Personal Stories, Spiritual Abuse, Spiritual Bullies, SURVIVOR STORIES

Do you feel guilty because of pressure and high expectations from church leaders? You are not alone!


High-pressure church leaders, mandatory church attendance and guilt


“Longtime Lurker” broke her silence a while back and shared her personal high-controlling church experience.  I copied her comment for this post because I think her experience is representative of what others have gone through, and I can relate with a lot of what she wrote. I’m grateful for those of you who share your heart here.  We don’t need to live in guilt.  ~ja


High-Pressure Church and Resulting Guilt

The spiritual abuse, high-controlling pastors“Jesus is Lord” was an emotional trigger for me. I’ve been reading this blog for probably a year or so now, but finally feel compelled to tell a little of my story. Raised in a formal, ritualistic denomination. As a young (20) Army wife, I met another Army wife at the post Laundromat, we became friends and she invited us to her church. And to dinner. Our husbands knew each other a little, they were previously stationed overseas together.

The church had a revival going on, fire and brimstone preacher, a totally new experience for us being raised in the church mentioned above! The pressure was on for decisions. I then attended a kitchen ware selling party given by one of the church members, she was very “on fire” and overbearing, I needed to make a commitment NOW and finally, yielding to pressure, I said a prayer just to be left alone and allowed to go home.

I was baptized soon after, no explanation on the step I was taking, looking back it was just a number to be added to the success of the revival. We started to attend regularly, but the light didn’t really come on for me until months later, reading at home, that I realized Jesus really did love me and cared for me.

We were moved to another duty station with our friends, and since we were the newbies in the Faith, we allowed them to choose the new church. Oh boy! This truly was unlike anything we had ever seen. You were to answer your home phone with “Jesus is Lord.” If a church member called and you said the ordinary hello, your sincerity as a believer was truly in question.

There were regular showings of the movie “a Thief in the Night.” We had our first child while there and after missing Sunday School for a while, we were given a lecture about that…..after all, we were always going to have the baby from now on, so we need to get used to bringing him to all the church functions.

One time after missing due to baby’s sickness I was admonished that if I missed for a child’s illness, I would never be at church.

Legalistic rules about lots of things and witnessing at any and all times was expected for all. Unfortunately, the groundwork laid by this church kept us in bondage for years at other churches as we moved around the country.

We have had a tendency to join churches that are legalistic and require a lot of “works” to prove our faith. Now we are not attending church at all, and while it is freedom, it also at times has led to a lot of guilt feelings that I still struggle with to this day.

photo credit: church-pews.jpg via photopin (license)

19 thoughts on “Do you feel guilty because of pressure and high expectations from church leaders? You are not alone!”

  1. Ugh. I can definitely relate. As a “young lady” in the church, I was expected to want to help in the children’s ministry. “We need more assistants in 2-3 year olds!” “Oh, you’re interested in missions? Good! You can lead a VBS!”

    There was only one problem with that. I hate kids.

    So we moved to a (slightly) more relaxed church. I traded guilt for my lack of mothering instincts for guilt about not tramping up and down the stairs lugging gigantic coffee containers.

    And don’t forget about youth group guilt! I was on my way to hell last year when I decided I was done with the watery “messages”, dumb games, and my fake, surfacey, perfectly skinny hipster peers.

    I felt so guilty, in fact, that I asked if I could join an adult women’s home group that my mom was attending. I was told that the presence of a “young person” would make the older women uncomfortable. It was implied that I wouldn’t understand their life experiences. Never mind that I was about to turn 17, and the “older women” were, for the most part, less than 35.

    Ironically enough, the extra year or so has seen me moving further away from their beliefs, not towards them. If they had let me in at that tone, I would have hung on every word taught. Now, if I were to join that same group, I would do nothing but argue and disagree.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s only reading here and at Wartburg Watch for the last year and a half that I’ve even understood that Church Leadership isn’t actually entitled to boss me around “in love.”

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I am so sorry you experienced that. The church I attend now is Christ-focused and preaches the gospel of grace and freedom that is the good news of Jesus. When it comes to rules, there are none mentioned ever. I remember one time during announcements the person said “It might fill up quickly for that program so if you want a seat in front show up early. Or show up early and sit in back. You’re free in Jesus to sit wherever you want!”

    It was a bit silly, but it was also sincere. That’s the way it is at this church: serious about Jesus without taking themselves at all too seriously.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well that’s a first for me…I have never heard of a church dictating how you answer your phone. “Jesus is Lord” isn’t even a greeting. Sounds like you dodged a bullet by getting out of there.

