Biblical Counseling, C.J. Mahaney, Chuck O'Neal, Emotional Responses, John MacArthur, Legalism, Meetings with the Pastor, Mental Health and the Church, Sovereign Grace Ministries, Spiritual Abuse, Spiritual Bullies, Suicide

Can High-Controlling Pastors Lead Their Members into Depression and Even Suicide?


Commenters share about high-controlling pastors who leave a path of mental health destruction, even suicide, because they cannot get appropriate help.



A while back, I found a comment at blog that cut like a knife. Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) is in the news a good bit because of the sex abuse lawsuits, but the subject of mental health is often brushed aside as a “sin” issue, even in cases of abuse.

Sadly, this kind of teaching is not isolated to SGM. At my former church, I heard stories about people not allowed to get outside counseling or go to support groups for help in dealing with domestic violence.

Prominent church leader, John MacArthur has been very outspoken about the subject of psychology and his Master’s Seminary teaches against psychology:

Such a thing as a “psychological problem” unrelated to spiritual or physical causes is nonexistent. God supplies divine resources sufficient to satisfy completely all the spiritual needs.  ~John MacArthur (Source)


Many churches like to confine any kind of counseling to in-house Biblical counseling, even suggesting that if someone seeks outside counseling from mental health professionals, they are opening themselves up to all kinds of evils.

Nearly a year ago, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary offered a class on counseling taught by Drs. Stuart Scott and Heath Lambert. The implication we read is that the Bible has all of the answers to even life’s most challenging situations. The class was entitled, “Counseling the Hard Cases.” It seems there is an expectation that pastors will take care of all of the challenging cases themselves using solely the Bible. We see no mention of referring to outside help at all:

Scott and Lambert will demonstrate Scripture’s competency to speak to the most difficult and complex counseling problems, which are theological at heart.  Because of Scripture’s sufficiency in this regard pastors and counselors can be assured that Scripture contains all things necessary for counseling the hard cases in counseling ministry.  Participants will come to understand that Scripture is relevant to the counseling task, and that the grace of Christ in Scripture ensures help in even the most difficult issues of life.  (Source)


From seminary counseling textbooks to conferences to sermons, we hear from notable pastors telling other pastors and church leaders how to handle hurting people in a crisis by using what they deem to be the right way, the “Biblical” way.

It is important to note that sometimes what is taught in high-controlling churches –  extreme focus on sin, wrath of God, types of legalism, and shaming  – can be the source of the emotional problems people face.


Seeking counseling by tyrannical church leaders, the very perpetrators of spiritual abuse, can lead to more spiritual abuse and emotional harm. Can you imagine going to an abuser for emotional and spiritual help? Is it any wonder that so many will end up in a downward spiral emotionally and spiritually after seeking help within their church?


John MacArthur, SBTS, mental health, depression, suicide, high-controlling pastors, medium_3199720197
Downward Spiral
Here is the comment from site I mentioned earlier:


All –

I am grateful to the victims of sexual abuse via SGM…I am so glad and grateful to Jesus for the expressions of relief and healing that have been recorded on this website…I truly rejoice with you all.

I must state, after years of holding back, that SGM has many more victims without a voice. Those that perished due to SGM’s warped sense of pride, arrogance, “we know better attitude”, and “pastor worship”. I am sick for those that committed suicide under the care and counseling of the CLC Pastors.

CJ preached HARD against psychology and drugs in the mid 90s….many with depression did not go to secular help because it was evil and CJ said so…, several committed suicide and were victims of CJ’s erroneous teaching and warped theology of the “pastors know best”…..CJ – what do you say about those who committed suicide under your arrogant teaching???

You see, some victims of SGM cannot testify in a court of law….they have no voice.

SSB reader, Scott, left a comment today that also expresses the same concern:


Although I don’t agree with everything posted here, I for ONE wish that a place like this existed when I went through my experience. Being 16-17 years old and going through this sort of thing ALONE is suicide waiting to happen. Two of my classmates did exactly that. These types of “churches” burn people deeply, like searing their souls. Some will never recover. We need to pray everyday for people trapped in these monstrosities that are masquerading as churches. Especially children forced to go to these places by parents or guardians. We also as ” the church” need to say, ENOUGH and not tolerate another Bill Gothard, Chuckie Oneil [sic], Doug Phillips, CJ Mahaney, Jim Jones…….

Psalms 42:11 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.



photo credit: ameliabADELIA via photopin cc

117 thoughts on “Can High-Controlling Pastors Lead Their Members into Depression and Even Suicide?”

  1. If SALVATION COMES THROUGH THE INSTITUTIONAL CHURCH, why do we keep expecting ordained ministers to address abuse of the laity.

    The Gospel According To John Immel ( find him at paulspassingthoughts)
    1) All people act logically from their assumptions.
    2) It does not matter how inconsistent the ideas or insane the rationale, they will act until the logic is fulfilled.
    3) Therefore, when you see masses of people taking the same destructive actions, find the assumptions and you will find the cause.


  2. Loretta,
    Jesus is the only mediator that I need. If someone wants to pray with me that is fine, but Jesus is who I go to. No man can take His place, that is why He came.


  3. JA,
    The unspoken words are sometimes just as powerful as the spoken ones.

    I know this first hand what words spoken and unspoken can do having been in abusive relationships. I have said that between having things thrown at me, verbal abuse and physical abuse, I will take the physical. The scars and bruises go away faster and the fear runs much deeper when you are trained to fear just from a look or a gesture.

