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When Respected Leaders Fail - Part 3 - Honor Culture

Updated: Mar 19



Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored?

 

Jeremiah 8 verse 22


I was raised in a very conservative, perhaps even legalistic Church environment. The clergy were deeply respected and the bishop who oversaw the denomination was revered at an extremely high level… his word was often the final word. I don’t mean this in a disrespectful way, honestly one aspect I have really appreciated from this Church experience is the very deep belief that God is holy and deserves our awe, our gratitude and our worship. That foundational understanding came from my upbringing in this Church.

 

I am prefacing this post with this understanding of where I am coming from. In this multi-part series we are talking about spiritual abuse, which is when men or women in spiritual authority use that authority either intentionally or unintentionally to manipulate, steer, control, coerce or abuse those they are to called to lead towards healing and wholeness.

 

This upbringing of a deeply held honor for elders and pastors had placed in me a deep level of awe and deference to those who are perceived to be for the lack of a better term “Holy”. As a child I remember when the Bishop came into the church Sunday morning… the other pastors would take extra effort to greet him and when he walked in the sanctuary, he would stop halfway and say in Low German “der friede des herrn sei mit uns alle amen” and if I remember correctly the entire congregation would rise until he and all the other pastor's were seated. This German phrase loosely translated would mean “The peace of the Lord be with us all amen.

 

As a child, I could grasp the somberness of this. There was the sense that until those words were said everything was normal… and then the service and the somberness of the worship service would begin. The implication seemed as if it was those particular words by that particular person brought this peace through the Holy Spirit.

 

Was this a bad thing? No… not of itself. Again… I feel that much of todays modern Church has no concept of Gods holiness or of awe towards Him. He is a buddy, a friend, a provider… I feel as if I have a deeper appreciation for God’s holiness largely because it was instilled into me by my upbringing… and I’m thankful for that.

 

All that said, looking at the scandals of the last few years and the Mike Bickle accusation's... what I am seeing is that sometimes in this place of deep respect we are placing a mantle of infallibility onto mere men. There is an intense need for the Church to mature and grow beyond honor of men and arrive to a place where we can teach young believers to respect their elders but also have a clear grasp that they CAN be wrong. We need to teach them to “test all things and hold fast to what is true”.

 

From 2008 to 2020 my wife and I attended a mega Church in Steinbach, Manitoba. I won’t mention its name but those who live in the area know it well. We loved our time there… up until things started coming to light and a major church split happened. This split and the secrecy and backroom antics that happened absolutely RIPPED apart families, friends and community in the small city of 15,000 during a time when community was needed most. Instead of transparency the Church had a veil of secrecy with secret meetings and pressure to “conform” or leave.

 

When the split happened, a number of young adults began a deconstruction journey as they saw the hypocrisy of it all. Many regular Church goers simply stopped going, people started to pick their ”sides”. We had no idea what was going on and why… even today things are still coming out as the undercurrents from this split become visible nearly 4 years later.

 

At first it appeared that this was merely a fight between a founder and the lead pastor he had chosen to replace himself - both of whom were high level leaders in the organization. Eventually it became evident it was much more… there was a lot of undercurrent here. Things started to slip out… I won’t get into these here as it's not helpful for the current discussion. I want to focus on just a couple of points here and then discuss them further:

 

  • This Church believed in the 5 fold ministry described in the New Testament. This is called APEST. Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, Teachers.

  • This Church believed strongly in individual and daily Hearing God through the gift of prophecy as described by the book "Hearing God's Voice" by Henry and Richard Blackaby.

 

Are these two beliefs entirely wrong? No… not at all. I am personally not a cessationist. I believe God does speak today… perhaps not as often as “Charismatic Evangelicals” teach that He does. Perhaps I’ll cover more on this at a later date. As I see it the issues started as we combined the deep respect for pastoral calling with this concept of hearing God and the APEST teaching.

 

What we learned over time as we met with people who were either inside the Church or had knowledge of what was happening there is that certain people and segments of “the ministry” were perceived to have a better “connection” to God since they regularly received visions or prophecies from the Holy Spirit. We learned of things like pastoral “pray these people out lists” that were easily accessible and of extra leniency for some people over others depending on how much they appeared to align with the overall pet doctrines and parachurch ministry objectives.

