Monday, March 21, 2011

Dysfunctional Churches

Every church has difficult people and messy people. That’s just the way it is; it's part of the human condition. This also means, however, that every church has to work at staying healthy in spite of them. In healthy churches, problematic people raise the tension level, but it is not allowed to control the emotional life of the church. A healthy church body will have immune systems in place that act to protect the body from its unhealthy members.

There are two particular types of people who have most negative impact upon the life of a congregation. They are “turf holders” and “emotional manipulators.”

A turf-holder is a person who has taken control of some aspect of a church’s life. This could literally be the kitchen, a certain room, the supply closet, or a piece of equipment. It could also be an area such as the finances, or a particular ministry.

An emotional manipulator is the person who tries to control the life of a congregation by acting out emotionally or threatening to act out emotionally. Often times this is with anger. “Don’t do this or Dick will get angry.” Or sometimes the manipulation is with sadness or tears. “If you change the service times, Nancy will get upset and leave the church.”

I want to be very clear that it is not a problem that a church has such people. It's just part of the human condition. Such people become a problem only when they are allowed to control the life of a congregation or any of its ministries. When such persons are elected or appointed to positions or office that gives them power, the situation becomes even worse! When this happens, everyone is aware of the problem person; but what is often not understood is that the church is actually enabling this behavior. Put simply, the immune system of the church is not functioning properly.

When a turf-holder or emotional manipulator is in a position of authority or controlling the life of a church, it is almost always a sign of a dysfunctional system. There are some people you simply cannot fix, but what you can fix are systems & structures that put them in postions of influence.

Healthy systems are what keep a church healthy; they serve the same purpose as your immune system does for your body.

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