Nine Traits of Mean Churches

“My church is a mean church!”

I received two emails this week from church members who made that very statement. The members are from two different churches in two different states. One of the churches belongs to a denomination; the other is non-denominational. In both cases the church members made the decision to drop out of local church life altogether.

Yes, I tried to reason with the two members. I told them that no church is perfect. If they had any doubt, I wrote, look at the two letters the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. I failed in convincing them to stay in their churches. I pray they will become active in other churches later.

I love local churches. But I have to admit, I am hearing more from long-term members who are quitting church life completely. One member wrote me, “The non-Christians I associate with are much nicer people than the members of my church.”

Ouch. That really hurt.

So, after receiving the second email, I began to assimilate all the information I could find where church members had written me about their “mean” churches. They may not have used the word “mean” specifically, but the intent was the same. I then collected characteristics of these churches, and I found nine that were common. I call these the “nine traits of mean churches.”

  1. Too many decisions are made in the cloak of darkness. Only a select few members really know what’s going on. The attitude of those elitists is that the typical member doesn’t really need to know.
  2. The pastor and/or staff are treated poorly. Decisions are made about them without a fair process. Complaints are often numerous and veiled. Many of these churches are known for firing pastors and/or staff with little apparent cause.
  3. Power groups tenaciously hold on to their power. The power group may be a formal group such as a committee, elders, or deacons. But the group can also be informal—no official role but great informal authority. Power groups avoid and detest accountability, which leads to the next point.
  4. There is lack of clear accountability for major decisions and/or expenditures. The church has no clear system in place to make certain that a few outlier members cannot accumulate great power and authority.
  5. Leaders of the power groups have an acrimonious spirit. Though they may make first impressions of kindness and gentleness, the mean streak emerges if you try to cross them.
  6. A number of the members see those outside of the church as “them” or “those people.” Thus the church is at odds with many in the community instead of embracing them with the love of Christ.
  7. Many members have an inward focus; they view the church as a place to get their own preferences and wants fulfilled. They are the opposite of the description of church members in 1 Corinthians 12, where Paul describes them as functioning members for the greater good of the body of Christ.
  8. Many people in the community view these churches negatively. Those on the outside often refer to these churches as “fighting and firing churches.” The community members detect no love for them from these churches.
  9. Most of the members are silent when power plays and bad decisions take place. They don’t want to stand up to the power group. They are afraid to ask questions. Their silence allows the power abuses to continue.

Are mean churches really increasing in number? My anecdotal information would indicate they are.

What can we do to become a more unified body? How can churches demonstrate more positive impressions to the community? What can we do to hold on to good members who are giving up on local churches altogether? What is your input on these issues? Let me hear from you.

Posted on March 23, 2015

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Ron Welch says on

    I think the first question for a church that displays “A mean spirit” is, are the leaders really saved. Same question for the United States today. If 75% of us are actually Christian, how could abortion, poverty, ungodly marriage, divorce, secular political leadership, and full jails be such issues? I suppose we need to ask every member do you truly know Jesus Christ as your Lord and savior, if you do, how is that being reflected in your church and personal life? What is your spiritual gift, and how are you using it to glorify Christ?

  • Thanks Brother Thom, for bringing this to light. I did an honest assessment, and I saw 1,2,3,5,6,7, and 9 all applicable to the church where I am pastor. I am in my 20th year here, and while the people have overall been good to me and my family, I realize I cannot fight these battles much longer. I have tried to move the church forward to reach out to the next generation, but it is an uphill battle. The old guard, all senior adults in their 70’s and 80’s, hold great sway in this congregation, and they complain bitterly and loudly over the smallest changes – even when those changes might reach young people for Christ. I am tired of fighting battles over order of service, number boards, praise banners in the sanctuary, building renovations, bulletins, music that is too loud, and how I apparently do not keep enough office hours or visit shut-ins enough. Some of these old folks also complain that I make too much money, which is absurd. I have considered seeking to bring our worship service more up to date with a PowerPoint presentation, but I know this would create bitter conflict and contention. I do not have the strength for it anymore. Church leadership is a baton that should be graciously passed to the next generation. My older folks have made it clear that the baton is going to have to be pulled from their cold dead hands. They are not handing it over without a fight.

