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

toxic people

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

Toxic people, are well, toxic.

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.

People who come on strong when they first meet you usually leave just as loudly.

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 too 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 center 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).

Hint: If someone left 5 churches in the last 5 years, they’re probably leaving yours too.

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What Do You See?

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?

266 Comments

  1. charlottefgh on May 17, 2018 at 3:01 pm

    hi

  2. Rachael on April 17, 2018 at 11:19 am

    My teacher is being so friendly with me and it is a TOO friendly relationship and he smiles at me and invades my personal space and he is starting to scare me. My friends tell me I need to confront him and tell him to stop before it gets bad.

    • Persie on April 17, 2018 at 10:32 pm

      I wouldn’t normally comment but since no one else has yet, I feel it is critical for a reply since you are reaching out. If you are a minor, you really need to tell your parents or trusted adult family member. Even if it has to be a friend’s parent, preferably someone not at the school. You may be a little uncomfortable telling them but I don’t think you should confront him by yourself. The story could be changed since he is an authoritative figure and more wise as how to protect himself from what he could call “false accusations”. Take this to Lord in prayer first, of course. Your heavenly Father cares for you and is good enough and big enough to prepare the trusted adult’s heart for the issue you’re needing to approach them about. I will be praying for you and this situation!

  3. Mags Lewis on April 11, 2018 at 4:56 am

    If you’ve never been a pastor Ior in pastoral ministry you will never understand this article ! I can truly say that it’s accurate as these ‘toxic’ people have come in and over thrown the leadership and pushed us out of minsitry by undermining us on two or three occasions believe me dear Christian people it happens ! The church is not a pure spotless bride it’s attracts people who want power and positions and want to be heard the loudest but never want to sacrifice anything !

  4. Lea on March 28, 2018 at 11:14 am

    What a silly article that seems to be rooted in your own self importance.

    Jesus came to save sinners, not the perfect. You are in the church to serve sinners. Yes, it’s a hard job, but one you signed up for.

    Telling someone this is not the church for you because you fear they are a threat to the status quo in your church sounds like you are more concerned about yourself than their souls.

    Why not see past their so called toxicity and instead see someone who can be guided , with help, to see and repent of sin that may be causing the so called toxicity?

    You’re basically saying if they don’t enter your church being the type of person YOU want them to be then their is no place for them. Last time I checked, Jesus was the head of the church, not you. He loved all, even the difficult to love. And by love, I don’t mean misguided sentimentality that excuses bad behavior. I mean agape love that gives mercy, grace, compassion, rebuking, correction and forgiveness.

    I wonder how different this article would be if it had been titled, ” 6 Ways to Biblically Counsel to a Toxic Person in the Church.”

    • Mary on March 31, 2018 at 12:42 pm

      Just what I wanted to say.

    • Michael on April 10, 2018 at 4:36 am

      You know, the description this pastor is describing as “toxic” sounds more like a description of a biblical prophet. And just as the religious leaders of that age did not want to take godly criticism, they hate it even more today! Wake up pastors, because the first problem Christ addresses when he returns is with the church! Your candle stick will be removed if you do not change and you’ll have 1000 years to do it before Satan is loosed from the pit to test the world one final time. Yes, you won’t be raptured because the first few chapters of Revelations shows Christ’s displeasure with the church and He commands the church to change and gives it time to do so while it remains on Earth.

    • Dee Dee on April 17, 2018 at 1:11 pm

      Wow, that was a strong, angry reaction to a very useful article.
      In my experience toxic people hate to hear or read advice to others that may influence the effectiveness of their manipulations.
      I’m sure I am not alone to be very pleased I’ve read this man’s experience and advice as I think it is spot on.

      • Michael on May 12, 2018 at 7:35 am

        Your argument is not against me but against God.

    • Disciple on April 21, 2018 at 12:54 am

      Sometimes toxic people can’t take correction and they end up pushing away new converts and even faithful members. If you’ve never been in a position where you’ve had to protect a flock of people, then of course you’re going to call this article “silly”. Jesus is the head of the church but you better hope for a Pastor with wisdom and discernment, otherwise the church is gonna be in shambles.

    • Suzie Q on May 10, 2018 at 11:34 pm

      Thanks Lea for your comment on this post. I agree with you. Its no wonder the church is so dysfunctional when the leadership is so insecure. This is the perfect example of secular-psycho babel that has gotten into the church, with terminology such as toxic. Jesus came to seek that which is lost, he came to help the sick. I’m wondering what ministry really means to you. Could it mean you lack the patience and the people skills, Carey? Or perhaps you prefer to deal with people that are the quiet types and agree with you all the time..

  5. […] If the person in question has a history of being toxic, well, that tells you something. And you likely don’t need to spend a lot of time changing the future because of what he or she has to say. In fact, you should try to limit their influence everywhere (here are 6 signs you’re dealing with a toxic person). […]

    • Karen Reid on March 18, 2018 at 11:00 pm

      I can’t IMAGINE Jesus calling ANYONE “toxic,” and I will certainly AVOID any church whose leaders DO!

      • Shauna J Ferguson on March 24, 2018 at 9:27 am

        The Bible speaks of toxic spirits…Matthew 7:6 ESV
        “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

        2 Timothy 3:16 ESV
        All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

        The lists that are given are basically blue prints as to what to look for based on what The Word says.

        • Juliana Ormbsby on March 27, 2018 at 4:12 pm

          Shauna, what an insightful and knowledgeable person you are. You helped me address the guilt that I feel for wishing someone would pass away. My sister has had a boyfriend for over 30 years. His mother is 94, drives a big van, goes to her little store every day, and is in better health than most 60-year olds. My sister loves her boyfriend, and he loves her, but his mother will not let go of him. He lives with her. This fellow is a wimp and doesn’t have the courage to tell his mother that he is going to marry my sister and move to the South. They have had a business for eight years but have failed to turn a profit. It is a very beautiful, classy gift shop but the area in which it is located does not have a great customer base. Swanky cities like Marblehead, MA or Hilton Head, SC are where a shop like theirs would succeed. If they relocate, his mother would assume she had to come along. If she were a nice person, my sister would agree, but she is a non-stop talker, a bragger about her good health, wants to be the center of attention, and says the wrong things at the wrong times. For example, my sister lost her son unexpectedly. He was a great young man who did not do drugs, drink, womanize and was a great dad. His son was only 11-years old when Brian passed. He just could not breathe one night and died while the EMT’s worked on him. On Mother’s Day, she said to my sister, “So when are you planning to get rid of Brian’s ashes?” I had a major eye surgery, one of many. When she asked me how my latest surgery went (within days of it,) and I replied that it had been difficult, she said, “Well, my eye checkups are always perfect.” Every member of my family has been insulted by her, yet we have included her in all our holiday celebrations, since her own relatives hate her. My sister has had cancer, lost her only son, and wants to spend what years she has left with her boyfriend. I am very close to my sister and want to see her happy in her retirement years. She is 73 years old. The other day, when we were talking on the phone, both my sister and I agreed that it was time for this toxic woman to die. Is that evil? I hate her. Thanks.

  6. […] If the person in question has a history of being toxic, well, that tells you something. And you likely don’t need to spend a lot of time changing the future because of what he or she has to say. In fact, you should try to limit their influence everywhere (here are 6 signs you’re dealing with a toxic person). […]

    • Patrice on March 8, 2018 at 10:47 am

      This is really very informative (and I believe it to be the truth)! I was dealing with someone like this at work and was really seeking advice. I know it is applicable in many settings, including church. One of the key words to me is “humility”! When someone is not working on the behalf of the group and seems to focus on “self”, that is a sign of a “toxic” person (in my opinion). Thanks for this!

      • Louisa on March 9, 2018 at 6:29 pm

        What if from reading this looking for answers as to why Simone has just changed towards you when all u wanted to do was help that it could be that I was the toxic person but never ever had any bad intentions is that possible but if it is what do I do to make sure I’m not ?

  7. […] Careynieuwhof […]

  8. Frederica Potter on December 15, 2017 at 9:49 am

    I believe what you call “toxic” people here might at least partially be lonely, insecure people. Those people need the reassurance that they matter, they will tell anybody anything because they have not friends or family member to tell about their private worries and joys.
    If anybody waits to be asked, the leader will be the one who first steps up to decide something (a conversation topic for starters).
    I have noticed that lately, talking, talking to strangers, sharing one’s personal story or experience or worries seems to be regarded as a bad thing.
    I grew up being very shy and almost never talking to people who did not invite a conversation. Then I learned that I can just talk to strangers, initiate a conversation, ask people things, share my interests and yes, my stories, too. Life became much more relaxed. Today, I notice that some people (more and more, it seems?) think it’s rude to just talk to strangers. While you’re in the waiting room for your doctor’s appointment or at the bus station or in line at the supermarket – it is usually nice if people start some small talk, smiles are exchanged, maybe you are made to laugh or get a useful piece of information. If you are afraid to cause offense, not only will YOU miss this, but most tragically the lonely people who truly have nobody, whose day will brighten if they have had one single positive conversation with some stranger will miss this opportunity.
    Ironically, I made the experience in a church. After service, churchgoers are invited for a cup of coffee and so you get to know other churchgoers (which hardly was the case in my previous church: After service, everybody left as quickly as possible). This way, I have gotten to know a lot of interesting people who told me about their life, their believes, their holidays. One woman started to bring little presents for my (disabled) brother – my brother started to bring little presents for her, too. They were decades apart but they got to know and like each other quite well, only by talking after service. My brother loved initiating conversations with strangers, because due to his disability he was mostly with my mother and had trouble finding friends at school/ work (they lived too far apart and everybody had their own dis-/ability which made it hard to find friends with the same interests as oneself). He made a lot of friends outside, by talking to strangers, service people, salespeople, anybody he could. This was very well received. He sadly died much too young and rather “suddenly”. A week before his death I was asking a couple of people to send him postcards to the hospital which I had prepared with the hospital address. He received a couple of cards and one from a woman who sells hotdogs at Ikea. So, from someone he had only met while she was working and he was hanging out there, offering to help – he loved helping with “real” jobs and offered this frequently – and my mother and me were shopping. This woman formed a real bond with my brother, later sharing private information and photos with my mother. All this would not have happened if he had not hung around the hotdog stall, chatting to strangers.
    Another time, by the way, we were shopping for clothes when he offered to wait in a bakery of the store. Outside, there was a stall where someone sold items for charity. My brother talked to him, asked him what he was doing and then proceeded to help, stopping people to tell them about the items they could buy to help children with cancer. When my mother and me returned, we first wanted to apologize for my brother bothering the salesperson, but were answered that he had never sold so many items as in the 30 mins when my brother was helping and really appreciated it.
    No kidding – when he died we received a lot of letters from “strangers” – people we could not place – who had met him in their shops, cafés, on the street, in church, who he had talked to.
    And, no kidding, when my mother told our pastor that he had died (before service, because we were asked what was wrong), he received the best spontaneous epitaph I can imagine. The pastor asked us if he could say some words before service, and he said – about a person with Down syndrom, less than minumum wage, without formal education and with few “formal” friends – “someone from our congregation has died whom all of you know”. The church was not in the village where my brother lived. We did not attend service every Sunday. We only knew people there from the conversations after service, about 30 mins at most per Sunday. And yet, due to his openness and eagerness to get to know people, (and some other antics such as imitating the blessing – because he felt that this was the thing to to) – a lot of people who regularly attended service there did know him.

