Got Disease in your Church?
A Healthy church needs to develop an immune system to resist disease, else the church will get sick and perhaps even die. We do not mean the diseases of viruses, such as whooping cough, but ones that are even more destructive to our soul and future in eternity! It is much more sensible in our physical health to eat right, reduce stress, and exercise to prevent illness and live a longer, better quality life. If we do not, we get sick and miss one too many sick days and are fired from work, or get that one disease that may take our earthy life away. Yes, no one can add days to his life, but he can add a healthier more energy filled life. The church is a body too. The church needs to eat right and exercise by building love and purpose. Then, when a disease comes along, the church's white blood cells of good leadership can recognize, and get rid of it. For more information on building the church's immune system, see the articles, The Twelve Characteristics of a Healthy Church, The Leadership Challenge, The Three Essential Priorities for the Church, and, What the Healthy Church Looks Like.
The Most Common Diseases That Infect the Church
Genesis 12:2-3; Psalm 15; Proverbs 17:27-28; 26:20; Matthew 18:15; John 14:12-14; 15; Acts 2:38-47; Romans 12:4-8; Galatians 5:22-23; 6:1; Colossians 1:15-23; 2:6-7; Ephesians 1:21-23; 3:10; 4:15; 5:23; Hebrews 4:16; James 4:17; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; Revelation 1-3)
1. The Disease of Diotrephes: (3 John) This disease is a reign of tyranny through gossip and slander in the name of Christ. John makes a strong and decisive stand against gossip, as does the rest of Scripture, yet this is the foremost problem in the church! John is representing the presence of Christ and gives us a stern warning in loving encouragement for us.
The cure is that we must replace the temptation of spreading gossip with the love of Christ. (Psalm 5:9; 12:3; 52:2; 109:2; 120:2; Proverbs 9:8; 10:19; 17:4; 18:8; 25:23; Jeremiah 9:8; Ephesians 4:25-32; James 3:1-12)
2. Prideful Me, Me, Me, and Only Me-ism: The leadership, and even the lay person thinking they are the quintessential aspect and key to the church cause this disease. There is usually one or even a few leaders who refuse to share the power. They also tend to be puffed up with themselves and refuse to see others as children of the Lord!
The cure is to confront them in love and educate them on the priorities and mission of the church and their role in it. If they refuse to get on board in Godly terms (Matt 18) rid the church of them as if cutting out a cancer. (Job 41:34; 2 Chron. 26:16; 32:26; Psalm 10:4-5; 18:27; 31:18; 56:2; 59:12; 62:10; 73:6-12; 101:5; 131:1; 6:17; Prov. 8:13; 11:2; 13:10; 16:18; 21:4; 24; 29:23; 30:13; Isa. 2:11-21; 13:19; 16: 6; 23:9; Ezek. 28:2; Ob.1:3 ; 1 Cor. 1:6; 2 Cor. 5:12; 7:4; Gal. 6:4; --and these are just a few!)
3. Hypocrisy-ism: This is disease is extremely deadly and is caused by not living an honest Christian life as we should. We, who have been filled with the Holy Spirit, and who know the Scriptures should have no problem with honest living, yet we do! People with this disease are experts on seeing the hypocrisy in other people, but they fail to see it in themselves!
The cure is to not to play like a Christian, but to be a Christian. Our actions must respond to the transformation of Christ's grace by living honest lives. We must allow Christ's amazing grace to root out all the evil within us, especially the hypocrisy that causes so much destruction. (Job 8:13; Matthew 23:23-33)
4. My-Church-ism: This is disease is caused by the leadership thinking that the church belongs only to them. It does not! They are the stewards to God's bride.
The cure is to build interpersonal relationships within the church and neuter codependent and mutually absorbing mentalities. Strong teaching about the purpose of the church and the body of Christ, as well as about spiritual gifts is necessary. If the church ignores the neighborhood and world around them, then the church programs will become stagnated and meaningless and serve no real need. (Mark 9:33-35; Philippians 2:3-5; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; 1 Peter 3:15)
5. The Dieing Mentality: This is a disease usually found in churches whose membership has an average age of 50 or higher. The older members refuse to reach out and invite newer and younger people and/or refuse to share power, so no one is coming in to stay. Another symptom is that they are over- focused on the past, and will not look to the future. This disease is also found in younger churches where apathy and arrogance have taken over the Crown of our Lord!
