Six Symptoms of a Dysfunctional Church

Thom S. Rainer:

1) Severe theological errors are pervasive in the church. I’m not referring to differences over minute matters of eschatology. These errors to which I refer were denials of the essential truths of the Christian faith. In some cases, leadership no longer held to the exclusivity of salvation through Christ.

2) The church is known as a “pastor-eater.” The congregation often terminated pastors on a regular basis. At the very least, pastors felt the pressure to leave. Short pastoral tenure was thus normative.

3) The congregation experiences severe conflict. Any group will eventually have some level of conflict: families; fellow employees; students; and churches. But dysfunctional churches take conflicts to a new level, often resulting in emotional outbursts by members and leaders.

4) Hardly anyone in the community knows the church exists. One of the simple steps I take in many consultations is to visit businesses within about a mile radius of the church. I ask them for directions to the church. If no one has ever heard of the church in that close proximity, I know something is wrong.

5) The church is declining while the community is growing. An example works better here. Suppose your church has declined in worship attendance by 3% the past two years. Now suppose the community in which the church is located has grown by 4% the past two years. The contrast between the two growth rates is stark, a symptom of a dysfunctional church.

6) The church is “family owned and family operated.” One particular family, even if it’s an extended family, makes all the decisions in the church. Nothing gets done without the nod of typically the patriarch or matriarch of the family. The church exists largely to meet the needs of one family.

What do you think of these 6 symptoms? Would you add any others?


How do you choose a church?

It is always interesting to hear the principles by which people unite with churches:

  • Some unite purely for social reasons. It is something to do, somewhere to be. Maybe there are good fellowship dinners or concerts.
  • Some unite for business reasons. They hope to make many business contacts with generally nice people.
  • Some unite for children programs. It is place where their children can have friends. I can’t tell you how many parents have said to me that they come because the kids like it so as long as they like it they will keep coming. When I ask them if they treat school or other important obligations they same they always look at me with a blank look like “What does that have to do with anything?”
  • Some unite for the music. Some like traditional, some like contemporary, still others like blended.
  • Some unite for the dynamic preacher/teacher. I once had someone tell me that they started attending a church because the picture of the preacher on the billboard looked like a cool guy.
  • Some unite for the style of translation. As sad as this is I am not kidding. For the first few years where I serve as pastor I received a call every month about what Bible translation I preach from and if it was anything other than 1611 KJV the conversation was over. Now that I have been here for 6 years they don’t call anymore because they know the answer.

We could expand the list but that is not necessary because you get the point. What I want us to think about is this – very rarely have I ever heard someone say, “I would like to know what church follows the teaching of the Word of God most closely; that is the church I would like to become a part of.” That is very interesting to me because it would seem to me that that would be the basis upon which we would want to be in a Christian fellowship. Where is the word of God proclaimed? Where are the principles of God’s Word followed insofar as it is possible? If you have young children don’t say to them, “Where would you like to go to church?” Find the church that is the healthiest and strongest biblically speaking and say to your kids, “This is where we go.” I think that is the way you are to choose a church. You should seek from the Word of God to discover just exactly what the Word of God says about a local church and seek to be in as close conformity to that as possible. What others think and what your children think or what style of music or how old the people are is really not of great significance.

Welcoming the Word

“And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” – 1 Thessalonians 2:13

“Chicken again?” Those are words that my wife and I hear again and again in our household at supper time. Unfortunately, as much as we enjoy it our daughter does not (unless, strangely enough, it is chicken Mcnuggets – go figure!).  Maybe that is how you feel about Saturday night into Sunday morning, “Church Again? I have to listen to that guy preach again?”

Not so with saints of Thessalonica! In spite of severe suffering they “welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit” and “became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7). Virtually overnight, these idol worshipping pagans were radically transformed into devoted followers of Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:9).

Thus Paul is unceasingly thankful to God for their two-fold response to the preaching of God’s Word (see verse above – 1 Thessalonians 2:13).

“Hearing of the Ear”


First, they “received the Word of God.” This refers simply to the fact that they heard Paul preaching and objectively understood it. It is the outward reception of words into the mind through the ears.

“Hearing of the Heart”


Second, they “accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God.” The word “accepted” was used to describe welcoming a guest in your home. The picture here is of one “putting out the welcome mat” for God’s Word of truth as one would a good friend or guest, and inviting entry into one’s house. In other words, the Thessalonians had swung the door of their hearts wide open and warmly embraced the Word as a cherished guest. They understand that by heartily welcoming the words of Paul’s preaching, they were welcoming the authoritative counsel of God Himself into their hearts and lives. They not only heard and intellectually understood the message (received) but also appropriated and welcomed it into their hearts (accepted).

