The Cycle of Abuse: Discipleship Programs

This blog deals nearly entirely with Master’s Commission abuse and recovery, but since December or so I’ve maintained a friendship with some of the Recovering Alumni from Teen Mania who’s stories are so similar to mine.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that Teen Mania and Master’s Commission are both abusive discipleship programs. After all, they both take students away to be discipled away from their family and friends, and focus on militaristic rules, rituals and leadership, and force prayer and Bible study on their students.

When I first entered Master’s Commission, I’d heard of Teen Mania but didn’t know anyone who attended nor did I have access to seeing them or meeting them. Later, in my first year in Master’s Commission my roommate Tiffany kept trying to set me up with her friend who was in Teen Mania. She told me stories about all the missions trips he’d gone on and I have to admit, I was a little bit jealous–missions was my thing at the time.

Today I read Keith’s story on the Recovering Alumni site, and was (again) surprised how similar Keith’s story was to mine in ways. We had an unrelenting loyalty and obedience to our leadership. If they told us to jump, we’d say how high? Keith was obedient like I was. Keith always tried to be moral and do the right thing, and I was a lot like that when I entered Master’s Commission. My mom taught me to be respectful to people, and I interpreted that as obeying my teachers and elders.

Part of Keith’s story really hit me:

Other than these two minor things, the trip was going great and I was making good friends. Then one day, out of nowhere, while we were in the town square preparing to share the Gospel, my team leader came up to me and told me I was no longer allowed to speak with my closest male friend on the trip, Shane. I couldn’t even respond to my team leader because I was so taken aback. Shane seemed like a good guy and I thought we had a positive influence on each other. My team leader asked me if I understood what he was asking me to do and I said yes. He never told me why I shouldn’t talk to Shane but I just figured he would tell me later. For the rest of the day, I kept my distance from Shane as I was told.

Keith describes this incident and how he reacted in a way that I consider accurate to how I reacted every time I was told what to do in Master’s Commission. If I was told to do something that didn’t make sense, I was sometimes too shocked or scared to ask WHY and I assumed that (like a normal person) my leader would tell me later.

That talk, reason or excuse never came later.

Because we’d get rebuked or punished if we questioned our leaders, many of us were too scared to question our leadership. Like Teen Mania, Master’s Commission had a set of rules that were to be followed and if not, the ultimate punishment was being told to leave the program. However harsh our leadership was, we never thought that it would be a good thing to be kicked out. Such shame and disgust was surrounded with getting kicked out and we were taught that we’d be completely out of the grace of God (and walking with Satan) if we got kicked out.

And this is how the cycle of abuse held it’s power over us as new students. Eventually, we came into a position of leadership and the same tactics were used to make us behave in a way that was sometimes threatening to the students. We were threatened if we didn’t rebuke the students harsh enough.

Please read Keith’s Story and if you are a Master’s Commission Alumni please consider checking out Recovering Alumni. The site is a great resource for recovery.