I was excited to be part of the L.I.F.E Conference as an anointer for the first time in the spring of 2014. The previous year, my husband and I attended the conference after we went through the twelve-week curriculum with our small group. As an anointer, I would get to pray with the newest group who just finished L.I.F.E.
Several first-time anointers sat together and didn’t seem to hear what I heard. I glanced around the room to see if anyone was bothered by it. I didn’t remember the Jezebel/Ahab session at our conference, because the lead pastors added it to the L.I.F.E. Conference for the first time in 2014. The speaker described the characteristics of someone with a “jezebel spirit” in great detail.
The Instant Barrier
She said someone with a “jezebel spirit” was rebellious, arrogant, and questioned leadership. They were unwilling to submit to authority, manipulative, dressed in a way to get attention, worked for power and control, and wanted a position of leadership. She went on to say there are high profile and low profile jezebels. A high profile jezebel is easier to detect, but the low profile jezebel is more dangerous. A low profile jezebel hides it well, usually under the guise of humility, sincerity, and servanthood. Either way, the point was, a jezebel had no place in any type of leadership position within the church.
A male pastor spoke about the “ahab spirit.” Laziness, passive-aggressive behavior, allows others to lead. I can’t remember a lot of that portion of the session. It was much shorter than the jezebel portion, but a man or woman can have either or both spirits. The entire bizarre session was approximately forty-five minutes long with more characteristics of each spirit named, examples of how they destroy the church, wreck marriages, and generally wreak havoc in our lives.
The teaching troubled me. I knew the Old Testament story of Ahab and Jezebel and the reference to Jezebel in Revelations but that was none of those stories. I had three thoughts as I listened. First, why was questioning leadership grouped with negative behaviors, such as rebellion, arrogance, and manipulation. Second, no one is immune to the types of behaviors described by the speakers. At one point or another, yesterday, today, an hour ago; we’ve all behaved that way. It’s called sin. Third, I thought the description she gave for the jezebel spirit described her more than anyone else I knew, but she never acknowledged her own struggle with it.
It troubled me deeply because I sensed the motive behind the teaching was to give her and the rest of the church leadership more power and control. It created an instant barrier between leadership and critique, feedback, or accountability. Because no one would ever want to be known to have these spirits, it caused at least a hesitancy, and at worst a refusal to ask questions about policies, authority, finances, or any decisions made by leadership.
People were made to believe they were jealous or in a sinful pattern if they were ever brave enough to question the pastors or church leadership. Doubting church leadership was equated with not trusting God.
It did what they wanted it to do. It created a culture of fear. A fear of not agreeing. A fear of questioning. A fear of finding out why people left and continuing in deep friendships with them. A fear of standing up for those unfortunate ones who were discredited. A fear of speaking out about false teaching. A fear of asking for financial statements. A fear of not tithing even when you had valid concerns.
Then the unthinkable happened. I remember well the first time I was told to be careful of a woman I was mentoring. A church leader told me the woman had a jezebel spirit. This happened on several occasions and eventually the name calling made its way into the youth group and internship programs. Church leaders warned staff, lay leaders, and even other interns of young men and women who had jezebel and/or ahab spirits.
A Powerful Weapon
One of the most powerful weapons of deception is the use of spiritual language. Giant Church Inc knows the language well and wields it cleverly.
A favorite saying at Giant Church Inc was, “Don’t put God in a box. Aren’t you open to how God leads? Don’t you believe He will do great wonders in your lives and wants to bless you?” This caused us to doubt our discernment, our faith, and kept us quiet.
Several months after that conversation on the porch with Johnny about the men’s breakfast, a young church staff member, and mother of three little ones, expecting twins, shared a funny story. Only I didn’t think it was funny. Her boss, the executive pastor of the church, told her she had poverty mindset after he found out she found a bargain on jeans at Old Navy. I reassured her she was simply being a thoughtful steward of God’s gifts. But she’d already given in to the lie that her faith was less than, not big or strong enough. Her boss’s message was subtle, but clear: she’d settled for a good deal instead of believing God wanted to give her more expensive jeans.
The lingo of Giant Church Inc is used to confuse, manipulate, control, shape, and steal the place of God’s voice. I witnessed the lingo used to make people doubt their salvation, wonder if their baptisms were “in order”, and question if they were doing enough or giving enough. It’s used to make people believe that those who speak out about the abuses they’ve endured are not Christ followers, but enemies of God. It’s been used to break up marriages and friendships, destroy reputations, and make people believe the leaders are special prophets. It exaggerates and blatantly lies to a crowd, where a few know the truth but won’t call the lie out. It says one thing and means another. Instead of pointing us to Jesus; the leaders created followers who were more dependent on them and the false community they created.
During another staff meeting, I realized the weekly messages were planned according to how leadership wanted the people to think and act. Strategic teaching was a way to shape our thoughts and slowly change our behavior. When the pastors decided leaders could no longer be friends with those they led, the staff and the inner circle were the first to learn the principle behind the new expected behavior. They also did this when it was made clear they were not to be called by their first names only, but should be preceded by the title Pastor. Once the inner circle put it into practice, a message series about honor was taught to shape the thinking and behavior of the entire congregation. And it was all wrapped in spiritual, and sometimes biblical language, to convince us that God wanted it that way.
They always told us there would be push back when teaching a new concept, and they were right. My oldest daughter still remembers the sadness she felt when her youth leaders taught her and her peers that leaders were not friends. She looked up to them as her leaders, but also saw them as older and wiser friends. Nothing was ever the same.
Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “Listen,” he said, “and try to understand. It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”
Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?”
Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted, so ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.”
Then Peter said to Jesus, “Explain to us the parable that says people aren’t defiled by what they eat.”
“Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.” Matthew 15:10-20 NLT
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 sources of information on spiritual abuse. This is an important topic and one worth educating yourself about.
Read Church, We Have a Problem to continue the Giant Church Inc series.