    All this would never have happened if he had patiently waited for someone to approach him.
    When I read the postcards to him in hospital, I also read one I had written myself, numbering the (about 6) people I had not been able to reach and stating that “they are thinking of you” he literally collapsed and uncharacteristically started crying, saying “all of them are thinking of me?!” The people I had named were salespeople and service people whom he had helped and chatted to while they were working…

    • Allie on May 26, 2018 at 11:52 am

      I just read your comment and I agree with you about talking and laughing with strangers. What makes us strangers is the fact that we put up a blockade. When you learn to relax and open your heart to see all people as God’s children then you will see that you are just talking/laughing with your brothers and sisters in God. I just want to tell you thank you! This was such a great message and I can’t wait to meet your brother in heaven one day!

  9. Bridget Moynahan on November 20, 2017 at 3:57 pm

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  10. Dan on November 19, 2017 at 11:30 pm

    I have a new gentleman join our group. At the first meeting he insulted one of the members, he said he needed a job and two men gave him information on two jobs. One man is very well connected in the work force, he told him the guys name to meet with and he had to be their the next morning. Needles to say he didn’t go. The next weeks meeting he came in and really didn’t say much, didn’t get involved in the meeting discussions and sat thief with his eyes closed. The at the end of the meeting the brother that is well connected told him his friend would meet with him at seven thirty in the morning to get him a job and his comment was that was really early to get up. Needless to say he didn’t go. I’m afraid that my group will become discouraged by all of these action. This person has been in many churches and was kicked out of the churc and small group for his actions. I’m praying for discernment on what to do before any damage is done to the group. Any thoughts?
    Thank you

  11. Carey Ward on November 6, 2017 at 7:09 pm

    People should be able to find God in any Church and see Jesus in just about any believer in and or outside of the Church.
    Maybe some have decided to start checking out each different denomination and perhaps that is a valid reason for attending a handful of churches im not sure.

    However, I think i get where the Pastor is coming from and the type thats being referred to – its that personality type with a lot of church baggage who has a critical spirit and instead of letting the Lord lead , personalized everything and makes it all about them and how they think they should feel etc.
    Until a person gets over themselves , they wont feel at home anywhere lol.
    But seriously.
    But where there is pain or a discomfort i say stay there and let HIM heal you.
    Just my two cents.
    Im not perfect by any means

    So those of you who read this article and get all bent out of shape and get a guilty conscience , take a deep breathe, relax and put your defenses back down.

  12. Carey Ward on November 6, 2017 at 6:59 pm

    That makes a heck of a lot of sense. Thanks !

  13. KarenRowe on November 3, 2017 at 5:29 pm

    True. Toxic people criticize. A lot. They are always giving so-called “constructive” advice to people about how to live their lives, how to dress, what careers to pursue, even how to style their hair. They consider themselves experts on everything and believe everyone else needs to be blessed with their wonderful wisdom.

    People who move around a lot is also another red flag. Not just people who move from one church to the next, but just move around in general. Have lived in five different cities in one year. No explanation as to why. Be very careful around these people.

    • Grace on November 12, 2017 at 10:56 am

      Probably it is good to also to realize that pastor’s wife can also fall into the toxic realm….critical, judgemental, controlling…….telling church members how to live their lives and nitpicking on them just because her husband is a leader …

      That toxin is spiritual abuse!

  14. […] If you want to know how to spot a toxic person, here are 6 early warning signs. […]

    • Dewayne English on February 17, 2018 at 9:50 pm

      Hi my English boys it people in my life been very loud and kous . help me SOS ,

  15. […] can be a sign of dysfunctional behaviour. Usually it’s not, but occassionally it is. Here are 6 signs that will tell you whether the eager volunteer you’re talking to is […]

  16. Julie Clarity on July 25, 2017 at 11:28 am

    Oh. No wonder a nice person of my temperament isn’t welcomed into any church.
    I just thought it was because the plain religious type molded women religious men seem to require, you know the women who abuse their children when no one else is around, do not like women they deem “too pretty.” They do not like those of us who actually see ‘truth.’

    Also, I discovered the way to figure out if a church pastor is toxic: He begins talking about ‘the body’ in a very intimate way while making it clear it is my problem he cannot control himself around my body. Another way I discovered to figure out if a church is toxic is how its women treat each other when the most holy menfolk aren’t around. I see that by attending a church sale, and then I never go back because the values of most religious women do not match or even add up to mine.

    I broke up with a very abusive Christian friend using the very words Christians use against people like me. I told her we are unequally yoked and her religious beliefs and the women she associates with are her very very heavy yoke. I do not have a heavy yoke, I am in perfect understanding with the powers of the universe and do not need a man to interpret them for me.

    Needless to say, I will not be a member of any of the human male created religions in my area. They’all too mean. I’m not sure what the religions of the white people in the USA are teaching these days, but the continued undermining of the girl children even to the extent goodly Christian fathers and grandfathers and brothers and uncles have sex with such excess baggage has to stop. As long as the churches assign socioeconomic status based on the gender the universe gave them, the churches will continue to attract the toxic sorts listed above. The modern church continues to undermine women and girls at its own expense and y’all aren’t attracting the quality of women that make for good family lives for children who are NOT born sinners. Also, the shepherd’s crook is meant to guide the sheep, NOT to beat them. It is so sad most religions value sheep more than children, but I’m just going on, now.

    Peace out.

  17. Austin on June 14, 2017 at 11:43 am

    My mother IS this person. She’s bounced from church to church because she is incapable of getting along with ANYBODY. She has successfully chased away pretty much all of our extended family (and is a breath away from me packing up and moving and never looking back). Her latest pastor suggested to her a few months ago that the relationship between me and her is suffering and she should try to rectify that. She went off about him and “how dare he” this and “My relationship with MY daughter is just fine” that, meanwhile I am impressed that he picked up on that after only meeting me maybe three times.

  18. Joseph Mama on May 19, 2017 at 5:42 am

    You guys could filter posts a lot better. You allow known forum harassers like Naaz CHARANIA to pollute your message boards.

    To Naaz, is there a reason you made over 1100 posts in ONE google thread? other than you like to harass people for having differing viewpoints?

    • Alice Leurquin on June 25, 2017 at 4:31 am

      Could you explain please ?

  19. Sergio on January 15, 2017 at 12:19 am

    This subject of identifying or dealing with toxic people is for those in leadership positions, preferably for those serving in pastoral positions, and for mature believers. It has nothing to do with accepting or rejecting new believers, or those with “lot’s” of personal problems. As leaders our mission is to assist those whom Christ puts in our lives, regardless of who they are, or where they come from. What this article is about is about those “silent” leaders who lead others even when they themselves hold no official positions but use their influence to control the actions of others, even if its going against the mission of the Church. The article also gives some pointers on identifying the characteristics of people who are more interested in controlling the leaders rather than submitting to them. Also people working in secular organizations put up with whatever attitude or character flaws a person may encounter, why? Because they need that paycheck, and these organizations pay for talent and experience, in a church our workers will be from those who walk into our churches, those who have been redeem, many times it will be a drug addict, a homeless person, a single parent, a backslider and by the grace of God, sometimes a college educated person also, nevertheless they are volunteers who have caught the vision and the mission of Christ and the Church.

  20. ??? on November 5, 2016 at 10:31 am

    I must be perceived as toxic because I certainly get “special boundaries” others do not, and if you are in a crisis situation (no lease landlord is taking advantage of me) but so have others because they can. I have been told by police to reach out to church and when I do, the boudaries and ignoring start and I generally move on from a church were many are perfectly pleased with.

    Long term, why do so many in authority make it clear the do not intend to grant me any favors, and even say in front of me they don’t like me. Others say I’m bright, funny and sweet and no need for counseling.

    My mother wants me to be “severely medicated, knocked out and kept in a home” since I had to be “a bit wheel” and think someone like me could grow up. At best she says I need to speak to counselors (most of whom have demonstrated in word or deed they don;t like me, some have sugarcoated me, others have told me I have a tough row to hoe and they have nothing for me. She is hoping I will become committed involuntarly or be found “incomp”.

    She is drawn to high functioning down syndrome and autistic and mentally ill people and there are those who even mentioned Menschberger’s where mother’s want illness so bad they encourage and even invent it. Yikes, not for me.

    Sadly, my son quit speaking to me when his dad left me (early 20’s) and my mom has told him she should have raised him and she would have raised him right.

    • JR on December 13, 2016 at 7:21 pm

      I don’t think many would label you as toxic from your description. But you might get labelled as co-dependent or ultra-needy with some of the same results. A couple of suggestions: make friends with someone for a month before you start sharing your problem(s). Ask yourself if you are giving to the friendship as much as you are taking. That’s how relationships work. After you’ve invested in a relationship for a long time, it can go through a period where you can just take for a while without giving because of a crisis, but you can’t just take, take, take right from teh start.

  21. Eileen Kirch on September 30, 2016 at 1:01 am

    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…

    • robin on October 27, 2016 at 12:10 am

      AMEN!!! I agree with you…. we are all broken people, we are to be the church and love one another. I have been on both sides, and what I see is Carey is cautious and that leads to control.

    • JR on December 13, 2016 at 9:45 pm

      Did you not notice his words like “might be” and his suggestion is basically to “wait a few months” which is a reasonable time-frame to let people get involved anyway. Carey is talking about trying to avoid being burned by people who
      church-hop and cause problems wherever they go — which is a very real
      problem in churches.