    No one outside of my wife and a few close friends who are willing to be references on my resume are aware that I have made the decision after 30 years of full-time ministry to seek another career. It’s scary at 54 to be looking for something completely different, yet I have peace that God is leading. I cannot be a pastor much longer. A sabbatical will not do it for me. I am too exhausted, and I know that if I go serve in another congregation I will encounter the same hateful and mean people again. It’s interesting how over the years, anytime I have sought the Lord and clung to such verses as Psalm 27:1, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear…?” it was always in response to church members who were attacking me. No matter how hard I preach, how much I visit, how much I strive to move the church forward, it is never enough for these old folks and it never will be.

    I have an old friend who was in ministry for 30 plus years. He now sells insurance for a living and is doing very well. He has graciously offered to mentor me through the process. I am moving forward to this goal. My friend said he is now serving God with greater passion and freedom than ever before. This sounds wonderful.

    Pray for me, my brother. Your blog has encouraged me more than I can say. Getting all this off my chest is doing me great good and is a tremendous relief.

    God bless you.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Dan –

      I have most certainly prayed for you, friend.

      • Donnie Chapman says on

        Dan, Everything about what you said is me…
        I am 53 and have been in the ministry 20 years.
        I understood every word you said.
        Blessings Brother.

      • Thank you Donnie and God bless you, brother. I’m glad this spoke to you, but I am also praying for you if you are in a similar situation and it sounds as though you are. God has given me such peace lately that I know it is all from Him. Something that has helped me greatly is carefully guarding my own spiritual and physical health. I pray more than ever before, I am more disciplined than ever before about spending time alone with God in His Word, and I exercise almost daily. If I did not practice these vital disciplines I quite possibly would be lying in a hospital bed perhaps in the psychiatric ward. And I am not joking about that for a moment. I have teetered on the edge of a complete breakdown many times. But by God’s grace and in His strength I persevere. I believe there is wonderful service to God outside of a church staff position. I mentioned selling insurance, but I also have ties to some local funeral homes and I am praying about becoming a funeral director. Because of my congregation’s decline over the years and my wife’s health problems (she’s doing well now – thanks be to God) I have had such mounting medical bills that I took on a part-time job with the local school system. This puts me in contact with students and is a wonderful ministry. The students, teachers, and bus drivers I am around all know I am a pastor and they bring me their prayer requests and burdens and I have ongoing opportunities to encourage and minister to them. This is not enough for a full-time job, but it has empowered me to know that at my age I can do something else other than be a pastor, which has been my life since I was 24 years old. Sadly, some of the old folks in my church hate it that I have this job as they somehow feel it takes my time away from them. Without this part-time job I would have had to file for bankruptcy. Most of the people at my church agree working my way out of debt has been the more honorable approach. So, my part-time work, which God is using in so many ways, is also a source of contention in my church.
        Stand strong, brother. God is working and He has a plan.
        God bless you.

    • I can echo your exact statements although I am young and have only been serving in full time ministry for the past 12 years. I have given up my youth and the early years of my marriage for the sake of the Churches I have been involved with. Yet, after too many “Pastor killing”experiences and episodes of heartache and depression that stemmed from the congregations I worked so hard for I am ready to throw in the towel and start over. As a younger man I am hopeful that I will be able to find some success in another career but because I completely left behind all other goals and desires to follow what I felt was my calling I am ten years behind my peers in terms of education and experience. I do not regret my time in ministry, nor do I hold grudges in my heart with the people who have hurt me. I simply want to get back to the simplicity of my faith and love for God and His word. Hopefully I can find that again. It’s just sad that I feel no other option but to find it outside the life of ministry I felt I was called to so many years ago.