The cure is revival, prayer, and seeing the church as the body of Christ where each one is unique and essential, and cooperating to build the Kingdom. (2 Corinthian 2:3-4; Revelation 2:4-5; 3:1-6; 3:14-18)
6. Snob-ism: This is a disease caused by directly refusing to relate to others outside you social economic status. It is a refusal to know and understand the differences and similarities between various people groups within the church's community and even inside the church itself. Prejudice is a sin! This disease causes evangelism to die and missions to be stopped!
The cure is massive humble-ism by strong preaching in the character of Christ about how we are to emulate Him. (Proverbs 2:7-19; Galatians 6:2-5; Colossians 1:24-29)
7. Committee-ism: This disease has the people serving on a committee believing and feeling that the committee is the ministry. Symptoms include having meetings for the sake of the meeting and for no other reason. For example, if you are on the evangelism committee, you think that when you serve on that committee you are doing evangelism. This disease will cause no actual ministry, such as evangelism, to be accomplished.
Cure: Realize that the committee is the football huddle in the game. The game is the task that the committee is assigned to do. It is as if all you have is a huddle, and then sit down with the satisfaction that you planned the game, but forgot to play it! A committee has the same purpose. The committee is the strategy and brainstorming session to get the work done. It does not exist in of, or just for itself! To prevent this disease, have a clear and effective mission statement that outlines goals and duties. Provide training and encouragement as well as supervision and accountability. (Ephesians 1:21-23; 3:10; 4:15; 5:23; Hebrews 10:19-25)
8. Koinonia-itis: This malady can be fun and inviting for a while only to those in a certain cliques in the church. This disease occurs where the people in power will not let others in the loop, or share resources or even refuse to build relationships with others. Some people may congregate in such tight knit groups/cliques, that outsiders are not welcome to join. They shut themselves out from their own church and community. This disease cases the death of the church through attrition as people leave and there is no one to come in and take their place. Nothing gets done in a church like this.
The cure is to make sure the church has a defined purpose and mission that all the people have agreed to, so the church is the body of Christ working together, open to, and reaching others. Teaching on the precepts and character of Christ, and discipleship groups with open seats to invite friends and neighbors are essential. (Ephesians 4:29-32; Colossians 3:12-14)
9. Stuck-in-the-mud-of-Strangulation: This is disease is caused by words such as, "We have never done it that way before." The church with this disease will not try new things or even surrender themselves to the precepts of Scripture. They may have solid theology and just have it displayed on the wall but not in the heart and will, and definitively not on the hands and feet. On the other hand, they can be liberal and use their theology as an excuse to do anything, such as hyper-Calvinism or liberalism. This disease will cut off the flow of people into a church to a slow crawl and even in reverse, so the back door will grow bigger than the front door!
The cure is solid, non-compromising Biblical teaching, with application! (Colossians 2:6-7; James 4:7-10)
10. I-do-not-want-to-grow-ism: This is a disease caused by refusing to make changes in the facilities, so the church becomes bottlenecked and grid locked. This malady can be seen in churches that grow so fast they cannot keep up, or do not want to keep up. This kind of mentality will slow down the rate of church growth, as the people exceed the capacity of the facilities available to accommodate them. The people will get frustrated and leave. This disease is found in both good churches with good preaching as well as in small churches with small thinking. They either refuse to accommodate more people, or are so prideful with their facilities they do not want to make the necessary changes.
The cure is to pray, and strategize on ways to accommodate people, while being sensitive to the facilities and the people who built them. (John 13:34-35; Acts 2:42-47; Ephesians 4)
11. Hyper-spirit-ism: This disease is caused when a church has an over emphases of the work of the Spirit, over and against the Word. Often, they focus too much on emotionalism to the detriment of sound Biblical teaching. Experiences become more important than the Word. The cure is to try to get people to see the Biblical precepts of truth, and teach the works and roles of the Spirit from Scripture and not from experiences and emotionalism. This disease is very tough to beat, as it is unlike other diseases that drive people away. This disease will cause people to flock to your church so you think you have a revival, when in fact you have a counterfeit revival, or even a cult. As a result, the true purpose of the church is lost, resulting in no discipleship, no healthy Biblical teaching, just crazy stuff, like holy laughter.
