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6 Early Warning Signs You're Dealing With a Toxic Person

You’ve dealt with them before. At your church, as a volunteer, on your staff, as customers.

Toxic people, are well, toxic.

 toxic people

An unhealthy person can infect your team like toxins infect the human body. After some exposure, everyone feels sick.

The optimist in you and me hopes toxic people will become better. The good news is, sometimes they do.

Unhealthy people can grow healthier with the right care and attention in a healthy environment.

But some toxic people just don’t. Some remain difficult, despite all attempts.

And as you know, if you don’t address toxic people—or worse, let them gain influence—they can infect your whole organization, diminishing your effectiveness and taking everyone’s focus off the mission.

So…how can you tell early on that the person you’re dealing with might be that person?

Here are 6 signs:

1. They come on too strong. In my experience as a pastor, the people who show up and want to make it headline news are rarely (I’m being generous here) healthy people. What’s perplexing is that the people who end up being the most toxic at the end of the relationship are over-the-top positive when they first meet you. I have learned to be suspect when people tell me on first meeting and first hearing that ‘That’s the best message I’ve ever heard in my life!” or “This is the best church I’ve ever been to anywhere.” I find usually the people who are moderately impressed or even neutral on first visit and warm up over time are the ones who are most healthy in the long run.

2. They give you advice during your first meeting. Whether it’s a casual conversation or even a job interview, people who tell 15 ways you can improve your organization or your speaking often end up being toxic people. Are there ways we can improve our organization? Of course. Can you improve your speaking? Sure you can. But when someone leads with off with loads of advice…well, that’s just not healthy. When people I first meet start telling me about all the ways we can improve our church, I thank them and tell them point blank we’re probably not the church for them and offer to help them find a new one.

3. They tell rather than waiting to be asked. Naturally, we all have opinions that are valid. But in a healthy human relationship, we reserve opinions about others until we are asked the share them.Toxic people rarely do. Toxic people volunteer them (see #3 above). If someone is telling you things all the time and never waits to be asked, it’s a sign of toxicity. (In really close relationships, it’s natural to volunteer opinions. But it’s done with humility, respect and concern for the person.)

4. They want to be the centre of attention. They hijack conversations. They never ask questions. They want to get involved to soon. They tell you what they’re an expert in. They tell you what they think. They tell you about their amazing track record. They tell you about their accomplishments. They demand your attention. Truly healthy people wait to be asked.

5. You hear from them far too often in the first month. Often a toxic person, because they want to be the centre of attention, will try to get on your calendar soon. They’ll email you, call you, ask for breakfast, try to figure out how they can ‘help’ or be influential early on. Again, most great leaders wait to be asked. They have the humility to be obscure for a while, and to serve rather than to want to be served.

6. They have a track record of moving around. Usually a person who comes on that strong has a history of moving around. When I’m picking up some of the other signs, I’ll ask a question such as “Tell me where you’ve gone to church over the last few years.” Often people will tell me about 3 or 4 churches they’ve been to (flag) or about a major schism they were a part of that caused them to leave their last church (big flag).

If a person displays one or two signs that may not demonstrate they’re toxic, but if the person displays 5 or 6, it’s fairly good evidence you might be dealing with a toxic person:

So what do you do with someone like this?

For starters, put up clear boundaries.

Don’t let them get involved. Watch carefully. Usually, if you don’t give them influence, the truly toxic ones leave.

And if, after watching them for a few months (true character is revealed over time) you realize you’re wrong (which I have been), then you can invite them to get involved.

Have you met this person? Any other signs you’ve seen?

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  • Eileen Kirch

    Who is toxic? The one who judges or the one who is being judged? . . .
    I am beginning to wonder if our former pastor read your article and took it to heart. The elders of our church recently placed our pastor on sabbatical for doing the things you suggest in this article. He was deciding who should be “allowed” to be involved in ministry. Apparently, he determined certain good people to be “toxic.” There was even a “black list” shared with leaders of the church. All of this divided a once united congregation and has been a painful experience for everyone. Apparently, by doing what this article suggests, he was the most toxic member of the church after all…

  • Eileen Kirch

    This article empowers the judgmental Christian that turns so many away. I am beginning to wonder if our former pastor read your article and took it to heart in the wrong way. The elders of our church recently placed our pastor on sabbatical for doing the things you suggest in this article. He was deciding who should be “allowed” to be involved and minister. Apparently, he determined certain people to be “toxic.” A report was released that shared that he black listed members from involvement and ministry. Some of the people on this list were past enthusiastic outgoing leaders of the church that he must have thought, “came on too strong.” This was just plain wrong. He recently left and started his own church bringing some of his so-called nontoxic members with him. This divided a once united congregation and has been a painful experience for everyone. Apparently, by doing what this article suggests, he was the most toxic member of the church after all…

  • Tina

    I would like to gently point out from my experience that not everyone who is enthusiastic about getting involved is toxic. Some people generally come to the table excited to contribute, wanting to do the Lord’s work for the sake of that itself. From what I’ve experienced, some people’s personality types are more naturally more energetic and take-charge. I would not write a person off with those traits, as not everyone is a reserved “hang-back and see” type. Some people honestly want to jump right in. I think there is room for different personality types in the Church, and the diversity of personalities is needed.

