How to Recover from a Toxic Church and Bounce Back Even Better

How to Recover from a Toxic Church and Bounce Back Even Better

Prioritize healing, but don’t use recovery as an excuse to become apathetic. Seek the help you need and do not walk alone. No one should navigate a difficult season solo. Make phone calls to your mentor, counselor, and close friends. Be grateful for those who respond positively. 

When the church causes hurt, it pollutes God’s calling and creates a toxicity that works against the gospel.

The goal is to minimize church hurt and maximize church unity. Here is reality. Something will happen in almost every church because ministry includes people. In some cases, the pastor is the cause of the hurt. In other cases, the people of the church hurt the pastor. Pastors can be responsible for church hurt, but this article focuses on how pastors should respond when experiencing a toxic church culture.

Pastors can experience various forms of church hurt, some more painful than others.

    1. “I’m not being fed, so I’m leaving.”
    2. “People are saying. . .”
    3. “I love you, but. . .”
    4. “I noticed you bought a vehicle. How can you afford that?”
    5. “You should listen and learn from my favorite YouTube preacher.”
    6. “I support you, but I don’t want to talk to my friends about their negative attitudes.”
    7. “Why do your kids act that way?”
    8. “Why is your spouse not more involved?”

Now, there is a difference between hurt and toxicity. The former is personal. The latter is cultural. You may experience toxicity but not be personally hurt. You may be personally hurt but not in a toxic culture. Or you may feel the compounding effects of both.

    • Not toxic or hurtful: A healthy church acts as God designed.
    • Toxic, but not hurtful: The culture is poisonous, but the people are not after you personally.
    • Not toxic, but hurtful: In these cases, an individual or small group is attacking you unbeknownst to the rest of the congregation. This situation is usually short-term, as even a small group will eventually affect the church’s culture.
    • Toxic and hurtful: The culture is hurtful, and at least some people are after you personally.

Though there is much overlap between toxic church culture and personal hurt, making this distinction is critical for pastors. The pathway to reconciliation is clearer when a toxic culture is not present because the process involves a small group of people (perhaps just two) rather than the entire congregation. What are some warning signs of a toxic church culture?

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