"You're hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You go halfway around the world to make a convert, but once you get him you make him into a replica of yourselves, double-damned."
I highly recommend Stephen Arteburn’s book, Toxic Faith. In the course of describing faith that has gone from helpful to harmful, he lists signs of a toxic church.
Here are ten of those signs:
The leader must be in control of every aspect at all times
When problems arise, a guilty party must be found immediately to bear the blame.
No mistakes are allowed
Never point out the reality of the situation-[i.e. the leader is wrong, was unkind, etc.]
Never express your feelings unless they are positive
DON”T ASK QUESTIONS (capitals mine)
Don’t do anything outside of your role-[i.e. visiting a church member on your own, etc]
DON”T TRUST ANYONE (capitals mine)
Nothing is MORE IMPORTANT than giving money to the organization/and or pastor (capitals mine)
AT ALL COSTS, keep up the image of the organization [pastor] (capitals mine)
Having grown up in a fundamental cult, I can attest that each of these signs is a red flag that a church is metamorphosing into a cult.
A healthy church has no need to “make” followers. People are draw by healthy aspects of the church such as community service programs, fellowship, bible study groups, etc.
Cults create their followers. The cult leader recognizes a vulnerability or need in a prospective member and cultivates that area instead of strengthening the vulnerability or meeting the need.
When evaluating an existing church dynamic or determining a new church home, be critical of everything you feel and see. Does the congregation lavish unwarranted praise on the pastor/leader? Does the leader/pastor’s attention to new members seem excessive? Is the situation just a little too holy, a little too good to true.
Be careful. This too shiny, too perfect pastor may be a cult leader in disguise. In Halloween terms, he’s a zombie. And a zombie’s life achievement is to make other zombies.