    There is a guy I knew who was part of a Church congregation I was a part of many years ago. He was a young man then, and I believe during a Friday night devotional where the Church was singing he was fired up (as some of the younger members would be), and at the end of a song he must have been really into, he said “ow!” after it was over (as in, “that was awesome!”). A person in the Church approached him afterward and told him they were discouraged he did that. … Sometime later he stopped coming to Church services. He fell away. When talking to him about why he didn’t come out to Church anymore, one of things he mentioned in his response was that incident. He also said it just felt like his mission was to show up at Church and straighten his tie. I wish the person who said that to him knew the effect of their words on this young fired up Christian, (who is no longer a Christian anymore and is now deep in the world). I wouldn’t want the person to know the effect of their words so they can walk around with a lot of guilt, but for them to realize the effect their words have on others. I would also like to ask the person whoever it was, what was so discouraging about a brother in Christ making a noise to express his joy. Though there were also other entanglements of the world that had influence on this man’s decision to walk away, the incident I mentioned seems to have played a part. Though this isn’t exactly the same as a new person showing up to Church eager, I think it’s a good cautionary tale on what could happen if we put out another person’s genuine zeal.

    It’s my personal opinion that people should be careful about judging the hearts and intentions of others prior to a person bearing fruit that reveals their motives. May it never be that any of us put out someone’s zeal for the Lord’s work and discourage them from earnest participation in what matters most to God. I hope that none of us ever foster an environment where a person feels there is no room for the authentic expression of their natural personality, leading them to feel more accepted in the world instead of the Church.

    I like that other examples were given in this post. I think zeal or eagerness to contribute should only be looked at with concern if other behaviors indicating toxic motives are present.

    God bless.

    “Acts 2:38-41: “38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”

  • Mark Henri

    I’ve written about this too. I also have noticed that people who are extremely forceful in the beginning often cause immense problems quickly. One thing that I noticed in your article is that you didn’t really discuss the roots of the toxic behavior. I think it would be beneficial to talk about two types which are especially dangerous and some behaviors that are often not recognized as sinful. My comments are from the perspective as an assistant worship leader.

    First is the perfectionist. Perfectionism is a DSM-V disorder in which the person believes “If it’s
    not perfect, I’m not OK.” Never ever make them a leader. They are highly
    destructive and people will be damaged by them. There will be a trail
    of wounded wherever they serve. They create bad morale and they are
    unbearable to work with. If they are also rote musicians, they are
    exponentially harmful. They can put whole churches to sleep and all the
    while, the music will sound very adequate.

    Toxic baggage resulting from abuse (especially sexual abuse) is particularly dangerous to a worship team. The stage is like a magnet for these folks and they are often being run by dark forces despite being redeemed. For those on the outside, this probably sounds strange but think of it like an addiction and it will make sense. My friend Margaret, another worship leader, once said “Oh those demons, always clamoring for attention.” She sounded like the church-lady at first and then it started resonating as I dealt with one particular volunteer hopeful.

    I wish that more pastors would recognize that ambition is counter to the Christian paradigm and that an excessive desire to be on the team is actually a form of coveting. While that seems harsh, what often happens is that a worship leader will tell a volunteer hopeful ‘no’ and they do an end run to the pastor. Later, you’re told to integrate this person and “help” them. It mystifies me why a person would want to work under a leader that they didn’t fundamentally respect? You nailed it though. Excessive excitement at the beginning is the tell. Also, note that this behavior is divisive and it served to split the relationship between the worship leader and the pastor. Way too many pastors enable this one.

    Thanks for all the great posts.

  • Kala-ada

    i think the article is about toxic people (in relation to you, your vision, your plans and pursuits) and not toxic Christians..
    the truth is the person that maybe toxic to you and your church may not be toxic in another place..i know a brother in Christ who was coming off as described until he went to another church where his viewpoints and contribution are needed

  • Amber

    Except, to be balanced, you can burn through a lot Churches these days–especially if you come from outside the bubble–just desperately trying to find a Church that will accept you and love you. I heard one person say she can feel the moment she walks in a Church if they are earnest or not. I’m the same way. Also, Churches are not managed as well as professional, secular organizations, in general. When you see the favourtism and perhaps the amateurism–or flagrant conflicts of interest that would never be okay in secular institutions–it is easy to get frustrated and walk out the door. If you notice injustices so shocking, I think it’s probably good to walk out the door (and that’s why Church attendance is probably dropping). However, for many of us, hope springs eternal. I know no community is perfect, I’m just looking for the same standards I see in the secular world, not perfection, but a willingness to actually work on issues and some intelligence. Too often Churches couldn’t care less–even if you’ve been a good member and mostly kept your head down in a non-toxic kind of way.

