what they would be to a dying man. He persecuted the lust of the flesh with a continual antipathy; and when he has thought that a Minister had made much of himself, he has gone to him with the speech—'Study mortification, brother; study mortification.
I’m also reminded of a quote from David Powlison that I think is also incredibly relevant. He said, "The wise and foolish are distinguishable by how they get angry."
 “And you also.” In other words, it’s a defense mechanism that attempts to immediately placate one’s own sin by pointing out sins in others.