When I started college back in 1981, I got involved a Christian group that practiced "shepherding," in which there was top-down heirarchical leadership and which had many characteristics of spiritual abuse. Eventually the group dissolved. I made many good friends there, though, who are my friends still. Those years were certainly not a loss; in fact, they form part of my motivation to see other Christians set free of authoritarian religious structures.
Here are twelve ideas I brought out of those years:
1. I must read and learn what the Bible says for myself, with a mind to context, the original language and cultural understanding, and authorial intent. Anyone, leader or layperson, can be in error. Including myself-- a good reason to keep studying and learning.
2. Every adult's relationship with God is ultimately their own responsibility. Being "my brother's keeper" does not mean being my brother's watchdog.
3. Christ needs to be both Lord and Savior in my life. It is not a good idea to emphasize either one to the point where it weakens the other.
4. Christ came to set us free of the law. This was not so that we could turn the New Testament into a whole new set of even harder laws-- it was so we could walk in the Spirit and love one another.
5. It is never a good idea to give other human beings power/control over life choices that should be between myself and God. Conversely, I should never assume power over anyone else's life that that person is meant to exercise as an individual before God.
6. When a human being allows him/herself to be elevated above other human beings rather than humbly serving, negative results will almost always ensue. Celebrity status in the Kingdom belongs only to Christ.
7. Talking about negative things that happened is often actually necessary to process them and come to a place of forgiveness/healing. Conversely, silencing legitimate complaints/criticisms from others is a good way to never have to change or become more Christlike.
8. I am Christ's witness, not His salesman. I should always share about my life in Christ with respect for others' viewpoints and needs.
9. Sometimes people who hurt me are never going to say they're sorry. Forgiving them anyway is not a way of legitimizing what they did; it's just a way to leave them in God's hands and walk away free.
10. When I have hurt someone else, I need to take responsibility for my own actions, apologize, and make restitution when I can.
11. The Kingdom of God is not about hierarchy but about humility. It's not about authority, it's about an attitude of yielding, one to another. And it's not even really about leadership-- it's about God taking the lowly (which means every human being) and raising them up tn Christ There really is no such thing as an elite group of His children.
12. True wisdom shows itself in humility, tolerance of others, and receptiveness to new truths, from any source He chooses to use to bring them to us.