It took three years to write this series. Not three years of actual writing, but that long to understand what happened to me and my family at Giant Church Inc, process it, pray through it, then gather the gumption to write it down.
Giant Church Inc changed us forever. This series tells part of that story. The truth is: there’s more to the story. First, we’re still in the middle of the hard work of healing, and still learning the language of how to communicate our experience.
Second, Giant Church Inc is still going strong, and nothing has changed. Certainly the pandemic changed the Sunday morning gatherings and all that goes along with it, but Giant Church Inc still performs, makes the deals, pushes the brand, and works to maintain control of its people. The response of Giant Church Inc to the pandemic has revealed its priorities and its dark side.
All In One
For now I will continue to educate the Church about toxic leadership and spiritual abuse. I will keep working at not being part of the problem, and I will encourage you to do the same. The plan going forward is to post once-a-month on Giant Church Inc issues to keep the conversation going and to promote further healing. My hope is to point us to Jesus, and help us keep our eyes fixed on Him.
I begin with this: a resource page with all the articles, books, authors, quotes, experts, blogs, and Jesus stories I used in the series.
In addition to my close friends and family, and all the others who’ve been the Church to me, several people influenced this series and gave me the courage and the language to write it.
I urge you to learn from them. Read their books. Listen to the podcasts. Each one has caused me to love Jesus in a deeper way.
Then there are these: The Clutch-A Pelican Project Discussion Group and The Exiles. One is a group of diverse women who love Jesus, love the Church, and get together virtually. They are no less influential. In fact, it was a discussion in this very group that taught me not to be ashamed of my story.
The other group is a lifeline, a source of encouragement, love, and humor. We get together regularly, face to face. We eat and laugh together, and give each other hugs (when we’re not social distancing).
I thank God every day for them. I urge you to find a group of people who love Jesus, are learning to follow Him wholeheartedly, and are willing to take off the brilliant disguises we all like to wear.
Ultimately, we are better for our Giant Church Inc experience, and I want to help others be better for it. The way we are better for it is when we’ve learned the difference between following Jesus and following an institution, or a movement, or Christian culture, and pastors, a denomination, a theology, or political party. And when we’ve learned the difference, we do all we can to know Jesus, trust Him more and more, and love Him wholeheartedly. It’s a work of God, but we talk to Him. We abide. We surrender.
And when we forget or get distracted, we run back to Him and do it again. He’s a good and kind Father.
The headings below are the titles and links to each post within the series. My resources and their links are included underneath each heading. I ended each Giant Church Inc post with a Jesus story and include the scripture reference.
Megachurch definition: Hartford Institute for Religion Research
Julie Roys and her investigative work and journalism are a great resource.
Spiritual Abuse defined by Wade Mullen: In a podcast interview with Julie Roys on September 28, 2019, Dr. Wade Mullen, director of the M.Div. program at Capital Seminary and Graduate School, describes spiritual abuse as “an attempt by a person [group or organization] to use all that encompasses another person’s spiritual life – their beliefs, their faith, their experiences, and their hopes, to coerce or manipulate that other person into serving the abuser’s agenda.”
Jesus story: Matthew 11:28-30 CSB
Mark Galli, the recently retired editor in chief of Christianity Today, wrote in his series for the magazine called The Elusive Presence, “For some decades now….I’ve believed that American Christianity has been less and less interested in God as such, and more and more at doing good things for God. We’ve learned how to be effective for him, to the point that we don’t really need him any longer.”
Once we have spent time in a particular belief system, especially in a “church” environment that demands massive contributions, unquestioned loyalty, absorbs all spare time and which forms the entire social network for people, most don’t have enough mental energy to figure out that something is terribly wrong.Christy Thomas for Patheos
Jesus story: Matthew 21:12-13
Wade Mullen tweeted this: “Marshall McLuhan noted that the last thing a fish is likely to discover is the water it is swimming in. The water is so fundamental to the fish’s way of life that it is not seen or questioned. The organizational world is full of similar examples.” Gareth Morgan
D.L. Mayfield wrote an article for Sojourners titled This Is How We Let Abuse Thrive.
Jesus story: Matthew 9:36 NIV
John Piper said, “All human beings are created to attach their tiny, little lives to something absolutely majestic and glorious so that their life takes on a sense of wonder and eternal significance. It takes on significance not because of who or what we are in ourselves, but because of how we’re attached to and participate in the life and purposes of the Creator of the universe.”
Diane Langberg on the power of culture: We typically accept the trappings of a culture without assessment. It just is what is. We are easily seduced by whatever culture we have marinated in. We imbibe it. We breathe it. It’s our oxygen. We are shaped by it and because the culture is simply what we know, we are blind to its aberrations. We not only ingest toxins, we transmit them to others.
Jesus story: Matthew 20:29-34 CSB
The injustice of one person against another cannot be contained. Injustice, no matter how seemingly private, always has public consequences.Karen Swallow Prior, On Reading Well
Drew Hunter, a pastor in Indiana, in an article for Desiring God said this: “Most foundationally, you need friendship because you are inescapably communal. You are made in God’s image, and God is not solitary — he eternally exists as a triune fellowship of love. This is why “it is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Our triune God made us to reflect him, and one beautiful implication is that we are wired for lives of relational fullness with other people.”
