Are you a ministry leader seeking to avoid toxic behavior and create a healthy environment? Learn essential tips and strategies to cultivate positive leadership, prioritize your team’s well-being, and foster growth in your ministry.

Aaron Buer
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How’s your wake? In other words, how are people impacted by your leadership? Do they grow or do they shrink? Every one of us has the potential to be a life-giving leader who brings out the best in people or to become a toxic leader who diminishes people. Which direction are you moving in your leadership?

It’s probably obvious that no one sets out to become a toxic ministry leader. I think it happens slowly over time by not correcting dysfunctional behavior patterns. So, let’s talk about some of the ways we can accidentally become toxic leaders.

Don’t Micromanage

Toxic leaders micromanage their staff and volunteers because they don’t trust them. Lack of trust always spirals downward in an organization.

Have you ever been micromanaged in a job? It’s terrible. It feels like you can’t do anything right and you lose the ability to create and innovate because you’re so worried about failing.

If you don’t want to accidentally become a toxic leader, be very careful about micromanaging your team. Here’s how to avoid becoming a micromanager:

  • Create clear expectations for the people you lead
  • Give people freedom to experiment and innovate
  • Provide clear and actionable feedback.
  • Regularly ask, “Do you feel micromanaged by me?”

Avoid Being Inconsistent

When people don’t know what to expect from leaders in their lives they get nervous and shrink back. In short, leaders who are inconsistent with their leadership presence don’t feel safe.

This is something I personally struggle with. I’m actually a fairly moody person and people that I work with find this inconsistency difficult. What I’ve discovered is that my inconsistent moods are often a result of not attending to my emotions and asking “why” questions about what I’m feeling. Instead of processing, I just plow ahead in an attempt to be productive. I’ve learned that this isn’t good leadership.

One of the ways I’ve dealt with my struggle is through Christian counseling. Having a place to process my emotions has helped me be more consistent with my leadership presence. Maybe this is something that would be healthy for you to pursue.

When people don’t know what to expect from you, they’ll have a hard time trusting you. If you don’t want to become a toxic leader, do your best to provide a consistent leadership presence.

Receive Feedback

Healthy teams are honest. Honesty leads to trust and also greater levels of excellence in work. The only way to increase honesty is to reward honesty. When you receive feedback about your leadership or about your church, listen! Be curious. Make sure your staff, volunteers and congregation believe that you will listen to their feedback.

Conversely, if you want to become a toxic leader, ignore or shut down feedback. People will quickly realize that honesty will be ignored or punished and everyone will keep quiet. You’ll lose connection with your people, and excellence in ministry will suffer, because when people notice weaknesses or mistakes, they’ll keep quiet.

Are you Apologizing?

Humility is a sign of health in any organization, especially a church. A core idea in our faith is the humility to admit, “I am a sinner in need of grace.” When we lose this, especially in leadership, we run the risk of becoming more and more toxic.

If you want to avoid toxicity as a leader, be quick to apologize. Show humility.

What’s counter-intuitive here is that in leadership we often believe that we need to be strong and we need to be right so that people trust our leadership. I believe it’s more important to show humility. When leaders show humility, they build trust and also model healthy leadership for others. Your staff and volunteers will follow your lead. If you are never wrong and never apologize, your entire culture will likely slide toward a toxic environment.

Foster Relationships

Lastly, if you want to become a toxic leader, just isolate yourself. Don’t open up to anyone. Don’t let anyone know what you’re struggling with and don’t invite anyone to speak truth into your life. Isolated leaders live in delusion because they are disconnected from reality and relationships.

If you want to be a healthy leader who creates a life-giving environment, build and maintain authentic relationships with people inside and outside your church. Find places to be vulnerable and accountable.

Toxic leaders are almost always isolated leaders. Surround yourself with honest, loving and strong people. Invite them to speak truth into your life, and the chances of you becoming a toxic leader are very slim indeed.

Wrap Up

It’s a challenging time to pastor and lead. The Church needs good leadership. My prayer for you is that you would pursue healthy habits so that you can continue to bring your best to our church and lead in such a way that invites the blessing of God in your life and your church.