As has often been said, “the local church is the hope of the world.” I believe that. Local churches not only preach the soul-saving message of Jesus, but they also provide tangible proof that the gospel can completely transform the daily lives of individuals and entire communities.
Wherever the Spirit of God is present among the people of God, miraculous things happen. That’s our mission: to advance the heavenly kingdom, to see lost and broken people find eternal hope and healing.
However, we can’t offer a healing that we have not experienced ourselves. While God is powerful to do his supernatural work in even the most adverse situations, we hamper our effectiveness when we fail to pursue both holiness and wholeness.
When churches are unhealthy, far from being a transformative presence in their communities, they can wreak havoc in the lives of the people who interact with them or who languish in their midst.
But what are the warning signs that a church is cultivating an environment that is unhealthy or even toxic? Here are four signs that your church is not healthy.
1. Church Bullies Are Given Free Rein.
When unruly individuals grow in influence within a church, they can quickly create a hostile environment. While they may be small in number, they can create serious and unnecessary distractions from the mission of the church.
For most church bullies, their time to shine is at congregational business meetings. They know exactly how to navigate Robert’s Rules of Order with nitpicky precision, say something inflammatory enough to rile up their support base yet vague enough to maintain plausible deniability of fault, and generally just aggravate the church’s leadership.
In between those meetings, they do a fair bit of politicking, creating strategic alliances with other influential members of the church to advance their agenda, which usually stands in opposition to whatever vision has been cast by the pastor or elders.
Church bullies are the kind of people who offer to buy the pastor coffee or lunch and then spend the whole time “sharing concerns” and talking about “what people are saying.” And when the pastor doesn’t move in the direction they desire, they apply pressure, often in the form of spreading gossip.
Sometimes, the rumors they spread are half true. Other times they aren’t even remotely true. In every case, they cause division and distrust, quenching the work of the Holy Spirit.
Too often, church bullies are given free rein, because they are usually longtime members who are well respected and know a lot about the Bible. Further, they can lay on the charm and feign selfless concern when they need to.
Confronting them requires coolheaded wisdom. Even still, the situation is often fraught. However, if church bullies are allowed to run the show, they will create an unhealthy environment that will cause harm to others.