Part of our work in bringing a genesis to the cities of our region is training the existing congregations in urban settings to become healthy and missional. This has proven much more strenuous than merely training missionaries and church planters to begin churches from scratch. Why? An alarming amount of existing faith communities are mired in dramatically unhealthy practices.
Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton, in their book Toxic Faith: Experiencing Healing Over Painful Spiritual Abuse, describe at length the characteristics of an unsafe church setting. For many of us, it may be unpleasant to dive into this topic in depth, because of how close it hits to home. Nevertheless, naming the dysfunction will assist us to move beyond it eventually. Thus, here are their “10 Rules of a Toxic Faith System:”
- Control: The leader must be in control at all times.
- Blame: When problems arise, find a guilty party to blame immediately.
- Perfectionism: Don’t make mistakes.
- Delusion: Never point out the reality of a situation.
- Perpetual Cheerfulness: Never express your feelings unless they are positive.
- Blind Loyalty: Don’t ask questions, especially if they are tough ones.
- Conformity: Don’t do anything outside your role.
- Mistrust. Don’t trust anyone.
- Avarice: Nothing is more important than giving money to the organization.
- Spotless Image: At all costs, keep up the image of the organization or the family.
Do any of these rules fit the church or churches you grew up in or are a part of now? Was or is there absolute leader control, even though the jargon sounds something like “servant leadership?” Was there blind loyalty? Is there a need to keep up the “image?”
The Christian community can be powerful, both in a positive, growth-inducing way and as a negative, fear-inducing tool. How safe is your faith community? How much toxic faith is being practiced in Sunday School classes, board meetings, etc.?