Toxic Churches

By David Cox

This post examines what are the signs of Toxic Churches. These churches are churches that are poison to your spiritual life.

Sign #1 Only the Leader is allowed to think, or understand the Spirit’s leading

A healthy church is one that equips and capacitates their membership. It is one where many of their members can leave and actually start or be foundational in starting new churches. These are Christians that have captured the biblical vision of the ministry.

A toxic church is one that restricts everyone from thinking, and only the pastor can actually understand the ministry of God, the mission of the church, and only that person (or the few around him) are permitted to be led by the Holy Spirit.

Sign #2 Only they are right, and everybody else is wrong.

While sign #1 is an attitude within the local church, this is the same attitude applied externally. They believe that their church is the unique ministry of God, and every other church is wrong, doctrinally incorrect, flawed, or otherwise no good. In truth, there are a tremendous amount of bad churches out there. But the excluding from possibility that God has other good churches is cultic really.

The purpose of this teaching and attitude is to again reinforce sign #1, that the pastor is the only true interpreter between God and man. The Roman Catholic church has done this likewise, and they are a cult. When a pastor admits that there are other “good churches like us” out there, then those pastors and churches have a valid say over what is right and wrong, and opens your pastor’s declarations from God subject to correction. Bad pastors don’t want to be corrected, nor do they admit wrong very often.

Sign #3 Rationalizations for church abuse.

In a bad church, everybody knows that there is serious church abuse going on. Sometimes this goes to the extent that the pastor is having sex with ladies not his wife. Most times there is financial questions that are never answered even though asked forcefully by key people in the congregation. And doctrines seem to be “fudged” or not exactly taught according to the Bible because of personal advantage. “It is good for a man not to touch a woman” for example is redirected to some other teaching than the obvious, and the pastor puts his hands on pretty women and girls.

The idea is that because you are in the best of churches out there, you should just put up with abusive treatment because of all the good you are getting.

Another variation of this sign is that because of some “great thing” in this church or in the leaders or pastor, they can get away with murder. Because the pastor is a soul winner, or a great preacher, therefore we can overlook his short comings and failings.

Sign #4 The leadership is not to be questioned nor criticized

A toxic church or an abusive church (same thing) is a church that has abuse of their members going on, but the members cannot speak out about it, nor take steps to correct it. The leadership is the only ones that can discern anything, and complaints about single girls getting pregnant from the pastor or a church leader are “swept under the rug” for the “good of the work of God”.

Sign #5 The Church is a religious mafia.

Here the idea is that things are not black and white, but rather relational. If you are “of the family”, then you are not automatically given any kind of favor. These pastors milk their members for favoritism from the pastor.

Decisions are made in back rooms, and not the way the public church government states. A constitution or bylaws in these churches are seen as a farse.

Being in the right (affirming what the Bible clearly states) has no real power with the church leadership. What moves them is if you do them favors or in a muted way, worship their egos, then you get what you want, otherwise no. It is put off, or no, or simply ignored.

Playing politics in the local church seems to be the way things always go. Your personal standing with the pastor or leadership is more important than how biblical you are.

A variation of this is that what YOU personally get in the church is a factor of your personal standing in the church. Some people are nobodies, and they never hear their name in a sermon while others are somebodies that are always mentioned in illustrations. Some people get placed in key ministry positions because they are in good with the pastor or leaders, and other very talented people are pushed aside and not used (even though they ask to be used) because they are not playing the game of seeking favor from the pastor. It is as if the pastor is constantly asking, “What have you done for me lately?” before giving anybody anything he has control over.

Sign #6 There is a discrepancy between “public” and actual.

There is a public relations side of the church that is different from the actual church. While the Pastor is publicly telling people he is open to suggestions, going to him yields nothing, not even consideration. The church pushes an image of what they are, when in reality that is not accurate.

Many churches say that they are a friendly, loving place. In reality they are far from it.

Sign #7 You deal with problems by talking ABOUT people, not to those people.

When conflict and issues in a church come up (and they always will) the way that the leadership handles these problems is very indicative if the church is healthy or not. In a toxic church, the leadership seeks to discredit their enemies. Anybody in conflict with their dictates is their enemy. Therefore is somebody takes a stand against the church leadership, instead of going and talking the issue out until it is resolved, the leadership starts a smear campaign against their critics credibility. This is learned by the membership, and they do the same by gossipping against the church leadership or pastor in specific.

Sign #8 People in the church are more concerned about fighting among themselves than fighting God’s fights

A good church places the limited personal and church resources against fighting the devil and his workers, by trying to get people saved and joining in with them in that local church so that they can see the work of God advance. Unfortunately, in toxic churches, all that energy and resources goes into fighting and trying to resolve these fights.

This is a failure on the pastor’s level because he has not sold successfully to the church the God given mission in the Bible. Instead of seeing that mission as the main thing we should be investing our lives into, we fight amongst ourselves.

Personal conflict within a church kills church growth. Why would a stranger visiting want to come back to a church where people are at each other’s throats? Even the people that are members there don’t want to be there really!

Sign #9 Individual dedication and commitment is rarely if ever seen.

If there is a need it is always answered by somebody else has to do it, because I just refuse. When the people of a church hate responsibility, God is not working there, and maybe God is not there at all.

Sign #10 The Gospel is perverted, wrong, or absent

When a church does not have the NT gospel, it is a toxic church. The Gospel has to be defined as seeing our sinful condition, and putting our trust (faith) in Jesus Christ’s death and substitution for us on the cross, his burial, and resurrection the third day. This gospel must be preached and believed if a church is to be healthy.

What is happening is that this gospel message is being twisted into doing good works in order to go to heaven or please God. This is not the gospel message at all.

A “gospel” or “Good News” is something that is the most important, highest priority “thing” that a person or group has. It is announced first. It is announced most. It is emphasized most. It is their priority. It is their heart. This is what a gospel is.

Modern churches (toxic churches) may have a biblical gospel, but it is not really their gospel. Rather it is a subordinate doctrinal belief way down on the ladder of beliefs. They are good with rarely preaching on it. They are good with lightly preaching on it. The fact of real salvation in their leaders and members lives is not important. They don’t pressure people in ministry or membership or worse in their leadership that they are truly saved. It simply isn’t essential or central in their thinking.

Continue to part 2