    Guilting people is not uplifting and makes no sense to do it. What about the guy who works second shift and can’t be to an event because he needs to work? I go to absolutely no church picnics. I am heat intolerant. The pavilion at the church is completely in the sun and inevitably they always land on days that it is 90 degrees out. No one tries to guilt me for that. Fact is there are several other people in the congregation with MS and have the same problem and don’t go to the picnics.

    Our commitment should be to God. Missing for a child’s sporting event is not the worst thing in the world. Now if Mr or Mrs Whomever is missing church because they are at a bar or strip club, then I might see a problem. Actually, I would see a problem even if they weren’t missing church for those purposes. That would not be very Christ like. Jesus loves our children and parents need to pass on that love.

    I have had times when I have felt explanations were needed, but I don’t anymore. I hope that you no longer do either.


  4. I don’t know who Kevin DeYoung is, but I live in Michigan and am glad not to have run across him.


  5. Brenda,
    Kevin is in Lansing, Michigan. The church is right across from the University of Michigan. Is that “Go Green” or “Go Blue”? The congregation has recently voted to join the Presbyterian Church of America ( PCA).

    I actually pray for Kevin. He’s Dutch, from a Dutch Reformed family that went to church morning and evening. It’s all he knows. But there is neither Jew nor Greek…nor Dutch in the body of Christ.


  6. Carmen,
    U of M would be “Go Blue”.
    I grew up in church where we went Sunday morning and night and Wednesday night. Sunday morning and night were sermons, Wednesday nights Bible study. But no one would question your salvation or say you were going to hell if you didn’t attend all of those. We do know what we are trained to know, think or feel.

    The church I attend at the present has Sunday morning sermon, Sunday night Bible study, Wednesday night varies depending on what they decide for that year. There are no Sunday night or Wednesday night events in the summer, unless it is a picnic. I had a hard time adjusting to that. We know what we are trained to do. I’m no different. Knowing more of the story helps to understand.


  7. I never hear them say go to church or hell. That would not work with most people. It is much more flowery and subtle than that. It is presented as imperative to your spiritual health to be involved in a “local church”, having accountability and in “covenant relationships”, etc, etc. Ever notice when negative comes out they will jump on bandwagon, :”that is a local church issue” to shut folks up? What they do is edify the local church to the point that people start taking it in as Holy Grail. Scripture is taught and read through that lens.

    There are many such concepts that are not technically true — taught that way that become “orthodox” Christianity. (And “orthodox” simply means man decided it was so)


  8. To paulspassingthoughts or anyone else able to answer, what does salvation look like, and act like? How does a saved person live and think about God? Since most of us have been fed various flavors of errors, from Calvin on down, please shed some light.


  9. Waking Up,

    That question deserves a post. I will clear my schedule this morning and write it. the link will be forthcoming.


  10. Re:
    “Can High-Controlling Pastors Lead Their Members into Depression and Even Suicide?”

    I believe so, yes.

    A few years ago, I read about a Christian teen raised in a pretty strict Christian family. The parents were too over-bearing in things like what television shows the kid was allowed to watch.

    At some point the parents were upset with the boy, because he was not being as obedient as he had been before. So, they called in their church pastor to go through his bedroom and find any bad influences of whatever (the parents were assuming the kid was under Satanic influence via secular entertainment).

    So, the pastor goes through the teen boy’s room and found a few comic books, video games, and I think a few secular pop music cassette tapes.

    This is when this kid snapped. He had it with Christianity.

    That his parents were so controlling, he rejected the Christian faith. He said he was an atheist, and he deliberately set out to break as many Christian rules / Ten Commandments as he could, including having gay sex (though he was hetero), etc.

    At one stage around this point, he was posting to a forum for people who were ex Christian or atheist or what not. His peers on the forum noticed over a period of weeks or months that something was very, very wrong. They were afraid he may hurt himself or someone else.

    So, they contacted a psychiatrist or therapist lady who was well known for counseling those leaving cults (including mainstream Christian denominations, such as Baptists, etc). The woman doctor did e-mail the kid a few times and tried to get him help, but it didn’t work.

    Finally, he killed himself. I think he tried to shoot others too before that happened(?).

    I forget now what the teen boy’s name was, but it was all over the media, if you Googled for his name, you could find it all over the place.

    Anyway, I was talking to this lady from my dad’s church about this.

    I was trying to tell her that sometimes Christians, even well meaning ones, can be TOO strict and thus push kids or others AWAY from the faith.

    The church lady actually sat there and asked me, “Do you really think it was the parents who pushed him away, or do you think Satan saw an opening with this boy, and Satan was pushing him?”

    I sat there aghast. I don’t remember how I replied to Church Lady, but between all of you here and me, I don’t think it was Satan that caused that kid to feel trapped and nuts and to commit suicide.

    It was his over-zealous parents who were stripping him of agency, fun, and cramming Jesus and legalism down his throat. The kid was like a prisoner of war in his own home, due to his Christian parent’s hyper zealous religion.

    I do believe that some Christians can and do push people away from Jesus and the faith and into turning atheist, Wiccan, New Age, etc.


  11. Re: “So, the pastor goes through the teen boy’s room and found a few comic books, video games, and I think a few secular pop music cassette tapes.”

    And, the preacher put them in a garbage bag, and threw them in the trash. I forgot to add that part.


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