The cure is to switch to sound Biblical teaching and let people who refuse to yield to the precepts of Scripture leave. (Isaiah 55:8-9; Jeremiah 17:9-11; Mark 8:34-38; Colossians 3:12-14; Philippians 4:6-7; 19)
12. Legal-ism: This disease makes up all kinds of rules, whims, and procedures that distract people away from the true gospel. This can take the form of constricting theology that elevates man's efforts and works above grace to a series of actions that have to be done in a certain way, such as a certain dress, or the certain look, or knowing the right words for prayer or a hymn. Rules such as not playing cards, or not dancing become the focal point of what it means to be a Christian, and not the character and work of Christ. Therefore, people with this disease pronounce harsh judgment and sentencing, and are then careless of the consequences because they think they are right in their thinking. However, they are not in tune with our Lord. There is nothing wrong with rules, as long as the rules are not the things being worshiped or distracting people away from Christ.
The cure is to teach a Biblical view of the law that reflects God's character as HOLY and JUST! Our responsibility is to reflect this character in our actions, as well. We are to model the deepest desires in life and the pleasures of living a life dedicated to please Christ! (Psalm 10:4; Hosea 13:6; Matthew 7:3-52; Galatians 3:1-3; 13-15; 1 Timothy 6:18)
13. Arrested Spiritual growth: This disease is caused by the exact opposite of Hyper-spirit-ism, as the church with this disease refuses to recognize the Person and work of the Spirit. They deny spiritual gifts or the supernatural work of God. (This is not about tongues or the assigned gifts). This will prevent people from spiritual growth, so they cannot grow in their relationships with Christ. This church will stagnate into a club and will not be able to grow.
The cure is abundant, surrendered prayer for renewal! (Romans 8:5; 1 Timothy 3:14-15)
14. A Personality Addiction: This disease happens when the church is monopolized by a single personality. This could be a popular pastor who may be solid as can be, but the only reason the people come is to hear him. This is not always a bad thing, but when that person moves on, the church quickly dies into oblivion, often to the point that they cannot pay the electric bill because so many people have left. This disease can also occur if a dysfunctional person takes the helm and attracts others to be codependent on him.
The cure is to make sure the church has a purpose and mission that all the people have bought into, so the church is a body of Christ working together and not addicted to a single person. (Romans 3:22-24; Ephesians 4:15-16)
15. The Saint Disorder: This disease happens when Christians become Christians in name only. They feel that they are so good that their faith becomes a habit. They do not get into the Word, or exercise the disciplines of the faith because they think they do not need it! Other symptoms are that church participation is mainly just going through the motions and the service becomes meaningless rhetoric. This disease can happen in multigenerational churches where no others come in, and only the people who were born there attend. Being a part of this church is nothing more than a family tradition or social club.
The cure, Romans 13: 1-14, put on Christ and wake up! There is one God and you are not He! (1 Timothy 3:14-15)
16. Hyper-Cooperative-ism: This disease happens when everyone is responsible for everything in the church and no one is in charge or in leadership of anything. The rule is to do as you will and please. Too much is focused on being a big, happy family, and there is an aversion of rules and regulations, so they overreact and it stifles the people. In addition, if evangelizing is to be done, everyone is encouraged to do it. However, it is not done, because there are no teams, no direction, no vision, no purpose. This is a Christian equivalent to anarchy. Another aspect of this disease is a church that is so liberal that anything goes. No virtue, no solid doctrine, or real spiritual direction occurs.
The cure is developing a good management system, training for leaders, and developing teams for ministry. In the liberal church, find God and repent! (James 3:2; Hebrews 13:7,17)
17. Grievance-ism: This disease is caused by keeping a careful list of grievances and refusing to forgive. This is the cancer of the church disease inventory and will rot out a church very quickly. Churches become crippled because members go around harboring that list of wrongs. These lists of wrongs turn into resentment that grows and grows until you have a church filled with people harboring resentment, all attacking one another.