      My prayers are with you and your family as you seek some peace.


      • I must add that I still haven’t given up hope that God will turn all of this around and place me in a ministry setting that completely changes the game for me. But I am also preparing myself for the possibility that my hopes and wishes will never come to fruition. You can call it a lack of faith but I simply call it an honest assessment of myself and my feelings at the moment.

  • Number #1 (the rest of the list inclusive with the exception of #2) could also be in reference to many churches now considered “mega-church”. Information is strictly controlled (most notably staff salaries including the Senior Pastor) with the attitude that the membership do not really need to know. Members who do ask about these issues are often criticized as being a cancer in the Body of Christ. Of course in these cases, #2 is NA since the staff, not a clique, who are those in charge. Let us be clear = this list could be said of any human organization. As Lord Acton said, “…power corrupts absolutely” regardless if one is in politics, business, or the church. It can be found in churches of all sizes and shapes. What can protect congregational churches is the use of our polity which attempts to bring in all the Ministers of Christ to have a say in the business of the church, “…for the in the presence of many counselors there is safety.” However the trend these days (done in the name to protect pastoral staff) is to reduce conflict by keeping decisions done for the Congregation in that small oligarchy (call it Ministerial Staff, a group of Elders, etc.) therefore doing away in most ways the congregational business meeting. In my opinion this is as dangerous a precedent as a power clique in a small church.


    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thank, Rob.

    • Rob,

      One of the reasons for security over salaries and such, though, has been in response to what I like to refer to as “the evil of open business meetings”… where a random person stands up in the middle of a 400+ person congregation and questions the pastor’s salary. In the case I’m most familiar with it was this random person actually exposing his own sin of envy because he was jealous that the pastor made more than he did. Forget about the fact that the pastor had a Phd and pastored the largest church in town. But that random person’s words then spurred others on towards some envy as well. It erupted into a big ruckus.

      There has to be a balance, though, between secrecy and openness. I think pure democratic congregational rule is impractical in large churches and allows for horrible things to happen like that, but likewise, complete secrecy allows for shady deals to go down and prevents the accountability that needs to be there.

      • Steven,

        I will not hijack Thom’s post (too much) but will make an observation as to your comments on my example of staff salaries being “obscure” in large churches. I do not see a problem with the one lone person asking questions about the Pastor’s salary during a business meeting. Business meetings are for sharing and helping teams and staff to make good and reasoned decisions. To deduce it as a matter of jealousy and envy is speculation and beyond my ability to deduce on my own power – but even if it is sin, then it is exposed for all to see. Senior Pastors in my view should get a little thicker skin, understanding that not everybody is going to like them – and it is not about them anyway. In any event we need to hear the objections of others, especially in the large church where the ministry staff do not know everyone whom they see on sight. What would happen if say that Pastor went privately to the person with objections and talked with them about their concerns in a meaningful, non-threatening way? I have seen good Pastors do this which have alleviated most of the issues the “Lone Ranger” had to begin with. In most cases I have dealt with this, the “Lone Ranger” has become my friend and ally. Why? Because I took the time to listen to their objections.

        As to your comment about “crendentialism” being a Minister of the Gospel does not have a sliding scale commensurate to one’s level of education. If one is called, one should go no matter the remuneration. The churches are being filled by too many “educated idiots” who demand to be paid like royalty rather than bond-servants who come to serve the people for His glory. I speak this as someone who has six earned degrees.

        It is only in the mind of Staff that the practice of congregationalism is “impractical” on a large scale. In my experience it only becomes “impractical” because of convenience rather than necessity. That is to our detriment as a people who are making disciples to make more disciples.

        Thank you Steve for the reply.


