REL_G_003 There is no doubt that, as was mentioned in the last post, some churches are toxic environments for spiritual growth. Some churches damage people through abusive control, demeaning treatment or through fostering spiritually unhealthy relational systems that hinder spiritual growth and breed ungodly behavior.

However, at the end of the day, each minister must take responsibility for his or her own spiritual growth. This isn't to minimize the importance of community. It's simply to say that we shouldn't blame others if we don't balance our lives in a way that allows for spiritual growth…or if we stay in that toxic environment. If we choose to stay in an environment that is genuinely toxic to our spiritual well-being (as opposed to just quite challenging), we cannot blame others for what we have sown.

This goes for all Christians, by the way. I've never been one who automatically assumes it's wrong for a Christians to switch churches. Generally, unhealthy people leave healthy churches and healthy people leave unhealthy churches. The question is, "Who are we losing?" No matter how great a church is, people will leave that church—through moving, attrition, or other causes. The question isn't, "Will we lose people," it's, "Who are we losing?" If you are losing people who are heretics, critical, gossipers, divisive, or unwilling to behave Christianly…that's a sign of health. If you are consistently losing people who are truly salt of the earth, or entire age groups…you should really pay attention.

When it comes to the spiritual health of pastors, it's important every pastor understands the nature of both discipleship and service in the Kingdom. We are in a war, so we shouldn't cry or get upset when someone fires at us. No one will serve a church and get a bouquet of spiritual roses every day. However, when we find ourselves in battle unarmed and overmatched, we must seek immediate rearmament by the Holy Spirit. If we are in an environment that is genuinely hostile (intentionally or unintentionally) to our spiritual well-being, we must take stock of whether or not God would want us to stay there…especially if it is harmful to our families. If we choose to stay and do battle (which it is often God's call to do), then we must accept responsibility for the spiritual nurturing of ourselves and those we love—just as in peace time. If we make the decision to move on, we must do the same.

The key here is for the minister to differentiate his or her self from the church enough to not allow the church to dictate to an unhealthy level how prayerful we will be, how angry we will be, whether we will engage God's Word, and whether the fruit of the Spirit will be characteristic of our being and ministry. A minister is not paid to do what the church says. A minister may be paid, but their task is keeping the church focused on what God says. If a leader has an impoverished spiritual life, this is unlikely to happen.

Ministers cannot blame a congregation for their lack of spiritual growth or health. Perhaps churches do play a role in helping or hindering the process. However, ministers must realize that their commitment to the Lord is most important, and balance their life in such a way that the church does not dictate one's spiritual well-being. God has called us to follow Jesus first. Our families depend on the centrality of that Covenant in our lives for abundant life at home. The church deserves to have sold-out disciples serving Her. So, let's keep it first. Everything else will fall into place.

If, as you read this, you're sick from the second-hand smoke of the ministry you're in, consider asking for a study-break or sabbatical. Consider being open with your Shepherds. If you can't trust them with that…then you have a big problem. I would hope your elders would honor such openness if they can. But, don't let pride keep you from acknowledging a problem or blame the church you're supposed to love and serve for the problem. Do whatever it takes to stay close to the Lord Jesus Christ. This is your first calling. All real ministry begins there.