I have been pondering upon the issue of cults. Without giving a full definition of what makes a cult I want to focus here on the issue of how cults trap people.
One of the modus operandi of a cult is to manipulate people so as they are trapped within their group. Those responsible for this scheming are the leaders. These leaders may be appointed or self-styled. Whichever way it is, they operate to make sure that people are bound in to their organisation. Anyone who is within the organisation, but who does not acquiesce to the cultic arrangements is seen as a threat and ousted or cold-shouldered.
Ultimately in this atmosphere fear reigns. Members of the organisation become dependent on the organisation and fear the consequences of any attempt to escape. Security comes within the organisation, but it is at a big cost. the cost is freedom. They live in perpetual fear of affronting the grand-master (or mistress) and therefore falling out of favour with the “blessed entity” of which they are a part.
This is all alarming stuff and has disastrous consequences for all concerned. The prospect of making a cult can come in all kinds of entities; not only religious ones. Businesses and families can be operated as cults, for example. In a cultic family woe betide any member who does not acquiesce with the cult leader and that can be father or mother.
But what of ourselves in churches? Church leaders can so easily become cult makers, and this can transpire even with the best of intentions. These intentions often revolve around the desire to see the church strengthened “for the Lord”. The church, as an organisation, thence becomes more important then the people who form part of the church. Moreover, there can be the tendency for me to find my identity as a church leader in the well-being of the church. And the well-being of the church is very easily measured by the number in the church and so you do all you can to maintain numbers and thereby you can start to be cultic.
So what is the cure for all this? Or to put it a better way, what is the best preventative medicine which can be taken to prevent us becoming cult leaders? Fundamentally it is to see our primary goal as making disciples of Christ. This frees us from all cultic phenomena. When we are focusing on being disciple makers we are focusing on Christ and leading people to Him. Accordingly, our longing for the sheep under our care is that they grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ. We are not interested in trapping people in an organisation, but we are interested in seeing lives being used for the glory of our LORD.
A part of that is to see people committed to a local church fellowship. This is because growth in and for Christ takes place in a community. Christianity is a community religion. So we do want people to commit to church, but this is so that they can be for Christ; not that we might trap them in an institution.
The motivating verse for all pastoral minority must then be those of Paul where he writes of His Lord Jesus Christ: “He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.” (Col. 1:28-29).
This will get our ministry going in the right direction and prevent us from being cult-makers.
(Originally published at Venabling on 28th April 2014).