      In the church I am part of, we generally want people to attend services for 6 months before they are put in any “up front” or otherwise significant leadership role. They need to demonstrate some sort of commitment to the body before they lead the body. That isn’t judging, it’s just basic wisdom about relationships, and usually those who are “toxic” aren’t patient enough to wait and leave for elsewhere before the time is up, or they otherwise demonstrate their spiritual immaturity within those six months, which helps us to recognize what is an appropriate level of ministry for them.

      Appropriate scriptural support would be found in places like 1 Timothy 3:6 – an overseer… “must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. Also, 1 Timothy 5:22 – “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands” (the implication is that the hands are being laid on someone to appoint them to ministry). Other similar passages warning about testing people before they are given ministry would be 2 Tim 3 (where Paul warns Timothy about “teachers” who “worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women,” and Titus 1 – is it any coincidence that in Paul’s only letters instructing younger ministers he effectively gives them instructions for avoiding giving leadership to toxic people? (Maybe because it was a significant problem then too!)

      • Alyshia on June 2, 2018 at 10:48 am

        JR, I agree with you, thank you for pointing out what God’s Word says about this. When we seek Him and follow His Word, then we are on the right track. It’s easy for a person to get stuck on one Scripture that has been taken out of context and use it to manipulate others, but we need to use the whole counsel of God to make decisions. We need to respect the pastor and his leadership and wisdom. I think this pastor is right, we do need to be able to recognize this type of person. We must have boundaries and God’s wisdom to not allow one bitter root to spring up and defile many. Satan really does seek to steal, kill, and destroy and he often uses these types to do it! The church is his favorite place to work because he can use one toxic person to bring division and strife and to deeply wound God’s people. Not everyone who comes into the church is there for the right reasons and therefore not willing to change anything about themselves and a discerning pastor and body will recognize this person. Mature Christians will seek God and follow His leading about what to do with such a person. Unfortunately, even some Christians mischaracterize Jesus as a passive person that never stood up or spoke up, but they’re sadly mistaken about that and if they read all the Bible and not just rely on verses they’ve heard, they will know better. Jesus had no problem calling a spade a spade, lol. I believe Carey’s article is for teaching those who have experienced a toxic/divisive person in their congregation and want to learn how to deal with this type. Christians so often have misapplied mercy which causes them to take on false responsibility and if they don’t, they’re made to feel guilty for saying “No!” This is one of the reasons why toxic people are able to wreak havoc in a church.

    • Tommy N. on October 14, 2017 at 1:15 pm

      I agree with this article. I also think that there are absolutely wrong ways to go about taking the advice of this article.

  22. Eileen Kirch on September 29, 2016 at 11:49 pm

    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…

    • Nobody on June 4, 2017 at 8:28 am

      I agree completely. This article is written from a pseudo psychological judgementalist objective. pre-judging anyone based on a self agrandizing supposed ability to judge another persons character or intent based on a half dozen simple minded platitudes indicted a less than faithful acceptance that Is it God’s house and authority and God brought thisperson to your church. Heaven forbid that you should discover that perhaps that person is offering you advice up front because it is glaringly obvious to anyone with an outside perspective what needs to be fixed… and perhaps that is why God brought them to you in the first place. So I suggest the writer remove himself from the ivory tower of judgementslism and recognize God’s hand. And stop judging. My golly. The church has become a petty power struggle forum for children shouting across the marketplace.
      Grow up.

  23. Tina on August 13, 2016 at 6:45 am

    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.”

    • SR Coker on October 28, 2017 at 5:24 am

      Thank you so much for this response. The article set me back. As an older person who was a member of a church for 18 years before we moved, I had just begun to serve at that church–God had done a work in my heart, and I had found service joyful. So, when we moved to a smaller community, I couldn’t wait to get involved. We knew God had brought us to this smaller church. We’re both introverts, but we love serving. I don’t think we’re the least bit toxic. Maybe the writer should have bounced his article off of different people to gain more perspective before sharing it.

  24. Mark Henri on June 27, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    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.

    • Nobody on June 4, 2017 at 8:34 am

      Sounds to me like you have leadership inadequacies. Learn to lead these people don’t just dismiss them because they Rick your little boat. Your judgementslism is an offense to God.

    • Paul on March 12, 2018 at 10:20 pm

      There are worship leaders that are toxic too and many pastors will put up with whatever the worship leader does to these non-paid musicians. The toxic worship leader is never to be questioned and he has the pastor wrapped around his/her finger. They belittle you, deflect, cause division and strife but then bat their eyelashes or smile really big to pretend it’s not going on. They surround themselves with yes people and people too afraid to stand up and say anything.

      This type of abuse happens and the house musicians are often times not paid, not treated with respect, no time to hang out together and even though they get told they did good, through actions are just viewed of as disposable. I’d love to know how these paid worship leaders and paid pastors would feel if they were told to do it for free and put up with this treatment.

  25. Kala-ada on June 4, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    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

  26. Amber on May 27, 2016 at 11:01 am

    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 on August 14, 2016 at 9:34 am

      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.

  27. Mel Ross on May 13, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    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

    • Jesus's follower on September 29, 2017 at 9:26 am

      AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  28. Frances Bernard on April 30, 2016 at 7:43 pm

    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.

  29. Sarah-Jane Bastarache on April 21, 2016 at 7:17 pm

    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 on April 22, 2016 at 7:44 am

      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!

  30. Anglican_geek on April 19, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    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 on April 21, 2016 at 7:22 pm

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

    • Mel Ross on May 13, 2016 at 9:25 pm

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

    • JannaG on June 28, 2017 at 11:46 pm

      A big reason why you became healthy is because you were receptive, which is awesome. Not everyone is ready to learn and grow unfortunately.

      • Alyshia on June 2, 2018 at 11:06 am

        JannaG, you are so right! This is what people forget when defending such a person, The fact that this person goes and tells other members about this, trying to persuade them to be on her side shows her immaturity, divisiveness, and unwillingness to receive correction.

  31. HoosierConservative on April 12, 2016 at 11:59 am

    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.

  32. Selma Sales on March 25, 2016 at 11:34 am

    Truly helpful

  33. Adam Welch on January 11, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    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.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 12, 2016 at 8:10 am

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

    • Kala-ada on June 4, 2016 at 5:16 pm

      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

  34. Jason Silver on November 11, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    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… 😉

    • Troy on March 12, 2018 at 1:21 am

      So true. Its really sad when folks like this assume any sort of leadership position. It happens FAR to often. They go on to make everyone around them miserable and 9 times out of 10 people keep quiet. God and America have truly failed in this regard.

  35. timbole on November 4, 2015 at 3:37 pm

    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.

    • ??? on November 5, 2016 at 10:40 am

      I resemble that remark but attempting to set boundaries generally gets me mocked or set up for more failure.

  36. Brother John on October 27, 2015 at 1:18 am

    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.

  37. Whatsmyname2 on October 11, 2015 at 4:00 am

    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.

  38. Connie Clark on September 24, 2015 at 9:51 am

    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.

  39. Patrick Grizzly Campbell on August 23, 2015 at 1:58 pm

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

  40. Jim Hagen on August 18, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    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.

  41. Ricardo on July 30, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    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!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 31, 2015 at 6:28 am

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

  42. Rich Davies on July 17, 2015 at 2:10 pm

    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

  43. Mike on July 15, 2015 at 9:31 pm

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

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 31, 2015 at 6:29 am

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

  44. Ruth Priscilla Brittain on June 30, 2015 at 8:59 pm

    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.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 1, 2015 at 11:33 am

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

    • Single Mommas Struggle on July 18, 2015 at 5:17 am

      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.

  45. Dave on June 30, 2015 at 9:39 am

    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.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 1, 2015 at 11:34 am

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

  46. Kay on June 25, 2015 at 12:44 am

    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.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 25, 2015 at 6:25 am

      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.

      • Afua on January 2, 2018 at 1:54 pm

        But what would you say if God expected you to shepherd even such a broken person? I think most commenters are asking you to complete the story with these challenging questions. As a church it may be complicated, even unChristlike sometimes to get rid of people who rub you the wrong way. We are all a work in progress and we need one another as God through Jesus who is our boss and His Holy Spirit who is our helper, to transform us more and more into a people who reflect Jesus to the world and to His glory. The church is quite different from your usual groups/club/frat/corporations or such people groups that ‘problem’ individuals would be excommunicated. Add prayerful intercession and counselling to the mix of solutions.

  47. Naaz Charania on June 19, 2015 at 3:48 am

    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.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 25, 2015 at 6:25 am

      That’s too true!

      • Naaz Charania on June 25, 2015 at 7:17 am

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

      • Naaz Charania on June 25, 2015 at 7:18 am

        Sent from my iPad

      • anonbristol on October 2, 2016 at 7:32 pm

        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 on July 15, 2015 at 3:54 pm

      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 on August 9, 2015 at 2:59 pm

        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.

        • Afua on January 2, 2018 at 2:16 pm

          Naaz, now you are the one who starts using the race card just by referring to race card out of context. No; that is unnecessary.

      • Eilidh. on October 8, 2017 at 11:48 am

        What sensitive, loving and balanced attitudes from Anastasia B and anonbristol.
        God bless you.
        Isn’t it always best not to make haste, to show warmth and get to know somebody before judging, People (even leaders) who believe they have the gift of discernment can sometimes react unwisely and precipitately to new people. I have seen vulnerable persons ‘destroyed’ by unfounded ‘assessment,’ and confident people who loved the limelight given ‘position,’ and proving to be dangerous. They were misjudged in the name of ‘discernment’ which was really just assumption. Leaders can be ‘on the defensive’ and see criticism or subversiveness where there is none, simply not recognising souls who just want to ‘belong,’ to be part of the Body and be useful, but who ‘over-compensate’ to cover initial nervousness. There is nothing toxic about somebody wanting to be loved either, but such a desire can be misjudged and seem threatening to people (even leaders) who are fear losing control. Such leaders might feel threatened by newcomers who have themselves been leaders. A probationary minister was actually told by a college lecturer, “never choose as your deacons Christians who are more mature than yourself.” Now that really IS toxic!

  48. David on June 17, 2015 at 10:03 am

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

  49. Myra Rose Ilisan on May 6, 2015 at 9:13 pm

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

  50. Myra Rose Ilisan on May 6, 2015 at 9:11 pm

    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.

