Seven Steps to Confronting Toxic Church People

So how do you confront “that guy?” (see my previous post). Let me outline one approach.

Seven Steps To Confronting Toxic Church People

toxic church people1. Assess their health. As I said in my previous post, the first step is to understand where this person is coming from. You have to discern if this person is emotionally and spiritually healthy. Are they credible? Often not. Please read yesterday’s post to understand the shame factor and how it drives people’s motives. Don’t get sucked into their vortex. If they aren’t reasonable they have needs they are trying to meet that reason can’t solve.

2. Seek the Truth.  Before you dismiss their complaint or issue, ask God if there is any shred of truth to what they are saying. Not every mouthpiece for God is pure (myself included). There can be mixed motives. So I want to humbly be open to what I might learn from what the person has to say, even if it seems extreme at first. Can you strip the message from the messenger and find any truth?

3. Engage.  If your assessment is that they are toxic (and not just having a bad day) move to contain their toxin. I like the adage from Bill Hybel’s: If something feels funky, engage. We tend to walk away from toxic people hoping they’ll just go away.. Most likely they won’t. Their agenda is bigger than you imagine.. So move toward the person ti contain the toxin. .

If something feels funky, engage. Bill Hybels

4. Take it offline. Toxic people are looking for an audience. They will typically find an audience in a class, business meeting, through social media, or in the church lobby. Some people incessantly ask questions or offer comments that bog down classes or meetings. Other people camp out in the lobby and pick people off one at a time with their agenda. Tell them that you are happy to discuss their issue where you can give them your full attention. If they launch into a diatribe, interrupt them. It’s not rude. THEY are rude. People are looking to YOU to DO SOMETHING. They will appreciate you taking leadership. By taking it offline you deny them their audience.

Other people lob grenades through emails, Facebook, and blogs. If these are impacting your church, you need to talk to them about stopping. Just because it’s online, doesn’t give them free access. It might not make them cease and desist but you need to speak to it and possibly alert others in your church that what is being spoken is unhelpful. This gets dicey, so discretion and wise counsel is needed.

5. Set boundaries. Just because you take it offline doesn’t mean they can dominate your time. Give them 30 minutes, or whatever amount of time you think is appropriate. Discuss their issue. Listen. Affirm what you can. State your differences. And then thank them for voicing their concerns. You will take them into consideration. But let them know you will no longer allow the topic to dominate any forum within the church. If they can’t support your ministry then they need to find a ministry they can support.

6. Don’t waste your time. Too many pastors allow toxic people to dominate their time. They end up spending 30% of their time on .5% of the congregation. That’s not fair.  I know you think that your love and reason will change them, but that’s not your job. If they show no openness to dialogue, then move on…quickly. You’ve got hurting people under your care, or a sermon on Sunday, that you need to attend to.

7. Ask them to leave. This is a last resort after you’ve done your best to speak with them. But sometimes it’s necessary. You are the overseer of the flock. You need to protect your church from toxic people. And people need to see that you ARE seeking to protect them. If your church is the kind of place that allows loose cannons to roam free, you’ll lose good people.

Paul was clear in speaking to the Romans: I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. Romans 16:17. So, if this person refuses to comply, they must leave, for the sake of the Body. You don’t have to be harsh.. Let them know it pains you that it’s come to this, but you regretfully must ask them to leave.

Like I said in the previous post, this is not easy, but necessary. When’s the best time to confront a toxic person? As soon as possible. Good luck.

There are always exceptions to the rules, so I’m happy to entertain scenarios that might require altering my suggestions. I’d also like to hear some success stories (or horror stories) from your experience. It might help others.

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