    I’ve felt guilty telling other people I’m not comfortable praying out loud when we went around in a circle before bible study (“speakerphone prayer”) and for admitting I don’t like worship music (most of the contemporary stuff), so for me, that part of church is no more than a concert. The guilt is more in the form of That Look but one of my seminary professors told me my “tastes” were “highly unusual” and I ended up dropping her class shortly after that.


  5. Legalism is the refuge of the oppressive, the lazy and the Spiritless.

    We find woven throughout the New Testament the profound rejection of legalism, which is all this is. How do so many miss the image of Jesus boldly healing on the Sabbath and uttering scathing rebukes against the Pharisees, those who elevated the law above relationship, and perception over substance. Legalists are spiritually bound and will exploit any opportunity to similarly bind others.

    Yet Jesus said, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” Matthew 23:13

    The Apostle Paul repeatedly discredited calls to adhere to rituals and lists of obligations.

    “This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Galatians 3:2

    The kind of legalist – even cultic – garbage that the writer exposed here is all too common within the contemporary church. It does real harm and surely must break our Lord’s heart.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. “Now we are not attending church at all, and while it is freedom, it also at times has led to a lot of guilt feelings that I still struggle with to this day.”

    In my case, the guilt feelings about not going to church are 100% percent gone. I got out of the phews oops I mean pews 14 or so years ago. Struggled so damn hard for years with the guilt feelings. Till low & behold I discovered TWW & SSB and heard so many other voices telling stories that were similar to mine. TADA- It took some time to rid myself of needing a man of gawd to tell me what to believe & think. The Holy Spirit guides me just fine without them. I hope you find peace in however the Lord guides you.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Ugh this sounds familiar.

    My first pastor used to berate us for not being spiritual enough to write paragraph long spiritual greetings a la the Apostle Paul to begin our letters and emails.

    One time my mom put makeup on my younger brother’s face because we had gone to the beach the Saturday before church and got a sunburn and didn’t want anyone to know.

    We drove 4 hrs early Sunday morning after spending a Saturday with friends at a wedding because God help us if we were late for Sunday morning or missed the service entirely (even if we attended somewhere else).

    My dad who still suffers from chronic depression was continually berated from the pulpit for having a bad heart that was poisoning his family and the church.

    That is not Jesus. That is not our glorious gospel.

    These are just the tip of the iceberg, and at just one of the abusive churches we attended. LL, you’re not alone, and you’re amongst friends here.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. This devotion about Saint Francis & Jesus made my morning! Love you guys/gals.

    “In order to be free for life, we must quite simply be free from our small selves.

    Francis knew that Jesus was not at all interested in the usual “sin management” task

    that clergy love to think is their job.

    He saw that Jesus was neither surprised nor upset at what we usually call sin.

    Jesus was upset at human pain and suffering.

    What else do all the healing stories mean?

    They are half of the Gospel! Jesus did not focus on sin.

    Jesus went where the pain was. Wherever he found human pain, there he went,

    there he touched, and there he healed.

    Francis, who only wanted to do one thing–imitate Jesus–did the same.”


  9. govpappy wrote:

    “My first pastor used to berate us for not being spiritual enough to write paragraph long spiritual greetings a la the Apostle Paul to begin our letters and emails.”

    I have seen more of Jesus in a little mother beagle who takes in an orphaned kitten than I have in all the epistles of Paul combined.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I haven’t attended church since about 1995. I don’t feel guilty about it at all. In fact, I get an extra 4-5 hours of sleep on Sunday (about 11-12 hours total), wake up at around noon, and feel GREAT. Letting go of hollow, guilt-laden ritual behaviors is a real revelation.


  11. Drives me crazy when I see folks trying to pour guilt on others. I simply don’t get where they get off standing in judgment on others…..


  12. It may be that any “church” that oppresses congregants with demands for time, participation, tithes and so on are to be identified with the Great Whore who sits on many waters. If I am correct in think this, the pastors of these churches are the Great Whore’s pimps. I like to call them pulpit pimps.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I uses to be mormon and since coming to this board these pastors are making the mormons look good. I cant believe I typed that!


  14. I feel like I am being pressured and told its Satan if I don’t attend a online life group at a church. I’m confused and unsure.

    I joined another church but the group is part of a government program that in charge of my permanent supportive housing.

    I’m not sure what to do.

    I feel like the church has emotionally abused its members to continue pressing people to join…I fear its a money thing not a God thing


  15. Ronda, thanks for your comment.

    I want to encourage you to trust your gut. When we look at Scripture, Jesus never pressured people. He invited them. If you are feeling pressure, vote with your feet! Simply leave. You don’t need to explain anything.


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