Toxic Church People and Their Shame

Have you ever met someone, usually at church, who comes loaded for bear to convince you, and anyone within earshot, of “The Truth?”

Silly question…of course you have!

handling_toxic_peopleA friend of mine recently pointed out that in secular culture, you’d quickly dismiss this kind of a person as a crackpot. There is a natural social response to such a person. Once you realize that they aren’t interested in dialogue, only demagoguery, people begin to distance themselves from the person. They become isolated like a toxin in your body before they are flushed from the system. Eventually, they leave. Problem solved.

That’s in secular culture. In church, it’s a different story.

In church, since this person is proclaiming the Bible as his or her authority, they demand, and often get, immediate recognition. They position themselves as a prophet proclaiming the truth and woe to anyone that dare dismiss their words, for they are the very words of God!

So, in church, rather than being flushed from the system, they get a voice…a voice they don’t get in any other place. That’s very empowering! Not only do they get a voice, they might get a position. Not wanting to diminish anyone, the church might let them head a committee or even be on the church council. Now, they not only have a voice, and a position, but they have authority.

Do you see a problem here? Is this your problem: you’ve got a toxic person loose in your church? I bet you are hoping I’ve got an easy answer for it!  Not easy, but I do have an answer.

Understanding the Toxic Person

First, it’s important to understand what makes these folks tick. There are many possible answers, but since I write about shame a lot, let’s look at this person through a grid of shame.

Shame is the feeling/belief that you are worthless. Many people are attracted to God and religion because of their shame issues. But it’s not the draw you might think.

Ideally, people with shame issues will be drawn to God to find their true value in God. The message of Jesus dying for us and filling us with his Spirit is a made-to-order solution for shame. That’s what I wrote about in my book: Healing the Hurts of Your Past.

But sadly, many people miss that message and reach lower to salve the pain of their shame. Instead of grabbing onto Jesus they lock onto a doctrine, dogma, or ritual and make it their area of expertise. Finding their worth in the presence of God isn’t enough. Anyone can get that. They want to stand out from the crowd to feel special. That’s how they get their worth. 

What they don’t realize is that the rush they assume is the Spirit of God, is the same endorphin rush that every junkie gets after getting their fix.

Having an expertise in doctrine, dogma, or ritual gives them the power and control they’ve always longed for. When they can corner someone in church (maybe even the pastor!) and instruct them in their pet topic, it makes them feel alive. This new control gives them a sense of worth and purpose that they’ve never had before. 

What they don’t realize is that the rush they assume is the Spirit of God, is the same endorphin rush that every junkie gets after getting their fix.

And you just put this guy on the church council. Uh-oh.

Confronting the Toxic Person

Since you are a good, reasonable person, surely if you just talk to this person they will see the error of their ways and change. Not happening. They aren’t interested in reason. They are beyond reason. What they want is control and they want it because it meets their shame needs.

You’ll realize this when you confront them because they won’t listen to your concern; they just dig in deeper and increase their circle of influence. They have a vested interest in this issue and it’s not the issue itself. It’s their worth. Their entire identity is wrapped around this issue. To give up on the issue is to give up on themselves and they don’t want to go back to that life. They rather die a martyr in church (a Somebody) than be a nobody again.

So if this guy is your guy, you are in a no-win situation. He will only accept unconditional surrender from you. Until then, watch out.

What’s the answer? My goal today is to simply lay out the problem and help you understand what might be the motivation behind toxic people. Before I offer some suggestions, I’d like to hear back from you about your guy. What’s the situation?

You can comment below or you can email me directly in case you are afraid of exposing this situation. I get that. I’ll offer some solutions in a few days.

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  1. Pingback: Seven Steps to Confronting Toxic Church People - F. Remy Diederich

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