Recently, I’ve been doing some reading regarding unhealthy and even dangerous assemblies which call themselves “churches”, but which possess characteristics that defy the healthy components of a church we see discussed throughout the Book of Acts and many of the Pauline epistles. Just for the sake of discussion, I offer a few warning signs of what I would call unhealthy churches. Perhaps after reading these you might want to debate some of my conclusions or add a few warning signs of your own.
1. Does your church leadership tightly control the flow of information within its ranks suggesting that anything that is negative or which questions something is ‘rebellious’ or ‘gossip’?
2. Does the pastor use public shaming as a method to gain the compliance of followers or does he use the pulpit as a place to “call out” individuals who have crossed him?
3. Are all the previous pastors “unwelcome” back to where they once served and is there a rather regular cycle of pastoral resignations or dismissals marked by infrequent long-term pastoral ministries?
4. Is the pastor of the church the exclusive means of knowing “truth” or interpreting Scripture?
5. Does the pastor and leadership foster an attitude that frequently suggests that it is “them/us” against “the world” and that outsiders are constantly “out to get them”.
6. Are you instructed to dis-associate with any former members, being warned that they are “evil” or “back-slidden” and to be avoided and/or shunned?
7. Is leaving your group to join another church equal to leaving God?
8. Is the power of the church held by a single person (usually the pastor) or in a board that is unaccountable or outside of a defined Biblical role or office? Does the governing board act like a board of directors more than a board of spiritual advisement and leadership or accountability?
10. Are there a significant number of related parties that serve on the governing board or on the ministry staff?
11. Do you sense fear of rebuke or retaliation for respectfully voicing a contrary opinion or position? Is there a freedom to disagree agreeably on non-doctrinal matters of lesser significance?
12. Is there a pattern of an inability to get along with others you would clear identify as members of the body of Christ but who may not hold all of the same position on non-doctrinal issues?
13. Is there an unusual allegiance to a school/university, association, fellowship, tradition or “camp” which promotes a sense of spiritual superiority for those in the “group” and a disdain or spiritual deficit among those who aren’t?
14. Are the primary sermons more often personal diatribes or topical addresses that reflect the position of the pastor or association rather than expositional studies and explanations that examine the Scripture?
15. Are there political, financial, educational or other non-Biblical demands made of the membership in order to fit within the fellowship or to be eligible for leadership?
This list is not intended to be exhaustive, but simply to open some discussion. Feel free to jump in and share your thoughts. What did I miss and where am I off base. The lines are open for your calls!