    • andia

      Also, when an unchurched person “comes back” they often have a hard time finding a church where they fit in at first. Part of fitting in is finding where your gifts will be welcomed. If one is not allowed to participate, people will often on.

      And to be fair some of the MOST toxic are the folks who have been around forever and run new folks off.

  • Mel Ross

    What would Jesus do? Well of course none of us are Jesus but supposedly wanting to become like him. You explanation of a Toxic person is so repulsive that I am sure it even hurts Jesus.Now I bet right now you are thinking “here is a toxic person”. You obviously have the absence of experience in that I mean haven’t come from an abusive, fearful, unloved, abandoned, lonely,painful environment . Otherwise you would know how to deal with these “toxic” Christians or like a lot of churches dwindling in size, and quality, are becoming exclusive and cold. ( it will happen) Jesus is about healing, restoration, relationship and love not numbers and affluence. Why so many churches are dying. Christ cannot deny himself. Why I love Him so much. Same yesterday, today and forever. Amen

  • Frances Bernard

    Thanks for this article. Attraction and promotion of church followers while trying to serve each other sure can be problematic when there are some people in attendance who are feeling unstable and acting out. I like the idea of not giving them influence.

  • Sarah-Jane Bastarache

    I would love feedback on what to do when this blows up. We are a new church plant and were totally blindsided by someone coming in saying they want “to be servants to the leadership” but than as things progressed they kept wanting more and more leadership, influence & responsibilities, in a matter of mere months and if there was any pushback, huge emotional explosions and attacking not only of the leadership – but of anyone that would listen to them and not agree with them. It was a bit of a nightmare and created a lot of turmoil in the young church. They have since been asked to leave while we try and sort this out, but they continue to reach out to a few individuals, and these people are getting pulled in both directions, seeing, as some people below have mentioned, how hurting and wounded these people are – which is why they are so unsafe to be around, so I guess basically, not wanting to let go in hope’s of restoration.
    So here is my question – what recommendations would you give on a) how to communicate to the congregation that them holding on to this couple is continuing to cause turmoil, or is this even the right approach?
    b) What would restoration look like and what would the time frame be (potentially) I think some people thought it would be a few weeks and they could cool off and pop back in – but to me, the issues are so deep rooted, it could take months if not years to deal with this stuff. How do you know when they are safe to come back? If ever?
    The conundrum is not wanting to “ban” or exclude people from the church, but also there’s a need to keep the rest of the congregation safe.
    Direction, experience and feedback from those that have gone through this would be greatly appreciated. And prayer!!!

    • Anglican_geek

      Wow. That is a tough call. I’ve never been part of a church plant. My experience was in a church with around 250 average Sunday attendence. I don’t think I have anything helpful for you, sorry!

  • Anglican_geek

    I *was* that person. This kind of behaviour comes from deep woundedness. Fortunately, my pastor did let me get involved – in a small role at first. When issues came up, he called me on them and I leaned. I now lead a ministry and am much, much healthier than I was when I first joined the parish, because my pastor saw the wounds behind my behaviour and guided me towards seeking the healing I needed. Don’t be so quick to write off so called toxic people.

    • Sarah-Jane Bastarache

      Would love your feedback on my above post of what your experience was with your pastor who brought you into healing.

    • Mel Ross

      love it..Me too.Now thats what Jesus would do xx

  • HoosierConservative

    There is a 7th sign I’d like to add: after chatting with you once or twice, they come to you saying “God told me we’re supposed to work together on _____ ministry idea.”

    If they seem to have a lot of stories about old ministry partners who blew them off, run fast and run far.

  • Selma Sales

    Truly helpful

  • Adam Welch

    I was initially looking for insight on the idea of toxic relationships in regard to specific individuals whom I’d considered to be toxic, but reading about your experiences caused more meaningful self-reflection about the ways that I have approached church/business leadership in the past. Read, “6 signs you might be a toxic person.” Thanks for the insight Carey.

    • Adam…that’s incredible self-awareness. Great stuff. Your insight is huge and the first step to getting healthy. Way to go!

