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5 Pitfalls in Church Relationships

By: Dan Chrystal, July 29, 2014


"If the church didn't have people in it, it would be perfect!" Have you ever heard that expression? It is said in jest, but the truth of it lingers like a bad aftertaste.  


Everywhere I've gone, whether small churches, large churches or any church in between, I have noticed 5 pitfalls that could sabotage how your congregation builds healthy relationships. 


Here they are:


Non-Constructive Criticism


This type of criticism has the power to dismantle the influence any ministry has on its people. This criticism is complaining – with no solution.


There is a healthy way of communicating criticism - and it always involves a private conversation with the target of the criticism. When it becomes unhealthy is when others are brought in to the conversation as if trying to gather a posse to track a criminal. 


How can we avoid the type of criticism that slowly eats away at the health of the church body? This is a question that needs to be discussed by the leadership.


Here are some questions that are a catalyst for this discussion...

      1. Is this criticism founded in a truth? Does it raise an issue under the    


      2. Have we failed in our communications verbally, written or non-

          verbally? How can we bring more clarity to our communications? 

      3. Should the pastor meet with the criticizer for some appreciative


      4. If the non-constructive criticism is NOT true, should disciplinary action

          be taken? 


The key is to remember non-constructive criticism left unchecked can lead to unhealthy relationships.




We have all done it. At some point we had juicy information we just could not wait to share with someone. That conversation may begin with this, "You didn't hear this from me..." Gossip is simple.  It is sharing information about someone that may or may not be true, but should be kept confidential.  


Gossip has a way of spreading in church through prayer requests.


An old Proverb once said, "A gossip goes around telling secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence." Proverbs 11:13(NLT)


So how do we as leaders quench the gossip thirst?  Make confidentiality part of the culture, which is done at the leadership level.  The other level is individual. If each person learns gossip is NOT acceptable and decides to steer clear of it, eventually it will be understood THIS church is a safe place and will keep confidences.




There are two types of manipulation - overt and covert.  Overt manipulation makes no pretenses.  It is the bully at school and the workplace, or the family member who cannot take no for an answer. 


See video to the left for a humorous example of overt manipulation.


Covert manipulation is much more difficult to detect. It plays on the goodness of a person. This kind of manipulation is very damaging in the church realm. The target of the manipulation may never realize they were played.


Why do people manipulate? There is a book about this subject that addresses this issue in much more depth.  In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People, by George K. Simon, Ph.D.


This kind of behavior, if never dealt with, will fester in church relationships.  It can leave the people of the church feeling as if their leadership is under the control of the manipulator, and in time people will leave with unresolved issues.  


The only way to truly deal with a manipulator is never give them a position of authority or influence over others.  However, one does not present themselves as a manipulator until they are in a position of authority. At this point, it needs to be confronted according to the outline Jesus gives us in Scripture. 




Legalism is an unrestrained advocacy for a list of do's and don't's.  Chuck Swindoll, author of The Grace Awakening and many other books responded to an inquiry of his thoughts on legalism and legalists in church by saying this...


"The problem with legalists is that not enough people have confronted them and told them to get lost.  Those are strong words, but I don't mess with legalism anymore. I'm 72 years old, what have I got to lose? Seriously, I used to kowtow to legalists, but they're dangerous. They are grace killers. They'll drive off every new Christian you bring to church. They are enemies of the faith. Other than that, I don't have any opinion. 


"So if I am trying to force my personal list of no-no's on you and make you feel guilty if you don't join me, then I'm out of line and I need to be told that."


Take it from someone who grew up surrounded by a list of do's and don't's, you can live your life feeling like God only sees the negative in you… OR, you can live your life understanding the point of Grace is that God met us in our sinful condition and sees the positive in us through Jesus. Why place that heavy weight back on our shoulders?


Hurts & Offenses


Whenever you have people involved, there WILL be hurts and offenses.


The question: how are the hurts and offenses handled when they happen? The only way to truly overcome hurts and offenses is through healthy confrontation and a heavy dose of forgiveness. Jesus didn't instruct us to forgive for the benefit of the one who caused the offense. He knew that forgiveness is beneficial to the offended. Bitterness can take root when hurts and offenses are not cared for - and quickly. 


Hurts and offenses that are handled with an attitude of forgiveness will not only reconcile the offense, those who see the example of forgiveness will be influenced toward forgiveness also. A culture of forgiveness is not absent of hurts and offenses, but it is absent of bitterness.  


If you find yourself caught in any one of these pitfalls, there is a way of escape. Ask God to speak to your heart about your role - and be ready to let the Holy Spirit do a work in your heart and mind.  


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