In case you missed it, Brad Sargent said this in his latest post on spiritual abuse…

Might I suggest that the point of power-plays is to turn church life into a churning saga that thereby keeps that ever-important supply of endorphins flowing to the power addict and the others?

Is it possible that we have become neurochemically addicted to the systems of abuse and the melodrama that keeps them – and perhaps us – perpetually going?

“What is drama, after all,” Alfred Hitchcock said, “but life with the dull bits cut out?”

One of the things that really struck me after our encounter with spiritual abuse was the illusion of importance shared by everyone involved in that particular system.  Outside of that system, all of the politics and power plays were irrelevant to life and society.  The only teeth the power and control had was people’s desire for inclusion and involvement in the group.

The senior leader was king of his playground, the big fish in his pond, and the wizard pulling the levers behind the curtain.  But all of the drama that he created was only relevant in that sphere.  At one point, I realized that the “apostle” actually created drama for the purpose of having to come in and “rescue” the situation.

As people leave a toxic church, the drama continues for them in whatever relational fallout they experience.  However, beyond that, they are free from being subject to the control of the false importance of the toxic system.  Submission to the control of the imaginary drama and all of the false importance that is attached to that is what holds those who remain within the toxic system.

Brad also said this in his post…

Addiction to power is like porn … it leads to an imaginary story controlling our lives and others. In both, we objectify people, dehumanizing them to the status of props in our own melodramatic “Story of Me.”

We become their invincible masters, whether through aggression or submission, dissociation or seduction. And they become some meaningless but necessary extras whose only role is to let us manipulate them in whatever distinct ways ensure that we receive increasingly stronger and longer doses of our all-important, most-preferred, and well-deserved brain biochemicals that offer us ongoing ecstasy.

The power we hold over them subordinates their story to ours, removing them from the possibility of fulfilling their own providential story with a plotline in which they are their own main character and in which we should play a supporting role. But that’s worth it for the pleasure of our own endorphin-enhanced story …

I am not saying it is easy, but it is usually a good idea to opt out of participating in a power trip.


13 thoughts on “Puppeteers

  1. This is the perfect description of the every day life of a narcissist. I grew up with on for a mother. Extricating from the drama is not easy. Whether the glory-seeking power addict is a parent, spouse or pastor, getting free requires divine help, in my experience. But the steps to get there are so worth it!

  2. The layout of of a ‘church?’ building is a picture of a power trip – the pulpit on high at the front and the rest of us there in the back rows. The architecture of the Cathedral, the “seeker” sanctuary, et – all speaks of power to the pulpit and he who proclaims ‘the Word of God’ from on high.

  3. katherine,
    Very true. I did some reading on narcissism. It was helpful in understanding the personality we were dealing with and explaining the frustrating inability to make the situation work.

    I don’t want to downplay the difficulty of extricating oneself from the web. I am sure that is especially complicated in family relationships. In church situations, sometimes we forget or don’t realize that we have voluntarily submitted ourselves to the control.

    Yes, the model speaks a message of its own.

  4. Looking back at my ministry “career”, I am amazed at how much I was taught to manipulate people in order to stay in contol–and, sadly, how well I picked it up. I wince now at some of the methods I employed, some with the best of intentions, some not so much–but always under the pretense of the work of the Lord. It’s such a diabolical snare, and one of the great regrets I was referring to in my recent post.

    I have a whole different outlook now on leadership. I have had to re-think a lot of my leadership style so as to provide what is needed without violating people by manipulation. It requires (gasp!) faith on my part, trusting God with the people in our community. But it is so much healthier to do it that way, and far fewer people get hurt.

  5. jeff,
    I understand what you are saying. We were guilty of similar tactics, mostly rooted in the naive and arrogant presumption that we as leaders knew what other people needed, and the sincerely misguided belief that it was their role to be players in the vision we led.

    I thank God for his mercy in allowing us to see this, to not be involved in further damage to others, and the opportunity to relearn leadership under His guidance rather than under the false teaching of the “apostle.”

    There is such a greater role to trust and allow the Holy Spirit to be involved in spiritual transformation. But I believe as you said, it is healthier, and in the long run, we will see more real, authentic, and permanent growth and transformation.

