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).
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.
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.]