Updated: Jun 20
Church culture is based on the behaviors and beliefs of that congregation. A congregation creates a culture based on how it responds to certain beliefs and behaviors. And then it can become known for those beliefs and behaviors of people who do not attend that church or those who do. The leaders in a church drive the culture because their responsibility is to guide a church in being a reflection of what the congregation believes and practices.
You may say, "Well, I'm not a leader, so I am not responsible for the culture." Unfortunately, this isn't true because every person who participates in a congregation either perpetuates a particular culture thru their actions or inactions." It's what happened during the civil rights movement; black and white people said, we will not tolerate this culture of discrimination, so people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, Rosa Parks, and others decided to act on what they believed in challenging the discriminatory culture. Action can perpetuate and challenge culture and inaction also perpetuates culture as well. It's what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people." Edmund Burke said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
More and more people are sharing stories about their experiences in toxic church environments. It is heartbreaking. If you listen to the reports, you would think only a few people are creating the toxicity, but it's not just those people; it's the church's culture. I was told that in one church, at least thirteen people have had similar experiences as I have had or worse. Thirteen people? How did it move beyond two? Culture. The people in the congregation are perpetuating and affirming certain types of behaviors thru the way they respond to them. More than likely, those in power prioritized protecting the institution rather than the people. This is a very common response in churches that have a toxic culture. Wade Mullen explains how this happens when a person challenges the toxic culture.
He says, "An organization or culture that perpetuates abuse will question the motives of those who ask questions, make the discussion of problems the problem, condemn those who condemn, silence those who break silence, and descend upon those who dissent."
This is how a toxic culture is perpetuated and affirmed. Once this happens, the culture becomes a culture of control, weariness, fear, secrecy, silence, and indifference. And in the words of one of my leadership mentors, "Culture wins every time." Culture can be so irresistible, whether good or bad. Just think that in one congregation where thirteen people have experienced toxicity, culture is winning 13 - 0.
However, there is hope! There are four ways to overcome a toxic culture and nurture a safe church culture.
Tell the Truth- speak up when you believe something is wrong. Be respectful. The freedom to disagree or share what you believe is right, based on scripture, nurtures a safe church culture. There may be times when you agree to disagree, but every voice should matter.
Seek the Truth- Ask questions. Don't let someone tell you who you can't talk with while trying to discover the Truth of a situation.
Know the Truth- You must know God's Word. Do the attitudes, actions, policies, procedures, etc., align with scripture? The corporate structure should not be the authority on how the church conducts its business as long as what is done does not break the law. The Bible should be the final authority on policy and procedures. If you don't know God's Word, you can fall prey to deception and get sucked into using the corporate model as your guide. This is bringing the world into the church. One tip is that if attitudes, actions, policies, procedures, etc., are not filtered thru the lens of love, they do not align with scripture.
John 8:32 says, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Truth breaks the chains of a toxic culture.
No one who practices deception can survive in culture where Truth is a priority.
Another way a safe church culture can be nurtured is thru repentance. Repentance means a change of heart and a change of direction. It's Godly sorrow. When a congregation discovers that it has participated in affirming toxic behavior and a toxic culture, there must be individual and corporate repentance.
Repentance breaks the chains of toxicity.
As Christians, we are called to create communities of love and safety. Making Truth the priority and practicing repentance as individuals and as a corporate body are two of the most loving ways to nurture a culture that is safeguarded against toxicity.
A person who affirms toxicity in a church cannot survive in a culture that practices repentance.
Don't lose hope. You can nurture a safe church culture because scripture says, "...that with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26) because nothing is impossible with God Luke 1:37.
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