      • Mike Wiggins says on

        I’m trying to figure out what’s wrong with asking the pastor’s salary in virtually any context. That should be a matter of public record, no one should even have to ask. I’d think that anyone who loved the Lord would welcome any such question and be glad to answer it–unless, of course, their salary was embarrassingly high. Also wondering how Steven knows the man asking the question was doing so out of “his own sin of envy” and “jealousy”. Did the man tell him that? Did the pastoral staff? Or did Steve just deduce it because he really didn’t like the idea of anyone challenging his wonderful pastor with the PhD and the “largest congregation in town.” Based on Steve’s attitude, I think the odds are greater than not that the man had a good reason to challenge the pastor.

  • Michelle says on

    I think sometimes people see things that aren’t there because of their own hang up or problems. I am a hard working member of church and have been for over 10 years. I don’t do any job that offers monetary gain and I do anything no one signs up for. I often get myself in trouble with other church members. A few ladies try to put #3 and #7 on me. They say a few families run everything. No a few families DO most everything. No matter how many sign up sheet, personal requests of people, or church facebook posts I make, it is the same few families that always end up volunteering. I practically beg for people to help! The “power” group of workers in my church are very nice and very approachable ladies. I am just trying to do what I feel God has nudged me to do, and I believe that’s what the other ladies in my little group are doing also. I do not want power or my own preferences done, in fact I don’t even go to business meetings. My Hubby goes and I stay home with the kids. If we aren’t doing much of anything as a church that’s not right. Somebody needs to do something. I suffer much more persecution inside the church than out. I don’t belong to a mean church. I belong to a church that has a few mean members.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks, Michelle.

    • jonathon says on

      >They say a few families run everything. No a few families DO most everything.

      That is called “the martyr complex”, and is a scenario I’ve seen played out in congregations around the country.

      The few families pass out sign up sheets, but woe betide anybody who actually signs up and does something. Those outside the families learned a long time ago never to do anything, because of the retaliation by those families. Those inside the families seldom realize that they are playing the martyr role. It is an incredibly easy trap to fall into, and exceptionally difficult to climb out of.

    • Michele … Jesus says in Matthew 6:1-3: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,…”

      You say, ” I am a hard working member of church and have been for over 10 years. I don’t do any job that offers monetary gain and I do anything no one signs up for.” Be mindful, Michele, that you’re not doing exactly what Jesus was speaking against here. By letting everyone know what a hard working member you are and not receiving any money for it – you have received your reward here on earth.

      If you are doing what you claim God is nudging you to do, then you would be doing it in secret, without complaining about it and doing it in all Humility – as Jesus says “the left hand would not know what the right hand is doing”

      Have you ever considered, that maybe if no one knew you were doing these “charitable” works and you did them in total secret, there would be nothing for people to criticize – because they would have no idea you were doing these works in the first place. The Pharisees were great at letting everyone know what great workers they were and how much they did.

      BTW … Jesus was perfect and was criticized all the time. That’s not really an issue. The real issue here is when, as You also say: “I think sometimes people see things that aren’t there because of their own hang up or problems.” When a Pastor is verbally abusive, publicly humiliates people, lords their authority over particular staff members and volunteers, demands that people sacrifice many things and to commit to things that they never do themselves, and purposely physically getting into peoples’ personal “spaces” (just to mention a few abuses) – these are in no way things that people are seeing that “aren’t there” and making up because of their own “hang ups or problems”!!! And anyone who apologizes and makes excuses for these kind of Abusive Pastors or Staff Members, is just as guilty of the Abuse as the perpetrators!!!

      • Tom Lowe says on

        Mark, I think Michele was simply setting up the scenario going on in her own, individual parish. It doesn’t necessarily mean that she overtly plays the martyr in her parish. I think it does indicate her inward feelings about the lack of work participation; it is kind of like the fable of “The Little Red Hen”, except Michele may be holding back an anger that could erupt at anytime.

        Of course, you could be absolutely correct in your assessment of Michele’s “Martyrdom Syndrome”. However, it seems to me, your reply to Michele is unduly harsh unless you actually do know Michele. Also, preaching on a comment board to anyone is neither edifying nor effective. Especially when it is unrelated to the article of comment, “Nine Traits of Mean Churches”.

