One Sunday after church I stopped for gas. As I walked into the gas station to pay for my fuel, I decided to purchase a taquito. Now, I should have known better, but how can you pass up five taquitos for a $1.00? I made my purchase and went along my way. The next morning I woke up preparing to go to work, when suddenly sharp pains began to invade my stomach. The pain got so intense that if death would have come my way I would have welcomed it. It didn’t take me long to self diagnose that I had food poisoning.
There is not much treatment for food poisoning. Your body actually begins to do the work for you, expelling the toxins in your system until they are all removed. Needless to say, this is not a pleasant process, but it is necessary to the health of your body.
I often wonder if we accept the toxic environments of our churches because it is easier to accept what is toxic rather than the pain that often comes with becoming healthy. John Mark Clifton, author of Reclaiming Glory says, “A dying and dysfunctional church robs God of glory.”
How many of us have served or possibly currently serving in a church with a dysfunction or a toxic culture? The toxic church culture can lead many faithful men to quit ministry or leave a church before they should. The sad reality is there are some churches that actually love the toxic culture they are steeped in. Toxic words that often float around these settings: “We have always done things that way,” “Why do we have to have those people join our church?” “If we change that paint color I am leaving the church,” “I won’t give another penny until they change back the pulpit to where I like it.”
However, the call of an overseer is to
Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly. (1 Peter 5:2)
If God has called you to a toxic church, it could be the joy of what can be is greater than the pain you are facing. Here are three ways to start the process of clearing the toxic culture around you.
1. Preach the Word.
The Apostle Paul told his protege Timothy,
Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
In a toxic environment we must trust the Word of the Lord to clear the air. As leaders we are called to trust the Lord and stand on His word. Point people back to the glorious truth of the Cross. It could be that the toxic person has forgotten that it is about Jesus not about them, money, or property. This may mean you preach on specific issues, such as the function of the church, living on mission, or discord. It may also mean your Sunday school or small groups take a break from curriculum for times of prayer for the church.
2. Don’t be afraid to confront.
If I am honest, I dislike conflict. Praise God as He is helping me grow in my leadership I am much better in dealing with conflict. However, one thing I had to learn, not all conflict is a bad thing. In fact, healthy conflict can cause change for the good.
Is there a toxic person you need to address directly? Matthew 18 is clear that we are to go to our brother if we have a fault with them. In any conflict, the only one we have to fear is God. People may get mad with you, but they don’t give you value, worth, or identity. Our identities come from the Lord. We should not allow toxic people to destroy others within our local church. So, confronting in love needs to be direct, immediate and clear, leaving no room for misunderstanding or questions as to what you are saying.
3. Evangelize, disciple and pray.
The hard thing about a toxic environment is people don’t want to be part of it. However, what if the breath of fresh air needed is new people coming to faith in Christ?
I love new Christians. They are not concerned about who left peppermint paper on the back pew on the left side of the sanctuary—it isn’t a life or death issue the church must address. The new follower of Christ wants to do just that: follow Christ and help others do the same. As leaders let us pray, trusting that God can change the hearts of people.
Thom Rainer said it best, “Change is urgent because the gospel is urgent.” Let us seek gospel change to the glory of God allowing the air to become clear of a toxic culture.