Toxic Church Culture, Beth Moore, #CHURCHTOO, and the Co-vocational Future of the ChurchMar 10, 2022
We’re continuing our series on the co-vocational future of the church, and why I believe the church of the 21st century will look more like the 1st century, with co-vocational pastors leading smaller church expressions that don't look like the traditional, institutional churches of the last 100 years in America.
And why now is THE time for pastors like you and me to figure out how to leverage our ministry skills into a secondary income source, so we can serve God and provide for our families no matter what.
Last time we discussed Donald Trump, Evangelical Politics, and the Co-vocational future of the church.
Today we’re going to talk about Toxic Church Culture, Beth Moore, #CHURCHTOO and the Co-vocational Future of the Church.
I’d like to start out by defining what these particular issues are, in case you’re not familiar with any of them, and explain how they relate to each other.
Then we’ll talk about how I think these issues are impacting the church in America today, and will contribute to a sustained decline in church participation and giving. And why now is the time for you to create income outside of their church, so you can serve God and provide for your family, no matter what.
So let’s define what I mean by toxic church culture, Beth Moore, and #CHURCHTOO, and explore how these issues may be linked together.
What is Toxic Church Culture?
The phrase “toxic church,” just at face value, should be a contradiction in terms, right? And the idea of a toxic church culture should be unthinkable, wouldn’t you agree?
Sadly, the church is not immune to toxic culture environments. I think we all know that, and have heard about…or maybe even experienced first-hand, environments that weren’t healthy.
If you’re not familiar with the meaning of “toxic church culture,” let me share a description that I found helpful - in the book entitled, A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing, (Tov is the Hebrew word for ‘good”) written by father and daughter authors Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer. Incidentally, McKnight is a New Testament professor at Northern Baptist Seminary, and Barringer, his daughter, is an author and teacher. Both are former members of Willow Creek Community Church.
7 Signs of a Toxic Church Culture
In the book, Scott and Barringer share seven signs that describe toxic church culture:
- Narcissistic leaders who believe they are superior and that the rules don’t apply to them
- Leaders who wield their power with intimidation and fear - bullying - emotionally abusive and demeaning
- An environment where the institution matters more than people
- When false narratives are given, to somehow justify or cover up a situation, instead of telling the truth about allegations
- When loyalty is more important than doing justice, or doing what is right
- When the leaders are celebrities, and enjoy it and take advantage of it, instead of taking on the role of being servants of the church
- When the culture becomes a “leader” culture instead of a “pastor/shepherd” culture
After reading this description, did any pastors or churches come to your mind? Maybe from personal experience? Or from news stories you’ve heard in the last few years?
For me, a few high-profile megachurch pastors came to mind, unfortunately, like Bill Hybels, founder of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, and Mark Driscoll founder of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Maybe you’ve listened to The Rise & Fall of Mars Hill podcast like I have.
But toxic cultures are certainly NOT unique to megachurches or to prominent pastors. You’ll find toxic leaders in churches of all sizes - and most will never make the headlines. But when they do, it feels like it’s basically the same story each time.
Toxic cultures are the result of toxic leaders who think they are above everyone else. They engage in mentally and emotionally abusive behavior, which sometimes leads to sexual misconduct.
If someone dares to question the leader’s actions, the questioner is immediately deemed to be disloyal…and not just to the leader, but to the church and to God. Then the leader makes up false stories about why you’re wrong and they’re right, in order to defend their actions.
And because the organization’s board is made up of people who are personally close to the leader, the board feels it’s their duty to defend the leader, the organization, and the very gospel that the leader is supposed to represent. And the cycle continues to repeat because there is no real accountability.
Heard this story before?
Beth Moore and Other Women Pastors: Called to Preach or Go Home?
Next, let’s talk about Beth Moore, a popular Bible study teacher, author, and…um…woman. Who, because she is a Bible teacher who is also a woman, has for years been attacked and maligned - in the name of Jesus, of course - by certain arrogant male evangelical leaders who believe the Bible prohibits women from being pastors and teachers in the church.
Things really came to a head in the last couple of years with Moore’s denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, which she ended up leaving in 2021, and with once-prominent pastors like John Piper and John MacArthur, who said incredibly demeaning things about her in an attempt to put her in her place…which MacArthur said, was, of course, at home.
So what’s my point in mentioning Beth Moore here? I’ll tell you in just a minute! But first, let me say that I don’t intend to get into a theological debate about complementarianism vs. egalitarianism, women in ministry, etc.
I grew up in a fundamentalist type of church, that espoused the more complementarian view. Since the Apostle Paul said in 1 Timothy 2 that he would never allow a woman to teach or have authority over a man, we would never have a woman in the pulpit. But somehow it was OK for most of my Sunday School teachers to be women.
But since I’ve been in the Wesleyan Church for the last 30 years, I’ve come to a great appreciation for a more egalitarian view that affirms the gifts and callings of both men and women to preach and teach God’s word. And I’ve been blessed to serve alongside with, and sit under, the leadership and teaching of several godly female pastors. Including the church I’m a part of today.
So the reason I mention Beth Moore here is not to single her out, or to promote the virtues of women in ministry, but to use her as a representation of all women in ministry leadership, who have ever been victims of the kind of prideful, arrogant, and demeaning treatment that Moore has received over the years.
