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Facing the Challenges of the Modern Church in Our Century

The most common church dysfunction is the same issue that's plagued humanity since the fall.
Each church is a family, in the truest sense of the word.
Each church is a family, in the truest sense of the word. | (Photo: Reuters/Matthias Schumann)

My church has always been a family too me. They have been there with me and for me when I went through so many things. They were there for the good times, for the celebrations and for the hard times. My pastor from my home church growing up will always be more and just my pastor. He led me to Christ, he Baptised me, he licensed me to the ministry, he preached at my ordination, he performed my wedding, he did my parent's funeral, he was the executor of my parent's estate, he became my dad and was always there. He is and will always be a huge part of my life.

After leaving my home church, I had my church is college, which went through a couple pastors where I was there. The first I never really had much of relationship with, he was a nice guy but we never clicked. The second pastor was a huge part of my life. He invested in me and my wife and our new baby. He taught me a lot and invested in my early ministry. He was a great pastor and preacher, but he was also very real. He taught me how to get through the good days and the bad days.

As I launched into ministry, I served in a variety of different churches with a variety of pastors and leaders. I have served with great men and women and some who were. . . .not as great. You see, just like there are many types of families, there are just as many types of churches and some are more healthy than others. Of course, every church has problems and issues, some run deeper than others. Too often in families and in churches, we ignore the problems, make excuses and pretend like everything is fine. If in a family, there is a problem, we need to address it.

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The most common church dysfunction is the same issue that's plagued humanity since the fall. The Israelites had it, the Pharisees had it, the church in Rome had it and it exists today. The pride in man's heart creates an abuse of power. Leaders become obsessed with their own leadership, they become controlling, sometimes manipulative.

They become overly attached to their own power and importance, and often Christ is no longer the head of the church. The Pharisees were so concerned with their own control, they didn't recognize Christ. In the end, they crucified Christ because they were afraid to lose power. Too often there is a hunger for control and power, leaders become overly obsessed with being in charge. Just like a controlling spouse, leadership dominance to the point of abuse is a dysfunction in a church.

There is the unattached, uninvolved church. You come on Sunday morning, you sit and no one really connects and no one really knows much. Sure there are relationships in the church, friend, and connections, but those groups don't connect to the other groups.

The pastor really isn't involved in his people, the people aren't connected to the leadership and there isn't really a sense of community. It's superficial, and the people are connected but more from proximity. It's like that Thanksgiving dinner when no one talks and it's filled with small talk. The kids don't share with their parents, no one talks about their hurts or their problems. Everything is glossed over and no one really knows anyone else in the family.

Of course, there is the family that is over-involved. They want to dictate every action you take. A church is a great help and the pastor can really help you, but a pastor who is overly involved in your life, one who is controlling and manipulative, well that's as bad as a nagging in-law.

A church that wants to manage your clothes, your hair, your money, your kids and how you spend every minute of your day, that is not healthy. Now, there are times that a church family needs to help when you are in trouble, in sin, or in bad spot overall, there are times to intervene, but a constant controlling church is not a healthy thing. It's not good when a parent controls adult children and it's not good when a church controls the people.

Of course, there are lots of variations of the next one, but I'm going to call it the secret sin church. A church that has an issue and maybe it's a secret, maybe it's not, but no one wants to address it.

A pastor who is an egomaniac, but he is a good preacher and so we ignore it. The Pastor who tells lies acts more like a politician and says what you want to hear. We know he doesn't but we'll overlook it. The deacon who likes to gossip, but he's been around here forever. The elder who is crooked in his business dealings, but his tithe check is the biggest in the church. The influential church board member who is powerful at church and in the community and tells the racist and sexist jokes in his office.

Everyone knows, but we aren't going to say anything. Sure the Pastor is emotionally abusive to his family, but as long as things are good for me, then it's all good. Did that sting a little? Look, I get it, you like the Pastor and he seems to be trying, well sometimes. I have served with men who have had issues, addictions, and problems and they struggled.

I walked with them, prayed with them and they worked on and it tried. I'm not talking about those guys. I'm talking about the guy who says "well this just is who I am" so he has an excuse to behave badly. He can call his wife stupid in a group, cause that's how he is. He can threaten and insult church members who disagree because that is just his personality. We all know the controlling husband, the hurtful wife and the abusive boss that are given a pass. It happens in church, it happens a lot. Does it happen in yours?

I want to give you one more, although the list is much longer. The last is the trendy church. I'm not talking about the hipster worship leader and jeans wearing pastor, I mean the church that jumps on board with every new trend. In families, we see the mom that reads a new book or article and now her kids are doing that trend. They are the babywise, gluten and soy free, non immunized, raw milk drinking, Montessori school attending, gender fluid non-binary kids. If I offended you, I'm a little sorry.

Montessori schools are probably fine, and if you don't want to eat gluten or soy, whatever. Immunize your kids, and they are boys or girls, it's science. Anyway, we all know those parents who read an article on Facebook about how dihydrogen monoxide has the highest pH of any acid will kill you if you have too much, so they plan to ban it from their homes as soon as they figure out what it is. News flash, it's water and yes, people drowned in it. Sometimes we buy the hype and make bad decisions. Churches can do the same thing, we become the best, purpose-driven, awake, simple church, team sport, radical, underground, crazy love church. Now, most of these books are good, I read most of them and really enjoyed them. The problem comes when a leadership team reads a new book and suddenly that becomes the model.

The Pastor's sermons for the next 6 weeks are focused on the book, all the meetings and studies and prayers are focused on the book. The church becomes a mini version of the church that wrote it. The problem is, this isn't Saddleback or Atlanta or even Idaho (unless you are in one of those places, but then you are still not the other two). I'm in Iowa, that's my context. It's totally different than the one I was in when I lived in Arizona. They are both different from Wyoming. Parts are the same, some parts are totally different. I can't use the same cookie cutter approach. Can I use principles? Yes. Can I duplicate everything? No. It's like the parents who read a bunch of books by some pop-psychologist and now the kids are 35 and can't figure life out. Do what is best for your kids, do what works in your church.

Like I said, there are lots more, churches are filled with people who are filled with problems. Problems can be fixed, things can be resolved, and there is always hope. Don't go fire your pastor, burn down the building and disband the church. The biggest problem I think we make is when we start to treat the church like a business more than a family. If you go and fire your pastor and staff, that is a business move.

If it must be done (he's embezzling or abusive) then it must be done, but don't fire a pastor or staff because you think you can get a better one. That's like leaving your spouse for a better-looking one. It's shallow and stupid and, well don't do it. I digress, don't throw the whole thing away, remember the point. The church is a family. You don't get rid of your kids, dump your spouse and disown your parents because there are problems. You fix them, at least in a functional family. Yes, there are times when an individual must be removed, but most of the time that isn't the case. Let's talk about the issues in the church, work on the issues in the church. If we just ignore what is going on, things will never get any better.

Dan Barnes is passionate about helping people connect with a ministry that really brings them closer to God, and do it successfully. You can follow him at


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