Detoxing From the Toxic Church

toxin I recently attended a three-day Christian Leadership Institute. During the time there, we explored our personal leadership styles and attempted to determine where each of us fit on the spectrum. I won’t tell you what mine was except to say I’m really anal. No big surprise there.

Part of what we looked at was the various categories of congregations that exist out there in churchdom. I guess we were trying to see where our styles fit the best. I’m not sure I really fit in anywhere particular, but that’s no big surprise either.

The Toxic Congregation

Interestingly enough, the leaders of the institute had narrowed the kinds of churches down to four. I won’t bore you with the details, but one of the categories was rather startling. That category was entitled, “The Toxic Church.”

Apparently, toxic churches are ones that have been around a long time and have actually produced a lot of fruit over the years (spiritually speaking). Then, somewhere along the way they became abusive. Congregational members of such churches are abusive to the pastors, abusive to each other, and abusive to their neighbors.

Occasionally, their abusive behavior is interrupted by a move of the Holy Spirit and things seem to be getting back to normal. Before too long, however, these acts of God are suppressed by more abuse, and they get back to normal (or abnormal if you will).detox

The strange thing about these congregations is their incredible ability to survive. One wonders why the Lord doesn’t just snuff them out, but I guess he’s put up with far worse. The Bible does say something about God being long-suffering.

Just before I sat down to write this blog, I did a quick check of my Facebook page. A short video jumped out at me about a guy who was detoxing from church. He was in his third year of doing so. The coincidence was rather startling for me.

The upshot of all this is that there are congregations out there that are downright poisonous. I guess I always knew this, but having it thrown in my face for the past few days has made it much more of a stark reality. It’s not something we like to admit, let alone talk about.

“Christians have ceased to darken the doors…”

I don’t know that I’ve ever been in such a church. I’m quite sure I’ve never been the pastor of one. Still, I suppose there are small pockets of toxins in every sizeable congregation. It’s just another reason why half of all American Christians have ceased to darken the doors of our church buildings.poison-danger-sign-s-0580

It’s incredible to me that anyone can know the love of Christ and still carry around the venom of Satan—ready to strike at any moment. In fact, it’s more than incredible—it’s unthinkable. Still, it apparently happens.

That kind of poison has to be far more toxic than most others. Otherwise, why would my friend in the video have to detox for three years and counting? Heaven help us!

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

One thought on “Detoxing From the Toxic Church”

  1. It’s a complicated issue, Pastor Dave. Sometimes the problem stems from congregants (who can be — but not necessarily — all that influential in the congregation). Sometimes the problem stems from church leadership (clergy and / or lay leaders). The problem can also stem from both. It just all depends.

    A lot of the folks I’ve known who have had to detox from church have observed similar trends to my experience: a lot of us are laity who’ve been burned by church leaders of some kind. But, I realize that the issue can be the reverse. The thing that bothers me the most is how we believers seldom manage to resolve conflicts among one another. With the advent of social media, this issue has received more attention; but with the advent of social media, we have also chosen to start a war and show the world what a divided house Christ’s Church is, rather than seek to work things out among one another.

    I know that in my own experience, I have been vilified and told to get in line by many a popular Christian blogger, because I am in the wrong for speaking up about the abuse I endured in college and for taking the time I need to detox and try to save my faith. But I’m evil or sinful, because I’m not in church right now, not reading my Bible everyday, and have said some unflattering things about church leaders who abused me psychologically. Or so these types tell me — not literally, but it’s implied in their words and teachings. Nevermind that I’ve been trying to find a church near us that won’t cause me PTSD-like flashbacks and that yes, I would like to maintain my faith and become a stronger believer in time.

    These guys have most — but not all — of the Church on their side. But I will tell you: the splinter group I am a part of may be growing — specifically because we are vilified by those deemed credible in the Church. I will admit, though: many of these types do end up with weakened faith, if they don’t abandon the faith. But honestly, it’s a lot to ask anyone to maintain their faith in Christ, when churchgoing Christians have abused them and driven them out of the Church. Some of us are trying to find our way back. But it tends to be an uphill battle, if we want to restore ourselves to a similar level of Christian fellowship to what we once knew and loved. And it has to be because we want to, not out of a sense of fear that we’ll end up judged or in hell if we don’t. That is an area where so many Christians just need to learn to shut up and demonstrate patience with one another.

    If instead we could talk to one another and do what we can to work things out — working in time toward reconciling Christ’s Church — His Bride could begin to heal. But it will not happen until both sides are willing to work things out.

    Folks like me would like to work things out. But we are often met with intense opposition from those who value the Church as a whole body, while ignoring hurting body parts. We are told that we are attacking the Bride of Christ. Well, when we are injured or have a cold or a GI bug, guess what? It will feel as if that one part is being a royal pain to the rest of the body, but for good reason: that part is in pain and needs the support of the rest of the body in order to heal. That hurting body part does not heal without the rest of the body slowing down to help that one part recover. This is, in my opinion, the real problem we are dealing with right now. And that’s why I wish we’d try to work things out, rather than attack one another, either in fellowship, such as through gossip or power posturing, or over social media.

    I converted to Christianity to escape politics. What a joke that turned out to be! But y’know, Pastor Dave, as I read the Scriptures, what I actually find is that most of us gloss over all the biblical records of spiritual abuse / toxicity in both the Old and New Testaments — and folks like Paul and other early church leaders actually had to be on guard against false teachers and various rabble-rouser types who were causing problems for Christians even early on in the Church.

    This is by no means a new problem. It’s just that a lot of Christians either don’t know or have forgotten how important it is to exercise discernment, checking every teaching, prophecy, action, etc. against the Bible. And so, we end up with a number of false teachers operating in broad daylight within Christ’s Church, often blaspheming God’s Name by their false teaching and aberrant / abusive practices being done in Christ’s Name.

    But, lest I paint a bleak picture: we are talking Christ’s Church. The miracle in this whole thing is the work that the Lord has begun in her and in us, despite how messed up we are — and how He will be faithful to continue working on cleansing His Bride and working through her, despite her temporal blemishes, until at last He will have perfected her. Only a good and all-powerful God could possibly pull this off. ; )

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