This is part of an article by Steven Lambert, ThD, titled The Signs of Spiritual Abuse. Be on guard for signs like this in your church and if you see them, my advice would be to do your best immatation of Speedy Gonzales.
The following are some of the common signs and symptoms, or common characteristics, of authoritarian abuse manifest in hyper-authoritarian groups, churches, networks, and ministries, especially those identifying themselves as Charismatic or Pentecostal (I have also seen it in a reformed Baptist church-joe). It simply is not feasible to elaborate extensively on each of them in an article such as this. However, I have addressed most of them in various books, booklets, and articles I have written on the topic. Bear in mind that the list is by no means exhaustive, and that these are somewhat general, rather than, exact descriptions. Many variations on these basic themes exist in authoritarian groups. Bottom-line is: any ministry in which more than one or two of these signs of abuse are manifest should alert you to the undeniable fact that it is a hyper-authoritarian organization, regardless of how large, popular, or well-known it and its leader are. And, if after reading this list, you cannot recognize and admit to yourself that your beloved church or ministry is practising, unbiblical and ungodly doctrines and practices, then you are definitely brainwashed and under the spell of "deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons" and these demonic lies are "seared in your own conscience as with a branding iron" (1 Tim. 4:1,2). And, that means you need deliverance to be set free from Satan's bondage and deception. It also means you are deceived about who you are serving. You are not serving the true Jesus, who is the One who died to set the captives free, but rather you are serving false gods — idols — which is idolatry, which means you are an "idolater," and idolaters do not inherit eternal life or have an inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God (Gal. 5:20,21; Eph. 5:5)! The only way for you to escape HELL and eternal punishment and enter into Heaven and the Kingdom is to REPENT! Then RUN from your captors and RUSH into the arms of the True Jesus, who died to set the captives FREE! "He whom the Son sets FREE is FREE INDEED!
*Apotheosis of the leadership — exalting them to God-like status in and over the group;
*Multi-level authority/government hierarchy;
*Absolute authority of the leadership;
*No real accountability of the leadership to the corporate body (especially regarding financial matters-if a church leadership team does not offer financial reports for you to look at you can be sure it is probably because there is something they don't want you to see-joe);
*Hand-picked sub-leaders, based on their demonstration of submissiveness to the ultimate leader rather than on the basis of their leadership skills, spirituality, and anointing and appointment by God;
*Pervasive abuse and misuse of authority in personal dealings with members (i.e. telling someone "Don't you dare walk away from me-joe);
*Paranoia and insecurity by the leaders;
*Abuse, misuse, and inordinate incidence of "church discipline;"
*Personal materialism, covetousness, and self-aggrandizement by the leaders (i.e.-A leader who feels they deserve a high salary-joe);
*Members and/or sub-leaders must make a "spiritual covenant," sometimes a signed covenant agreement, pledging their total commitment and financial support to the leadership and church/ministry;
*Partitioning of the group into smaller groups that are led by internally "raised up" lay-leaders who have not been anointed or appointed by God for leadership within the church;
*Financial exploitation and enslavement of the members (i.e. telling a congregation "The average salary for this area is $60,000 per year. We should have more than enough money to cover expenses-joe);
*Inordinate attention to maintaining the public "image" of the ministry (i.e.putting candid pictures on a picture board which had portraits of the members because so many members had left that the board looked bare-joe);
*Doctrinal demeanment and devaluation — the requisite of espousing and teaching "sound doctrine" is demeaned and devalued;
*Theological incompetency by the leadership, especially with respect to the rules of hermeneutics and Bible exegesis employed in the formulation of doctrine, giving license to twisting and adulteration of Scripture in order to provide proof-texts for unorthodox and invented doctrines (i.e. saying that "double honor" in I Timothy means "high salary"-joe);
*Spiritualism, mysticism, and unproven doctrines;
*Abuse and misuse of prophetic giftings as a means to dominate and intimidate;
*Devaluation, disallowance, disregard, and displacement of the true Fivefold Ministry within the church;
*De facto legalism, or works mentality, and its resulting loss of the "joy of salvation," though "freedom" is forever preached from the pulpit and the church is constantly touted as being a "safe church" by the leadership;
*Esotericism — hidden agendas and requirements revealed to members only as they successfully advance through various stages of "spiritual enlightenment," i.e., unorthodox, unproven indigenous doctrines;
*Isolationism — corporate and individual, especially with respect to exposure to outside ministry sources;
*Performance-based approval and promotion system of members predicated on "proven" "loyalty" (i.e., submission) to the leadership;
*Devaluation, suppression, and non-recognition of members' bona fide God-given talents, abilities, gifts, callings, and anointing, as a means of subjugation (i.e.-being told by a pastor "Don't you come tell us what you can do."-joe);
*Requiring members to perform menial tasks, such as cleaning toilets, setting up chairs, and acting as the leader's personal valet or slave, as a supposed means to humble them and teach them to "obey their leaders;"
*Constant indoctrination with a "group" or "family" mentality that impels members to exalt the corporate "life" and goals of the church-group over their personal goals, callings, and objectives;
*Members are psychologically traumatized and indoctrinated with numerous improper fears and phobias aimed at keeping them reeling in diffidence and an over-dependence or co-dependence on their leaders and the corporate group;
*Corporately, there eventually develops an inordinately high incidence of financial, marital, moral, psychological, mental, emotional, and medical problems, including sudden deaths and contraction of "incurable" and "unknown" diseases;
*Lack of true personal spiritual growth and development, especially in terms of genuine faith and experiencing the abounding grace, forgiveness, goodness, blessings, kindness, and agape-love of God;
*Members are required to obtain the approval or "witness" of their leader(s) for decisions regarding personal matters;
*Frequent preaching from the pulpit regarding not getting out from under the "spiritual covering" of the leadership (or the suggestion that there is never a biblical reason to leave a church-joe);
*Members departing without the prior permission and blessing of the leadership leave the group under a cloud of manufactured suspicion, shame, and slander;
*Horror stories frequently told by leaders about individuals or families who left the group without the prior permission and blessing of the leadership, and the terrible consequences and curses they suffered as a result;
*Departing members often suffer from various psychological problems and display the classic symptoms associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
So...what to do? Well, here's a few questions for you to ponder:
Do you know what the signs of hyper-authoritarianism, control, and domination in a group or church and how to recognize them?
Do you know if the signs are simple, overt, and obvious, or are they sophisticated and complex, covert, and hidden?
Could you be objective enough about your church or group and leaders to correctly analyze if authoritarian abuse is taking place at your church?
Do you know how to explain what the signs are to prospective or suspected victims in order to convince them they are under it?
Do you know how to throw out a lifeline to rescue them?
Do you know what steps are necessary for victims to recover from the psychologically traumatizing and spiritually damaging effects of years of subjection to spiritual abuse?
Do you know why hyper-authoritarian doctrines and practices are unscriptural and Biblically-prohibited, and could you cite some of the Scripture passages in which God condemns them?
Do you know from a biblical standpoint if God requires you to always "obey your leaders," even when they set requirements that contravene Scripture or your conscience, or when they behave as unscrupulous and undisciplined tyrants rather than model the characteristics of servanthood that Jesus modeled and instructs His under-shepherds to likewise model?
These are just a few of the questions needing answers concerning this prevalent problem of authoritarian abuse plaguing the church today. Being able to readily identify the signs and symptoms of authoritarian abuse and psychological enslavement that is rampant among church groups today is absolutely essential for every believer in their quest to know and be personally related to the Great Shepherd, who is the Prince of Peace and the true "Guardian of our souls."