  51. Neil Young on April 21, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    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

  52. disappointed on April 19, 2015 at 5:36 pm

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

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 20, 2015 at 11:02 am

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

  53. David Nemeshegyi on April 11, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    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.

  54. Dissenter29 on April 4, 2015 at 10:18 pm

    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.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 5, 2015 at 5:35 am

      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 on August 18, 2015 at 4:29 pm

        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”.

      • nrose1000 on August 28, 2015 at 6:58 am

        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.

  55. Ann MB on March 26, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    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.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 27, 2015 at 8:16 am

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

  56. chris on March 19, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    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

  57. lance on February 28, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    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?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 1, 2015 at 8:36 am

      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 on March 16, 2015 at 6:30 am

        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.

        • Carey Nieuwhof on March 16, 2015 at 6:32 am

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

          • bossnosee on March 16, 2015 at 6:41 am

            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.



          • Carey Nieuwhof on March 16, 2015 at 7:17 am

            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 on March 19, 2015 at 9:39 am

            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.



          • Carey Nieuwhof on March 19, 2015 at 2:26 pm

            Thanks for this! Great explanation.



          • bossnosee on March 16, 2015 at 6:42 am

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



      • Afua on January 2, 2018 at 2:43 pm

        Have you read Jesus love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that despite fully use you? Easier said than done, I totally agree. But at least let’s acknowledge that Jesus wants us to do love even to the ‘obnoxious’ ones and people who have hurt us deeply. I suspect you’ve been burnt once too often by those toxic kinds you describe so well. I keep complaining about a similar person in my church but I feel I have not done my part to pray enough for them. I like what you suggest to walk them off, but then Jesus expects us to love. He engaged even the toxic Pharisees, even dining with some of them. Of course they plotted and succeeded to get him killed (and God had a better plan in all -even used – their hatred). Of course we must be guarded in wise ways but Carey, even toxic people cannot split a church single handedly. Sometimes all toxic people do is exacerbate a bad situation and offer themselves as scapegoats, really. Carey, let’s take Jesus advice and take the high road. Great post; I found your post because I’m myself grappling with ‘difficult’ aka toxic person(s). God bless you with more insights.

  58. Dana on February 16, 2015 at 8:00 pm

    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.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 17, 2015 at 6:12 am

      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 on February 17, 2015 at 11:55 am

        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.

        • Carey Nieuwhof on February 17, 2015 at 8:18 pm

          Love your heart for Christ. Love it.

        • David on June 17, 2015 at 9:12 am

          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.

    • nrose1000 on August 28, 2015 at 7:26 am

      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.

  59. atirsch on February 15, 2015 at 2:03 am

    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.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 15, 2015 at 6:07 am

      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.

  60. atirsch on February 15, 2015 at 1:45 am

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

  61. Heather on February 11, 2015 at 10:29 am

    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!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 11, 2015 at 10:32 am

      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 on May 19, 2015 at 5:55 pm

      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.

      • Carey Nieuwhof on May 20, 2015 at 7:59 am

        MaSi…thank you.

      • Heatheray on May 27, 2015 at 7:54 pm

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

        • Carey Nieuwhof on May 28, 2015 at 6:05 am

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

    • David on June 17, 2015 at 9:30 am

      well said. incisive!! God bless you

  62. MJMR on February 4, 2015 at 3:45 am

    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 on February 15, 2015 at 1:44 am

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

  63. Pastor Timotheos on January 29, 2015 at 1:51 pm

    In the pastorate, you may have those people who are the most willing individuals who want to serve. And, they may give inordinate amounts of time and resources to support the mission of the church, However, in that process, they may feel as if the church is their church, rather than Christ’s. And, in some cases, said or unsaid carry with them a sense that ‘no one has done more or given more to see this church succeed, and if I was to leave the church would fail.’

    These people are well intentioned, and they carry with them longevity, and serve faithfully. However, there is a fuzzy boundary between serving with grace, and serving with an unhealthy or unhelpful expectancy.

    The same person who does all of this service may also sit in your office and tell you, ‘the church isn’t growing, and you’re a lousy pastor,’ unsaid (because you disagree with me, or don’t do things my way)

    A pastor, unless their totally committed to the vision that he/she has for the church can then find themselves losing sleep worrying about the influence of this or these individuals.

    One would hope that together, the willing servants, and the pastor would be able to serve together humbly. However, in many pastor’s experience, and unfortunately, my experience, the servant aforementioned, has determined, ‘it’s my church, and I run things around here.’

    We all need to be reminded Whose church it is, and His promise to build it.

    Thanks, Carey for penning helpful counsel.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 29, 2015 at 7:50 pm

      Timotheos…thanks for this. You are right. When I started ministry I read a piece by Lyle Schaller who warned about church matriarchs and patriarchs who behave as you describe. That’s toxic to everyone, including themselves. Thanks!

  64. Woman pastor on January 18, 2015 at 3:38 pm

    Thank you for this article. I have been pastoring more than 20 years and I appreciate your insights. They are very true. Toxic people are not many (most of us are just ‘normally’ difficult), but making clear boundaries for them is essential, otherwise the whole community suffers greatly. Detecting them early is the best way to go. The Bible clearly advices us not to accociate with tocic people who destroy.

  65. Uber Genie on January 14, 2015 at 3:15 pm

    By the way, I am not denying there are such people as described above. But don’t we want to determine the character of anyone who wants to serve in a ministry, not just so-called toxic individuals. Secondly I find board members and pastors gossiping and slandering individuals in the church a common occurance over my 39 years of gathering such data. These so-called leaders are more sophisticated by far than “toxic” members, but there hearts are no less corrupted. When a pastor volunteered that an individual probably was not morally equipped to be my assistant for an apologetics class to adult non-members, I responded that he had been transparent with me about his life before Christ and I was glad to find a partner that was almost as immoral as I was before I became a Christian to partner with me in helping other immoral nonchristians wrestle with the facts of why it is reasonable to believe God exists and the message of Jesus’ gospel.

    Further, as a class, board members and elders seem to blatantly violate the teachings of stewardship in the old and new testaments. Yet these eldors thrive for decades in our evangelical churches despite their violating the requirements for basic Christianity let alone the more stringent requirements for elders. This statement is not true of all churches, and is more common in large evangelical churches located in the suburbs of large cities in the US. One such individual walked me through his $2.6 million dollar home shortly after starting to attend my church 10 years ago. Although there were great candidates for eldership who both knew scripture, had a 10+ year record of service, and meeting the biblical requirements for elder! I was stunned to see this wealthy individual elected over other proven men. The pastor told me he had selected them due to their stewardship (large donations to the building fund). Two years late the rich elder had divorced his wife of 23 years and replaced her with a woman that was 2 years older than his oldest daughter. It wasn’t until he admitted to the pastor that he had commited adultery with several women (not the divorce and remarriage) was he finally removed. This is an extreme example and anecdotal, nevertheless pastors might look at the sins common to their culture to see if they are selecting “sophisticated” immature believers over “toxic” immature believers.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 14, 2015 at 9:08 pm

      That’s a sad story indeed. Christian maturity is something utterly different than what some in the church think it is. Sorry to hear that.

  66. Uber Genie on January 10, 2015 at 10:02 am

    Seems like a sweeping generalization. Actually many of Jesus’s disciples would qualify as toxic and certainly Peter and Paul ( how audacious Paul is to complain about Pastor Peter in Galatians)!

    I come from a church in the Midwest of 8000+. Our pastor fits 5 of the 6 items on your list ( all except moving around a lot). staff continually tell me that they are weary of trying to guess the answers he is looking for in staff meetings. I encourage them to have a mature conversation with the pastor 1 on 1 and to resist fawning behavior. “It is his show,” is the consistent reply, “and if we don’t conform or we make suggestions he doesn’t like we could get fired like the last 3 staff members and blackballed (hardly believable but true).”

    Never the less he meets all of the positive criterion listed on your post of why churches don’t grow past 200 members. By that post’s criterion he is doing great. But every year staff members pour out of our church to start other churches or join other church’s staff. They carry with them list of things they would never do as a pastor. Yet if they shared these lists with our pastor they would be considered “toxic”.

    This was the third church I have attended in 39 years as a Christian. I have moved on to a small church of 60 members but wanted to share my experience.

    I have a list of what to watch out for to see if you have a toxic pastor.
    1 – A pastor who doesn’t genuinely loves people (two of my three pastors were not interested in interacting with the congregation other than coffee after the service).
    2 – Pastor as rock star (only measures quantity of church growth not quality I.e. Conformity to Christ).
    3 – A pastor who thinks they are the only knowledge expert when it comes to the Bible and spiritual matters.
    4 – A pastor who is transparent from the pulpit but not in their private life with friends and family.

    So what do you do with toxic pastors?

    Don’t let them get involved influencing your life before you are able to determine their character.

    If they act like prima donnas to their staff and then act like well-balanced transparent leaders from the pulpit (known as faking maturity) move on to a church with a pastor with some emotional and spiritual maturity who is not a hypocrite.

    Don’t go along to get along. I attended this church for over ten years thinking that I could encourage the pastor and staff to be unified and mature together. The staff was too afraid to share the pain of their pastoral mistreatment. And the pastor was careful to only act that way behind closed doors.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 14, 2015 at 9:09 pm

      Again…so sorry to hear this. It’s heartbreaking. This is not a lot of pastors I know, but when it happens, it’s awful. Sorry to hear that.

  67. Sharon Holmes Roberts on January 5, 2015 at 6:59 am

    Great information thank you so much for your blogs. I have only been a pastor for a little over 2 years and I am still learning.
    We are not part of a denomination so, I really don’t have connection to many other pastors A lot has happened over the last two years that I needed advice on, and if not for your blogs I would have been lost on how to handle some situations

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 5, 2015 at 7:08 am

      Sharon…this is such an encouraging note. Thank you! So glad you’re serving in ministry. I love this community and how we can all learn from each other!

      • Sharon Holmes Roberts on January 5, 2015 at 11:40 am

        It’s a great blessing and helps me a lot

  68. David on January 4, 2015 at 5:25 pm

    Great post. I’ve been doing full-time ministry for 20 years and have seen all of these over and over.

