This term has become used in recent years to describe
a type of church which has abnormal, dysfunctional characteristics. There
are scores of people who have been deeply wounded by an experience with such
a church. It seems that most communities have a congregation that fits in
this category. They identify themselves as Christians and may have good
intentions of practicing scriptural ideals, but they seem to continually
strive with combined elements of unbalanced or unorthodox doctrines,
controversial government, disciplinary problems, irresponsible leadership —
which result in explosive turmoil, division, wounded and confused sheep, and
a derogatory reputation in their community.
A dysfunctional church has sometimes been mislabeled
as a cult. The difference is, a cult is on a course of heresy based on
misguided beliefs. However a dysfunctional church may theoretically be based
on the right course of Christianity, but for the main part does not function
the way it should. Keep in mind, every church has its share of problems —
that does not make it dysfunctional. But it's when such problems dominate
the church and actually cause its influence to become ineffectual or
negative for the cause of Christ.
I regret to say that over my years of ministry I have
come across situations in churches that seem almost unbelievable. One such
church was widely reputed in the area for its continual controversy. The
congregation was constantly fighting and contending with each other — the
turmoil had produced several splits over a period of years. Every few months
they would go on a tangent of promoting some new revelation or doctrine,
which would often be refuted later as heresy. There were repeated
occurrences of immorality among the leadership and congregation. Divorce
within the church occurred 10 times more frequent than the rate of
marriages. There were numerous financial scandals, alleged embezzlements by
the pastors, and scores of church creditors left unpaid. Rumors,
accusations, and slander were commonplace, causing injury and devastation to
scores of individuals. The mere mention of the church name to local
merchants or residents would invoke ridicule. Some might have presumed this
to be some kind of weird cult, but it was not. In reality this was a
dysfunctional Christian church.
A dysfunctional church will usually manifest several
or all of the following symptoms:
1. Unethical or immoral behavior tolerated in either
leadership or laity.
A dysfunctional church must be brought in order,
otherwise it will cause irreparable harm for the cause of Christ in a
community. If such a church has denominational affiliation, experienced
ministers and officials may be sent to try to restore the fellowship back
into scriptural order and stability. However, if the chaos is severe enough
and resists repeated remedies, they might find it necessary to actually the
close the church, temporarily or permanently.
In many cases, a church of this kind can be put in
(1) Mature, godly, stable leadership.
I regret to say that the problem of a dysfunctional church usually begins
with a problem in the leadership. A congregation cannot rise above the level
of their leaders.
(2) Scriptural, balanced preaching and
The healthy church must get back on track with scriptural order. They need
to hear the whole counsel of God's Word, not merely pet doctrines or narrow
minded opinions (2 Tim. 2:15).
(3) A patient application of love and
Just like parents, spiritual leaders must show the encouragement of love
toward their flock. And they must be willing to confront sin with correction
or discipline when necessary. (Eph. 4:15, 2 Tim. 3:16, 2 Tim. 4:2).
(4) Breaking of spiritual strongholds.
A stronghold can usually be identified when the same troubling
characteristics continue year after year, although the faces within the
congregation change. This problem has to be dealt with through intensive
prayer and spiritual authority (2 Cor. 10:4-5).
(5) Congregational repentance and revival.
Some of the problems in a church cannot really be resolved until the people
are willing to humble themselves before God and seek repentance and revival:
"If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and
seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven,
and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2 Chron. 7:14).
If you find yourself in a dysfunctional church, it is important for you to recognize it for what it is. If you can remain without impairing the spiritual progress of you or your family, do so that you can pray for and support the needed remedies listed above. But if your spiritual well-being begins to suffer, it may be best to cut your ties and move on to a healthy fellowship.