The selective biblicism, the insults, the personal attacks, the calls to “Go Home” that Moore and other women have received from patriarchal male leadership, must surely grieve the heart of God.
It makes me feel sad…and angry.
And it has angered and disillusioned many within the church, and outside it, who have come to believe that patriarchy and misogyny are so baked-in or encoded into the American evangelical church that most people inside of it can’t, or choose not to, see it, and thus are incapable or unwilling to address it.
They ask how any man who claims to follow Jesus can treat his sisters as second class citizens of the kingdom.
I’m gonna leave that right there for just a moment.
#CHURCHTOO and the Sexual Misconduct Epidemic in the Church
So let’s talk about the #METOO and #CHURCHTOO movements.
Over the last five years or so, there has been avalanche of stories and allegations of sexual misconduct, assault, and abuse within universities, corporations, organizations…and sadly…even in the church.
The #METOO and #CHURCHTOO movements have given voice to hundreds of victims who have lived in fear of ever coming forward, and to those who did come forward whose accusations have long been ignored or dismissed.
It seems as though we can’t go more than a couple of weeks without hearing a story of another evangelical pastor or leader who has been accused of, or admitted to, sexual misconduct or abuse.
And as heartbreaking as that is, it’s even more so when we hear stories of denial and self-protection on the part of the pastor and the church, the intimidation and emotional abuse of the victims, and the failure of their church or organization to provide systems of safety, transparency, and accountability to prevent these things from happening, and to protect victims after they happen.
As was true with the Watergate scandal in 1972, the denials and cover-ups only multiply the seriousness of the original crimes.
Allegations of spiritual and sexual abuse by popular Bible teacher and apologist Dr. Ravi Zacharias came to light as early as 2008, according to an article in Christianity Today. The RZIM board trusted Ravi’s denials and quickly dismissed many of the allegations out of hand. Other times they performed internal investigations, which discredited accusers and witnesses and cleared Zacharias of any wrongdoing. Sadly, there have been many reports of Zacharias and his board harassing and intimidating the accusers
We should remember that it’s not just celebrity pastors from mega churches.
In February of 2019, the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News reported that 380 clergy, lay leaders, and volunteers within the Southern Baptist Convention had faced allegations of sexual misconduct, leaving behind over 700 victims since 1998. And again, many of these cases were covered up, the wrongdoers protected, and the victims denied the justice they deserved.
So what’s my point in bringing up toxic evangelical church culture, the mistreatment of women in ministry, and the sexual misconduct and abuse crisis in the church today? And how can these things have anything to do with a co-vocational future for the church?
And you might say, after all, these things aren’t happening in my church. Or my denomination.
Again, my goal in this series isn’t to have political or theological debates about issues like women in ministry, for example, but to share my belief that traditional, institutional types of churches won’t get a pass on this anymore…or the benefit of the doubt…even if these things aren’t happening in your church.
The Sexual Misconduct Crisis Affects Every Church
- Isolated incidents of mistreatment or misconduct no longer seem so isolated
- The stories have become more frequent and public
- Pride and arrogance of male leadership grows
- Too often, there are denials and coverups that show to the watching world that the church is more concerned about protecting itself than in protecting the vulnerable.
- The church has become an expensive institution bent on self-preservation instead of the body of Christ that gives itself away to others
- It feels like the church is by nature or design patriarchal and misogynistic
- But hey, please keep on sending us your money!
- People, especially women, feel like the church is not a safe place. It doesn’t practice what it preaches. It doesn‘t protect the weak and vulnerable. It protects its own self interest to continue to perpetuate the current patriarchal leadership structure.
As a result, I think this means many existing churches will get smaller. And pastors and churches will need to explore new non-traditional models of church - what some are calling fresh expressions, that are more organic and less institutional, to reach those who will never connect with what they think of as an institutional, traditional church.
it may take more non-traditional types of churches, or fresh expressions, to reach people in whole new ways. With more of a shared leadership model than a top-down corporate one.
And I think this means many “traditional” churches will struggle to survive on tithes and offerings, as they shrink, and many pastors who have been full time will need to become part time. And that’s why I believe now is the time for you to launch your own business or side hustle.
I’m not saying it’s the end of the church. But maybe this is the beginning of the end of the church as we’ve known it in America for the last 50-100 years? Maybe God is doing something new to de-institutionalize the church?
And it may be time for you to rethink how your church does ministry. And if things get smaller, what would you do to provide for yourself? Is now the time for you to start your own business or side hustle? Leverage your ministry skills into other income streams…like becoming a coach, an author, etc.? I think the answer to this question is YES!
Pastor, Is Starting a Business Right for You?
During this series I’m offering a free resource for you…and it’s called “How to Know if Starting Your Own Business is Right for You?” In it I share the top 12 signs that you might be ready to start your own business. Download your free copy today at morethanapastor.com/biz.
In the Next Episode
Next time, join me for a discussion on Progressive Theology, Racial Justice, LGBTQ, and the Co-vocational Future of the Church.
Well, that’s it for this episode of the More Than a Pastor show. If you enjoyed it, would you please do me a favor and subscribe, and give us a review on Apple Podcasts. It’s a great way to support the show, and only takes a few seconds.
And until next time, remember that you are more than a pastor. Saying yes to God’s call doesn’t mean you HAVE to say yes to feeling stuck, broke, and unfulfilled in your life and ministry. Let’s work together to create the life, impact, and income you were made for!