 

Just before we left in 2020 our Church Bible study leader asked every week as directed from our Church controlled lesson plan: “how many days did you read your Bible and spend time hearing God this week?”… this had to be shared in the group so when someone had an off week they would sheepishly answer “once” or “I didn’t have time”. This of course was not helpful in helping someone actually overcome sin or find healing. It added guilt and condemnation.

 

Years ago, before 2020 and this split I can remember my lowest point. I had no strength to read my Bible and pray… I would collapse in exhaustion on the couch in front of the drum kit my son played on after the school, place earbuds in and fall asleep listening to worship music or an audio Bible or just nothing… while my son played drums behind me. I had no energy for reading or memorizing a Bible verse… I was trying to find life and feeling like I didn’t matter. I’m so glad I didn’t go to a Bible study at that time that laid this kind of guilt on me…

 

Fast forward to post 2020... we would find out that some friends and family members experienced spiritual manipulation at the hands of those who were there to disciple and teach. They were given “guidance” that relied more on spiritual manipulation than sound teaching or coaching. One friend told me “when I think of God I hear “so and sos” voice”.

 

I could share so much more on this… but my intent here is not to rehash old wounds but rather to focus on the healer - perhaps stir believers to be more alert to abusive situations and grow past the elementary teachings.

 

To my point, all of what I describe above is based on what is called “Honor Culture”. Honor culture is “a complex set of beliefs, attitudes, and norms about the importance of personal reputation, and the necessity of protecting and defending one's reputation and social image”

 

Within this type of organizational culture, the faithful are taught to respect and obey their Christian authorities without question. As an example of what Honor culture can look like, I asked one of the leaders at this Church some hard questions and his response was “remember what happened to Job’s friends”. If that moment had happened 10 years ago it would have wrecked me completely… but when he said it in 2020 I knew he exposed his heart. I knew I could no longer trust anything else he said. He obviously believed he could not be questioned because of the “call” on his life, especially by someone like myself who was “beneath” him.

 

Honor culture, combined with a “listening prayer” or “prophetic” teaching that certain leaders are hearing God at a more accurate level can easily create narcissistic and “holier than thou” environments that struggle to empathize with the wounded in their care so long as their God-given “mission” is still on track. These leaders no longer recognize their own sin nor their capacity to be misled. What is important to them is their reputation, the ministry they built or protecting their own perceived importance towards the work that they believe God has led them to carry out. Mike Bickle believed his own koolaid more than anyone did. In Mikes world no one could corner him or debate him. Much like other abusers such as Ravi Zacherias he was perceived as infallible... and capable of destroying his oppressors.

 

Friends… we need to teach new believers and the Church in general to fully grasp this teaching from the Apostle Paul:

 

”Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”

 

1 Thessalonians‬ ‭5‬:‭13‬-‭14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

 

”Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.“

‭‭

1 Thessalonians‬ ‭5‬:‭20‬-‭21‬ ‭ESV‬‬

 

At IHOPKC it is evident that they had… and perhaps still have a culture that embraced prophecy but not one that was taught to question whether that prophecy was good if it came from someone who was perceived as “infallible”.

 

To be clear, in my own Church experience alluded to earlier, I don’t know of any SA situations. There does appear to be some unintentional spiritual abuse. It is my hope the leaders involved eventually have a “come to Jesus” moment before more are injured. I can't even imagine the healing that could be brought if there would be a top down admission of the facts instead of a light bandage and saying "peace peace".

 

My deepest prayer is that the North American Church as a whole finally makes the decision that narcissistic and spiritual abuse will die within its walls. That will take the majority of Gods people to realize who they are in Christ - that they can have an intellectual faith that is just as full of Holy Spirit power as a deeply emotional experiencial faith. When the Church truly tests and holds fast only to what is good.

 

People don’t normally begin their deconstruction journey from even deeply legalistic Churches that genuinely love Jesus and live otherwise Holy lives… they do however leave the faith when they encounter hypocrisy and abuse.


May those who have been deeply wounded in the Church by leaders who see themselves as infallible find the real Jesus... the one who does not break a bruised reed nor snuff out a smouldering wick.

 

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