Jump Start # 1995
Ezekiel 34:4 “Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have your sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them.”
Our verse today is not a happy verse. You won’t find this cross stitched and framed on grandma’s wall. God was denouncing the poor treatment of the shepherds of Israel. Instead of helping God’s people, they were cruel. They were destroying them. In particular, as this verse ends with the methods and means of force, severity and dominance, they were controlling Israel. In schools, this is the methods of bullies. In marriage, it’s emotional abuse and control. This behavior is one of the underlining causes of the sexual abuse cases that are making the news nearly every day.
Politicians, sports figures, Hollywood stars, media giants, are being fired nearly every day because of scandals of abuse, often decades old. One of the things that some find hard to understand is why are so many waiting so long to come forward? Why have they remained silent for so long?
The words that end our verse today explains it. Force, severity and dominance has put people in fear. Why does a child put up with bullies in school? Fear. Why does a wife put up with an abusive and controlling husband? Fear. Why does an intern remain silent even when abused sexually? Fear. For the child at school, it’s fear of being hit. For the abused wife, it’s fear of being hurt, and being tossed out with nothing. For the intern, it’s fear of being blackballed in an industry that they have their heart set upon.
Within the context of Ezekiel, this force, severity and dominance was found among God’s people. Those who ought to be leading by example, were placing people in fear. That spirit is still alive and it’s still found among God’s people. Some elderships follow this game plan of producing fear and intimidation. Many do not see it nor would they call it that, but it’s there. Emotional abuse and fear, even in the church. Some attend, not out of love for the Lord, but they fear what would happen if they were caught not coming. The stern talks. The threats. The intimidation. It causes some to never miss a service. So serious is this, that I’ve seen folks show up on a Sunday morning, sick as a dog, who ought to be in bed, but there they are. They feel terrible. They look terrible. They spread their germs to everyone else. Why not stay home? You’re sick. Never. They don’t want to have their faith questioned. They don’t want to be branded as weak. They don’t want to deal with all the trouble that comes from skipping, even if sick. Fear. The fear of others, especially those in charge, will generate results, but it also festers until a mutiny takes place. Within the context of a church, a mutiny is generally defined as a split or a division. Some get so fed up that they can’t take it anymore.
In Ezekiel’s days, as in our days today, some misuse their position to grab power that doesn’t belong to them in order to dominate and force the results that they want. The fear of being ruined in a career allowed some to be taken advantage of, even sexually. The fear of divorce, allows a wife to put up with a controlling husband who demands to know where she is every minute and who she talks to. And fear among brethren, turns a fellowship into a cultic, mind control in which the followers line up just as the leaders want.
Looking back I now realize that I was bullied for years by an abusive eldership that controlled me like a puppet. I was the good boy who always did what they said, even though I was going along with things that I did not agree with. That would never happen today. I’ve seen too much and I’ve gown up to the point where there would have been some heels digging in on my part and some serious Biblical discussions. Why did I let this go on? Why did I allow this to beat me down? Fear. As an unknown, young preacher, where would I go? Blackballed was never mentioned, but it was in the air. I wanted to preach, but I knew they could ruin me. So I remained silent until finally I had enough.
For those who have never been in such fear, like a child at school, or, a wife in a marriage, or, a young employee starting their career, or, a church member, or, in my case, a green preacher, it’s hard to explain. The easy solution seems to be, just walk away. Just tell someone. Just stand up and say, “No.” That seems so obvious, but it’s not. When one is in the corner, on the receiving end of abuse, there seems to be no escape. One of the worst aspects of abuse is what it does to your self esteem. A person begins to believe the emotional garbage that is thrown at them. They begin to believe that they are nothing, worthless and without the controlling person, they would fail. I believed that as a preacher. It’s a terrible feeling to have someone’s thumb upon your life, controlling, intimidating and forcing you to do what you do not want to. The abused feels compelled to please the abuser, even if it’s wrong. Abuse destroys the will of the other person.
How bad was it? Imagine being pulled by your tie into the nursery. They did that to me. Imagine fingers pushing your chest and being told, ‘this is what you will do.’ Imagine having an amazing class on the life of Jesus being cancelled because more people were coming to that class than the class taught by the abusive elder. How can you cancel a class on Jesus? They did. Imagine being chewed out right inside the front door. As people came in, they had to walk around the preacher getting blasted by one of the elders. Imagine feeling like you owe them everything, even though they barely paid you enough to survive. Imagine every week being asked about finances, what you did on your free time and even who you were talking to on the phone. This stuff lasted for years. YEARS.
So, what can be done? Here’s what I found.
First, look to the Lord. The Lord never speaks to you like the abuser does. The Lord loves you. He believes in you. The abuser has crushed your spirit. God hasn’t. Look beyond the abuser to the Lord. Faith is what helped me. I realized that I was doing good. I realized that the Lord would take care of me.
Second, as hard as it is, tell others. There will never be any help as long as you keep quiet. As a young preacher, I’d sit down with older preachers and pour my heart out. I’d ask them if I was doing something wrong. I ask for advice, help. I asked them to preach on these things. Listening to them, helped. It helped a lot. They helped me to realize that I was under a dysfunctional leadership that was both wrong and unscriptural. I saw some light and breathed some fresh air for the first time. It wasn’t me, after all.
Third, it’s risky and takes tons of courage, but you have to start moving towards doing what is right. Your faith and your courage must be greater than your fear. For me, that meant to begin dealing with this massive dysfunctional system that was destroying the church. I preached about it. I talked about it. I challenged the leaders. I took it to them personally and directly. I no longer cared if they fired me. I saw that what they were doing was not just about me, but they were destroying the church.
Fourth, for me, I moved. I moved states away. I moved away from our family. I moved away from every friend I had. It was hard but it had to be done. I found another congregation that loved me and allowed me to heal. It took some time to air out. For a long time, this was all I could talk about. Even moving away I found that they still had a control on me. It bothered me for a long time that I couldn’t get this out of my system. But years pass. God is good. Turn your passions and energy to doing good. Move on in your mind. Forgive. Let it go. I can talk about it easily today. I’m not under that thumb anymore nor will I ever be again. There are things that happen that are best just left in the past. It does no good to revisit those graves.
Fifth, I now recognize abusive elderships and have done what I could to try to change things to the healthy way God wants them to be. I try to help others. Force, severity and domination is not the way to lead God’s people. It’s should be by kindness, by example, with love, patience and above all, with the Lord. The atmosphere of a congregation changes when force, severity and domination are viewed as wrong and unacceptable. Love is triumphant. Hope, energy and excellence fills the air as people care for one another.
Bullies exist. They are in the schools, in marriages, in the work place and in the church. I have found that I can only be controlled if I allow myself to be controlled. I do not have to answer every nosey question that someone asks. I do not have to live in fear. I do not have to jump, just because someone tells me to. I do not have to have someone else tell me what value I am. I am a disciple of Jesus. I belong to God. He alone, is who I want to please. If I lose my job, God will take care of me. If I must move, I will move.
Living in fear is a terrible way to live. The three Jewish men in Daniel 3 were not afraid of a king, his edict nor even a fiery furnace. Their faith was with the Lord. When we can have such faith and such courage, then no one will dominate us ever again. Fear is conquered by faith!
I hope these thoughts help you.