Sunday, February 17, 2013

What Does a Wolf Look Like?

Learn the Signs

The New Testament warns believers over and over again to beware of those that would deceive.  One of the most pointed warnings was given by Paul in Acts 20:29-31:
For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30  Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. 31  Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.  KJV
After coming out of an abusive church, I have become painfully aware of the pervasiveness of the problem, realizing how deceptive wolves and false prophets, apostles, shepherds, etc., can be.  It has been an education, learning how they operate and how to recognize them. Here's a quick overview of what I've learned so far.

Wolf is free image from Wikimedia Commons.

They Look Good, They Sound Good

First of all, Paul told the church at Corinth that false apostles will look very appealing:
For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. 14  And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. 15  Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works. 2 Cor. 10:13-15 KJV
False teachers will present themselves as ministers of righteousness, looking and sounding good. They are more than likely deceived themselves, so they will probably have good intentions, which makes things much more difficult in facing the truth. The church I left had a pastor who was a "nice guy", adding to the deception. Their ministries will be full of dazzle, glitter, loads of  "spirituality", making you think the Spirit is really moving in there. Their ministry will be presented as a wonderful, anointed one there to bring you all things good and glorious.

Wolves LOVE titles and they demand respect. Image is all-important to them. I remember so very well when the pastor made it abundantly clear that he would be addressed as "pastor". Period. Look twice when leadership demands that a title be used. This isn't God; it's ego, it's pride, and it's essentially a need for affirmation. They want to appear spiritual, holy, etc. They want the appearance of power. Just question them and/or what they do and you'll find out in a hurry how godly they really are. You give them respect, because to disrespect them is to disrespect God; to cross them is to cross God. Or so they think and so we were told in no uncertain terms. Thus fear gets established in order to maintain control.

Their ministries will also have a following of people who support them with unquestioning loyalty.  These people will rubber stamp anything the leaders choose to do; they are the inner circle that are in line for their "mentoring" program, a word that is thrown around freely in these systems. The presence of this group tends to lend the air of legitimacy to the ministry. So you see these other people every time you go to church, and you think, "Hey, all these people agree with what's going on, they are giving it everything they've got, so it must be OK." These people make the leadership look good. Indeed, one ex-elder once told me that they were told their job was merely to make them look good. Hmm.

In the church I attended, "looking good" also covered external appearances. They always stressed "excellence", another term bandied about regularly. They may as well have had a dress code- nice clothes, jewelry, make-up. One aspect of this I found particularly odd- the pastor's wife was all-consumed with not looking her age, to the point of getting a face-lift to, again, look good. A preoccupation with appearances is indeed a red flag. It just makes you wonder what they are masking.


Second, their main hallmark is one of control.  It may be hidden under a facade of alleged protection and a "safe" environment, but control is the name of the game.  Their ministries will be pretty much a one-man (or -woman) show with most of the others left just sitting and listening, getting indoctrinated into their control which is generally labeled as submission to authority.  The spiritual covering doctrine is a favorite of theirs; see my post on the subject.

One favorite controlling mechanism is the concept of an armor bearer. This is a person that places himself in subjection to a leader's every whim- getting their coffee, their dry cleaning, whatever. And this is supposed to be an honorable position. I don't think so- this is just control masked as honorable submission to authority. Beware of the "armor bearer" books. There may be some godly content there somewhere- I am not condemning the books or the authors- but what I've seen in implementing these by controlling leadership is anything but godly.

Under the influence of a wolf, believers will never grow up because the leadership will not allow it. As long as their followers are told that they "aren't ready" for whatever, they will be stunted spiritually and forever under leadership control. I remember hearing the "you-aren't-ready" mantra over and over again. They want to intimidate, dominate and control. They will control every aspect of that "church", let there be no doubt. Some have compared the dynamic in abusive churches to a codependent situation that occurs in an addict's life in that the addict controls those around them to maintain their addiction. Abusive leadership controls the members in order to maintain and feed their need for power. They WILL use you.

The Prosperity Message

Third, look for a strong tendency toward love of money, conspicuous consumption and a preoccupation with a perversion of the prosperity message.  To their way of thinking, all the stuff is an indicator of the blessing of God, and they encourage their followers to give, give and give some more, claiming all this giving will bring this wonderful blessing into their lives as well.
But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.  2  And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.  3 And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.  2 Pet. 2:1-3 KJV

I found this quote at cultwatch- "Members are instructed to wear expensive clothes and groom themselves in the manner expected of the rich. They are encouraged to buy (or lease) the most impressive car they can afford. Members are required to appear happy and successful. The excuse given is that the appearance of success breeds success, but this is nonsense, more likely it breeds significant debt. The real reason the leaders want their church members to appear successful is to trick others into thinking that the prosperity dream that they preach really works." Of course this also plays into their need for "keeping up appearances".

