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10 Dangerous Church Paradigms I’ve Observed

I’ve been in church all my life. Along the way I’ve seen and observed a lot. Almost all the insight I have into church has come by experience.

I have observed, for example, paradigms can often shape a church’s culture. A paradigm in simple terms, is a mindset – a way of thinking. In this case, a collective mindset of the church, often programmed into the church’s culture.

If the church is unhealthy part of the reason could be because it has some wrong paradigms. In this case, it will almost always need a paradigm shift in order to be a healthier church again.

Recently, I’ve been thinking of some of the paradigms which impact a church. I’ll look at some of the negative in this post and in another post some of the positive paradigms of the church.

Please understand. I love and believe in the local church. I believe in the ability to impact a community, to provide hope and, of course, in the promise Jesus made about His church. My goal of this post and this blog is to strengthen the local church. Sometimes we do this by exposing the parts, which needs to improve. 

Here are 10 dangerous church paradigms:

This is more my church than yours.

Granted, no one would ever say this one, but a sense of ownership can set in the longer someone has been at a church. They have invested in the church personally and feel, often rightly so, a need to protect and care for it. The negative of this mindset, however, is when people don’t easily welcome new people. They “own” their seats. You better not sit there – no matter how much the church needs to grow. They control programs, committees, and traditions. Obviously, the church is not your church or my church. God has not released the deed.

We’ve never done it this way before.

And, if this is the “go to” paradigm – they probably never will. People with this mindset resist all change. Even the most positive or needed change. Small change is big change to these people.

The pastor needs to do it.

Whatever “it” is – the pastor, or some paid staff, must be involved at some level. This paradigm keeps a church very small. (And, doesn’t seem Biblical to me.)

That’s for the big churches.

Don’t sell yourself short. Some of the greatest people in ministry come from small churches. Maybe your only role, for example, is to raise up the next generation of Kingdom-minded leaders. This would be a great purpose for a church.

That’s for the small churches.

I’ve seen a few big churches with an attitude. Bad attitudes. This mindset can keep a church from reaching the most hurting, because their only focus is on growing. A strong, narrowly defined and driven vision is powerful. It builds churches, but a church with this paradigm never welcomes any interruptions in their plans. Jesus is our best example of this. He kept the vision before Him, but was never afraid to stop for the interruption yelling in the streets.

My comfort level for change is _____.

This paradigm says, “We will change until it impacts our individual personal desires.” Does it sound self-centered? It is.

My people would never support _____.

Well, pastor, maybe if they weren’t “your people”, they’d be more willing to be “God’s people”. He has ways you can’t even imagine of leading His people to do His will.

I can’t!

Not with that attitude. The old saying, “If you think you can’t you’re halfway there.” But one quick question – Where is your faith?

This is the best we can do.

Are you sure? Is that your opinion or God’s? Sounds like a dangerous paradigm to me.

We have plateaued as a church.

Really? You may have quit growing, but plateaued? The word means “leveled out”. This indicates to me you’re stable. In my experience, you’re either going forward – or going backwards. Standing still is usually not an option – and definitely not stability.

Those are just some of the dangerous church paradigms I’ve observed. You’ve seen far more, I’m sure.

Do you know of any other dangerous church paradigms?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 37 Comments

  • Evangelical Samizdat says:

    Precise and to the point and helpful! Thanks Ron!

    I would also like to add one dangerous paradigm – "this is the latest thinking we have to keep up with the times!".

    What is behind this dangerous paradigm is sometimes a dynamic called syncretism – where different and often contradictory beliefs are merged together to create a false impression of unity and relevance to the surrounding secular culture. There is a major movement to water down the central truths of Christianity. Some of this movement is coming writers such as Brian McLaren – leaders need to be aware of him and others like him. See: https://thereluctantsamizdatwordpresscom.wordpres

  • jimpemberton says:

    Fabulous list and some very thoughtful additions in the comments! The only addition I have to make to this great list is this:

    * The "club mentality" – tithes and gifts are given in exchange for services: 'I pay my dues every month, that's my part, therefore the church, especially the professional minister we hired to do a job, is supposed to minister to me in the way that I expect – or I'll take my business elsewhere."

    This typically results in club members – er – church members – actually drawing more of the ministry of the church than they are putting in. If this is widespread in a church, it doesn't take long for the church to eat itself alive.

  • JED says:

    1. Everything traditional or unique to our church must be done away with. We must conform to what every other mainstream church does.

    2. The way I did things at my former/home church is the way we need to do things here.

    3. The church must be free of formality. Everything needs to be causal and relaxed. There should be nothing about church that hints of solemnity or sacredness. It's old fashioned, and doesn't appeal to the masses anymore.

    The church building should no longer be thought of as God's house, rather, a Christian community center complete with commercialism and a generic Worship Center rather than a space deemed sacred for worship. This is all designed to appeal to more people and get more folks in the seats.

  • Brent Dumler says:

    Good, but sobering, post. And I think much of how the church becomes this way can be explained in two dynamics.
    1. The congregation is not disciplined in their individual spiritual growth.
    2. The Lead Pastor is also not growing spiritually, and has no other leaders speaking into his/her life.
    Ultimately, it's a self-leadership issue across the board.

  • Planting Potatoes says:

    good read….makes me think you have been to my church! 🙂 My question: if our churches have these dangerous paradigms…what can we do change them?

    • ronedmondson says:

      It begins with leadership, coupled with a spirit of wanting to follow after Christ and a yielding to God's will for our churches. That can be accomplished in some churches. Not sure it can in every one. Even Jesus said to dust off our feet sometimes. But, with good, intentional leadership, change is still possible in most of our churches.

      • Planting Potatoes says:

        I'm afraid my wife and I have had to "dust off our feet after going back over and over for years. We felt so guilty for a long time because we thought we were doing something wrong…..and unfortunately, we live in a small mountain town, and have no other options for church.

  • GAbriela says:

    comfort and routine = Religious

  • Chrisjones_7 says:

    How about-
    The truth is not popular! Jesus only had a few disciples so we shouldn't expect large numbers.

  • Damian Diaz says:

    Your Pastor gets involved with and MLM company and will not returned a call regarding church matters but will for a business opportunity because he saids, "It's for Kingdom Business", and he goes around trying to recruit all its members to join his MLM company.

  • Judy says:

    Or” _____________ (insert Jesus command) is for super Christians”. As if it is not normal.

  • Judy says:

    Our church has gotten bigger.that means we're growing (deeper spiritually) or we're doing it(church) right.
    I recall during that time for our church the visitors and seekers they loved the message. Always encouraging, inspiring, loving. . It worried me as to whether or not doing church right looked like people attracted to an insoirational message or a good speaker or concert like band ..more than Jesus/the Word. Nonetheless a good problem to have. Just need to be careful on how success or growth is defined.

  • kmacker says:

    How about:
    1- We need more money so we better start doing outreach to get more people in the pews!

    2- We need more young people in our church BUT…

    3- Making disciples is too hard…

    4- But THIS is what our people want us to do…

  • Christian Jacome says:

    1.- You have to look like me me to be a Cristian or go to Heaven

    2.- What works for other churches will work for ours

    3.- Is not the will of God for us to growth

    4.- we have to wait for the Lord’s timing (While God is waiting 4 U to take the first step)

  • David says:

    "Busy equals success" – Sometimes the most spiritual thing a church can do is to do less so they can do what's most important.

  • adamswbrown says:

    If only we had the money, we could reach the lost…

  • Richard Hearing says:

    This one I call the retired syndrome that for younger people not for me