    • Kala-ada

      thats humility..the Lord also helped me from being like that..i have a tendancy to wanna lead or fill any leadership vacuum immediately, if I see things going wrong I am quick to intervene and be the saviour. This can come off very domineering..till the Lord taught me how to hold back and shut up, not speak accept i get the release..even in discussion classes at bible study these days except my contribution is specifically requested or the Holy Spirit specifically asks me to contribute my mouth is on zip mode..it prevents u from getting hurt and u from being too pushy

  • Jason Silver

    Overall great article and I know first hand what it’s like dealing with toxic people. On the other hand we need to be careful not to confuse toxicity with boldness.

    As one commenter said below, “Some people are more bold and direct than others. That doesn’t make them toxic.”

    Psychology Today says…

    “We can think of “toxic” people as those who consistently behave in ways that make others feel devalued, inadequate, angry, frustrated, or guilty.”

    Hopefully I’m not being toxic in this post… 😉

  • timbole

    Thanks Carey! I have some friends who it seems that every relationship they have turns toxic. Most of it isn’t because the people are purposely toxic but they never set any boundaries…ever. And so, it is a bit self-inflicted but they need to learn to set boundaries with people. I would add to your list people that always take and never give. Takers are toxic people.

  • Brother John

    Carey, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share your wisdom and experience to help other pastors and church leaders.

  • Whatsmyname2

    Some people are more direct than others. That doesn’t make them toxic. It is a matter of instinct usually who you sense is toxic. Some people are overenthusiastic and it is fake, but that seems to be most people in a church. I mean they are told when and how to jump and and give praise, so they must think they are just supposed to love everyone and everything in charge. If you can only handle timid people who wait in the shadows to be summoned, maybe your ego is a little bit toxic.

    The thing is, when you realize that someone is toxic, how do you extricate yourself from them? They do usually cling and find excuses to involve themselves with you.

  • Connie Clark

    Thank you, Carey. This is right on point. I wish I’d had this last when I began parish ministry! I would have saved the church, the toxic people, and myself a lot of misspent energy and/or pain. Shepherding the flock requires standing guard at the gate. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

  • Patrick Grizzly Campbell

    At one time…I probably was “this person” :-/

  • Jim Hagen

    When you sense there is an agenda that is more important than you. When there are reactions to things that are hyperbolic. When you walk away from a conversation feeling condemned… Especially if you revealed something sensitive. When the other person wants to change the conversation when it bothers them and you oblige them but they don’t show you the same courtesy when you ask to move on from a subject. When they have unrealistic expectations of their friends.

  • Ricardo

    Wow. I know some of these people. And, I’m exhausted trying to lead them. No wonder. Also, I recognize some of the ways I can tend toward one or two of the characteristics you mentioned. Especially the “trying to get on the calendar too soon” one. I see that I often approach people out of desperation or a scarcity mentality rather than trusting and waiting for the right thing to happen, for God to draw us together or apart. Good stuff!! Thank you!

    • Ricardo…stay encouraged, and draw those boundaries friend. You’ll be so much healthier in the future.

  • Rich Davies

    One trait I have seen is some people who quickly develop a habit of doing “extras” like praying for someone off to side who was just prayed for by the whole church. It’s not done blatantly but just publically enough for all to see. A Similar tactic is new folks who attach themselves to vulnerable people they identify in the congregation and attempt to become their confidants, often speninf inordinate amount of time with them after service/during the week

  • Mike

    So any advise for someone who read this post and seems to fit all 6 signs?

    • See a counsellor! 🙂 Seriously, its an investment in your long term health and an investment in the people you love.

  • Ruth Priscilla Brittain

    So having just finished a Family to Family course by NAMI on helping family members cope with mental illness of a loved one I’m struck by the correlation between symptoms you describe of a toxic person with those that struggle with (often undiagnosed!) brain disease. Just working through what a compassionate response looks like within the church (or, as you point out in this case, between churches!) Stigma produced by mental illness is a huge issue. Reaching out to these brothers and sisters is uncomfortable and potentially divisive I’d like to learn more about how that can be addressed between believers in a way that cares for each member of the Body while promoting unity.

    • Totally agree mental health is a separate issue. Thanks for your compassion and the distinction.

    • Single Mommas Struggle

      I’m not sure she was making a distinction, I think she was talking about correlation. I think she was saying that you may not be able to tell the difference between what you call a toxic person and a person suffering from mental illness at the start. And because you can’t tell, though you’re saying that healthy people wait to be asked, they wait to lead, they wait to be noticed, you’re willing to turf these particular souls off to another church on the first day, should they meet your toxic-but-could-be-mental-illness criteria. I like your teaching, I’m learning a lot, but this was a flat tire. I agree with Ruth, you run the risk of attaching stigma to people who need our love and compassion the most when often we’re their last chance.

