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  • Writer's picturesonnyholmes

Toxic people

Yes, I believe everything is possible with God. There is nothing beyond his sight or sovereignty. God can change people, circumstances, attitudes, dreams and visions, sacred cultural icons, and government. Still, I have to admit that some people, even professing believers, are toxic all of the time and can poison any relationship they touch, even at church. They may be the most frustrating ministry junk any spiritual leader has to handle. Handling with care is a mark of Christian compassion and is expected in the family of faith. But, honestly, a punch in the face is sometimes more appropriate than stroking with kid gloves. Just saying...

My personal church experience has been mega-blessed. In thirty-five years I was privileged to serve four wonderful churches. There were many situations that tested all of us and more than a few that sparked occasional brush fires along the way. Every human has the capacity for a rough day or a bad run and there were frequent interactions than ran sour even when the people weren't actually poisonous. Then again, life happens even at church and there were people who had been snatched from the jaws of Hades but hadn't learned the Christian people skills to properly interact with others. Someone had to handle them, and that someone was often me or a member of our staff. In most instances we followed a basic conflict resolution format when dealing with toxic people. Usually the following path defined our way through the rough waters of personal conflict resolution involving difficult people---

1. Pray before involving yourself in any relational conflict situation.

2. Remove any planks from your own eyes before approaching people involved in

the situation under review.

3. Meet with the people involved and get the facts about what has occurred.

Getting agreement among people in strife can be a hazardous process. Be kind,

listen well, and seek common ground on what happened. There should be no

decisions or outcomes at this point of the process. Just the facts please. Often

confusion over miscommunication will settle the friction at this point.

3. Measure the situation for toxicity.

Personal human differences occur for innumerable reasons. People don't live in

a vacuum and often bring other baggage to their inter-personal relationships.

In like manner, there are talking/listening problems that affect our interaction

with others. At this point you're trying to determine motives and intent in the

trouble spot.

4. Know the markers of toxic people.

There are many sites specializing in the character traits of unsafe people. They

may include the following, as well as others---

(a) a tendency to speak much and listen little

(b) a compulsion to be right all the time

(c) there's usually staging for much drama

(d) truth can be twisted or adjusted for personal gratification

(e) there may be great evidence of compulsive behavior

(f) there may be an air of desperate need about the person

(g) there is often great sarcasm in their responses

(h) clear, concise answers may be lost in the drama

(i) the toxic person may demonstrate a victim mentality

(j) this person may display an air of superiority

(k) gossip and loose talk may slip into their conversation

(l) there is a grandiose scheme to their suggestions or conversation

(m) this person tries to control your interaction

5. Make note of patterns involving this particular person.

6. Make a decision about pursuing this matter with a person thought to be toxic.

Your responses may include the following---

(a) overlook the situation as minor in nature and requiring no further action

(b) confront the toxic person with the specifics of their sinful behavior

according to the biblical guidelines in Matthew 18: 15-20. Remember, your

goal in this meeting is restoration of this person. If there is no confession or

if the toxic behavior persists, the actions of Matthew 18:15-20 should be

taken. You may wish to assign a restoration partner to assist this person

with their toxic behavior if they are repentant and ready to accept


God's Word speaks clearly to our actions and attitudes when addressing trouble people, including people with a toxic spirit---

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.

Proverbs 19:11, ESV

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should

restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be


Galatians 6:1, ESV

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is

the head, into Christ.

Ephesians 4:15, ESV

Toxic people are often ministry junk that have to be handled over and over again, that is, until someone handles them with biblical strength and clarity.

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