How to Heal from Fraudulent Pastors
Many have been wounded by wolves in sheep's clothing. Thankfully, Scripture offers many words of care and encouragement.
A couple of weeks ago I tried to relocate an article about pastors that I had previously read. As I typed the words “Pastors are” into Google's search bar, I was struck by the top suggested searches, particularly the first one. It read, “Pastors are frauds.”
As I read those words, it was a reminder that there are many silent-sufferers among us who have experienced great pain at the hands of fraudulent pastors. That shouldn’t surprise us, as we have seen the downfall of many prominent evangelical pastors and Catholic priests in recent years. Similarly, ample research exists, and enough stories have been told, that we should not be too surprised to learn about the presence of fraudulent pastors in our local churches either. It is simply far too common.
Those who have been hurt by leaders in the church are often left reeling and searching for answers as they try to navigate life without pastoral care. They may even begin to “Google” things like “pastors are frauds.”
But what guidance does Scripture offer those wounded by fraudulent pastors? I believe it offers, at least, these four helpful resources:
First, Scripture gives us spiritual language rather than therapeutic language to describe false leaders. Consider how Paul describes the false teachers who were being called “super-apostles” in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15,
“[They] are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So, it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.”
Paul’s message is clear: false leaders are doing the work of Satan!
Scripture doesn’t explain away the presence of false leaders as being primarily the result of pathological conditions as we so often do today (though that certainly may factor). Instead, it regularly describes false leaders as working for evil.
While I doubt many of us are comfortable with this language, it nevertheless proves to be very helpful because it gives us the right framework. Oftentimes, people in spiritually abusive situations believe they can fix things if they can simply convince the domineering leader to see a therapist or by reasoning with them. But if we take Scripture at its word, we will see these problems not primarily as pathological, but as spiritual.
Second, Scripture shows that false leaders misrepresent God to gain power.
Dr. Diane Langberg writes in her book, Redeeming Power, that “Spiritual power…[often] is used to control, manipulate, or intimidate others to meet one’s own needs or the needs of a particular organization, often by using words cloaked in nice sounding spiritual language and concepts.” Scripture warns us of this danger too.
In 2 Corinthians 11:20, Paul described the Corinthians as being “enslaved,” “exploited,” and “taken advantage of” by false teachers. 2 Peter 2:3 says that false leaders “will exploit you with false words.”
Similarly, Jesus says in Matthew 7:15 to “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” The imagery here is vivid: false leaders devour. They may look innocent to many on the outside, but they’re secretly misrepresenting God in a quest for power.
Third, Scripture shows us that God is deeply concerned about the presence of false leaders and is working to bring them to justice.
A biblical study on this topic reveals that God sees injustice done in His Name as nothing less than abhorrently evil. He is not sitting idly by while false leaders roam free.
Regarding the false apostles in Corinth, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:15 that “Their end will be what their actions deserve.” Peter says, concerning false teachers, again in 2 Peter 2:3, that “Their condemnation has long been hanging over them.”
In Matthew 18, after Jesus receives little children and tells his followers that they must become like children themselves, he says that “If anyone causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better for them have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Here we see that the tender Jesus is also the valiant defender of the innocent. He will not allow those who hurt his little ones to ultimately get away with it.
Finally, Scripture assures us that God will tenderly care for those who have been hurt by the Church.
Oftentimes, those who express hurt by church leadership are painted as being too needy or even as villains themselves. Leaders often dismiss hurt under the guise that “there’s no perfect church” and justify wounding members by simply pointing to the church's organizational health.
Jesus, in great contrast, says in The Parable of the Lost Sheep, “What man among you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?”
Here we learn that Christ, our True Shepherd, does not think in the same terms. He sees each one of the sheep as worthy of caring pursuit, no matter how needy they are or how far they go.
Thus, Scripture boldly attests: You are not too needy for Jesus. You are not too much trouble for Him to pursue. He is “near to the broken hearted” and he “saves the crushed spirit.” You can, therefore, “cast all of your cares upon him, because he cares for you.”
Adam Smith is a Ministry Resident in Washington, D.C.