Five Things I Learned In An Unhealthy Church

Aaron Armstrong shares a friend’s cult-like church experience:

When I went off to college as a bright-eyed 18-year-old, I found a church to get involved with right away. The church had a college group that met in my dorm, and I loved it from the beginning. It was an incredibly friendly group and I forged deep relationships that are still some of my closest friendships 19 years later. We were deeply committed to giving our lives to Christ, and many of our unchurched friends from the dorm gave their lives to Christ as well. I myself was baptized that fall in a frigid alpine lake at the top of a mountain.

Unbeknownst to me or my friends, this church’s wider movement had been classified as a cult a handful of years before and was included in several publications about abusive churches for their manipulative, controlling tactics. The church movement knew about its weaknesses and was, and still is, trying with God’s help to overcome them. It is no longer considered a cult, but a subtle residual culture of spiritual manipulation and control persists. It is hard to change decades of culture.

The movement was rallied around a noble cause—spreading the gospel—but in order to most efficiently and effectively spread the gospel, a rigorous structure was in place to recruit, train and send out more people. To keep the mission of the people tight and focused, a strong emphasis was placed on following, imitating and obeying your leaders. Therefore, there was one tract for people to follow, and deviation from that accepted path was often perceived as a sign of spiritual immaturity or rebellion. This extended into many areas including the method for procuring a spouse (no dating), the method of child discipline (exclusive spanking), how you schooled your child (homeschool), and whether wives worked after having children (definitely not). And because of a hierarchical discipleship model, deviation from the normative beliefs always made it up the chain of command.

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