Archive for October, 2012

Refer to Step 4: I choose to believe what God says about Himself: that He is good and can be trusted. I recognize that God is not the abuser; rather, people who misuse their authority are the abusers.


He attacked everything in life with a mix of extraordinary genius and naive incompetence, and it was often difficult to tell which was which.

—Douglas Adams

The problem with narcissistic ministry leaders is that, because the success of their calling is so evident, they consider the way they think to be “normal,” which it most certainly is not. They also believe their behavior is acceptable, no matter how outrageous it may be. They are entitled to behave in ways they condemn in others. It’s not that they are simply selfish or obtuse. They really believe they have the right to behave the way they do.

In a generic sense, they will admit that they make a “lot of mistakes,” but they rarely admit to a specific error. This is what makes their mindset a personality disorder and not just a personality eccentricity. It’s who they are.

To those who have been abused by narcissistic religious leaders, the wounds produced by their interpersonal experiences run deep. Co-laboring with a narcissist can be confusing, stressful, and painful. It can debilitate an abused person’s relationship with God for years—sometimes decades. The abused person ends up blaming God as well as the narcissist, creating dysfunction, which spills over into every area of his or her life. It can also lead a person into alcoholism and other self-destructive behaviors—all in an effort to cope with the pain associated with working for a narcissist.

If this has been your experience, you know the depth of disillusionment you’ve experienced. You have a right to be angry, but there’s no value in remaining stuck because of it. You must do whatever is necessary to purge yourself of the poison from your encounter, as you repeatedly tell yourself that your wounds came from the hand of a flawed human and not from God.

For it is not an enemy who reproaches me, then I could bear it; nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me, then I could hide myself from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion and my familiar friend. We who had sweet fellowship together, walked in the house of God in the throng. (Psalm 54:12-14)

Jack Watts   Recommended Resources

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Refer to Step 1: I acknowledge that my life is shipwrecked and not where I want it to be.


 To think is easy. To act is hard. But the hardest thing in the world is to act in accordance with your thinking.


On the surface, Step 1 may appear to be the simplest step to recovery. All you have to do is recognize your situation accurately and acknowledge it. That’s simple, right?

In one sense, it is the easiest step, but for more people than not, it’s by far the most difficult. That’s because you have to “admit” you’re not okay the way you are; you need help. For nearly everybody, acknowledging this can be the most difficult thing in the world to do. Facing reality always is.

For nearly everybody, it takes substantial time and enormous heartache to be willing to seek help. It’s just part of human nature. But that’s what is required—seeking and accepting help. You have to admit you are not all right the way you are, and you will never be all right without getting the help you need.

Step 1 is about denial—about telling yourself a lie, believing it, and insisting it is true. Denial is the false belief—maintained steadfastly—that you have everything under control when you clearly do not. It is an inability to look at life and say, “How have I allowed myself to become like this?” Those in denial insist upon things like this:

  • I’m fine.
  • I’m okay the way I am.
  • There’s nothing wrong with me.
  • I don’t need help.
  • Leave me alone!

Denial can be more pervasive for those who have been religiously abused than for alcoholics or drug addicts. The reason is simple: you are never put in jail for driving under the influence of religious abuse. The devastation is primarily internal—in your heart and in your soul—where the destruction manifests itself in negative emotions and attitudes. Shame, bitterness, hatred, and revenge are its fruits. Unlike the effects of alcoholism, you will not develop cirrhosis of the liver—just hardheartedness, which can be equally devastating.

This is why it’s so difficult for many to admit their lives are shipwrecked. They can’t see the destruction from the outside, but it’s there just below the surface, poised to wreak havoc.

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25a)

Jack Watts

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For those who wait patiently on You,

For those who come to You for help,

Rather than taking matters into their own hands,

You promise they will mount up with wings like eagles,

Run and not grow weary, walk and never faint.

In the depth of my despair—in my heartache and rejection,

Your promises seemed so remote, obscure, and meaningless.

In my despair, they seemed beyond my reach.

I never considered them to be real or tangible.

To me, they were nothing more than sappy, poetic words.

In my pain and heartache, all I wanted was relief,

Which at times was so intense I thought it would never end.

I begged You to answer my prayerful demands,

Which You never did, adding to my anguish.

I felt to unloved and abandoned—even by You—

That my hurt was magnified tenfold; perhaps twenty,

But You did answer my prayers. You just said, “No.”

You loved me enough to prevent me form outcomes,

Which were clearly not in my best interest to obtain.

In my disquietude and self-serving shortsightedness,

I couldn’t understand or fathom Your will, but now I do.

Because I chose Your way instead of a self-destructive path,

You have brought me to higher plateau—

To a place where I am now capable

Of mounting up with wings like an eagle.

Because You restore the years the locust have eaten away,

I feel invigorated and filled with resolve,

Experiencing more energy than ever before.

As my strength and faith grow daily,

I feel empowered to run and not grow weary—

To walk and never faint.

Now, with my vision and joy restored,

I willingly bow my knee and say,

“Thank You, Father, for being such

A loving, gracious, and compassionate God,

And for saving me from my foolish wilfulness.”

