Some churches are unhealthy, and some churches are even toxic. Because of our ability to adapt, often the congregation doesn't realize how bad it is. If we live in a toxic environment long enough then we adapt to that environment, not realizing that, though we have adjusted, our environment and culture are toxic to others. Jeffrey Levinton of Stony Brook University explains: "In the mucky bottom of the Hudson River dwell abundant Atlantic tomcod--brownish, mottled fish a bit longer than a hand. There, too, can be found some of the highest concentrations of pollutants in the United States, the remnants of nearly 30 years of dumping from General Electric plants upriver. These tomcod have evolved to survive their inescapable lot of swimming in the nations Superfund site...." The fish may have adapted, but for human consumption, the fish remains toxic.
A few local churches have toxic environments. These churches have people who have adapted to an environment filled with gossip, after meeting parking lot conversations, making excuses for bad behavior and absences for themselves and others, as well as seldom following through on promises. People in these churches have adapted to all the toxicity. They are swimming in waters where non church folks could never survive. The non-church folk may come to visit but if they spend any time in our toxic churches, they either 1. become get sick from the environment or 2. save themselves by swimming away as fast as they are able.
If a newcomer challenges the toxic environment that newcomer will be accused of being insensitive and uncaring. "You have hurt the feelings of one of our long standing members." the newcomer will hear. "That is not how we handle things around here." If the new pastor tries to challenge the toxic culture, leaders will say he/she is not being "pastoral."
Suffice it to say it is extremely hard to grow a toxic church. In order for a church to make new disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, that church must clean up the toxins. We are past time when we can look the other way in tolerance or even find it amusing. By that I mean we see the toxins doing their damage in our congregations, and we say with a smile "You gotta love the church," or even "Only God can love the church." Afterwards most of us walk away, feeling tolerant and understanding. Yet we've done nothing to clean up the toxins. Worse, we've communicated to the church community, destructive behavior should be tolerated in Jesus' name. Let's not adapt to the toxic environment and culture, let's clean it up! Cleaning up the toxins is essential work in the church for tomorrow.