There are several different types of churches that abuse people. Again, remember we are talking about groups that are otherwise generally inside the mainstream framework of Christianity.

1. Churches that are centered around a single personality. It doesn’t matter what your theology is. Lord Acton’s maxim that “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” is true inside the church, just like it is everywhere else. And in fact, being a pastor does open a variety of doors of temptation associated with power. It can easily go to your head. And you can use your influence in a variety of ways that prevent your own sins from being dealt with. For someone who is less scrupulous, this can become a gateway to true abuse.

Recently, this clip of Baptist pastor Jim Standridge has been going around. He publicly humiliates people in the congregation from the pulpit. This is an example of an abusive system. No normal church pastor would feel the license to be so raw with his congregation. They have allowed him to gain enough power that he can do whatever he wants. 

2.  Churches based on a controlling theology, such as those which come from the  Shepherding Movement.    Controlling theology take things to the next level past by institutionalizing abuse — providing theological justification for it.  In some cases, this can be more than just permitting abuse, it can actually encourage otherwise normal people to behave in abusive ways, because they believe it is “right”

3.  Culturally authoritarian churches.   In some cultures, it is simply expected that the pastor will be treated like a prince of the earth, will have personal attendants, etc.   In these cases, the behavior is not only permitted, but it is somewhat expected.    In this situation, although the behavior is not what most people would call healthy, many people will not feel abused, because the norms of that culture expect a leader to behave in heavy-handed ways.     What matters in these cases is how far does the leader take his privilege.  Is he just self-important, or does he use his power to take advantage of others.