Church-goers at mainstream churches have said they are being "spiritually abused" by leaders.
Research showed that more than 1,000 British Christians said they had experienced the abuse, which usually involves members invoking God's will or religious texts in order to punish or control and coerce a worshipper.
Two thirds of respondents to the survey carried out by Dr Lisa Oakley of the National Centre for Post Qualifying Social Work at Bournemouth University said they had experienced spiritual abuse in the past.
Respondents said church leaders were also experiencing abuse from members of their own congregations.
Dr Oakley said: “There has been a focus in previous work in this area on leaders controlling and coercing those they lead, but a strong message in this research is that ministers and leaders also experience this form of abuse.
We do have to be mindful as to the way we deliver messages that are based on our own theological or doctrinal position
"Any work in this area needs to ensure there is recognition that this behaviour can and is experienced by leaders as well as congregational members."
Justin Humphreys, executive director of charity the Churches' Child Protection Advisory Service, who co-authored the research, said priests and other leaders had to be careful about expressing the beliefs of their church to avoid alienating or upsetting others.
"We do have to be mindful as to the way we deliver messages that are based on our own theological or doctrinal position," he told the Daily Telegraph.
"When leaders are delivering what would be seen as a challenging message it's important to deliver it in a way which says 'this is what I believe to be the case, however you as individuals should be free to challenge that or reject it entirely'.
"For example, a church leader might take a very clear view of divorce that it is wrong, it is a sin, and therefore the bible says you cannot be remarried.
"That may be very hurtful to someone who has divorced, or is in an abusive situation with a spouse."
He said many victims had struggled to get help because social workers and mainstream children's and abuse charities did not understand spiritual abuse and some were unaware it existed at all.
Respondents to the survey included members of Anglican, Baptist, Independent and Pentecostal churches.