        Yes, I am aware, that I may be guilty of replying to you as you did to Michele. I just hope that my refusal to cite Holy Writ prevented me from also coming across as “preachy”. Now, let’s get back to responding to the article’s topic. Peace be with you. – Tom+

      • Tom (Lowe),

        I was responding to Michele’s “Off-Topic / Martyrdom Syndrome” comment – Thousands and maybe Millions of church people volunteer countless hours of time for numerous purposes – so what does that have to do with the “Mean Churches” Topic?

        However … what really repulses me the most (and if you really read the last paragraph of my response, you’d see I was addressing #4 & #9, which is one of the key factors in Mean Churches) is when people say that if a Pastor or anyone on his Staff is guilty of being Abusive & “Mean” (and in the case of our church and many just like it – goes far beyond just being “Mean”) – to quote Michele, “I think sometimes people see things that aren’t there because of their own hang up or problems.” – this kind of comment doesn’t honor The Lord, whatsoever, and dishonors the thousands of victims of “Mean Churches” & Spiritual Abuse, which even goes beyond any kind of Physical Abuse. Each member of my family has been a victim of this kind of “Mean Church” abuse, as have been many people who served for many years and volunteered their services and ended up leaving because of it.

        I have been a follower of Christ since I was a child, I have been a member of 4 different churches and in our current church for the past 18 years and I have seen many people come and go and get hurt by “Mean Churches” – not just our family. There is even a website devoted to the victims of our church’s “movement” (it’s considered to be non-denominational evangelical) – where there has been a history of Abuse going on, to the point where even Christianity Today Magazine had a special article addressing the problem in the “Movement,” of which our church is one of its branches, and the article cited a number of incidents of Abuse within our movement and how the church hid these problems without really addressing them – and in some cases, trying to lay blame on the victims, in the same manner as the Catholic Church had [not] dealt with the Sex Abuse charges against their Priests.

        Criminals always say, “Woe is Me” – “Look how hard I work” and try to say they are the victims and everyone else is “Mean” – and they feel the crimes they commit are justified, because they are the real victims. It gets very dangerous and they never have any remorse or take responsibility for the wrongs they do.

        This is the revelation of what Jesus says – that applies to what “Mean Churches” are doing (Matthew 10:28): “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

        BTW … my wife was raised in a cult – Christian Science – and thank The Lord, she left the religion when we were married, so I’ve seen that other side of Abuse, as well!

        I have been witness to much Spiritual Abuse in the church, which has damaged many poor souls, so Yes, when someone says that “I think sometimes people see things that aren’t there because of their own hang up or problems.” – I am offended … and my comments might sound “harsh” … I’m sorry. But if people never spoke up, or sounded harsh – African Americans would still be slaves, Women would not be allowed to vote or have any voice in the church, and men would all need to be Circumcised in order to be a Christian.

        In Christ.