  • Dave

    I’ve seen this work in both directions. There are many non-leaders who have an unhealthy need to be seen or have influence without taking on responsibility nor making otherwise positive contributions. Can you speak on the flip side where well-meaning often healthy people come under the influence and charm of a toxic leader or leadership team? I am referring to spiritually abusive situations that are not overtly obvious as in the case of extreme authoritarian leadership. Are there tell-tale signs that your readers could watch for? What are some ways as a non-leader or aspiring leader I can test the waters to identify this characteristic early in my affiliation? Much thanks in advance. Also thank you for this article. It goes very nicely with a book I read called Toxic People and the Boundaries series of books.

    • I agree. I think the signs are similar, whether the person is a leader or not. Toxic is toxic wherever you find it.

  • Kay

    This is very simply and brilliantly put. And describes my parent to a T, who happens to be a church musician. I would be curious how you would deal with someone like so who worked for you in a church.

    • Thank you Kay. Glad you see what maybe you couldn’t see, but sorry it’s family. Boo. I think you just have to have clear boundaries. I wouldn’t let a toxic person on our team, and if they got on, it would have to end quickly but gracefully. As Henry Cloud says, you need to protect yourself and your church from toxic people.

  • Naaz Charania

    I like your post. I have met many people who are evil. They come on too strong or are very forward. Some times evil people appear to be nice but later stab you in the back.

    • That’s too true!

      • Naaz Charania

        Thank you for your reply, I am happy to hear from you.

      • Naaz Charania

        Sent from my iPad

      • anonbristol

        I get what Anastasia is saying. Complex issues of bereavement, for example, where a person loses their spouse in a foreign country (for example) and are proverbially drowning and trying to get help in a socio-spiritual setting of a church (for example), but the fabric of the church isn’t up to the challenge for whatever reason – the victim of the bereavement (for example!) can be labelled as “toxic” when they are simply desperate for help.

        Personally I’ve even seen such a person spiritually abused by a toxic church environment, from the assumption that “we are the leaders and therefore we are “right”” when there is probably a combination of “toxicity” in both parties vying for whatever rights they perceive (attention or healing on behalf of the parishioner – or peace and quiet on behalf of the clergy member — all both reasonable).

        I think the article is so very very good and insightful. We also must take care before labelling people that we might otherwise help. Fear can drive us to extremes, don’t you think?

        Barristers talk about a person showing “insight” after breaking a code of law or even a minor infraction. The truly toxic person is the individual who shows *no* interest in showing insight – and wants to carry on hell-bent on destruction, no matter about anybody else. That person is not drowning and coming up for air (needing a true rescuer) but rather is coming from a place of bitterness and hardness of soul and heart instead of a place of insight. That is the person that needs to be treated with the contempt they deserve – not the person desiring healing and help.

        Otherwise we can throw around the toxic label as an excuse to avoid helping someone – though not saying that any of us can develop toxic tendencies, I know I can x

        Good wishes,

    • Anastasia B

      Naaz, I know there are people who have done great evil. I know that people from different cultures, families, heritages, etc have different ways of doing things, behaving and expressing themselves. If someone is too forward for your taste, this doesnt make them “evil”… It just means you arent comfortable with people different from you.

      There is often misguided or even toxic behavior in people. Often, health issues, previous abuse, life cicumstance, and/or mental health issues can cause offputting behavior. Its important to realize that people who may say or do things that can be perceived as “strange” or even “toxic” are not necessarily “evil”. Please do not lump such behavior together with the entire person! For example, if you had extreme circumstances in your life (death of loved ones, loss of income, a chronic, disabling health problem, and your cat died)….and you happened to behave badly because of all this…how would YOU feel if people permanently labeled YOU as “evil”? Hmm? I’ll bet you would feel that you were being treated really poorly. Try to have COMPASSION for all beings. You dont know WHY people behave the way they do. You dont always know WHAT is going on in a person’s life! By all means, protect yourself from other people’s unwelcome or toxic behaviors, but don’t LABEL the person. 🙂

      • Naaz Charania

        What you are saying is not true, l know people have different values. My family’s multi cultural so I know what is wrong and what is right. Don’t play the race card with me. I love every race and I am not a narrow minded fool. Thanks.

  • David

    This is quite an educative post. Every Pastor must learn to be cautious and spirit led even in attempting to disciple people

  • Myra Rose Ilisan

    This was a great post. Why not add in effects or results of being around toxic people as well?

  • Myra Rose Ilisan

    He is all that! And I was tagged by my friends as the “submissive one”. So a toxic person and a submissive one. How’s that? I would say a disaster. I was advise to get help as this kind of relationship has or been destroying me. I feel pushed to the limit and always on the look out to push him back away.

