Two weeks ago, I outlined for you the general characteristics of a cult and a cult leader. How was that any different from a healthy church or leader? Cult followers share all they have with everyone else. They live in harmony with one another. Isn’t that what we heard about the early disciples? How are such communities different?

1. The people — They are often seekers who are in a very vulnerable place within their lives. Healthy churches are places that recognize these needs, but do not prey upon anyone’s insecurities, fears, pain, disappointments or grief. They offer opportunities to explore God’s place in the midst of such feelings and to hear comfort and guidance, wisdom and truth, promise and good news. They offer the opportunity to face the fears and disappointments and to have someone walk alongside them as a support. Cults and cult leaders, on the other hand, intentionally prey upon people’s vulnerabilities. They know
how to find “the right button to push” and offer a seemingly almost magical solution that can be found ONLY through that particular cult leader. Because cult leaders adopt whatever system of belief or small truth is needed to manipulate and control those that will follow. And this is something no one else has.

2. Pastors vs. cult leaders – Healthy pastors are vetted by a greater theological body, to ensure that they are psychologically and emotionally intelligent, self-aware and healthy. A healthy pastor’s role is to serve others for the sake of the other. The church is not about the pastor but about how the pastor helps those within the church to live out their callings. A healthy church is CHRIST centered, not pastor centered. BUT cult leaders come from seemingly nowhere. They rise up and claim they have something that no one else has. They can do what no one else can do. Cult leaders are known to be narcissistic, caring about themselves and not those that follow them. They demand loyalty and test it over and over again, going to any lengths to control their followers. They play on people’s weaknesses and are constantly reinventing themselves in order to keep the attention on themselves, and themselves alone.

3. Public vs private – Healthy churches are transparent and public bodies. They hide nothing from each other or from the community around them. People are welcome to come and go as they need and please and the public is easily able to find statements of belief before ever getting close to the church itself. Cults, on the other hand, lend themselves to secrecy and privacy. What is believed and taught is not fully shared with the public. And even if cults begin meeting in a public space, they quickly move to an isolated place. Suspicion of the “outsider” runs high as the cult isolates itself more and more from everyone and everything. A follower’s movements are monitored and controlled.

4. Sacrifice and Sharing– The early community of Jesus followers were never required to sell their possessions or give anything away. What was so amazing about these acts was that they were freely offered because someone else had a need. The community valued all being able to have what was needed for a healthy life over holding onto possessions and property because it made an individual comfortable or happy. And because this was the value, no one had to fear “losing” anything. Cults, on the other hand, do not operate as such. When people give, it is because they are required to. They give up homes, relationships, jobs, possessions – but not for the sake of the group’s good but for the sake of the cult leader’s comfort. All monies given to the cult belong to the cult leader. The cult leader decides what must be given, as a sign of loyalty – loyalty to them.