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Ed Stetzer: 6 Marks of Church Dysfunction

Myopic Perspective: The organization or church thinks everyone else is wrong and only they are right.

Thus, there is no value in other people or groups — there is a narrow group of the acceptable and the “others” are not just wrong, they are stupid. Arrogance is almost always a mark of an unhealthy Christian organization, and empathy is almost always absent.


Tolerating vs. Thriving: People rationalize that the good they are experiencing is worth the abuse they are receiving.

Often, it is not until they have stepped away that they realize this was not true. This is one of the great lies that Christians are led to believe — that the end justifies the means. Dysfunctional organizations are towers of cards — looking (and maybe doing) good now, but they will fall because eventually the truth comes out.


Isolated Leadership: People often know of the glaring character problems of the leader, but no one can speak truth to power.

I’ve noticed how these dynamic leaders are consistently known for their anger, impatience, and/or intolerance, yet those in the organization fear (rather than address) the leader’s acrimony. In the end, the leader is unquestionable due to spiritual, apostolic, ecclesiastical, academic, or some other source of power. But healthy leadership can be both accessible and gracious while expecting excellence.


Unbalanced Leadership: Many times, the leader gets a pass for the fruit of his/her leadership because of some overwhelming characteristic like preaching ability, intelligence, ability to woo others, or more. 

Yet, the fruit remains beneath — a culture toxic to all who swim downstream. The leader is often seen (from the outside) as a great leader, but those inside know him/her as someone who is, well, more concerned about outside appearance than godly leadership. There is a disconnect between the leader’s personal engagement with the organization and the public persona on the outside, and most inside the organization know it.


I see this last issue more often than you might expect. Perhaps it is because of what I do, working with different denominations and groups. I am encouraged now to be in a more healthy work environment. Too many unhealthy Christian organizations are hurting those who serve within them.

Maybe you are in an unhealthy church or organization. Over the next two articles, I would like to write something more definitive (and I hope helpful) on the subject as I see it as a great need.

In my next post, I will address what the Christian’s response might be when working in such an organization.

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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.