Taking Threats to Church Health Seriously

By Dick Loizeaux

Contrary to many of the seminars you and I have attended, we all know that the church is more than just sermons, strategies and systems. It is a living thing with a beating heart. Our church a “body” and like every body it is susceptible to infections that make it sick. Our church a “family” and like any family it probably has dysfunctional behaviors that affect everyone in the family system. Our church can be bruised, wounded, crippled or get sick.

Why? Because while our spiritual growth reduces sin, it does not eliminate sin. And while spiritual growth may improve our emotional disposition it does not resolve underlying emotional problems. Over time our unrepented sin and unfinished emotional business can infect our hearts, poison our relationships and cripple our church.

As pastors, we are responsible for identifying and correcting these threats before they hurt the health of our church. But as pastors, sometimes we are responsible for creating part of the threat. Why? Because we bring all of our imperfections, infections and dysfunctions into the church. And if we aren’t careful we create a church in our flawed image. At least I know I did. Conflict avoidance pastors produce conflict avoidance churches, rather than conflict resolving churches. Performance based pastors produce performance based churches, rather than grace based churches. Emotionally needy pastors produce churches designed to meet the pastor’s emotional needs. Make sense?

Now, on top of our sins and dysfunctions, add the dysfunctions of all the people in our churches. Everyone who enters the church brings their “junk” with them: scars from imperfect parenting; wounds from previous church experiences; defense mechanisms developed through the daily battles of life; learned patterns of sinful behavior; pockets of emotional immaturity; blind spots; and personal addictions, compulsions and obsessions. The list can go on, but you get the point.

Now take that list of “junk” each person brings into your church, and multiply it by the number of people in your church. Got a number? Okay, now envision that “junk” seeping into their relationships with the people around them – the people in their small group, their ministry team, and their network of friends. All those infections and dysfunctions spread and infect others. If we aren’t careful the infections and dysfunctions start to feel normal. They become patterns of behavior and part of the church culture. So we end up with a dysfunctional or slightly sick church culture and wonder why our systems, sermons and strategies
aren’t working.   

Diagnosing the Threats

Every church body/family has some combination of five spiritual and emotional health threats:
1) weaknesses to be strengthened
2) sickness to be cured
3) wounds to be healed
4) sins to be confessed
5) spiritual attacks to be defeated

The process to address these church health threats begins with correctly categorizing them. We need to avoid labeling all problems a “spiritual” problem. Clearly the cause of some of our church health threats is, and will always be, plain old-fashioned sin. But other underlying causes may be unhealed wounds, unmet emotional needs, uncorrected weaknesses, undiagnosed relational or emotional sickness, and unproductive or dysfunctional church behaviors. To top it off Satan may leverage those underlying health problems to launch a spiritual attack on your church.

So when you are diagnosing church heath issues, ask yourself: “Is this a weakness to be strengthened, a relational or emotional sickness to be cured, a wound to be healed, a sin to be confessed, or an attack to be overcome?” Often the health threat will fit in multiple categories. An untreated wound may get infected and become a sickness. A weakness or a sin can be used by Satan as a point of attack.

As pastors we must push past the symptoms (“That staff person or board member is the problem; that divisive issue or divisive person is the problem”) to discern the core spiritual and emotional issues rooted in the spiritual life and history of the church. We must push past “quick fixes” in order to address heart issues and unfinished emotional business.

Conducting a Self-Assessment

Here are 15 simple questions to help identify if your church has a serious threat. Answer each “never, seldom, periodically, regularly or frequently.” For the full 44 question survey email me at dick@convergemidamerica.org

  1. Our Congregational Business Meetings can be contentious and divisive.            
  2. We have experienced splits where several families either left the church together or stayed and divide the church.           
  3. Our congregation openly challenges and criticizes the pastor and elders.           
  4. Pastors or staff have been forced to leave or have quit in discouragement.                      
  5. Elders have resigned in anger or frustration.                                                   
  6. People leave angry or hurt and stay unreconciled to our church.                             
  7. There are significant unresolved personal conflicts in our congregation.              
  8. There are hurtful issues in our church past that have never been explained or resolved.
  9. Leadership changes hands abruptly and disruptively.                                               
  10. There have been destructive power struggles or debilitating divisions.
  11. Dominant families get their way by threats or manipulation.                        
  12. People have trouble speaking the truth in love.                                                           
  13. Key influencer exhibit bitterness and anger when they don’t get their way.                                    
  14. The congregation is filled with gossip, rumors, criticism and judgementalism.
  15. There is a sense of discouragement, fear, or defeat. 

Want a broader, more objective church health assessment? Then have your congregation take a Natural Church Development Survey. This is especially helpful if the cause of your church heath threat is primarily weaknesses to be strengthened. The NCD will help you identify the weaknesses as well as the strengths to be leveraged. Pay special attention to the questions about Passionate Spirituality, Loving Relationships, and Holistic Small Groups. Why not get a handle on the health of your church by ordering the NCD survey today. For this month only (May is Church Health Month) you can order it at the special price of $275. To order just click here. You will be glad you did.                                         

Disarming The Threats

If the cause of your church health threat is some combination of sickness to be cured, wounds to be healed, sins to be confessed, or spiritual attacks to be defeated, then take your church leaders on a retreat and follow the process of:

1) looking at the past for key events and patterns
2) looking at the present for unresolved issues and unhealed wounds
3) looking inside for our contribution as leaders
4) looking out for signs of active spiritual attack
5) looking up for the Lord’s leading

Develop an Action Plan that includes repentance, confession, renunciation, rededication, and heart transformation followed by the hard work of learning new behaviors. Consider holding a Solemn Assembly coupled with a season of church wide prayer and fasting.

If the cause is weaknesses to be strengthened, pursue the NCD process with a Church Health Team that develops a one year Action Plan.

Resources

Here are some resources to help you get a handle on the threats to your church health: 

1. To deal with the emotional health of yourself and your church, use Peter Scazzero’s “The Emotionally Healthy Church” and “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.” See Jim Lacy’s review in the next article: “Books I Most Wish I Had 30 Years Ago.”

2. To deal with unhealed wounds in the life of your church consider “Healing the Heart Of Your Church” by Kenneth Quick (ChurchSmart). 

3. To deal with corporate patterns of sin use “Extreme Church Makeover” by Neil T Anderson. 

4. To understand and deal with dysfunctional leaders (including yourself) see the new “Toxic Church” written by Chris Creech and published by Thom Rainer.

 

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Church Planting Articles, Church Health Training, Natural Church Development, Dick Loizeaux