They do exist and the three descriptors of rigid, graceless and mean go together pretty well. They play out in a number of key ways that all contribute to a dysfunctional (church) family system. Here are some symptoms.
Legalism: There are a lot of rules about what is acceptable and unacceptable which come not from Scripture (or a proper reading of it) but from tradition or someone's strong preference. Legalism stifles freedom, creates false guilt and can be used to control people.
Control: Usually this comes from leaders who have a need to control the thinking and especially the opinions of people in the congregation. It usually shows up when an independent voice asks questions that are uncomfortable and there is a direct effort made by leaders to cause them to back off. Words like "uncooperative," "causing dissent" or "disunity" may be used to seek to bring them into line. Group think is group think and not healthy. There should be plenty of room for differing opinions within a church body.
Lack of grace: This flows directly from legalism and control. This usually shows itself in gossip, caustic comments and even prayer requests that are directed at the decisions or character of others. It is a judgmental attitude that tries to play the role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of others but in a way the Holy Spirit would never do it.
Meanness: This is often directed at independent voices when those individuals do not toe the party line. Again it can be gossip, it can be charges leveled against individuals or even asking people to leave the church - not because they have sinned - but because they have challenged the system and someone does not like it. Those who are authoritarian leaders often use their position to impose their view on others through plain unkind words and conduct. It is wrong!
Why is this so toxic? Because it does not look like Jesus and the church is all about Jesus. Toxic churches create toxic Christians who in turn create other toxic followers. It is antithetical to the kind of church culture described in the book of Ephesians. Whenever you feel controlled or made to feel guilty or are intentionally hurt by church leaders be aware that you may be in an unhealthy system. Healthy churches do not act this way. Unhealthy churches do.
Posted from Rochester, MN
All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence, are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.