  • Neil Young

    I would say this was the best blog post ever and ask you to meet for coffee but I don’t want to appear toxic!! Ha. This is a very helpful post Carey, thanks for being prepared to put time into these posts to help us learn. Neil

  • disappointed

    Question what would Christ do with “toxic new members to the church”? Really? I think he would teach, love, and encourage!

    • I appreciate the sentiment, but he really did treat the toxic Pharisees differently than he treated outsiders.

  • David Nemeshegyi

    Admittedly, from an outside point of view there is a fine line between a controlling and selfish leader and a cautious one who protects the congregation our Father called him to lead from toxic persons.
    Personally, I agree with your points, Carey. All of them are spot on.

  • Dissenter29

    Individual personality can account for a lot of what you describe above as “signs.” I wonder if you are turned off by terrific people who are simply not as guarded as you have come to expect. Spirit-filled people are sometimes quite willing to reveal themselves honestly, and fearless about rejection, because they know that others who are distrustful and protecting personal secrets will often reveal those problems more readily (and without being aware of it) as they project bad motives onto a friendly and open Christian, rather than risk the possibility that love may actually beget love. While advice-giving may be a bit forward and presumptuous, expecting everybody to hang back for months is perhaps instead sending the message that you actually want people to remain in hiding, instead of showing up as their true selves. There can’t be much love in that situation.

    • Thanks for this. I think you’ve read a lot into my piece that isn’t there. I certainly don’t want people to be in hiding for months. I do look for people who honour others around them. Toxic people never do.

      • Jim Hagen

        I think honor is a key word. Ministry sometimes involves getting close to people and listening to their stories. The problem is that if the person trying to help is not humble they can cause more harm than good and actually push people away from the church. Then the person who was “helping” walks away with a sense of self righteousness and says to themselves “I was defending the faith but they weren’t open”. That always concerns me when someone is more concerned about “Defending the Faith or God” than in the fact that in their overzealousness they may have lost a new church member who was ready and open. Defending the faith… from a hurting person who opened up about their life… Only to be lectured and to be let known “You are down there and I am up here”.

      • You don’t get it, what this person is saying is that these “signs” are really just parts of individual personalities. Everyone is different. These by no means describe people with bad motives because personalities have absolutely nothing to do with motives. This article is just a bunch of different traits of personalities that are assumed to correlate whatsoever with the person’s intentions.
        Giving excessive advice from the first meeting is rude, yes, but maybe those people just search for ways to make improvements and make a difference in the world. Them unintentionally being rude when trying to be helpful because they weren’t raised to know better is no indication that they’re toxic and neither is anything else on this list. There are just as many toxic people with every trait on this list as with no trait on the list because they’re not related whatsoever.

  • Ann MB

    I don’t know if these are signs of a toxic person. Toxic people are usually dishonest, hurtful, depressing, and unwilling to take responsibility for their bad behavior. These sound like the signs of a busy body. A busy body who is good-intentioned, may just need a little direction. When people are enthusiastic about volunteering and have ideas to make things better, I would take that as a positive sign. I am more of an empathetic doer type, and some of these items applied to me and I don’t think that I am toxic. #2 is definitely me. I like when people give me ideas for improvements as well.

    • True…motive is key. But these definitely describe people with bad motives.

  • chris

    This is great stuff and great perspective. Thanks for posting. Wisdom here. No doubt helpful. Those of us who have been called into a leadership role have a responsibility to make wise dicisions (sometimes difficult and not popular with the masses) that we are held responsible for. This is great post. Thank you

  • lance

    Wow … how could anyone think of gods children this way … does not the bible say to love one another and to hate the sin but love the sinner ?? Are we not called to be salt and the light of the world?

    • I think this will always be a controversial post, but I stand by it. Have you read the book “Necessary Endings” by Henry Cloud? If not, I strongly recommend it. It might help you see where I’m coming from. And I do believe this is a Christian response.

      • bossnosee

        Cloud has been toxic to the Church. You may be coming from reading Cloud, but this is not necessarily good, as Cloud wrote that boundaries book that caused people to get rid of toxic people and cause schisms in the church, rather than counseling people to stick it out. The guy in #6 got in trouble after reading Cloud half the time, or else he tried to buck the person who did.

        If you step back a minute and realize as a Pastor, you come on strong from the first minute, 1.They come on too strong (this blog has a lot of marketing gimmicks and SEO tactics on it) 2. They give you advice during your first meeting (Hello, Pastor, how’s that pulpit today?) 3. They tell rather than waiting to be asked (You were preaching at me before asking me a thing) 4. They want to be the center of attention (see comments to points 1 and 2 ) 5. You hear from them far too often in the first month (First time on your blog is like a whiff of whoa, slow down there with the feed filled with recommendations of what advise I should take next from you ) 6. They have a track record of moving around. Jesus moved around, and wasn’t he a part of a big schism? Toxic is labeling other people toxic who do the same thing you do, without slapping the title “pastor” on themselves. See comment at the beginning and ask if it might be Cloud’s fault that they caused a problem to begin with. Cloud and Jesus were not on the same wavelength.

