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24 May '11

Poisonous criticism and negative spirits

Critical spirits are poison in ministry. They can literally destroy churches, holding them captive to negativity and injuring people in the process. This is not about thinking critically, something valued but living with a critical spirit toward individuals or an entire ministry that like cancer, quietly and behind the scenes spreads its deadly cells until irreparable damage has been done. Critical spirits are deadly for a number of reasons:

They often create a self fulfilling prophecy. Go negative in one's attitude long enough and people will start to believe that it is all negative which makes it impossible for leaders to lead and for people to work toward common healthy goals. I am currently working with a church where the negative attitudes have become so strong that there is a good chance the ministry will implode.
 
Critical spirits and negativity destroy trust which is the necessary ingredient in any healthy ministry. Trust is destroyed because critical spirits by definition question the motives or the competency of others. Others are infected by the negativity and seeds of mistrust are sown in their minds which impact relationships, a willingness to work with leaders. 


Highly critical people in the church actually set themselves up as rival leaders since they bring around them others who buy into their attitudes and follow their lead. In doing so, they undermine the leadership of others and subtly but surely divide the congregation.

Negativity spreads quickly as others with  "issues" get sucked into bad attitudes. Give some people a reason to complain and they will take it. Negative attitudes have a way of building coalitions of people who have something to complain about and get sucked in to a spiral of bad attitudes.

A spirit of criticism and negativity is a tactic of the evil one to bring division to the body and destroying its unity. Satan knows that if he can divide the body he can neutralize its effectiveness. These attitudes do not come from the Spirit! 

How do you combat negativity and critical spirits when they have become pervasive? I have two suggestions. First,  be upfront and public about the issue, its spiritual implications, and its effects. Too often we are afraid to name the sin in our midst allowing it to fester and grow. People with critical spirits and negative attitudes don't think they will be called on their behavior so surprise them.

Second, if it is severe, tell people what is being said in an appropriate setting. What is whispered in private sounds pretty silly when spoken in public. Name the elephants that are being spoken privately and call it for what it is: unhealthy, divisive, unhelpful, and cancerous.

Third, call people back to their calling to be God's people who are making a difference in the world. Often, critical and negative spirits flourish in situations where there is not a higher calling people have embraced. Non missional churches turn inward and in the absence of something better to do, often start picking on one another. 

My advice to the leaders of the congregation above is that they call a town meeting with an outside moderator who can get the issues on the table, name them for what it is and call people to a higher level of behavior. Don't ignore it. Ignoring it is like knowing you have a malignancy but wont go to the doctor. Malignancy's don't go away without intervention. 

Intervene.