Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dealing with toxic people in the church

I had a conversation this week with a pastor who has been beaten almost into submission by toxic people in the church he serves.  When we met it was obvious he was feeling a tremendous amount of stress.  He admitted he had lost weight in the past month due to the stress.  It was impacting his wife, and although he never said anything about his children I'm sure they are feeling the stress of the situation as well.  A number of people have left the church, some because of him and his ministry in the church and others because of the toxic environment that exists in the church.  What is so sad is that, as in so many cases, it can all be traced back to a small handful of people who are convinced only they know what the church needs.

In past postings I've addressed the problem of controllers in the church, and this is another classic case of a handful of controllers allowed to operate unchecked in the church.  I often refer to them as cancers in the church, unhealthy cells that attack healthy cells until the body eventually dies.  As I've written before, one does not fight cancer with a band-aid; it often requires drastic measures to stop the spread of cancer and bring health back to the body.  The measures are often not pleasant to the patient, but they are the only means of restoring health, and if they are not taken the body will almost certainly die.  The problem in so many of our churches is that we are filled with nice people who are not willing to take the measures needed to stop the controllers.

Lately, I've wondered which group of people upsets me more: the controllers or the ones who allow them to get away with their activities.  As one writer said, the American church prefers harmony over truth or mission so many are unwilling to confront the controllers in an effort to maintain peace in the church.  But, at what price does such peace come?  Good people are leaving the church.  Another pastor and his family have been abused.  Any momentum for ministry the church may have had has been lost as the community hears about the problems at the church.  The controllers are even more entrenched in the church ready to pounce on anyone who would dare challenge them in the future.  I simply cannot understand why good Christian people who profess love for their church would allow a small minority of people to get away with such behavior, but it happens every day in too many churches across our land.

A few years ago I met with the lay leadership of a church with a similar problem.  They identified two families in their church who were the controllers.  They told me of all the people and pastors these two families had caused to leave their church.  When I asked what they were going to do about it they looked stunned and said they couldn't do anything.  I then said, "Then live with it.  You are the leaders of this church.  You decide who stays and who goes.  You've already told me about all the good people who have left this church in the past several years because of these two families, so I assume you've decided it's OK for them to leave so you can keep the controllers.  You're going to lose people either way, but it seems to me that you would want to keep the ones that are not causing the problems.  But, that's your choice and you will have to live with the decision you make."  Within a few months these leaders did take a stand against the two families who each decided to leave the church.  Since then that particular church has more than doubled in size and is doing more effective ministry now than it has in years.

Are there controllers in your church who have been the source of most of the problems that exist in your church?  Does your church have a high pastor turn-over rate because of these people?  Are they keeping the church from moving forward because no one will stand up to them?  Well then, what are you going to do about it?

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