  69. PeaceBang on January 4, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    I completely agree with these red flags for toxic people, but I wonder about the repeated use of the phrase, “healthy people wait to be asked.” We want to be an open, accessible system for people to get involved in and we want them to be able to integrate into the church right away. There is something itself “red flaggy” about that cautionary phrase. It tells me that the system is cautious and closed. I’d rather welcome enthusiastic leaders in early on without having to be paranoid that everyone who wants to use their expertise is a toxic control freak. They aren’t. Sometimes they’re just ready, willing and able. If a congregation sets up a dynamic where everyone has to be vetted and personally invited into leadership, many healthy and enthusiastic folks may walk back out the door to find a place that welcomes them with appreciation. I’ve seen it.

  70. Mel on December 28, 2014 at 10:38 am

    i think we can also add that toxic people expect grace and forgiveness when they stumble but refuse to give it if the leader makes a mistake and they are on the front lines of condeming that leader and also the first one to leave the church.

  71. Guest on December 26, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    Literally in the last month I said “so if I’m hearing you right, over the last decade you’ve opposed the Sr. Pastor at every church you’ve been at (3 in the same area), and you get nothing out of what goes on at our church, where we just finished baptizing more people for the 2nd year in a row than your former church ever did in a year, and we’re the problem?” Yet people still say “he’s the most godly man I know… he has more biblical knowledge than anyone I know…”

  72. Andrew on December 17, 2014 at 8:17 am

    I’m sorry but I’m starting to sense that everybody is toxic. I can fall short of being meek and patent like most others, but like Many want live righteous. I guess I just hope for my short comings my church still takes me seriously.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 17, 2014 at 10:36 am

      All of us our flawed people Andrew, but not everyone is toxic. Toxic people are people who damage many others. Most people, flawed as they are, don’t do that.

      • Andrew on December 18, 2014 at 8:35 am

        Thanks for the reply. I enjoy your blogs

  73. Angela C. on November 16, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    For me, point number 6 is the biggest “flag” out of all of them. People who try to “help” or “fix” pastors/churches usually have a collection of stories from several churches where they were “victims” of some evil pastor. If somone show up ready to jump in and automatically “loves” the pastor, just start asking them about their past and the numerous “victim” stories with start coming out. Of course they were never at fault anywhere or played any part in any church conflict of any kind. Church boards, you NEED to check references and make calls to previous churches of where a job candidate served. Several years ago our church missed doing that and got burned in a big way. The person had a reputation for causing church splits and had burned many bridges.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 17, 2014 at 9:13 am

      All great points Angela. Thank you!

    • Jenni Lovsey on December 1, 2014 at 1:51 pm

      Yeah right, it’s NEVER the church that is in the wrong. Do you know why churches are closing left and right? Arrogant “leadership” who act as if they can do NO wrong. Sounds more like anyone questioning this guy’s authoritarian rule is “toxic”, this guy comes off as a jerk who wants his “yes” people involved.

  74. Jim on November 6, 2014 at 8:49 pm

    I have been recently asked to leave a church for disagreeing with the Pastor. This is after I heard the message on how it is ok to disagree… Until I disagreed. Many church Pastors, not all, but most thrive on control, and misappropriate authority, and lord it over people. Most people are not toxic when you love them instead of judge them.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 7, 2014 at 5:24 pm

      Jim, I’m sorry to hear that. That’s so hard. Thank you for adding “but not all”. Gives those of us trying to create healthy climates some encouragement. I pray you find a great church!

    • Mel on December 28, 2014 at 10:33 am

      Jim, just like there can be toxic members there can also be toxic leaders…but thats a whole other article

  75. Beau on October 20, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    You should rename this: 6 Early Warning Signs You’re Dealing With A Pastor Who Is Stuck In A Rut And Is Not Open To Change.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 20, 2014 at 5:38 pm

      Well there you go…:)

    • Mel on December 28, 2014 at 10:36 am

      wrong…not the focus of this article. there are obviously pastors like that but but i believe that we can assume that leaders referred to in this artixle ARE open to change but also refuse to allow the church to be damaged by legitimatley toxic people

  76. Brandon on October 14, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    I have a pastor friend who is literally all 6 of these. How can I help him in this. I’d love to forward this article to him and see if he can see himself in this but I’m not sure if that’s the right idea. Advice?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 16, 2014 at 6:33 am

      Wow…Brandon…that’s a tough one. Good for you for caring enough to want to help. Because he’s lacking self-awareness, I wonder if you can start off a conversation with him by saying something like “Jake, I wonder if you’re open to me sharing some things with you about you. You might be. You might not be. That’s okay. Just let me know.”

      If he is, then say something like “Have you ever wondered how you come across to other people?” If he says no, end of conversation…if he says yes, then maybe say “You may not realize it, but you tend to come along really strong….

      See how that works.

  77. Derek Langille on October 11, 2014 at 10:02 am

    I wholeheartedly agree with this post. I’ve been in pastoral ministry for 17 years and have observed this tendency toward toxicity in a handful of people whose only agenda is their agenda. Very few people think only of themselves all the time. They are a small minority, but they have the resilience to spoil it for everyone. They don’t know how to think in Kingdom terms. Sad, but true.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 16, 2014 at 6:34 am

      Thanks Derek. That’s the heart behind this post for sure.

  78. Happy Sober on October 4, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    Toxic people toxic.

  79. Ancient on September 27, 2014 at 3:47 am

    Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions. (‭Proverbs‬ ‭18‬:‭2‬ NIV)

  80. disqus_5T2jXBEN10 on September 17, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    I recently concluded a four year ministry in Mexico,without getting into to much detail,I can say my experience left me with a new appreciation with the Lords advice of not giving what is holy to dogs and casting our pearls before swine. The Gospel and knowledge we bring is the most valuable thing anyone can possess and we should act accordingly. I also learned to be way more choosy about the Christians[ and ministries I align myself with because many of them are not from God or at a minimum not walking in the Spirit, which is essentialy the same. Keeping wolves away from your sheep or keeping tares from gaining root in the body is not being un Chrisitan it is following Scripture.

  81. SAS on September 13, 2014 at 12:47 am

    I’m glad Jesus surrounded himself with toxic people. Just look at all of the self centered ways they acted before Jesus returned to them in a glorified body. He stuck with them and returned to them. He even told one of them “do what you must do and do it quickly.” Yet another he reinstates giving him a new name and charging him with great work. The accounts go on and on. Jesus chose “toxic” people. I will choose to do what Jesus did and continue to let God work out the messes. And this coming from someone who has left organized church planting ministry for a decade working with all types of wild ones with agendas. The one I found that could not change and was the most toxic was the one who was supposed to be the pastor of the pastors. When things became toxic to the point of hurting my family I put up a clear boundary and said adios. The difference was I didn’t ban him or kick him to the curb. I said I must go. I can’t be a part of the direction that was not glorifying God. Sometimes you have to do it but I still think it’s a pretty rare occasion.

  82. Revgabel on September 12, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Sadly to many are viewing this wrong… this is more about the ministry teams of the church. It does not reflect on those that need to be ministered to. In a simple way, I would not want to go to a doctor who could not control his drug us and expect to get sound advice on how to not use drugs. True we all sin but we should not be out of control or how could we lead others into the light. The shepherds calling is also to protect the ministry, lead the ministry into godly work, and make sure the scripture is followed. There is no way to please everyone but we should be more respectful as Followers of Christ.

  83. Priscilla on September 9, 2014 at 10:24 am

    This is one of the weakest posts I’ve read in a very long time. Dr. Cloud, though a respected leader with many helpful things to say, is not a substitute for the authority of Scripture that is so lacking in this piece! Sir, you are portraying yourself as very judgmental not discerning. As with everything, we must hold all advice up to the light of God’s word.

    • Whoops on September 9, 2014 at 6:30 pm

      Let’s now observe toxic internet users.

    • Chris on September 12, 2014 at 12:25 pm

      Thank you for proving his point

  84. Burnt Out on September 5, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    I’m married to this type of person ( 2 years now) This has not only major conflict in our marriage and relationship with my teenage daughter who lives with us, but our ministry has also suffered greatly. Our leading styles are way different, his being demanding and controlling.This demeanor of superiority has lead to alienation from our team members and distanced us from our church body. In short it has caused a severe case of isolation and loneliness because he’s so very difficult to work with and others assume I am like him or they just don’t want the exhaustion of being my, friend, co-laborer in Christ. The inner turmoil I struggle with is great. I am to the point of resolving to do ministry separate from him, which breaks my heart becasue my desire is to work along my husband and serve our God together. This strengthens a marriage, being a know it all kills it. Not being able to talk about this is also frustrating, as I do not want to berate my husband to our church family (he has his good points too). It just seems I spend so much time as a referee and peace keeper for the sake of those he hurts, then he directs his anger with toxic accusations to me and my daughter. Believe me I have spent many hours in prayer and still only feel emotionally abused and manipulated and spiritually inadequate. This has lead to our removal from ministry positions which I never experienced personally before we married. How do we “detoxify” this relationship when he thinks everyone else is the problem?

    • Angela C. on November 16, 2014 at 5:18 pm

      I experienced this to a lesser degree but I do understand feelings of being a referee and basically cleaning up your husband’s messes and putting out relational fires. You need to talk to someone you trust. Follow the example of Biblical discipline in Matt. 18. You being quiet and keeping the peace is not submission. You need to confront him one of one. If he doesn’t respond, bring a friend. Probably a male spiritual leader because it sounds like he has woman issues. If he isn’t receptive then, then you need to go to your church board or invite them over to have a discussion with you and your husband. If there’s still no repentance, then seek spiritual wisdom from elders or spiritual parents/grandparents that you trust. You may need to provide some Godly consequences for your husband. The other thing you need to do is stop cleaning up his messes and protecting him from the consequences of his actions.

