Have you ever stepped into a church and thought, “Something just is not quite right here?” Or have you been deeply involved as a member in a congregation to realize that the church body was not living out the Bible or loving people well? If so, you have experienced an unhealthy church setting. All of us at some point or another will likely face some form of unhealthiness within a church group because people are sinners. We are all sinful and are prone to hurt one another and even misinterpret what Scripture says if we are not careful.
We are going to go through 10 warning signs that you are in an unhealthy church.
1. The Senior Pastor Has All the Power
There is a reason why the Lord established elders in the early church. He knew that there is danger in one person having too much power and influence. There was a reason why the Lord established judges but the people begged for a king and when they got a king it proved disappointing and to their own folly. People are sinful to the core. There is nothing good in us except Jesus. He Himself said, “No one is good—except God alone.” (Mark 10:18b, Luke 18:19b) When we allow any one man or woman to be in total power and authority, with no accountability, we are in trouble. I know of countless senior pastors who were given too much authority and it came to their demise and the church as a whole.
2. The Church Is Not Open about Their Finances
Along the lines of accountability, the church that is dishonest and secretive about what they do with their finances/offerings is a huge red flag. The church is not supposed to be a business. God instructs us to care for those serving within the church body, but when a church does not tell you how much that they pay their pastors and how they divide up their giving in an authentic way, this is absolutely concerning. With this said those working with money in a church setting need to be people of integrity and handle finances with wisdom (2 Corinthians 8:18-24).
3. There Are Requirements in Addition to the Bible
Deuteronomy 4:2 says, “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.”
A healthy church understands the balance between the command of God and the grace found in Jesus. An unhealthy church is one that imposes legalistic rules upon its congregants. This might include a specific dress code beyond just modesty, not allowing instruments, requiring that members be at the church every night of the week, etc. The way that legalism creeps in is sneaky, leadership can even pull out Bible verses to support their views, but it is vital that we always look at the context and understand what God says versus what mans says.
4. The Church Removes Scriptures from the Bible
On the other end of this extreme is a church leadership who removes Bible verses because they will upset people or go against the cultural beliefs of today. This is equally as wrong as adding to the Bible. We have to be careful because people can easily present the Lord how they want, but we need to know who He truly is in reality. If a church takes out Scripture verses or ignores the entire Old Testament or the entire New Testament, this is not a healthy church. This place might make you “feel good” and the messages are likely very positive and motivational, but this is not a spiritually safe place to grow in a relationship with God and His Word.
Matthew 7:15 says, “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.”
5. The Culture of the Church Is Exclusive
As the body of Christ, we are called to love one another and invite others in. When a church is exclusive to only those who are “baptized in that denomination,” or “only upper-class people go here,” etc, it limits the reach of the gospel within a community. Plus, favoritism is a sin. If a church presents itself like a country club (Not to be confused with membership, but with a welcoming atmosphere) and the only way in is through “xyz,” then this is not a healthy atmosphere. The gospel is for everyone.
James 2:8-10 says, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.”
6. The Pastor Does Not Teach the Bible
A huge warning sign of an unhealthy church is if the pastor does not teach from the Bible. I would even go a step further if he does a sermon with only one verse. When there is a message, this means that there is a teaching from the Bible. Nowadays, it is easy to have a gifted speaker communicate a message for almost an hour by using one or fewer Scriptures. Sure, it might be a good talk, but it is not a “God talk.” This is not the point of gathering together. This is not the type of pastor who we can learn from and sit under while trusting him. When we choose to sit under a pastor’s teaching, we are sitting under his authority. This means that if he is not getting his authority from the Word of God, where is it coming from? This is a dangerous place to be (John 17:17).
7. The Church Has No Community
If the church is just an event, then this is a concerning sign. We live in a generation where people are drawn towards experiences. However, the church is not an experience, the church is a community. If a church has no community, no relationship building, no compassion, no prayer, no ways to connect with one another, this is not the healthy intention of the church. God created the church so that it would build people up in their faith and provide fellowship. If a church is more about the Christmas program than about pouring into the congregation, then they are missing the main point. Programs and events are great, but they are not the main thing.
8. The Church Does Not Teach the Essentials for the Christian Faith
If the church does not support core beliefs such as the Trinity, Jesus as Savior (fully God and fully man), the virgin birth, the resurrection, the integrity of the Bible, and that we are saved by grace through faith alone, then run. A Christ-following church holds to the essentials of the Bible. If you are in a church that neglects one of the members of the Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, that is not healthy. Or if your church does not believe that Jesus is the only way to Heaven, this is a big red flag. Jesus, Himself said in Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
9. There Is a Celebrity Worship Leader Culture
Worship leaders are not celebrities (And neither are pastors). They are supposed to be servants of God. If a worship leader is only pointing towards himself or herself, this is not healthy. This can flood into a congregation, causing people to approach church as a concert and celebrate the singer instead of Jesus. There needs to be accountability for anyone who steps in front of a congregation to set a tone of reverence and celebration of our Savior. A culture of idolatry (of anyone leading) is wrong (1 Corinthians 10:14).
10. Does the Church Leadership Divide the Word of God Accurately
Anyone can label their church as Christian. It is important that we are careful and test what a pastor says with Scripture. Anyone can misinterpret a Bible verse intentionally or unintentionally. We want to watch for context within the chapter, the book, and the entire Bible. If we do not understand the story of the Bible, then we will not understand the pieces. Yes, we need to give grace and know that pastors are people and will likely say something wrong at some point. However, we need to hold them accountable to God’s Word and cheer them on in a correct interpretation. This includes sharing if they fail to do so well.
2 Timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”
If you feel like you are in an unhealthy church environment, seek the Lord as you approach leadership and attempt to work through some of the areas. Do not leave a church immediately but proceed with caution as you see if the church gets back on track, or if not, then begin to search elsewhere. In order for us to be healthy and growing believers, we need to find churches that are healthy too.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Will & Deni McIntyre
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Emma Danzey’s mission in life stems from Ephesians 3:20-21, inspiring young women to embrace the extraordinary. One of her greatest joys is to journey with the Lord in His Scriptures. She is wife to Drew for over two years and mom to baby Graham. Drew and Emma serve with Upstate CRU college ministry in South Carolina. Emma is an avid writer for Salem Web Network and provides articles on the Bible, life questions, and on the Christian lifestyle. Her article on Interracial Marriage was the number 1 viewed article on Crosswalk for the year 2021. All the glory to the Lord! She had the joy of hosting Her Many Hats podcast where she explored the many roles that women play while serving One God. Most recently, Emma has released her first Bible Study Book, Wildflower: Blooming Through Singleness.
Emma enjoys singing/songwriting, fitness classes, trying new recipes, home makeover shows, and drinking tea! During her ministry career, Emma recorded two worship EP albums, founded and led Polished Conference Ministries, ran the Refined Magazine, and served in music education for early childhood. Emma also had the privilege of having been a national spokesperson for Mukti Mission based out of India. Mukti has been working to restore shattered lives in India for over 120 years. You can view her articles through her blog at emmadanzey.wordpress.com