        • Well, since both me and Henry Cloud are apparently toxic, I’m sure people will enjoy reading what you’re writing. Best wishes.

          • bossnosee

            I watched the Cloud drama eat through a couple of churches (and not because I toxically left but rather relocated across the country for a job) and have been astounded at how easily people cut each other off due to perceived “boundary” crossings, rather than dealing with situations openly and staying in relationship. I believe it was Cloud and Townsend back then, though, perhaps the two have split since then.

          • I have been far more surprised at the number of people who have almost no boundaries and suffer needlessly for years. In my view, Cloud and Townsend remain a gift to many people and leaders. And of course we’re human…

          • AS2

            Carey, I agree whole heartedly with you! Dr. Cloud and Townsend have blessed so many with the importance of setting boundaries – both with ourselves and with others. God has given us boundaries to abide to as well. I find that those who do not abide by boundaries usually use members of the church as targets, to manipulate and use them so that they do not have to take responsibility for their own lives. I fully realize that as Christians we are to reach out to others, and most of us do. However, my experience has shown me that there are some people who have no desire to change and are not willing to accept help or counselling that would help them deal with their situations. Because of their lack of accountability the toxic individuals have plenty of ’emergencies’ that they want the pastor or others to handle for them. They are quite happy circling the church body looking for new targets that would ‘enable’ them, instead of helping them become responsible for their own lives. In effect they drain others emotionally, physically and financially. This often results in the genuine needs of others who truly need help and sincerely want to change, not being helped. Setting healthy boundaries is essential. Jesus helped those that genuinely wanted help, and wanted to change. Sadly, some people never want to change or take responsibility for their lives. And that is their right to make that choice. But, it is also their responsibility to be accountable to their choices.

          • Thanks for this! Great explanation.

          • bossnosee

            nah, you are human, like all the rest of us…

  • Dana

    I think I would be more concerned with people who have funky unbiblical ideas. In my experience I have been involved with toxic pastors. But don’t get me wrong I am not trying to undermine the church. The pastor I grew up with started out as a very dynamic pastor who grew a church from nothing to a congregation 500 in a predominately Catholic town. This man was very intelligent & even had several degrees in psychology (big red flag). He ended up a very controlling individual & was involved in some immoral relationships with several women of the church including with my mother. She got pregnant by him & he told her she needed to get an abortion. I was 19 at the time. Latter I joined a very large church with a membership of 3000 & by the time I left it was up to 6000. Now that same churches membership is at 15,000+. I was young at the time & was just starting out, I was pretty poor, but non the less my wife, daughter & I were a very content family. I never really fit in because they were a “name it & claim it” kind of church. The attitude was “we are here on the earth to get rich” kind of church. In one of the services I was attending, the Pastor mentioned that there was a car in the lot that had the side bashed in. He said that it didn’t reflect the churches ideals. This happened to be my car… I was devastated & embarrass because several people knew exactly who owned it. And again the pastor was a very dynamic person, so yes I do evaluate pastors in this same manner. By now you are probably thinking that I would be done with church & God, but no I am not. That stuff wasn’t God’s fault. I am fed up with people & pastors who teach the Bible through their denominational goggles and don’t know what their job is in the church. These pastors thought that their job was to do everything & not as the Bible says “to equip” the saints for the ministry. But the interesting part of this article is that it sounds like the person you are describing is the apostle Peter.

    • Dana…so sorry for the terrible experiences you’ve had in church. That’s so sad. I love that you still love the church. For sure…this could describe at some level Peter, except toxic people mean ill, not good. Peter had good intentions, and Jesus worked with him. Most truly toxic people don’t. It’s about them.

      • Dana

        Yes that is true. No I don’t count it as a bad experience, it’s just life & life is sometimes not fair. I count it as refinement & the real trials haven’t even begun yet. I didn’t want to sound negative because God has done a lot of good things in my life. He’s given me visions & dreams, protected me from certain death, from gangs, routed weather around where I live, given me mercy when I didn’t deserve it. He’s given me a wonderful family & a great Book to instruct them with. I am looking forward to my Messiah’s return & everything that happens along the way makes me a stronger Christian. In the mean time I strive to know more about my Lord & tell others about the wonderful things he has done in my life.

        • Love your heart for Christ. Love it.

        • David

          I have probably never met a better christian in this generation as you. Continue to grow strong in the Lord. I am a pastor reading all these has just strengthened my resolve for balance and thoughtfulness in utterance.