Dr. Eric Perry, PhD wrote about collective narcissism.
More about collective narcissism from Frontiers in Psychology.
In an informative podcast conversation between Dr. Dan Allender, PhD and Rachel Clinton, MDiv, they have this to say about it: “It’s a system that is more than hierarchical. The top dog does control, manipulate, have power over everyone else, and there is an immense amount of shame and fear that goes on in that organization. Spiritually abusive systems are often rigidly dogmatic, with an in-house language and a very rigid sense of who is “in” and who is “out.” In spiritually abusive situations, truth is perverted in order to bind people and keep them under control. The reality of brokenness in the world is amplified into a distrust of anyone on the outside, and community members are led to believe that questioning or challenging their leaders is a form of betrayal. This has deep and crucial intersections with the category of narcissism”
From Ask Pastor John, May 2, 2018: “Jesus is better than the community of Jesus. Jesus will be there when the community of Jesus lets you down.”
Jesus story: John 9:35-38 CSB
Jamie Goggin and Kyle Strobel, along with several others I’ve read and listened to lately, agree: power is the issue. In their book, The Way of the Dragon or The Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It, Goggin and Strobel highlight the difference between worldly power and Christian power, the way from below and the way from above. They ask some thought provoking questions. What happens if the church rejects the power of Christ? What happens when Christians embody a worldly approach to power and try to use that to advance Christ’s kingdom?
Diane Langberg tweeted: Jesus, who was omnipotent, regresses to a human body. He goes back, He goes down, and He becomes small. By our standards of success, even those adopted by much of the American church, Jesus would surely be deemed a failure.
Jesus story: Matthew 20:25-28 NIV
For more on the language of spiritual abuse and other tactics used by abusers visit Wade Mullen here. From research and his own experiences, he writes about it with the hope of helping others spot abuse. Diane Langberg and Dan Allender are two more wonderful sources of information on spiritual abuse. This is an important topic and one worth educating yourself about.
Jesus story: Matthew 15:10-20 NLT
Stephen McAlpine, a pastor in Perth, Australia, shared this definition of bullying on his blog:
A bully has a track record within an organisation that follows a particular and repeated pattern. This includes gas-lighting, shaming, reframing narratives, isolating individuals, misuse of Scripture to excuse themselves or blame the victim, and then covering their tracks through half-truths or lies. This is exacerbated by a compliant, willfully blind, or cowardly management structure within which that person is working, that, instead of reprimanding or sacking the bully, allows them to continue their work at the expense of the victim.
In a recent blog post, Matthew Mason made a true and bold statement about church leaders who abuse their power.
The deepest scandal of these men’s lives and ministries is, in fact, not that they have hurt and damaged people (dreadful and inexcusable as that is). The deepest scandal is that although they claimed to speak God’s truth on God’s behalf, in their bullying abuse of their positions of power they have revealed that they are liars. Liars about God.Living by Promises blog by Matthew Mason
Jesus story: Luke 18:10-14
A primary goal of a cover-up is to define the situation for others so they cannot define it for themselves. This requires managing the flow of information and preventing others from acquiring details that would challenge the definition that is being given to them. Wade Mullen on Twitter
When I learned of Chuck DeGroat’s book, I had no idea how important it would be to my own healing journey and to the series. I was part of the book launch team and I can say with confidence that the relationships formed, the stories shared, and the author’s graciousness, knowledge, and humility were instrumental in how I finished the series.
Because narcissistic leaders prefer power over empowerment, they do not provide staff with clarity of vision or job description. They’re constantly shifting expectations and changing roles/structures to achieve their impossible dream of control.Chuck DeGroat in When Narcissism Comes To Church
Jesus story: Mark 10:17-22 CSB
It should not feel out of the ordinary, harsh, or inappropriate to call the Church to change. Nor should we imagine that our unique expression of Church is the only one God sanctions. Instead, we should be constantly seeking renewal, being ready at any moment to discard the elements of Church that lead us away from God’s heart rather than toward it.
May God forgive us for building our church empires on the foundation of our own arrogance.Francis Chan in Letters to the Church
Chuck DeGroat wrote, “Whole church systems and programs evolve within the waters of narcissism, and when it’s the water you swim in, it’s hard to see and even harder to confront.”
Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel ask these questions in their book, The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb. “What would it look like to embrace Jesus’ vision for leadership? What would it look like to put off the obsession with worldly value of power and prestige? What would it look like to have healthy leaders as opposed to toxic ones?”
They give these descriptions of a pastor who clings to Jesus and His way:
- The pastor gives their life for the sake of the church, regardless of what they gain.
- The pastor views ministry as an arena of love and service.
- The pastor embraces their congregation as people to know and love, not tools to use for other ends.
- The pastor views prayer and care as the centerpiece of their work, rather than an interruption.
- The pastor views other pastors not as competition, but as fellow shepherds on the journey whom they need for encouragement and wisdom, and who they are called to encourage and love.
Narcissistic systems are not safe. Chuck DeGroat writes in When Narcissism Comes to Church, “I often recommend an organization called GRACE for church education and training, particularly for the sake of our children (see netgrace.org). It is vital that churches stand vigilant for children, especially in the wake of recent public scandals….”
Jesus story: John 13:2-9 NIV