The cure is to respond to God's call to pursue peace with all people despite the temptations we may face, or the evil that is done to us. As Christians, we must purge ourselves of the desire to get even with one other! (Proverbs 25: 21-22; Matthew 18:21-35; Romans 12:19-20; Hebrews 12:14-15)
18. Apathy-itis: This disease is caused by being overwhelmed with all the stresses and struggles in ministry to the point of shrugging our shoulders and giving up, but still going through the motions. This is apathy. Another symptom of apathy is thinking the greatness is in the past, and the past is then worshipped and adored. All views and passions to Christ are rooted in the past and the vine is now withered. It is our human nature to consider comfort and security a primary concern. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as it does not make us complacent and take us away from the goals and reasons we are in the pulpit, or in leadership. If we are too comfortable, we become apathetic, not wanting to stretch ourselves in our personal walk. This, then, becomes a slippery slope of not desiring to stretch the congregation, or being afraid of making any challenges that may offend someone's pride. This disease will produce no growth, no serious discipleship, no serious Bible studies, no serious teaching in the pulpit, just basic stuff to please and police people.
The cure is to Wake Up! We need to be on guard for stressful and overwhelming situations, for pride, and for being too comfortable in our positions. When we are not growing, and not on our guard, then we will venture into the land of apathy, and that is one place that will not grow any fruit or give any glory to the Lord. (Matt. 13:25-26; Hosea 13:6; Romans 13; Revelation 3:1-6; 14-18)
19. Ethnic-ism: This disease is caused by a fear of an ethnic group, or a church in a transitioning neighborhood, such as a white church where its members once lived in the neighborhood, but over the years, people moved away so everyone is commuting. Then, people of a different social economic or ethnic class surround the church, and the church does not reach out to them. Eventually, the neighborhood sees the church as aloof and unfriendly to them! The church then becomes a commuter church cut off from their mission and place in the community. This church will grow stagnate as people are unwilling or unable to commit and be involved, because the time and distance is too much.
One cure is to move the church. However, this must be the very, very last resort, as it is usually way out of God's Will. Only consider a move if you plant or help another church take your place. Then, give them your facilities, and hand the keys to someone else, as the church belongs to God and the neighborhood, and not to you! A second solution is to break down social fears and get involved. Encourage staff and leaders to move back, take a risk, and reclaim the neighborhood for Christ by modeling His character and care. Have a shared ministry with another church, or share your facilities with a pastor that speaks the langue and/or culture, and cooperate with them as a team. (Mark 12:30-32; Luke 6:27-31; Ephesians 4:29-32; Colossians 4:5; Hebrews 12:14-15; 13:1-2; James 4:7-10; 17)
Do not be afraid to ask someone to seek anther church if they are fighting against the church leadership apart from motivation of Godly principles! Never force people out because of differences of opinion; iron sharpens iron. Seek causes and motivations by listening and through prayer. (Romans 16:17-18 & Titus 3:9-11)
Our hope: "`Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security." (Jeremiah 33:6)
Copyright 1988, 1998, 2000 Richard J. Krejcir, Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development www.churchleadership.org
This paper was based on C. Peter Wagner's 8 Church Diseases, "The Healthy Church," (Regal, 1996). Dr. Krejcir took these and did further research for a paper in Wagoner's class on Church Growth at Fuller Theological Seminary in 1988
The Original Wagner Church Diseases
· Ethnikitis kills churches when neighborhoods (usually urban) change drastically. In mostly rural areas, the young folk leave town, no one moves in, and the church dies of Old Age,
· People Blindness kills churches when cultural differences cannot be bridged.
· Hypercooperation weakens churches who lose their distinctive identity in an effort to get along better with nearby denominations.
· Koinonitus occurs when the fellowship in a congregation is so good, new people are not allowed in for fear of messing things up.
· Sociological Strangulation happens when facility expansion fails to keep pace with numerical growth.
· Arrested Spiritual Development is a condition common among long-time Christians. They reach a point at which they are satisfied with their own spiritual development and begin to sit in judgment of everyone else.
· Saint John's Syndrome usually attacks churches between 20 and 30 years old. At this point commitment levels decline as original members are replace by a second generation who lack the same sense of purpose as the first members.