  6. Yes, I read Brad’s latest post and am still processing it …

    That whole series has been amazing. But I think the whole idea of how insidious power is has never been taken very seriously within the church and yet that has done the most damage throughout history.

    My personal experience is that power is cloaked in many disguises and some people don’t like to think they’re wearing it even when they are the most hungry for it of all. That is the time to walk away

  7. It’s true that in church settings, we submit voluntarily. But for those who were raised by a narcissist in a church setting – and the narcissist was the family religious expert – it can be a little trickier to see those lines.

    Last winter, I finally got to the root of one of my deepest fears and it shocked me (and my therapist & friends) – it showed the depths of indoctrination as a child. I was afraid that in pursuing freedom, I would find that my mother was right and that (here’s the incredible part, instilled from very small) if I wanted to be right with God I would have to do things my mother’s way. My mother represented God to me and the church I grew up in was where being right with God was lived. I know better now (thank You God!), but it was not easy to get to that truth and I am still working on the debris from that. ;-)

  8. Grace, Over the last little while I’ve been pondering the place of value statements, goals, mission statements, definitions, etc, in the hands of power brokers. In these statements we reduce the entire mission of God to a few pithy phrases that become the strings that attach the puppets to the puppet master. In the best of leadership theory, these statements are formed as a community, but you and I know that its the person with the smooth leadership skills who has the most input and who will later use the statement as a control point. Once a complex concept such as the mission of God is reduced to a few simple statements, its easy to take the reduction and add whatever you want to flavour it and make it complicated. I’m not much for philosophy but I believe this is the error of reductionism and if I’m not mistaken, its a control point for power freaks. Do you think there’s a connection there?

  9. Reality is the pastor is mentioned in the scriptures 1 time (Eph 4:11) – the word is plural. So where is scripture is the pastor given any authority? Answer: nowhere

    We’ve made them the CEO – and a lot of them aren’t very good businessmen. Several of them are – that’s really what makes a Mega Church – is that the leaders a pretty good business people.

    Apostles are itinerate workers – never staying too long anywhere -maybe 3 and a half years at Ephesus to train other apostles. Jesus stayed about 3 years.

    Paul stressed his authority: The authority God gave me for building you up – not for tearing you down. (2 Cor 10:8; 2 Cor 13:10)

    The job is just to get the body functioning – and then go on to the next group. Most bodies can function quite well without all of the life support systems. I call it the One Anothers in the scriptures.

    Once something gets taken over by power brokers – you may as well shake the dust off your feet and move on. The “symptoms” of that disease – is you will not be received. Case in point – Diotrephes (3 John 1:9)

  10. When you say “opt out of participating in a power trip” it sounds a lot like what I say when I tell people to “quit church”. Mark makes a great point that the very architecture itself SCREAMS power trip. Church dominated my landscape for so long, and now that I’m gone, it’s as if it doesn’t exist. All the important things that were stressed about inside the walls seem so silly now.

  11. sonja,
    The abuses of power that occur within churches are so often disguised and ignored. What I have observed as we move further away from our experience is that the drama was so irrelevant. Not to diminish the pain or damage, because that was very real, but to acknowledge that we bought in to the inflated importance of the churning saga.

    Untruths that become ingrained during chronologically and spiritually formative years are very difficult to dissect from our emotions and understanding of God. I believe that, as you have experienced, it takes a deep work of healing and relearning to begin to replace truth where lies were sown. I pray that you will continue to experience the persistent but gentle process of restoration that He has begun in your life.

    Definitely. The belief in a singular vision given by God to the leaders was the basis of most of the abuse and control that we witnessed. People were valued or dismissed according to their potential to be either an asset or liability to the leadership and their vision.

    In the meantime the gifts and vision of many others were cast aside. It is much easier to control than to converse. To incorporate the gifts and vision of many is not expedient.

    This is kind of a tangent, but I think that people who are chronically late and who always speed likely have an adrenaline addiction.

    Thanks Lee.

    Yep, you’re sounding like Frank V. Have you read his new book yet?

    Learning that the majority of kingdom life is what happens outside the walls has been an important lesson for me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s