Jack Watts

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Real Prayers for Real People with Real Problems

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Refer to Step 11: I make a commitment to nurture my relationship with the Lord, asking Him to reveal His will to me and to provide me with the power to carry it out.


Be alert to give service. What counts a great deal in life is what we do for others.


Religious abusers routinely expect something in return for their generosity, not sometimes—always. Regardless of how they couch their words, their altruism is feigned and deceptive. They calculate an advantage in everything they do, carefully camouflaging their motives with noble words and lofty thoughts. Underneath, however, they are repeatedly calculating, looking for a way to exploit those they have been called to serve. Because this strategy only works for a while, abusers are constantly seeking new people to manipulate, casting aside those who begin to recognize that they’ve been victimized.

Because wounded people are so vulnerable, it’s easy for someone to take advantage of them. Such behavior is never God’s will, however, and those who are in recovery must avoid associating with exploitive leaders at all costs.

Regardless of the situation, as a Christian, you must never yield to the temptation to exploit another. Instead, serve others and, like the Lord, never expect anything in return—not even a “Thank you.”

  • Do it because it’s the right thing to do.
  • Do it because it’s what you are called to do.
  • Do it because—as God continues to heal you from your abusive experience—you are serving others in the process.

To live like this is to walk the road less traveled. It’s also the path to emotional health, stability, and fulfillment. Using others is fruitless, but serving others is the way to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control. The rewards for selflessness are astronomical, but those who abuse others never recognize it. They are too busy plotting their next exploitative scheme.

Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. And just as you want men to treat you, treat them in the same way. And if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. (Luke 6:30-32)

Jack Watts   Recommended Resources

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Refer to STEP 11: I make a commitment to nurture my relationship with the Lord, asking Him to reveal His will to me and to provide me with the power to carry it out.



We thought, because we had power, we had wisdom.

—Stephen Vincent Benet

For an abuser, it’s all about them. Everything in life is focused on their mission, their calling, and their exalted purpose—not just some of the time, all of the time. It never changes.

That’s why getting in the way of one of them is such a grievous sin. Even if the issue is about something trivial and seemingly unimportant, if it derails the abuser’s purpose in any way, it will never be tolerated—not for a moment. It’s why the perceived affront is met so forcefully. Because such a harsh reaction seems to be unwarranted, it impacts the person about to be abused forcefully.

When stung by abuse coming from the incident, the wounds a person receives are debilitating for a substantial period of time, which is normal. The emotional pain is intense, making the victim focus upon himself or herself.

Such self-protectiveness is appropriate and natural, but it needn’t last for years or even decades. When the pain ceases to be acute, healing can begin if the victim is willing to work the 11 Steps.

Invariably, victims want to know why this unpleasant experience has happened. “Why me?” is the universal question. The answer is this: God knows; I don’t. The experience, however, can make a person more valuable from God’s perspective. This is a truth that every wounded Christian needs to recognize.

After being abused, you become much more circumspect about other abusers—those who have their own agendas, which they insist calling God’s purposes. Because of your experience, you can recognize and understand abusive motivations others can’t; and you can help the naïve discern that God does not condone the methods of those who twist the truth. So, be mindful that your experience makes you more valuable than you ever thought possible.

For indeed He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, yet we shall live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you. (II Corinthians 13:4)

Jack Watts   Recommended Resources

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Refer to Step 6: I refuse to become like those who have abused me and abandon my desire to spread malice because of my pain and my anger.

Many a man’s reputation would not know his character if they met on the street.

— Elbert Hubbard

One of the origins of spiritual abuse comes from the narcissistic men and women who lead Christian ministries. The problem, which happens quite often, stems from a mind-set that equates the minister’s viewpoint with God’s viewpoint. In a de facto sense, they become one in the same. Consequently, these leaders come to believe that the ends—their ends—justify the means because they are certain these ends are God’s purposes as well. As these Christian leaders view it, because they are doing God’s work, whatever they do is sanctioned, authorized, and justifiable.

For example, leaders like these have a cavalier attitude about financial compensation for outsourced work. In an effort to be wise and frugal with “God’s money,” they contract work they never pay for—not completely. Reasoning that the ministry goals supersede the need to be fundamentally fair with those who labor for them, they frequently cheat people out of what they are owed and believe they are being obedient to the Lord by their behavior. When asked about a legitimate bill by a cheated vendor, they become offended.

This is how they view it: because they are pursuing God’s goals, their calling is higher than those who work for them. In this arrogant perspective, the religious leaders don’t believe treating their vendors ethically is required, and they don’t. This attitude, which is deeply resented by those who work for them in good faith, is never God’s will.

In my three decades of working with ministries, I have seen dozens of examples of this type of abuse. Ministries all over America do it routinely, creating emotional carnage in their wake. Sadly, those, who have been cheated by a narcissist, blame God for the offense. Being offended, these victims cast aside a life of faith, embracing cynicism instead. More than any other thing, this produces people who have become jaded by serving Christian ministries. It’s wrong at so many levels; it’s difficult to list them all.

The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart. I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds. (Jeremiah 17:9-10)

Jack Watts   Recommended Resources

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