Warning Signs of Abusive Organizations
When the disciples asked the Lord Jesus to teach them to pray, the first statement in that prayer combined a commitment to obedience with an entreaty for a world marked by the presence of God. That is the simplest way to summarize Matthew 6:10 and what it encompasses for us in this world. We continue to live in a world that, like the world of the Peter, James, John, and Mary, longs for the will of God to be done. Until we see this prayer fully answered, we will encounter weighty problems even as we serve the Lord Jesus in joy and gladness in His Kingdom.
In recent years, many of us have become more aware of the wolves that Paul warned of in Acts 20:29-30. These wolves have savaged multiple lives alongside damaging churches and fellowships of believers. No place has been immune, and we have found these wolves in places of influence among the diverse community of homeschoolers and in previously trusted ministries. Our first concern must always be for the direct victims of wolves, and to that end we strongly encourage those who are attacked to seek outside help, including law enforcement, as you need to.
Beyond this, though, our minds must turn to prevention. We need to ask ourselves hard questions about the choices we make, such as whether or not homeschooling increases our risks, or whether we have chosen the right partners in our home education journey. Are there warning signs or alarm bells that we should see and hear?
I will make passing mention of some warning signs, because these are also potential marks of a faithful church in a faithless age. For example, one should be aware of a church that views the outside world with nothing but suspicion, but as sin increases many honest Christian will do just that. Additionally, some would suggest that a church or organization that stresses separation from the world would be a warning sign — but what else will many of us seek as the world walks a line similar to Romans 1:28-32?
Let me propose a few items that should set your alarm bells ringing:
First, the leadership of the organization must be considered. Who are they? What is their history? If the leadership of a church consistently evades accountability to the body they serve, that’s one loud *ding* on your alarm bell. Pastors and leaders may not need to answer every criticism they receive, but if they never answer any critics, something is amiss. And if there is no clear method for raising a leadership concern directly with that leader, that’s another loud *ding.*
Second, the behaviors of the organization must be considered. You might think their doctrine and teaching should come first, but behavior precedes that. Why? Because we behave what we truly believe. If a church preaches grace but lives legalism, then they do not truly believe in grace. Further, if your introduction to a group is the list of rules, followed up by just how hard it will be to leave, then count that as three long rattles of the alarm bell.
Third, the doctrines of the organization must be considered. As Christians, our standard is the Word of God. What is the standard presented by the group in question? Take it a step further: Who determines how the standard is applied? If the structures for the group teach that only selected, elevated individuals are capable of understanding God, then that is both a flashing warning sign and a loud alarm bell. If the doctrine allows an individual to speak, unquestioned, for God, there is a problem.
Time and space fail me to flesh out many others, but here are few more questions to ask. Are the leaders permitted behavior forbidden to members? How open is the church with financial information? Who does the church define as “like-minded?” How well do they interact with like-minded?
There are many valuable and helpful Christian organizations out there. There are great, God-honoring, Christ-centered churches. These are led by godly people, seeking to honor Christ and serve His flock. Yet there remain, as there will until eternity, wolves scattered around. Prayerfully be cautious without embracing cynicism, because we need each other.