    • The bible isn’t the word of God, it’s the word of man. If you allow yourself to put faith in the claim that the Bible is 100% God’s belief, with no manmade intervention, you are weakening the meaning of FAITH. You can’t have faith in the impossible and expect to be taken seriously. The bible has so many contradictions it’s not even funny. It has been translated thousands of times through hundreds of ancient languages and dialects and retranslated into all current languages in several different versions. In other words, the bible says MANYYYYY things that are COMPLETELY opposite from each other, if it was truly God’s word cover-to-cover he’d be saying so many opposing viewpoints all at the same time. How do you determine from that what god wants? You don’t. The problem with Christianity today is people follow the bible instead of God, and since the bible has so many opposite instructions that people are forced to pick and choose what to follow, which is what leads to people thinking Gays are abominations but still sin by eating meat and cheese together and would never stone their daughter to death if she got pregnant without permission (both are also in the bible). And it’s funny, those people who pick and choose what parts of the bible they want to follow many times will end up just using it to be hateful and judgmental to the people they consider sinners, when that in and of ITSELF is a nonnegotiable sin. The judgement of who will go to heaven and who will go to hell is up to God and God alone, and being hateful shatters one of the biggest of the 10 commandments, to love thy neighbor. Religion is supposed to serve a purpose to better people’s lives by making them a better person, which many times it does, but stupid churchgoers these days don’t even care about spreading love, only spreading hate through a stupid manmade book. Please, people, learn to separate religion from God, because too many put their faith in the wrong one.

  • atirsch

    By the way, all of these “signs”, are signs of an enthusiastic, strong-willed, and even sometimes brilliant person. And it’s no surprise that somebody who has established themselves as leader of a church is opposed to people who have ideas of their own and are eager to suggest them before “being asked”.

    Nobody asked for a light-bulb. Nobody asked for a computer. Nobody asked the American colonies what their grievances were. In fact, they were ignored even so. Human beings should not wait for other human beings to ask for things before they freely offer them, be they ideas, suggestions, comments, demands, or otherwise. This article is in direct contention with free speech, and promotes the discrimination of people with a mind of their own. These are not “toxic people”, to quote a bunch of cute, dime a dozen blog-speech. These are people who make you look bad. Be honest.

    • To some extent that’s true. Great insight. But there’s one more difference. Toxic people don’t build anything of value. they tear down. There’s a world of difference between the two.

  • atirsch

    Well, then I won’t apply to any churches. Should be easy.

  • Heather

    A lot of these signs of a toxic person match up to the red flags to look for in dating to protect one’s self from an abusive person: coming on strong/serious too soon/fast, overly critical of you right off the bat, talking very negatively about people from past relationships, calling/texting constantly, ignoring boundaries, etc. I’m not in ministry, but even as a lay person I found this article spot on and helpful should I ever find myself in a leadership position in the Church or otherwise. Coming from a toxic family I can speak from experience, toxic people are remorseless and purposely abusive and destructive. There is no helping them, one can only protect one’s self/organization from them. I’m no pyschologist, but I’d bet most of these people have personality disorders (Narcissism, Anti-social, Borderline, etc.) which there is no help or cure for. Their toxicity is the core of who they are. They see no reason and have no desire to change. If you let your guard down they will not only damage, but outright destroy a person or an organization. They thrive on attention, power, and control. When encountering a toxic person be it in Church, work, school, or socially, run don’t walk away. Praying the whole time for you and them of course! Thanks for this post!

    • Heather…thank you. I hadn’t thought about the dating thing, but that makes sense. These are good all around flags. Sorry to hear about your background. Glad you can see it for what it is and move forward in love.

    • MaSi

      Thank you so much for your honest post. The Church needs to stop pretending that evil people don’t exist. They do exist, and can and will destroy your entire life if you let them. Christianity is not about tolerating bad behavior. Some people are downright dangerous, and the flock needs to be protected from them. You are absolutely right, these are the same characteristics of people who are abusive in romantic relationships. Thanks again.

      • MaSi…thank you.

      • Heatheray

        Everyone with a mental illness is evil and beyond hope and redemption? How do you decide if someone is “difficult” or “evil”?

        • Not at all. Read Henry Cloud’s Necessary Endings. Fantastic book. So clarifying.

    • David

      well said. incisive!! God bless you

  • MJMR

    Sometimes people rightly speak out about unbiblical practices in their church so your saying it’s automatically a red flag if they were involved in a fluff up in their former church is unwise. I’ve experienced that myself when years ago my former church became heavily involved in what was known as The Pensacola Outpouring, and inviting charlatan speakers and con-artists to the church, as well as participating in slaying of the spirit and other unbiblical practices.

    • atirsch

      Because being a charlatan is one thing, but not knowing you’re full of crap is permissible.