How to Deal With Toxic Relationships in Church

As a member of a church, you are called to love everyone equally and without malice. However, sometimes you will encounter seemingly malicious people who intentionally seek to hurt you, people who choose to misinterpret their unkind behavior as acceptable through all sorts of contorted and toxic means. Avoid stooping to their level and instead show them how to be a better person. By following these steps, you can confront this person while still walking in the spirit of love.


  1. Image titled Deal With Toxic Relationships in Church Step 1
    Look for signs that this churchgoer is behaving in a toxic way. Does this person seem to feel compelled to act superior because he or she has unrealistic expectations of church life? Some faith believers are driven beyond faith into keeping score of who is "the most religious." This is a form of "religious addiction" rather than worship and can lead some sufferers to assume that they're better than others, simply because they consider that they believe more strongly or in a particular preferred way. This is a form of intolerance and willful blindness that can make it more difficult for you to discuss the issue but it is important to be aware that it might be a possibility.[1] Other things that might indicate toxic behavior include:
    • Be aware that a religious addict often feels no sense of accountability to others. This means that if you're not conforming to his or her way of worshiping or seeing the world, then you may be considered a fair target for insulting or undermining. Do you feel like this is happening to you?
    • Does this person seem distraught, overwrought, exhausted physically and/or emotionally? This might be a sign of obsessing about their faith rather than living a life in faith, leaving the person open to feeling it's okay to hurt others because he or she already feels so much pain.
    • Does this person use threats or seek to intimidate you? Is this person obsessed with "shaming" you? Does this person seem to equate you with "them" (outside of the church), while he or she is "us" (the church)? There is no place for any of these attitudes and actions in a church environment––it's definitely toxic behavior.
    • Does this person try to label you? For example, does he or she insist that "you are deceived" or "you are faithless"? This is another sign of toxic behavior.
    • Does this person insist that his or her accountability is only to God and believes that he or she is invested with the right to judge what God thinks of you? This lack of behaving like a basic, decent human being shows a lack of accountability and is a way to avoid being caring and kind––it is plain toxic.
  2. Image titled Deal With Toxic Relationships in Church Step 2
    Check that your own attitude is in order before discussing anything. In what ways have you possibly contributed to the toxic state of your relationship with this person? Maybe you have said or done something that was inflammatory or uncaring. If so, you're going to have to own your part in this and be ready to apologize for it. The good thing is that seeing your remorse and willingness to move forward will often help to open a way for the other party to try the same.
  3. Image titled Deal With Toxic Relationships in Church Step 3
    Suggest a conversation. Tell this person that you really need to speak to him or her in person. Set a date that is good for both of you, and find a public yet quiet place to meet. A restaurant or coffee shop is best, because it is easier to talk over food or treats.
    • You may like to pray before you meet. This can set your mind at ease and keep you focused on the purpose of your meeting and the love you wish to convey.
  4. Image titled Deal With Toxic Relationships in Church Step 4
    Begin the conversation by clarifying how the words or behavior of the toxic person have caused you to feel. Keep to "I" statements and avoid trying to pin blame on this person for actions or things said––keep the conversation as factual as possible and focused on what it's done to your feelings.
    • Keep the tone of the conversation light. If you shout, you risk escalating the conversation to a screaming match. Even if the other person is speaking loudly, you need to act above reproach.
  5. Image titled Deal With Toxic Relationships in Church Step 5
    Seek to make the toxic church member accountable for his or her actions. While keeping the tone of the conversation light, make it clear that you do not see any person in the church as having a special or pre-destined role to act morally superior over you or anybody else in the church environment. Inform him or her that everyone who attends worship at your church is an equal and each person is deserving of mutual respect and support. Make it clear that you feel that each church attendee has a responsibility to create a sense of belonging among all churchgoers and to avoid sowing disharmony.
    • If you feel it will assist, bring along a Bible to highlight your points. This way, you can show them where in the Word is your reasoning. The Letters of Paul contain many references to loving one another.
    • Note: do not force the Bible on them. The Word of God is not to be used to be used to hurt people.
  6. Image titled Deal With Toxic Relationships in Church Step 6
    Consult a pastor or spiritual authority. If needed, consult your pastor or spiritual authority. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, this person will refuse to reconcile. If this is the case, talk to a spiritual authority who can intervene and seek to mediate the situation to every person's satisfaction.
    • Bringing in someone who is excellent at dealing with difficult personalities is essential if the toxic person is behaving like an addict or a tyrant.
    • If you're concerned that it is your pastor who is behaving in a toxic way, seek help from outside your church. In this case, you may need to give serious consideration to changing churches––a toxic leader can be extremely destructive of the church community.
  7. Image titled Deal With Toxic Relationships in Church Step 7
    Forgive. Even if this person does not repent to you, you need to move on. Holding a grudge only hurts you. Remember that forgiveness does not mean complacency or continuing to submit yourself to the challenging person's arrogance and toxic ways. It is instead about realizing that this person has a problem and refuses to change, all while not letting this deter you from continuing to enjoy your role in the church. Find ways to manage around this toxic person and to build a good support team who recognize the toxic behavior without condoning it.
    • Cut this person out of your emotional framework. Be polite but be distant and don't engage with the person any further.
    • Continue to pray for this person and to care about his or her recovery from being toxic.
    • Avoid communicating with this person directly unless needed and do not play his or her games or let this person "push your buttons".
    • Stop feeling guilty about the aspersions he or she attempts to cast on you. Realize the anger, frustration and superiority for what it is––deep-seated issues this person needs to resolve within him- or herself and through dialog with God.
    • Keep your anger and irritation to yourself when this toxic person is about. Don't let him or her see that the insults or attempts to shame you are having any impact. Just be polite and kind on the surface and deal with your negative emotions later through prayer and talking to people you trust.


  • Pray after the conversation. If the person has hurt you in any way, ask the Lord to help you forgive them.
  • You may find it helpful to read generalist books and articles about toxic relationships and narcissism. Psychological techniques for dealing with toxic people work in all walks of life, including faith-based activities and relationships.


  • Your faith does not require you to put up with rude, unkind, nasty people. You are entitled to stand up for yourself and not be walked over. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that caring for other people means putting up with their negative impacts on you.
  • Don't miss signs of repentance. At least give the toxic person an opportunity to change his or her toxic behavior and improve how he or she interacts with others. This may take time and it will likely require the support of others in the church, perhaps even your own support. Think about how it must feel to have your bad behavior called out as having been noticed and as having caused harm. Many people will see this as the point at which they need to reform and stop hurting others, so by giving space and support for this to happen, you might just see the end of the toxic behavior. However, if there are no signs of change after some time has passed and support has been offered, then you are probably correct in assuming that this person has no intentions of changing and will not repent.

Article Info

Featured Article

Categories: Featured Articles | Relationship Issues