This article is a repost from Charisma Magazine.
I am reposting it because I have witnessed this myself in a local church (not the one mentioned in this post). We can get ourselves too wrapped up in a personality and forget that the only persons we should be following is God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Other men will let us down and may lead as astray if we aren’t careful, but God will never do so.
– Cynic In Chief
I recently prayed with a young friend of mine (I’ll call him Mark) who started following a so-called “prophet” named David E. Taylor a few years ago. Mark’s life took some strange turns after he came under this man’s influence, so I decided to investigate.
I learned that Taylor claims to be more than your average prophet. He is, according to his website, a “prophet like unto Moses.” He tells his followers that he has seen Jesus face to face more than 1,000 times, and that those who follow him—and give financially—will also have face-to-face encounters with God.
But Taylor raised more eyebrows when he said God showed him in a dream that the Denver Broncos would win the 2014 Super Bowl. As things turned out, the Seattle Seahawks trounced the Broncos, 43-8.
Today, former followers of Taylor have started websites to expose him. Former staff members for his organization, Joshua Media Ministries International in St. Louis, said they worked long hours for little pay to raise donations for the preacher. In a 2015 legal deposition, Taylor admitted that he spent $30,000 a year on clothes and used ministry funds to buy luxury cars.
Taylor also claims that city officials in St. Louis blocked him in 2017 from buying a shuttered mall to build a world headquarters. So he continues to build his audience primarily though social media and online broadcasts.
Thankfully, my friend Mark is now free from the hypnotic power of David Taylor’s deception. Mark renounced his involvement in the cult and is attending a Bible-believing church. But thousands of vulnerable people today are still buying the lies of false prophets like Taylor—either because they lack spiritual discernment or they don’t know the warning signs of spiritual abuse. Here are six ways spiritual abuse operates:
- An authoritarian leadership style: God calls church leaders to be servant-hearted. The apostle Paul told the Corinthians that he did not “have dominion over your faith” (2 Cor. 1:24), but that he served in humility alongside them. Immature, untested leaders don’t know how to serve, and they end up wounding people with their harsh demands, threats and dominating attitudes. You can be certain that authoritarian leaders do not submit their lives to anyone; they are Lone Rangers, and they are unfit to be pastors.
- A secretive atmosphere: The word “occult” actually means “secret.” And secrecy is always a hallmark of a spiritually abusive church. Leaders are not open about their own lives, they don’t allow members to question anything—especially financial records. A healthy pastor encourages openness, welcomes input and invites participation. You can be certain that if there is secrecy in a church, there is something to hide.
- Spiritual elitism: Most cult-like churches don’t grow to be large. But in a spiritually toxic environment, members are told they are the “elect few” or the “green berets” who are spiritually superior to others. Spiritually abusive churches often bash other denominations, insisting that their doctrines are better. (If you look at David Taylor’s website, you’ll find he is often classified as the greatest prophet in history since Moses!)
- Financial manipulation: 2 Corinthians 9:7 says giving should be done cheerfully and without compulsion. But in unhealthy churches, people are coerced, berated or threatened at offering time. Toxic ministries will also use veiled threats to get money; sometimes they will tell donors they must give money in order to ward off spiritual attacks or to maintain God’s blessing. This is witchcraft, by definition.
- No respect for personal liberty: I knew of a pastor who demanded that his assistant come to his house in the wee hours of the morning to take dictation for sermons—as if he could not write his own study notes. I have also seen situations where church volunteers were forced to work unreasonably long hours. Mature Christian leaders, like the apostle Paul, view themselves as “bond-servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5)—and they would never treat people like slaves. If you see slavery in your church, you can be sure the Holy Spirit is grieved. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
- Hyper-spirituality: Leaders who have not been properly trained or mentored will overcompensate for their lack of experience by pretending to have an inside track to God. Insecurity breeds pride. And in charismatic churches where we believe in supernatural guidance, this pride can open the door for weird forms of abuse. When a leader claims an inside track to God but never surrounds himself with godly counselors, watch out. He is headed for a train wreck.
Jesus told us in Matthew 24:5: “Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.” Heed the warning—and alert your friends. Don’t ever submit to spiritual deception. If you know people who are under the unhealthy influence of JMMI or a ministry like it, warn them, pray for them and help them break free.