You will be told to give, give and give some more. They want your money!! They preach giving, knowing your giving is going straight into their pockets. It looks more and more like a slick con job to me, using the Word to justify their deception.

Wolves Devour

Wolves devour because that is their nature.  The word "devour" is katesthio (#2719) and means to eat down.  Look at the definition in Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:
"to devour" by forcible appropriation, as of widows' property, Matt. 23:14 (AV only); Mark 12:40; "to demand maintenance," as false apostles did to the church at Corinth, 2 Cor. 11:20; "to exploit or prey on one another," Gal. 5:15, where "bite ... devour ... consume" form a climax, the first two describing a process, the last the act of swallowing down.
Wolves will devour your time, your energy, your talents and your bank account.  Wolves will drain you of everything you have if you let them. False apostles in the church at Corinth apparently were demanding financial support.  They will, through twisted preaching of the prosperity message, separate you from as much of your money as they can manage, and call it biblical.

There is a conspicuous absence of real ministry to the community. There may be funding of missionaries, but actual direct ministry to the community isn't apt to be there. They are too self-absorbed and too afraid of competition to allow any extensive contact with anything outside the walls of the church building. Wolves don't give; they demand submission, service, money, time, your life. In a nutshell, they are users.

Our Responsibility
Beloved, do not put faith in every spirit, but prove (test) the spirits to discover whether they proceed from God; for many false prophets have gone forth into the world. 1 John 4:1 Amplified
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 1 Thess. 5:23 KJV
I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: Rev. 2:2 KJV
Jesus places responsibility to recognize these people squarely on us. Every person is responsible to test spirits against the Word to determine what teaching is of God and what isn't. We are told over and over that wolves abound, and the ironic thing is that wolves convince you that they are completely trustworthy and cannot be questioned. How contrary to the Word! We Christians tend to be way too gullible. Anyone that claims Christianity automatically has our trust. How naive. Since experiencing an abusive church, I have perhaps headed toward the other ditch a little too fast, but better safe than sorry!

We mustn't get cynical, but healthy skepticism is only logical, understanding that no one knows it all, and everyone is wrong somewhere, sometime. And we also must remember that people think they're right. They aren't wolves because they set out to deceive; they are deceived themselves and often have the best of intentions.

If your church leaves you feeling empty, frustrated and drained, give it a second look and decide if you really want to invest any more of yourself there.  False teachers abound in the body of Christ, and it is up to us individually to judge fruit and protect the resources God has given us.
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: 9  Whom resist stedfast in the faith... 1 Pet. 5:8 KJV

Free E-Book Download

Red Flag Churches- My book recounting my experiences in an abusive church and what I have learned since leaving. Available as a free download in several formats.

A great site to check out:

Blog Posts

Red Flag Churches

Red Flag Churches
Be Not Deceived- Learn to Test the Spirits
Making the Decision to Leave an Abusive Church
The Spiritual Covering Doctrine
Spiritual Abuse Is Not Obvious
Hold Fast to the Head
To Tithe or Not to Tithe

The Dechurched and the Next Move of God

Righteous Judgment
The Dechurched, the Wilderness Experience and the Next Move of God
Liquid Church- The Shape of Church to Come
Boxed Christianity
Church and Spiritual Abuse
Clergy- Invitation to Idolatry?
Church- Consider Your Ways

Faith, Grace and the Promises of God

Quill pen is free clip art from Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Hello Marion. I can identify with Everything you've said here. It took me a while to come out of Organized Religion. It had been instilled in me're suppose to go to church. I was so miserable there. I would begin dreading the thought of going on Saturday night, before that Sunday. Where I attended they would also try to slay you in the spirit....but they would push you to the floor in their own strength, with the Catchers standing behind you. I knew for quite some time that something was wrong. God called me out, but it still took a while for me to be sure it was Him. I even began attending 5 different churches to make sure it wasn't me just wanting to leave. They all had the same common denominator.
    I recently turned 69. What's sad to me are the people in their 80's who refuse or can't see what's going on. They are being robbed. I have a friend that's 85 and a widow. I send her money and snacks from time to time. She's thankful, but when she receives my packages, she says, "I have got to take my tithes out of this money before I can spend any of it. The church she attends takes the seniors out every Sunday after church services on the church bus for an outting and to eat. They have to pay $10.00 to ride on the bus and buy their own meal. This is heartless. I try and tell her that this isn't love and she doesn't have to do this. It's really sad. I guess she just wants to have the company of others.
    I am so thankful that I am free in Christ and no longer feel guilty about not going to a building on Sunday mornings. I am his temple and I carry his presence wherever I go.
    I am enjoying your website. Thanks for the truth.

    1. I am sorry for taking so long to reply. Sadly, I just now figured out what Blogger does with unpublished comments! I agree- it's very difficult to get through to people, older ones in particular, that have never known anything else. All we can do is pray for them. Thank you so very much for the encouraging comments!