How do you know if a church is healthy?
These eight questions come from the book: Recovering from Churches That Abuse,
by Ronald Enroth (Zondervan, 1994)
1. Does a member’s personality generally become stronger, happier, more confident as a result of contact with the group?
In an abusive church, the use of guilt, fear, and intimidation to control members is likely to produce members who have a low self-image, who feel beaten down by legalism, who have been taught that asserting oneself is not spiritual.
2. Do members of the group seek to strengthen their family commitments?
Nearly all unhealthy churches attempt to minimize the commitments of their members to their family, especially parents.
Church loyalty is seen as paramount, and family commitments are discouraged or viewed as impediments to spiritual advancement.
3. Does the group encourage independent thinking and the development of discernment skills?
Control-oriented leaders attempt to dictate what members think, although the process is so spiritualized that members usually do not realize what is going on.
Pressure to conform and low tolerance for questioning make it difficult to be truly discerning.
4. Does the group allow for individual differences of belief and behavior, particularly on issues of secondary importance?
A legalistic emphasis on keeping rules and a focus on the need to stay within prescribed boundaries is always present in unhealthy spiritual environments.
5. Does the group encourage high moral standards both among members and between members and non members?
In intense, legalistic churches and religious organizations, the official, public proclamations usually place special value on high moral standards, but often there is a double standard between those in leadership and those in the rank and file membership.
6. Does the group’s leadership invite dialogue, advice and evaluation from outside its immediate circle?
Authoritarian pastors are usually threatened by any outside expression of diverse opinions, whether from inside or outside the group.
Coercive leaders are fiercely independent and do not function well in a structure of accountability.
7. Does the group allow for development in theological beliefs?
Another hallmark of an authoritarian church is its intolerance of any belief system different from its own.
They tend to measure and evaluate all forms of Christian spirituality according to their own carefully prescribed system, adopting an “us-versus-them” mentality.
8. Are group members encouraged to ask hard questions of any kind?
A cardinal rule of abusive systems is “Don’t ask questions, don’t make waves.”
A healthy pastor welcomes even tough questions. In an unhealthy church disagreement with the pastor is considered to be disloyalty and is tantamount to disobeying God.
People who repeatedly question the system are labeled “rebellious”, “unteachable”, or “disharmonious to the body of Christ”.