    • Rev Dr Diane on December 2, 2014 at 7:02 am

      Crosscountryeducation.com (a training institute for therapists) has a course on “Emotional Manipulation: Understanding Manipulators & Helping Their Victims” that illuminates the kind of behavior of which you speak. Emotional Manipulators are very dangerous to the environment in which they live, be it church, business, home, etc. (Look up Emotional Manipulators on the Internet.) It’s easy to say we need to love people like Jesus did but not understand that even Jesus did not interact with certain people. (Luke 4:28-30) Plus, we have to remember that Jesus was more of a traveling evangelist and not a pastor. He chose his followers (those he chose to work with more closely.) Our church structure is set up very differently than the way Jesus operated. Some of the folks who are in our churches are probably the ones Jesus did not choose to follow him. It also might be a reason Jesus did not stay in any given synagogue.
      Good luck learning about Emotional Manipulators. I pray your learning helps you heal

  85. Lucia Fiero on August 15, 2014 at 8:14 pm

    The person you are describing sounds like a person with Aspergers or someone with other deficient social skills. The commenter who talks about the member who spreads gossip and tries to turn people against one another? THAT definitely sounds like a toxic person. My son is a dear who is eager to help, but he comes on like this. I used to, too, but not in an effort to disrupt but because I didn’t “get” it. Throughout my life, patient mentors have made the difference in my life and helped me grow into a useful member of society and an effective volunteer activist. Tread carefully!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on September 5, 2014 at 4:04 pm

      Lucia….this is not at all a post aimed at people with Aspergers or other disabilities. Thank you for that caution. I have friends with Aspergers and this description is very different. Hope that helps!

      • Heather on November 25, 2014 at 6:25 pm

        I agree with Lucia that you should offer grace first as many people do not have the benefit of knowing all the “rules” of behavior. I was raised by a sociopath with bi polar disorder and was never modeled appropriate behavior. I do not have these mental illnesses, so I knew even very young that these behaviors were not right (stealing, manipulating, etc) but it took many years of adult therapy and careful observation of “normal people” to construct a set of social skills that did not immediately mark me as awkward (at best). Before that, as a child, I used tv as a behavioral handbook (as you can imagine, that was hit or miss). My rambling point here is don’t always judge so quickly. I’ve always had a good soul, but needed help finding my way.

        • Carey Nieuwhof on November 26, 2014 at 8:55 am

          Heather thanks for sharing your story. I really appreciate it. I agree fully…there’s always room for all kinds of personalities in the church or any organization. This post was directed at people who want influence and power or who intend to harm others, which is very different than belonging. Appreciate you sharing your story.

  86. […] You've dealt with them before. At your church, as a volunteer, on your staff, as customers. Toxic people, are well, toxic. An unhealthy person can infect (RT @cnieuwhof: Are some people just toxic? Well, yes.  […]

  87. Sherry Bell on June 26, 2014 at 8:47 am

    I am a Youth Director currently cleaning up the damage from a toxic
    person. My Pastor stepped in and removed “the person” from all ministry
    leadership for the time being, but has made it clear that if this person
    isn’t willing to be a team player and continues to be double visioned
    they will not be able to be in any form of leadership. This person has
    been asked to meet with the Pastor to get to the root and He for a time
    is willing to council with them. This person is welcome to participate
    in any other way other than leadership. As for me, I wish I had read
    this article years ago! A toxic person brings the focus to them. They
    say verbiage that they are doing what they are doing for others, but it
    becomes very apparent its about them. They ask you if they can say
    something in the middle of what you are doing and don’t give you the
    chance to answer. Then they say what was already said, but in their
    words which apparently is better. If they can’t say what they want to
    say, they pray it, so you are going to hear it one way or another! They
    whine that you never give them enough to do, or you never put teens in
    their small group that actually come (Oh they came…the first week of
    the small group and then didn’t come back, I wonder why???!!!) They are
    very committed week after week, so you are thankful cause not many
    people are, so you keep them around until you have worn yourself out
    trying to make them happy. They use the Holy Spirit as their excuse to
    do the things or say the things they believe they must do or say. They
    do not respect authority. I can not give this person enough, they never
    feel needed. Interestingly enough, feeling needed for them is leading
    worship, but not spending 5 hours at annual fall event we have just
    helping with activities and spending time with teens (relationship).
    That actually happened. Because this person couldn’t lead worship, this
    person would not come for the rest of the day(5 hours) to encourage
    teens through relationship and then say to me. I don’t feel needed. That
    was the straw that broke the camels back. I can not express the
    freedom, relief, joy in ministry since this person has been removed.
    Some of the teens who left are making their way back as well. The focus
    is back on the youth. Don’t get me wrong. I pray for this person
    regularly and hope they can be healed because their are definitely
    crippling things in their life. And yes, this person has gone to a few
    different churches in the past having the same problems. I believe this
    is the toxic person Pastor Carey is referring too! Head his advise!

  88. don on June 16, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Apparently some of the folks writing here have never dealt with truly toxic individuals. Wolves will come in amongst the sheep, in the nicest, shiniest sheep’s clothing. It is any pastor’s role to be discerning and make sure these wolves don’t get entrenched and start eating sheep. Because they will, it is their intention – whether it is a conscience decision or not. These are not the hurting and sick, they are the ones who intend to hurt and divide. Don’t be fooled, there are truly hurting, sick, depressed, wonderful people that deserve our time and attention. And then there are wolves. Biblically, as a pastor or church leader, you cannot tolerate them doing the things mentioned in this article in your church. Great job Carey, thanks for bringing truth.

    • Amanda on July 24, 2014 at 9:08 pm

      I agree with you. There seem to be a lot of people who got angry about this post, and it’s probably because they have not dealt with a truly toxic person, just difficult, awkward, unsocial, or even hurting people. This post isn’t about those people. Those are very normal people that we will work with for years to come! This post is about people who want to damage ministry for their own gain. Thankfully, they are rare. In my experience, I only have met 3 working at a large church for many years. They were:
      1 – A woman who actively tried to turn friends and church members against one another through vicious gossip. When she was reprimanded for it she turned to social media to publicly gossip about other church members, including making up lies about the youth I work with and how they “probably are rooting for her husband to kill her secretly.”
      2 – A man who was so fond of talking about theology that he would corner first-time attendees, even kids, to preach to them about why their theology was wrong – but he would do this with debatable topics, not the core values of any church. He turned people away because of his bragging of his own knowledge, despite being kindly confronted by caring people who tried to explain why his tactics were turning people away.
      3 – a man who yelled at our teenagers for not being “intergenerational” on several accounts. We soon learned he wrote a book about it (a terrible, unBiblical book, mind you) and was trying to gain attention to promote his book. He yelled at teenagers who attended a church dinner… their first time at church.

      Those were truly toxic people who caused others to leave our church, and sometimes their faith. Most people that are difficult to work with aren’t actively trying to harm others, they are just having a rough time or come from rough backgrounds and often don’t know any better. HUGE difference, and a good one to be aware of before attacking the author of this post!

      • Carey Nieuwhof on July 27, 2014 at 8:48 pm

        Amanda…this is exactly what I was talking about. Thank you for the helpful, clarifying comment!

  89. Luisa on June 7, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    Wow. I would never go to your church. What kind of pastor doesn’t want to care for the hurting and sick? Jesus said it was not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. Thank god in his grace I never came across someone like you into battles with depression and anxiety. And you’re probably the first to complain that no one volunteers to help for things in church. Just. sad.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 21, 2014 at 6:02 am

      Luisa…I appreciate that this article might have surprised you, but I promise you that some people do not mean well. They are toxic. They are not just depressed or anxious. I have many people I work with regularly who struggle with a whole variety of issues. But toxicity is different. As Dr. Henry Cloud has said in his book Necessary Endings (it’s a great read), some people (not many but some) are people you simply need to avoid. If you allow too many toxic people in your organization, it will make your organization toxic. That’s the last thing we need the church to be. It’s about intent, motive and willingness to be helped in the end. I think Don is right (above).

      • Scot Fourowls on September 5, 2014 at 1:25 am

        Carey, I agree with Luisa. You sound like you’re projecting your own shadow side onto others. Sad. And sad for the people you supposedly “shepherd.”

        • Tracy on September 15, 2014 at 12:47 am

          I cannot understand why you are so offended at this article. It’s a well balanced article on an unpopular subject. It happens. There are people in churches who demand way too much attention and boundaries help regulate stuff so that their demands to infringe on the vision. Your accusation makes YOU sound toxic

      • Emily on February 1, 2015 at 4:40 am

        If the church will not love and help them, or at the very least, for starters, hold up a mirror to them to show them how they are affecting others, then who will, in a way that will point them to the kind of life they were meant to live?

        • Carey Nieuwhof on February 3, 2015 at 7:21 am

          Emily…good point. It’s not I’m saying don’t help them. It’s just I’m saying ‘Don’t put them into leadership’ and ‘Here are some signs to help you know what you’re dealing with.” That’s the point of the post.

  90. db on May 29, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    While I had enjoyed all previous articles. This one’s the exception.

    • Scot Fourowls on September 5, 2014 at 1:25 am

      Ditto.

  91. Alison on May 13, 2014 at 6:20 am

    I think that toxic people inevitably come from a place of being hurt themselves or have had difficulties in their own lives that lead them to toxic behaviour, some aren’t even aware of it. The Bible says that the Lord restores our soul, Psalm 23, so he can and does restore pople. Toxic people need to be in an environment where they are loved, admittedly you have to protect sheep who aren’t as strong as some other members so it sounds like you want to protect your sheep against toxic people. It sounds like you are thinking on the lines of the best way to move your church forward and for it to be healthy and protecting people from being hurt which is admirable, but Jesus said that he came for all and that means toxic people, so would it not be healthier to ask the Holy Spirit how you can love toxic people better. Have a good bible word based discipleship course within the Church, training people up and starting with the basics. When everyone is moving in love towards others it will eliminate fear and help to change bad patterns, along with the word and the spirit, its the anointing that breaks the yoke. We can’t change people but Gods love can, along with his word and the spirit. Maybe the questions to ask is why is that person toxic, what have they been through in their life, can I get some people who are stringer in the Church to come alongside them and disciple them and have heart to see them set free. This is the same for any Church you will get new converts who will come in with all sorts of issues, have you got anything in place for these people, discipleship, mentoring, healing prayer etc. etc.? Church can be a spiritual hospital. Love is the key and sometimes I think we take on worldy ways of doing things that can verge on humanism. It’s not about us, we aren’t here for ourselves. (not saying you think this)

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 13, 2014 at 6:23 am

      Some great points here. I think one of the differences between a dangerous toxic person and one who is not dangerous is their willingness to get well. I agree with everything you’ve said, but even Jesus made a distinction when he asked one of the people who came to him for healing if he wanted to get well. Unfortunately I have met a few toxic people who insist nothing is wrong with them, it’s everyone else. Those people aren’t ready to receive love.

