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Ed Stetzer: 6 Marks of Church Dysfunction

church dysfunction

Over many years of ministry I have both seen and been a part of some wonderful organizations. I’ve also seen many healthy, vibrant churches and worked with some fantastic leaders. But I also see people involved in unhealthy Christian churches and organizations, and have seen this reality firsthand as well. In this three-part series, “Moving Unhealthy Organizations Toward Health,” I’m going to talk to you about the clear signs of organizational dysfunction.

Having worked in some such settings myself, I have observed patterns over time and want to be helpful in addressing and correcting issues in unhealthy spaces. Although even unhealthy organizations can actually do good, the harm they cause to many others is immeasurable.

I recall a couple I know who were approached about working at a prominent Christian organization. They expressed appreciation for how much good it has done. Yet, they were not interested in the job because they knew people who worked there and the unhealthy work environment most people experienced daily. And, although everyone who worked there would readily say God was doing great things, they also used two phrases regularly: “We’re miserable” and “Around here, you just keep your head down and do your job.”

Therein lies the quandary of the dysfunctional Christian organization — it often does good things on the outside while destroying the souls of those on the inside.

So, how do you know if your Christian organization or church is dysfunctional?

Let me share some signs I have observed.

Devaluing People: The church or organizational culture does not value those serving, just those leading and the function of the organization.

When ministry leaders see people as tools rather than partners, the end result is that people are used to serve the purpose, rather than being a critical part of the purpose. They are the tools, but they don’t matter — only the leaders matter or the “success” of the organization. Performance matters over personhood, and meeting an immediate deadline is valued over a healthy, long-term culture.


Empowerment Issues: The leader is the only one who is allowed to think.

The followers are to implement and nothing more. As the organization grows and the leader’s bandwidth does not, decisions are delayed and delayed because other leaders cannot make them. Delegation is not valued; obedience is. At one place, they refer to the leader’s office as “the black hole to which ideas go to die.” All ideas have to be approved by the leader, and since that leader thinks only he/she has good ideas, no ideas come from the people.

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, has earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the editor-in-chief of Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited in, interviewed by, and writes for news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He is the Founding Editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than 1.7 million individuals each week for bible story. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates. He serves as interim teaching pastor of Calvary Church in New York City and serves as teaching pastor at Highpoint Church.