      • I think maybe many on here are missing the real issue. It’s not about who does more
        than everyone else, who gives more, etc… It’s about people gaining control over
        others when that is not what God established the church for in the first place.
        If pastors and leaders had the true heart of God in their churches and treated the
        sheep with love and respect for their God given gift of free will, you could not get
        people to leave a church like that for anything. Only if they were forced to move
        geographically would they even want to leave. No one wants to leave a church that
        is doing it right. No one wants to leave a church that is biblically correct and
        truly loves their people. When the pastor is a hireling, or is not truly loving the people,
        believe me, we can feel it. I did not enjoy what was happening in the church I attended
        for two decades. I overlooked so much, but after a few years I started to dread going
        to the church I once loved attending. As the years went on, the leadership had to
        have more and more control over the activities, they got more intrusive in members
        personal lives and finances, etc…. There was verbally abusive sermons where people
        were pointed out publicly and rebuked, often when the accusations were not even close
        to being true. Even when things that were said were accurate, the person being accused
        had never been asked to a private meeting, which is scriptural. Public rebuke is a last
        resort and only for those that refuse to repent after being correctly confronted.
        Many in churches were not raised in godly homes with born again christian parents.
        Yet, because so many pastors have been raised that way, they have very little patience
        for those that were not. There is a sort of self righteousness and judgementalism
        that permeates every sermon. My (ex) pastor was raised by a preacher father and a
        praying mother. Because of this he seems to make light of those that struggle with things
        and make wrong choices in life. He has belittled in a round-about way young single
        women having babies, young men with tatoos, etc… What he does not realize is that
        the sin of self righteousness may be the worst of all.And I’m tired of pastors wives whining
        about “doing all the work”, etc…. I appreciate all these women do, but as someone that
        worked for a little while side by side with one, her superior attitude made me want to run.
        Even today she and her group of friends (a very small group I might add) shun members
        that have left as if they were lepers. And they call that LOVE????
        Once again, if the pastors and leaders (and the members of the church also) would treat
        each other with love, compassion and empathy, NO ONE WOULD WANT TO LEAVE A
        CHURCH LIKE THAT. No church, no pastor, no person is perfect. This is not about a
        “perfect” church. But I have heard sermons preached without one ounce of love
        for the sheep. Their message may have contained kernels of truth but the love was
        missing and it was quite evident. Then I have heard other sermons elsewhere, with the
        same message basically, but there was so much genuine love in them, that I wanted
        to hear what was being said and wanted to learn from it.
        People are hurting these days for a number of reasons. Church is meant to be a hospital
        for sinners. Not a place to coddle sin, or to agree with things that don’t line up with the
        word of God. But neither is it a place to beat the living daylights out of those that are
        honestly seeking God and a relationship with our Lord and savour Jesus Christ.
        Some of the most godly people I know have been forced out of churches because they
        did not agree with everything and many times they were the ones that were
        right about the issue, biblically speaking. I’ve seen a faithful married couple, middle-aged
        childrens ministers, dismissed from their ministry after decades of labor teaching
        generations of children that now have children of their own, with the husband
        being asked to instead work as a janitor in place of the one that left. And by the way,
        the one that left did so because he was hurt in an accident on the job (at the church)
        and denied any kind of financial recompense or help from the
        leadership. I have seen a dentist in that church (a board member) who loves going to
        forgeign countries to help the poor with dental problems, yet he denied helping
        a local young man whose father had abandoned his family when he was in so much pain
        from dental problems and didn’t have the money to pay for the work to be done.
        He sent him away until he could afford to pay. This young man offered to pay
        a little over time every month, and still was denied the work. I am not kidding about this.
        God please help us to be more like You!!!

    • “They say a few families run everything. No a few families DO most everything. No matter how many sign up sheet, personal requests of people, or church facebook posts I make, it is the same few families that always end up volunteering. I practically beg for people to help!”

      Believe me, friend, this pastor feels your pain! I recently had a lady leave my church because she didn’t think we did enough outreach. This same lady never showed up for visitation, never attended any of our witness-training clinics, and seldom participated in any kind of outreach ministry. The fact is, we do plenty of outreach. I had another young man who talked about how our church needs to do more evangelism. We offered to let him teach a Sunday School class, but he declined because he “doesn’t get into Sunday School that much”. We put him on the evangelism team, but he seldom participated in any type of outreach event unless it was something fun. Now he’s talking about finding another church. I can’t begin to tell you how hurtful and discouraging such attitudes are to me (I probably don’t have to tell you, because it sounds like you already know). The fact is, many Christians talk a good game when it comes to outreach, and they’re blaming the church for their own laziness.