      *Carey Nieuwhof, Lead Pastor *
      *Connexus Church*
      *546 Bryne Drive, Unit E Barrie Ontario L4N 9P6* *connexuscommunity.com * *careynieuwhof.com *
      *facebook & twitter cnieuwhof*
      *instagram careynieuwhof*

      *Sent from my personal email account. **If adding others, please use cnieuwhof@gmail.com to include me in the conversation. Thank you!*

      • Alison on May 13, 2014 at 6:43 am

        yes, agree some people are like that, and the boundaries you have at the bottom of article are good to put in place. But I think keep loving them despite the toxicity (we can’t do it with our human love, only Gods spirit of love) some people are so entrenched in their negative behavioural patterns they are blind to the truth, as a consequence they continue. The weapon to use is love. Love will break things down in the long run, if you are too busy to be love to them, (not saying you don’t, but I know that pastors leaders can sometimes be, esp if apostolic as they are all about moving the church on etc.) find others who can, or train a love team up, to love toxic people whether they are willing to change or not. That would sure help to see peoples character grow! (I mean the people on the Love team) I mean its easy to love people who are willing to change or people we like etc. True love is different than human love, its activating Gods love so it permeates into our love and how we react etc. I think it’s a very hard thing to do in our own strength, divine love is not the same as the worlds love, it goes beyond. But we can do all thing through Christ, so we can do it by abiding in him and by the spirit

  92. bobthechef on April 26, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    Isn’t this blog post an example of such un-asked for advice? Or we you asked? I agree with you on the whole, but just saying.

    Also, Protestantism kind of dwells on schisms. There aren’t 40,000 denominations in the US for no reason. If you’re looking for a low schism rate, try Roman Catholicism (sure, you have the Orthodox and Protestant schisms, a few minor ones here and there, but you don’t see this Tower of Babel nonsense like you do in Protestantism).

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 26, 2014 at 1:14 pm

      Bob I’m going to assume you were trying to be funny about your first comment.

      Unity expresses itself in many ways. One of my favourite things about the cities in which we minister is that the pastors of various denominations all support and encourage each other. We are one, even if we’re not the same (someone should turn that into a song…).

      *Carey Nieuwhof, Lead Pastor *
      *Connexus Church*
      *546 Bryne Drive, Unit E Barrie Ontario L4N 9P6* *connexuscommunity.com * *careynieuwhof.com *
      *facebook & twitter cnieuwhof*
      *instagram careynieuwhof*

      *Sent from my personal email account. **If adding others, please use cnieuwhof@gmail.com to include me in the conversation. Thank you!*

  93. Drew Mahan on April 11, 2014 at 8:30 am

    Carey, sometimes pastors (ESPECIALLY planters) are desperate for people with energy, and are therefore vulnerable to allowing toxic people to gain ground. Thanks for these 6 warning signs. They provide a great filter for someone early in their ministry (like me) to tame the eagerness of having anyone and everyone with energy and ideas at the table. Thankfully, I have had the experience as a youth pastor to see the damaging effects of toxic people, on a church. I’m not at all glad that the previous church was nearly destroyed, but I AM glad that I learned from it.

  94. Theophilus2014 on April 2, 2014 at 10:45 am

    What if the toxic person is your pastor (or his wife)? You mentioned the “coming on too strong in the beginning,” and I had to comment because when I first joined the church I am a member of right now, I noticed that it felt very much like I was being “love-bombed.” The pastor and his wife were welcoming but in an almost overwhelming way, they invited me to be part of this “special” leadership class right away, they asked me to take on a mission project that they couldn’t (due to family circumstances), etc.

    Everything was fine as long as I showed up and supported what they wanted to do. I even started a ministry at the church that is still going strong after 5 years. (I did attend for a few weeks prior to joining, because I wanted to get to know things and people). I also joined the choir and taught a Sunday School class one summer.

    When my own life (job, health, etc.) caused me to have to step back on my involvement in the church, the support wasn’t there anymore. Sure, there were people who asked what they could do to support me, but it was more like, “what can we do so that you will still stay involved,” rather than whatever else was going on in my life.

    The breaking point was when I had surgery, and my pastor never came to the hospital to see how I was or to pray with me – I went into that surgery not knowing if I had cancer or not (thankfully, I didn’t), and my pastor never came to see me, either in the hospital or after. I tried to stay in touch with his wife, who I thought was my friend, and after she found out that my family had been friends with her former pastor (with whom she had had some serious conflicts), she dropped me almost entirely.

    My own father is a pastor – has been in ministry for 40 years – and I have talked to him about some of these things. I understand that people have issues, and that being a pastor is difficult; mistakes get made all the time, and I get it – I really do. Part of the reason I still have my membership here is because I’m not one to just walk away when things get difficult or messy. I recently sent a note to my pastor’s wife suggesting getting together for lunch to catch up; her response was that she doesn’t have any free time right now but “thanks for the invitation.”

    This has just been really rough – I am not attending church anywhere now, although I have been able to visit online with another church on the other side of town (different denomination) so that I can worship, but I have to say that I am really, REALLY leery of going anywhere, and I want to try to sort out what to do about the situation, including my own contribution to it, so that I can move forward.

    • Scot Fourowls on September 5, 2014 at 2:31 am

      There’s something inherently wrong with the modern formal church model that in practice denies the “priesthood of believers,” as Carey proves by this article. Jesus didn’t start a church with pastors or buildings. The gospel’s Koine Greek word translated (later by Roman Catholic churchmen into Latin and then English) as “church” from a discussion with Simon/Peter can also mean power or several other nuanced things. The Acts-era Jewish and Paulinist churches were communal collectives nothing like the hierarchical separated church model developed by the Roman Empire and adopted by Protestants with a few differences carried forward to our time.

      Jesus is calling us to the reign of God, without walls, where we meet people for His rule wherever we go, without paid clergy or the rest of the self-righteous pontificating of those who play God in the lives of Jesus followers. I’ve found 12-step groups for fun and for free with rotation of leaders as trusted servants — you can do the same, or start one for your particular favorite dysfunction. In the meetings after the meetings, you can find your fellow Jesus followers who like their Bibles, too. No 12-step overhead other than pay-as-you-go room rental, and because formal churches are doing such a poor job keeping people involved and contributing, you can probably even find 12-step meetings in churches! There’s a 12-step tradition of attraction, not promotion, so I’m just sharing my experience, strength and hope.

      I can find plenty of Christians in 12-step communities who don’t attend formal church, and lead happy, creative lives including joyous but not depleting service to others. But I can’t find any formal churches that aren’t toxic from the top down.

  95. margo on March 16, 2014 at 9:04 am

    Hello.
    This post confused me a bit. It seems to me that no one would really want to be toxic. If they are excluded for a few months, wouldn’t they pick up on this and feel hurt? If they leave the church, then what is the right place for them?

    I hear a lot of truth in your post and really enjoyed reading it but it also struck a chord in me…perhaps there is something for me to learn. It’s just that so much of the word of God, seems to be about acceptance, understanding, love, forgiveness, non-judgement. Jesus even speaks of being child-like.

    I know that there is also scripture to support what you say
    I guess what I’m trying to understand is…

    How can these two message not contradict each other?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 16, 2014 at 9:12 pm

      Henry Cloud talks about three categories of people: wise people, foolish people and evil people.Truly toxic people border between foolish and evil. What moves a person toward the ‘evil’ category is intent to harm others. That’s what you have to avoid at all cost for the sake of the mission. If you want to read more, I suggest reading Cloud’s book “Necessary Endings”.

      • LuiSa on June 7, 2014 at 4:52 pm

        I’m sorry but Henry cloud is NOT Jesus

        • Scot Fourowls on September 5, 2014 at 2:37 am

          You said it, LuiSa! Nothing to be sorry about. It’s time we started calling out the false shepherds and stop deferring to them. Jesus wasn’t always “nice and polite” in the face of hypocrisy and He’s our model.

    • Scot Fourowls on September 5, 2014 at 2:35 am

      @ margo — nothing for you to learn here but to run as fast as you can from toxic pastors who think they know best when they won’t work on their own emotional control-tripping dysfunctions (preferring the avoidance of scholarship and being an expert) and project their unhealed emotions on others.

  96. E_nation on February 25, 2014 at 2:00 am

    Hi Carey. You are a Pastor. What’s the point of your post, Sir? Do you have a duty to preach about traits of a toxic person or to preach the gospel? When Pastors get on this bandwagon, they diminish their calling and undermine their focus. More so, while there are indeed toxic people with some of these traits, your theory is that only introverts are healthy people to deal with, and that is grossly misleading. Secondly, you assume that a laid back person the first few months WON’T cause you problems later. Who says some do not reserve their toxicity for later?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 11, 2014 at 8:45 am

      I think the point is simple that if you let toxic people gain too much influence, everyone suffers, including the toxic person. This is not at all about introverts/extroverts, but about looking for signs that may signal unhealth that needs to be dealt with. The early church dealt with this on more than one occasion and the early church leaders were quick to remove people who damaged other people from leadership.

    • Miz Iz on May 11, 2014 at 12:28 am

      He does have a duty to teach about the traits of a toxic person. In his blog he is not preaching, he is teaching. I like preaching but I also like to be taught in detail and be able to ask questions about the subjects and to be able to make comments. You can’t do that when someone is preaching.

      • Scot Fourowls on September 5, 2014 at 2:43 am

        Nothing, Miz Iz, in the Bible or teachings of Jesus states as you contend that he has a duty to teach about the traits of a toxic person. In fact Jesus unambiguously preached, as 12-step fellowships honor, “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Mark 2:17 (KJV).

    • Scot Fourowls on September 5, 2014 at 2:38 am

      Agreed, E_nation.

  97. Janie K on January 26, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    Hi! I don’t think Carey is giving us strategies to identify “toxic” people and advising us to cut them out of our congregation or marginalize them. I find that sometimes a paster/priest may even be too close to the situation and may not have the perspective to see people the way the congregation sees them. Good points to alert leaders to step back and observe their people. And, not to be confusing, to watch how congregants participate with each other. We can always learn from first-hand experience, but we can also learn from the third-person perspective as well. Thank you, Carey.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 11, 2014 at 8:46 am

      For sure Janie. I appreciate that. Sometimes we are too close to be neutral, but I have found that the more vigilant leaders are about protecting congregational health, the healthier a congregation becomes.