Unfortunately, not all exhibit this receptive attitude toward God’s truth.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:10-11Paul speaks of those who will perish because “they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”

In 1 Corinthians 2:14 Paul tells us that “the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

In 2 Timothy 4:1-4 Paul charges Timothy to faithfully preach the Word, especially in view of the fact that a time was coming when people within the church “will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

Those days are upon us. All around us, clear, convicting, authoritative preaching straight from God’s Word is being devalued by both those standing in the pulpit (if they haven’t already thrown it out in the trash) and those sitting in the pew (or around the coffee table). In great contrast to this and as a model to us are the Christians of Thessalonica who had great appreciation and affection for the preached Word. They loved to listen to Paul preach. They were preaching enthusiasts.

How Many Sermons Have You Merely Heard?

What about you? Do you attend preaching with a burning thirst and fervent listening heart?

Do you believe with the Thessalonians that when a man is faithfully preaching the Word of God it is actually the voice of God being heard? If so, should this not cause you to pay earnest attention to every sermon of God being heard? Ken Ramey in his book Expository Listening: A Handbook for Hearing and Doing God’s Word  makes this striking thought:

Let’s say you came to Christ at age ten and you live to be seventy-five. If you average two sermons a week, you will listen to over seven thousand sermons during the course of your life. And at the end of your life you will stand before God and give an account for every sermon you heard. On that day, God will essentially ask you, ‘How has your life changed as a result of the thousands of times you have heard My Word preached?’ So we see that it is vital that you are ever welcoming the Word of God and diligently seeking to put what you hear into practice, thus proving ‘yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves’ (James 1:22).

So how is your responsiveness to God’s Word?

Would Paul rave about you, like he did about the Thessalonian saints?

How are you at listening?

George Whitefield, one of the most dynamic preachers of all time, once said:

If only all who hear me this day would seriously apply their hearts to practice what has now been told them! How ministers would see Satan, like lightning, fall from heaven and people find the Word preached sharper than a two-edged sword and mighty, through God, to the pulling down of the devil’s stronghold.

By the grace of God, let’s stir ourselves up to attend church tomorrow and every Sunday passionate to honor God’s Word through passionate devotion to the Word. Let’s come as thirsty men, women and children craving to drink from the soul satisfying truth of God’s Word. Let’s come with hearts fervently longing to hear the Word faithfully preached because we know that in it God speaks to us!

Why We Go To Church


By Fred Zaspel:

Within this context we are exhorted, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing” (Heb 10:25). In view here, obviously, are the stated formal gatherings of the church. And the point is that attendance at these meetings is not only our duty—it is our lifeline, the means by which we are strengthened to continue with the Lord. The public gathering of the people of God is one of God’s appointed means of keeping us on the way to glory. We call it a “means of grace.” Simply put, we meet together because we need it…

….We “go to church” because it is good for us, because we need it, and because God commands it. Our attendance at our gathered meetings has much to offer us. Whether we know it or not, we cannot do without them. And our attitude toward them speaks volumes about us.

Read the rest here!

Sunday Morning Starts Saturday Night

Tim Challies shares some thoughts on how we can plan for the Lord’s Day:

In his book Expository Listening (read my review) Ken Ramey offers a list of ways you can “Plan Ahead, and Schedule Your Week Around the Ministry of the Word.”

“For the majority of people, even church members, church is not the priority of their week. Too often school, work, sports, and other activities take precedence over going to church. They make the mistake of letting their time be ordered by the world, which views the weekends as a time to relax, to play sports, to stay up late and sleep in. For Christians, however, Sunday should be the most important day of the week. You should try to schedule your work, activities, get-togethers, and vacations around church. You should live by the principle that Sunday morning starts Saturday night.”

He offers several practical suggestions on how to prioritize the Lord’s Day:

  • Make it a habit to be home on Saturday night.
  • Be careful not to do, watch, or read anything that will cause lingering distractions in your mind the next day.
  • Get things ready on Saturday night to alleviate the typical Sunday morning rush (lay out clothes, set the table, write the offering check, stock the diaper bag, etc).
  • Get a good night’s sleep so you can be sharp and energetic to worship and serve God. It’s hard to listen when you’re nodding off.
  • Eat a simple but adequate breakfast that will hold you until lunch. It’s difficult to hear over the grumbling of your stomach.
  • Work together with the other members of your family to get ready, and to establish and maintain a godly atmosphere on the way to church. Listen to music, sing, and pray together.
  • Arrive at church ten minutes early instead of ten minutes late so you have enough time to find a parking spot, drop the kids off in the nursery or their Sunday school classes, get a cup of coffee, visit with your friends, and find a seat.

“When you fail to plan ahead,” he warns, “Sunday morning ends up becoming a chaotic crisis, and by the time you get to church, you are frustrated and frazzled and your heart is in no condition to receive the Word. But when you plan well and are able to arrive in a relaxed, leisurely way, you will be in a much more receptive frame of mind.”

There is some valuable food for thought as we all look forward to worshiping the Lord tomorrow.