  • It’s great to finally see the Truth coming out, on this thread, about what is really happening in many churches today and, speaking from my family’s own experiences for the past 18 years in our current church – working on Staff, serving on Worship Teams & Arts Teams – we have fallen victim to this kind of Spiritual Abuse on a regular basis and it’s all due to this ridiculous “Leadership-Mania” or the more proper term being “Lord-It-Overship”!! And … it’s all under the guise of “friendly” people greeting you as you walk in to church on Sunday, when really behind closed doors, there’s all kinds of abuse going on. It’s not only happening in the non-denominational church “movement” that we belong to, but I’ve experienced it “filling-in” at other like-minded (“Leadership-Centered”) churches and talking to other brothers & sisters in Christ who are also victims of the same “Leadership” Abuse!!

    All you have to do is read the recent News:
    Megachurch Pastor Mark Driscoll – guilty of “arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner.”

    I agree with all your points, except #2: The Pastors and several others on their Staff (who become the “henchmen”) are the persons causing the abuse – they are not the victims.

    I also totally agree with what the one member wrote. I find more love and caring from Non-Christians than I do with the so-called “Leaders” of our own church! I have personally served on numerous Worship Teams over the past 18 years, my wife was on Staff for 18 years and my son (who grew up in our church since he was around 6 years old) has served working with the youth and each one of us has experienced both Pastors & Staff Members Lording-Over their positions with arrogance, responding to conflict with quick tempers and harsh speech, and “leading” in a domineering manner, showing no love, or sympathy, whatsoever, when we have been there for many of these people over the years, giving them gifts, serving them and caring for them and this is what we receive in return.

    My wife recently stepped down from Staff after serving all these years … I stepped down from playing on the Worship Teams – I am a full-time musician and Professor of Music at a major University in Philadelphia, a voting member of the GRAMMYs, etc., so unlike many who play on worship teams [Thank God] I don’t use the church as a means to live out my fantasies of being a “Rock Star.” My son rarely comes with us to church anymore (I’m reluctant to walk through the doors myself), but would be happy to attend regularly, when, hopefully, we find a new church to go to. We’re praying about it.

    Stay tuned for a book I plan to release very soon, entitled, “Don’t be a leader … be a Servant: How Leadership-Mania Has Infiltrated the Church.”

    Matthew 20:25-27 …”But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.” It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.”

  • First of all, the Church can not be mean. The Church is the ekklesia or called out congregation of God. They are reborn people who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. They are not perfect but they are responsive to the Word and the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

    Pharisees and other religious sorts, on the other hand, can be very mean because they function in the flesh while professing to be pleasing God. I know this is a technical point but I believe it becomes a very important distinction to make as we address the environment of people gathered in what is called the church (a building or organization) in our culture.

    I had what I assumed to be a Pharisee jump in my face at a church business meeting only to have them come to me a couple days later and say, “The Lord told me I wasn’t being open minded and I need to hear more.” I say this to note two things: 1. It is the Lord who will ultimately cleanse His church of the corrosion and decay of fleshly attitudes. 2. You and I cannot discern wheat from tares and must continue farming in faith.

    There is a real need for strong, compassionate, vulnerable leadership. #9 happens because people have learned that their leader will let them hanging and cave-in to the negative power players if their “job” is put in jeopardy (read: hireling). #10 needs to become a focal point that will encourage the Church to begin to cause the public to question its assumptions. It will also challenge the historical inward focus of the church. We must strategically lead the church into positive, generous participation in community events and design frequent and meaningful local mission events (not door-to-door stuff or just tract distribution).

    It is easier to pull a church out of the ditch than to dig it out. Too much focus on changing things inside the church creates and perpetuates a war. Lead the church where it is suppose to go and the true Church will follow with joy, strength and passion. The opposition will not be able to continue in the arm wrestle because you have left the table and started moving.

    Sorry for the long response but the health of older established churches is my passion.

    It’s been said before . . . it all rises and falls on leadership.

    PS God has moved on from some religious clubs, aka churches.

    PPS The Transformational Church Assessment Tool (TCAT) is a great place to begin the conversation and journey.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      I agree, Jim. Thank you.