  98. CommentGuy on January 10, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    Hi, I believe anyone who knew Saul, later to be St. Paul, would have said he was very toxic. So we should never give up on anyone, as transformation is possible. Everyone is part good and part bad.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 12, 2014 at 6:05 pm

      I just don’t see that. He was passionate. And he was determined. But he wasn’t self centered at all. And there’s a difference between someone who is filled with God’s spirit and someone who isn’t. But I do admit some biblical characters would have come off as socially strange. Toxic, no. But strange. Yes.

    • Scot Fourowls on September 5, 2014 at 2:48 am

      CommentGuy, see how Carey believes below he’s entitled to denigrate and deny your assessment of Saul/Paul? Your comment is accurate by any fair reading of the entire Bible and history of the early church as well as Saul/Paul in his terrorist mode murdering Christians before his conversion and chronic dealing with a thorn in his side from the devil. Saul/Paul is the very definition of toxic dysfunction, which proves God can work through and never gives up on anybody.

  99. Dan Wolters on December 23, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    “Never trust the first person to meet you at the train
    station.” An adage from yesteryear that
    I think sums up what you’re saying quite nicely.

  100. MarkyVanD on December 23, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    So the action plan is to “not let them get involved” and hope they leave?

    I have found the best route to take is visiting with them often (however painful that might be) and making some of the small changes they want to see. When those changes are made I communicate to them that we have listened and found some of their suggestions were valuable based on Scriptural principles. This way they learn the litmus test and feel valued.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 24, 2013 at 11:45 am

      I think one of the mistakes leaders make is we tend to favour people who harm us by giving them more of our time than we need to. Our great leaders (who are advancing the mission) suffer when we’re out fighting fires. We only have so much time in a day, and I think there is a point where even like Jesus and Paul we shake the dust off our feet and move on with those who want to advance the mission.

      • MarkyVanD on December 24, 2013 at 2:46 pm

        I don’t think the “shake the dust off your feet” teaching applies in this situation. Jesus said that about people who did not want to listen to the Gospel. Many of these toxic people believe the Gospel and have a desire to see it spread, but their sins (mostly pride) make them a hindrance to the church’s work. As pastors we have to help those people feel welcome (just like an alcoholic) while challenging them to die to their old self and be risen into Christ-likeness. Jesus spent a whole lot of time with the Pharisees, teachers of the law and scribes. He did that because he wanted them to see the kingdom and be transformed by the Gospel.

      • E_nation on February 25, 2014 at 2:11 am

        Pardon me, but you strike me as a Pastor who will not tolerate anyone who raises questions or worse still, disagrees with you- even from long loyal members. I may be dead wrong, but that’s what I get. I apologize if I’m wrong.

        • Scot Fourowls on September 5, 2014 at 2:51 am

          E_nation: You have nothing to apologize for! You are stating a valuable truth that may help others reading here start to come out from under toxic pastoring and instead start following Jesus.

  101. viaimages on November 26, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    this is your opinion and is not necessarily the case for every person as situations and people act differently for different reasons. for instance: i encounter positive people who are outspoken and want to be proactive to protect their peers from false facts during work product training’s and need to always interject (a sales person spouting wrong information is never trustworthy in the eyes of the consumer), but by your opinion are seen as toxic people

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 26, 2013 at 2:44 pm

      I don’t think sales people fit all six criteria. So for sure, one or two in isolation is not toxic. But under most circumstances when you add all six together it’s often a reliable indicator of a toxic person.

  102. Guest on November 17, 2013 at 2:20 am

    This assumes that the toxic person is a choice. What happens when it is family? What happens when you grow up enough to realize the person is toxic and despite realising it and trying to deal with it appropriately, nothing seems to change? Where does “Honour your mother and father” hold and and not letting him or her have influence, get involved and boundaries are received with guilt trips and disownment repetitively. Prayer for understanding and forgiveness are a regular theme for one of my parents.
    Thank you for your posts. I really enjoy them. God bless.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 26, 2013 at 2:43 pm

      Thanks for the encouragement. Yes, the issue can be families and groups. Some of the best material I’ve read on those issues comes from Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Anything they’ve written concerning “boundaries’ will help you.

      • Guest on November 26, 2013 at 7:41 pm

        i see people with all 6 signs that are not toxic. for a pasture, you sure are prejudiced.

        • Scot Fourowls on September 5, 2014 at 2:52 am

          Agreed. … a pastor who should perhaps be put to pasture …

  103. Chris Shepherd on November 8, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    Oh man, this is so true. My experience with toxic people comes in the context of relationships, and I wrote a little guide for guys on how to identify these types and deal with them. http://www.tenmagnet.com/toxic-women-three-kinds-women-abusive-need-watch/

  104. Ellen Pullen on October 28, 2013 at 1:16 am

    I concur with another reader, your messages transfer to business and the home. The image of the two folks in masks is soooo funny! I am still giggling! I am sitting here reading the blog realizing the word, “toxic,” is a perfect description of two family members we have living in our lower level. Their true character was revealed after about two weeks. It’s now 6 months later and we cannot get them to move out. We are truly stumped as how to help these two toxic folks. One blogger mentioned the word, “personality disorder.” One of the two is a chronic, habitual liar who has spent his entire life buying stuff to impress others. He believes his own lies. He can’t grasp the fact that money does not give you value. Now all they have is “stuff” & NO home to put it in

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 28, 2013 at 9:51 am

      Ellen..this is a significant issue and I’m sure it has a complexity to it that’s hard to summarize. Two suggestions. The book “Necessary Endings” by Henry Cloud might be very helpful. Sounds like there might be some boundary issues to look at. Second, I might try to ask a pastor, counselor or trusted adviser who knows you and the situation to speak into it. Clearly, something has to change. Hope this helps.

      • Ellen Pullen on October 28, 2013 at 5:17 pm

        Thanks bunches!!! I spent much time in the Word and found some answers as to how we should conduct ourselves towards them. I just wrote 5 pages of notes to guide my husband and I. We have asked for direction and the situation has been prayed over. In this toxic environment, a few of our goals: don’t beat them over the head, be consistent, happy, peaceful and have joyful behavior. Don’t preach or nag. Let the power of God function in our life. Yes, there are definite boundary issues. We will read the book for help. We will do all we can. You are a super busy man and I appreciate your notes. Have a wonderful week.

  105. Larry Farlow on October 17, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    Wow, that was the best blog post I’ve ever read!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 18, 2013 at 10:09 am

      You must made my day Larry. Thankful it helped!

      • Larry Farlow on October 18, 2013 at 10:11 am

        Sorry, couldn’t help myself. 🙂

  106. Wednesday Link List | Thinking Out Loud on October 16, 2013 at 8:45 am

    […] Because it would be nice to know ahead of time, here’s six signs you’re dealing with a toxic person. […]

  107. Faye on October 9, 2013 at 9:15 am

    Wow Carey… I am loving your blogging… Do you know I often read your blog as it really helps me in business (this stuff is not just for churches) and something I have been working on is setting up clear boundaries and expectations with clients so that we don’t attract toxic people. Something that I have noted along the way is that sometimes if we attract alot of the toxic, there is something toxic in our lives whether it be personal, professional or in this case a church that needs to be cleaned up… and sometimes they just come along, but it gives a really good flag to perhaps look inward and see if there is something we need to work on ourselves or just as you said, start establishing healthy boundaries! 🙂 So again, thank you!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 9, 2013 at 9:58 am

      Hey Faye…this is so encouraging. Thank you! I try to write with transferable principles in mind, and I’m thankful you’re finding them helpful.

  108. Julia on October 4, 2013 at 12:05 am

    I have been gauged as a toxic person before. I am an external processor and an “ideation” person. Most of my thinking is explosively creative and I can get carried away with talking about it, without realizing it. It took me years to learn that, 90% of the time, advice that isn’t requested is seen as criticism. I had to learn to reign in my external processing until good relationships have been established.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 8, 2013 at 7:02 am

      Julia that’s fantastic self awareness.

    • KarenRowe on November 3, 2017 at 5:34 pm

      If people find you toxic, you should do some soul searching as to why that is.

  109. Adam on October 1, 2013 at 9:58 am

    Do you ever fear that gauging people this way limits your opportunity to mentor, grow or disciple believers who have shortcomings? Thinking people are toxic early on seems much stronger than to identify immaturity or lack of discipline or even to think someone is maybe self-absorbed. I’m a person who comes on strong, engages quickly, offers ideas and tries to connect early on for a meeting. When I moved 2 years ago, I did this because I wanted to get engaged and committed quickly in a local church where I could serve. I received an incredibly warm welcome, had lunch with the pastor 2 weeks in, and was welcomed to serve in a variety of ways. Had the pastor evaluated me on this criteria, and concluded he should hold off and watch me for a few months, I would have left and never become involved, assuming they don’t need volunteers.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 8, 2013 at 7:01 am

      Hi Adam…sorry I missed your comment earlier. I think that’s a good point. Toxic is more than just the 6 points, I think there’s a vibe to it as well. And clearly you are not that person.

  110. Lawrence W. Wilson on September 28, 2013 at 9:38 am

    No. 1 is the best predictor, in my experience, because it’s actually the earliest one you see. What’s remarkable about this phenomenon is how consistent it is. I wonder if this happens in other contexts besides church?

    • Karen Rabbitt on September 28, 2013 at 1:34 pm

      Yes, happens in dating, too. Typical of borderline personality disorder. They idealize and then later, devalue.

  111. jeffcook on September 27, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    I found your concluding thoughts here helpful.

    I’d love to see more on this topic of wrestling with those who come into our communities (especially small ones like mine), who are passionate and toxic. Shall we tell such folks of their toxicity? Do we say that we don’t find them trustworthy? If there are spaces in our community that need help, what shall we do? Thank you for your great work.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on September 28, 2013 at 9:06 pm

      Thanks for the question. I think we need to have clear boundaries. Often the best thing to do is to simply keep the boundaries clear and offer an explanation only if they ask. And then it’s time to make sure that the truth is spoken with grace.

  112. Chuck on September 27, 2013 at 10:24 am

    Dumb question… I’m already subscribed to receive blog entries by e-mail. Is THAT the “Insider List” or is this something new/different?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on September 27, 2013 at 10:38 am

      That’s a great question. And yes, if you signed up you are on the list. 🙂

      • Chuck on September 27, 2013 at 4:26 pm

        Thanks for the feedback. P.S. Positively KILLER story (Joe/Melissa) after sermon this week. I was listening to it while grading papers and it just laid me to waste. Good shot!!!

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