Chapter OneTHE DISCIPLESHIP GAME
You agree to wait for confirmation from your
discipler before making important decisions.
This works out to be getting permission.
Let's start by playing a game. Below are twelve items, six of
which you are to pick:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
What you don't know is that I have decided I don't want you to
choose items 4, 7, or 10. On the other hand, I do want you to take
items 2 and 5. The rest are of no consequence to me. What are the
chances you will pick the ones I want you to choose and not choose
the ones I don't want you to? Not very good, are they? How could I
get you to pick the ones I want without telling you? How could I
convince you to make my choices become your choices, but make
you think that you decided?
That is easy. I could play a manipulative discipleship game. First,
before you started the game, I would teach you that, although this
may be your first time playing, I have played this game a lot. In fact,
I have spent so much time in prayer and study that God now inspires
me to know the best choices (for you). Then we would begin to play.
After two choices, I would tell you that it is God who wants us to
agree on each choice. This, I would tell you, is the kind of spiritual
unity the Bible teaches. With this in mind, you would proceed with
the remaining choices.
Suppose in those six choices, you only stumbled on one of the
three items I did not want you to take. This is the only time I had to
tell you that I did not agree with you. When you were on your last
choice and you still hadn't picked item 5, I shared with you that God
revealed to me the superiority of item 5. So you took it last. Five out
of six times you got your choice, but you also benefited from my
"divinely inspired wisdom" to make a good last selection.
You feel as though you are making up your own mind. You feel
neither coerced nor controlled. In fact, you appreciated the help you
got. In the end, however, I got what I wanted without your knowing
it; and, of course, I was the one who said you had 12 choices and who
directed you to select only six. I set up the rules of the game.
Abusive discipleship is played approximately the same way.
Control over people is disguised as agreement with a discipler who,
you are told, has your best interests at heart. Unlike the game, the
choices are not trivial, but are more likely to be important (e.g.,
whom to marry, what vocation to pursue, and where to live). Unlike
the game, however, abusive discipleship results in unnecessary fear,
shame, and guilt-and, most importantly, the rules of abusive
discipleship are not Biblical rules.
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul warns of the foolishness of
man-made rules: "Such regulations indeed have an appearance
of wisdom . but they lack any value in restraining sensual
indulgence." The Apostle also admonishes us, "Do not let anyone
judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious
festival, a New Moon or a Sabbath day" (Col. 2:8-23).
Leaders in most discipleship groups will admit that their rules
are different than those in most churches. In truth, they feel they
are closer to what an authentic Christian experience should be. I
have heard many people compare the discipleship groups they
were in to monastic orders or the army. Some disciplers even draw
the comparison: "We are God's Green Berets!" When people are
inducted into such orders or join the military, they know what they
are getting into and know what the rules will be. Ask yourself:
When did you agree to the rules? When did you find out what the
The rules of abusive discipleship are not evident in the beginning.
What is initially obvious is a great display of personal attention, love,
and caring. This is what people usually (and understandably) find so
attractive about such groups. They will call you even when no one
else does; they will invite you out to dinner; they will tell you that
they care. They will also tell you that you can grow much faster
spiritually by having a discipler who is wiser (than you) in the Lord.
They will impress upon you all the wonderful benefits of being a part
of such a program. They also will teach you that Jesus did this exact
same thing with His disciples. You will be assigned a "buddy" to
stand alongside, who will be your constant friend. It is often true that,
with spiritual guidance, we can grow much faster. The problem is that
in some discipleships, spiritual growth accelerates for a short yet
seductive period before being restricted by controlling techniques.
As your relationship with the abusive discipler develops, you
find out there are rules-actually more rules than you might have
expected. By contrast, there won't be hidden rules in healthy
discipleship. From the beginning, the non-abusive discipler will lay
out what is expected from you without intentionally withholding
certain rules or ideas.
You may be led to believe that any violation of the discipler's
rules can be a sin. This is part of the deceptive and hidden agenda
built into the program. You begin to believe that it is actually sinful
to not follow the rules after you have accepted the discipler as your
buddy. After you become involved in a domineering program, you
frequently discover it's considered sinful (or at least backsliding in
your spiritual development) to break your commitment and end the
In a controlling discipleship, there are other ideas that are hidden
from you. Aberrant discipleship teaches new meanings for such
words as obey, submit, die to self, and brokenness. Their meanings are
altered from the true Biblical understanding of these concepts.
Abusive disciplers expand the meanings far beyond what the Bible
teaches, to imply that anytime you don't want to accept the advice
of a leader, you are likely not sufficiently obedient, submissive, broken,
or dying to self. These non-Biblical definitions are usually concealed
until the abusive disciplers feel you are trustworthy enough to be
given their teachings in full.
ABUSIVE DISCIPLESHIPS MAKE IT A SIN NOT
TO FOLLOW THEIR RULES!
The Bible offers us these examples of sin:
"the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the
boasting of what he has and does" (1 John 2:16)
"lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lover of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" (2 Tim. 3:2)
"bitterness, rage and anger, brawling, and slander, along with
every form of malice" (Eph. 4:31) and "sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed" (Col. 3:5)
Romans 13:9 mentions "adultery, murder, stealing, coveting"
In abusive discipleships, sin is expanded to mean almost
anything that the leaders don't like (e.g., challenging leaders' actions,
not obeying leaders' advice, disagreeing with leaders, questioning
leaders, or openly criticizing leaders).
The most common non-Biblical idea that is planted in members'
minds by abusive groups is that they are rebellious, hard-hearted, or
prideful when they decide not to follow the group's rules. Breaking
a rule is usually taken to mean sinning against God; this is coercive
because these dedicated Christians will force themselves to follow
agendas they would otherwise refuse to accept.
An important, yet subtle, rule is:
You should wait until both you and your discipler agree before you
actually make an important decision.
You are led to believe that you should get this confirmation so
you will "know" that whatever you want to do is God's will. Actually
it simply means getting permission from the discipler. Responsible
disciplers will not ask this of you (they know from experience that
they have advised people wrongly in the past). Occasionally the wise
discipler does not "have peace" about a situation but he realizes that
the disciple may be following the Lord's leading by not accepting
advice. The abusive discipler presumes to know what's best for you.
(Note: To "have peace" is a code phrase used by some groups and
churches. It means that a person feels that God wills certain things
and, thus, the person feels spiritual peace concerning these things.)