    • Jim,

      I believe that leading a church where it is supposed to go is always the best outcome but I do not believe that it is always possible. Almost two years ago, I left a church that displayed most of the characteristics outlined in this article. For the first 12 years that I was at this church, I was oblivious to some of the deeper issues of the church because I had never been in a place where I had to confront the leadership on any issues. Unknown to me was the deep power structure in the church by those who had been there for generations. Much of the power structure came from families who had intermarried and are frequently called the “Royal Family” by those on the outside. When those in the “Royal Family” chose to do wrong, there was no way for those on the outside to address it without reaping painful consequence for speaking out. I endured the pain that resulted from crossing the “Royal family” for the last five years I remained.

  • Heartspeak says on

    Sadly, I believe that ‘power groups’ only form when they are permitted to form. Typically, they come from the moneyed set within the Body. However, they can only control the money. It is leadership’s fear that permits that control. It may seem a bit strong to say it, but that control can only be effective if we are unwilling to let the organization die– even though it’s pretty much effectively dead already.

    Jesus said, “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies,…”. Leadership MUST be willing to ‘lose’ their job and the church to resist this ungodly domination. I believe God will honor this and the Body will actually live, but there must be faith and confidence to persevere even if it ‘looks’ like it wouldn’t without knuckling under to the power factions.

  • Deb Balagna says on

    isnt this indicative of our present culture? Look at the great divide that separates our country. It’s an “us vs. them” spirit. It’s heart breaking that culture invades the church rather than the church transforming culture.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      You nailed it, Deb.

    • Interesting perspective. When I was little, our church went through a rather nasty split. My parents wisely shielded me from most of it, but even I noticed that a number of people were no longer coming to our church. I’ve heard different opinions as to what caused it, but in retrospect I think part of it was cultural. It was 1973, and things were pretty tense in the country as a result of Vietnam and Watergate. Forced busing was a big issue in our city that year, and I think that put many people’s tempers on edge.

      In other words, it’s very easy to let the attitudes and temperaments of the culture spill over into the church. We must always remind ourselves that the world’s way of doing things is not God’s way.

  • I recently was forced to resigned from a “Mean Church”. Unfortunately this church had all 9 traits. The decisions undercover of the night is the one that really struck me. Six months after I resigned (forcefully) people are still asking why I am not the pastor at this church anymore. I can tell you now, I am in transition and looking for the next calling God has placed on my life, but I am working a secular job right now and my co-workers are MUCH nicer than the two men who forced me out. I pray for the next pastor.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      My prayers for you and your family, Jim. You are not alone.

    • I too was forced out of a congregation that had all of these traits, mostly provoked by one family. I received zero assistance from the denomination. After 3 months, people are still asking why I am no longer their pastor. You are definitely not alone.

  • Billie Hamilton says on

    Ephesians 4:11-32

  • Jennifer says on

    The answer for me was in studying the life of Jesus. He faced many “mean” people, especially religious ones. We pray for our church and its members, and we treat others as we want to be treated, regardless of how they treat us. We stand for truth, but refuse to get caught up in gossip. Churches are made of imperfect people as you said, but when we pray, God moves! I have seen dramatic change in our church that I once thought of as mean, but now I see loving people who just needed to grow and be loved and prayed for. Hebrews 12:1-3 tells us that we must run this race for the Kingdom with our eyes fixed on Jesus who endured much worse opposition from evil men that we have, so that we will not grow weary and lose heart. If you are in a “mean” church, pray and love; trust and obey. God can move mountains!

  • What’s sad, but not surprising, is that people almost never leave the church over the things that are supposed to define the church – namely, loving Jesus and loving people. People don’t want to stop loving Jesus or loving people, they’re just tired of all the baggage we’ve added to those simple basics, often at the expense of those basics, as your list shows.

    I guess that’s the silver lining to this. Churches that are failing at the prime mission of the church are less able to make it any more. The optimistic side of me says there’s something refreshing and hopeful about that. Maybe the Dones will wake some of us up to that reality.

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