by Dr. Matthew Lee Smith, PhD

Many churches and ministries that are stagnant or in decline often follow a cycle of destruction to their death. It would be bad enough if the organization went through this cycle only once. However, beyond the realms of sanity, toxic groups seem to repeat this process time and again before facing oblivion.

The Eagle Leader will do their homework and investigate a ministry’s health and viability before attaching one’s self to it. The cycle of destruction begins with …

Unrealistic Expectations. Dying ministries have set the bar so high for the leader, that no matter what is done, it isn’t enough. Most of the complaints are simply ‘nit-picking’ by the perennially unsatisfied. Even the eagle leader fairs poorly in such a negative environment. This leads to …

Disparaging Gossip. Since these grumblers are ‘surprisingly’ upset, they think, ‘Why not share it with others, for prayer, of course.’ Each new morsel is seasoned with generous portions of fresh venom, lightly disguised. Such news needs to be shared with other ‘concerned’ members. As the negativity grows, the ministry suffers from …

Inevitable Disappointment. Whispers in the corners, phone calls and group meetings fan the flames of this downward spiral against the leader. People begin to form allegiances and soon the church or ministry reveals …

Fractious Divisions. People who love the new leader and like the new direction the ministry is taking push back. As word spreads, sides are taken. People begin to share their anger and divide the congregation even further. For the leader, this is a …

Discouraging Rejection. At the breaking point, the leader simply hands in their resignation and hopes for greener grass at the next ministry. With the leader’s departure comes the attending departure of those who had sided with him. Of course, at the ministry he has just left, this leads to …

Optimistic Restaffing. The toxic ministry takes this as a sign of hope and rapidly searches for a ‘better leader,’ someone that will understand and work to ‘grow’ the ministry, all the while not comprehending the poison of death lurks in the remaining members.

And once the new leader is chosen, it begins all over again … only to injure the new leader and the dying ministry even more. It would seem that after two or three such cycles, with the resultant shrinking of the ministry, someone – anyone – who is left would ask the really important question: “What is wrong with US?” Alas, this seldom happens. Instead, blame continues to be the medicine of choice. Soon the ministry ceases to function at all and the cause of Christ gains another black eye, since those in the local community see that Jesus was not able to keep it alive.