Toxic Relationships

I just need to work on myself right now. I need to care for myself. If you are ‘toxic’, or negative, then I’m done with ya. If you aren’t on board with helping me care for myself, then I’m done with ya. Forget the nay-sayers. I’m doing me. 

I have seen a ton of these types of posts on social media as of late. Like at least one each week.

Our culture, and unfortunately our Christian sub-culture, is all about individualism and living one’s best life. So the fact that these type of posts show up from Christians and non-Christians alike is not all that surprising.

But church, it is concerning.

As of late, I’ve been diving knee-deep into the book of Philippians. I try and listen to it every day in the car, read it a couple times a week, and memorize different portions of it. I want to know it inside and out, letting it permeate my mind and heart. One undeniable theme that runs throughout the entire book is the way that Jesus primarily, and Paul secondarily, model humble, others-first love.

Let’s start with the well-known passage about the descent of Christ, and then let’s look at how Paul modeled the same type of ‘stepping down’ love.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though, he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. – Philippians 2:3-7

You’ve likely heard this passage before.

You can see the steps down that Jesus takes (for more on this, read J-Curve by Paul Miller. I’m only halfway through it right now and it has blown up my view of walking with God. In a good way). Jesus forsook the throne for a season, stepping down into the likeness of men, loving the people of this world to the point of death (as the rest of this passage describes). Jesus was a man who put others before Himself.

However, Jesus is not the only example of this in the book of Philippians. Paul also lived an others-first life. Look at what I mean.

It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. – Philippians 1:7

But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, – Philippians 1:24-25

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. – Philippians 2:17

Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. – Philippians 4:1

Honestly, this is just a sampling. But I figured I didn’t need to type out the entire book. Paul held the Philippians in his heart. We see all throughout the letter that they financially supported him and that they cared for him. This obviously is not the ‘toxic’ relationships many of us try to avoid. But it is still a reminder of our need to have affection for one another.

Paul wanted to be with Jesus. He desired to be with Him. But he knew that it was likely that he would stay on earth. Why? So that he could help them progress in the faith.

Paul was willing to be literally offered up for the people of this church.

Paul loved and longed for this church.

Jesus is the ultimate example of humility leading to selfless love. Paul followed suit.

So, what does this have to do with toxic relationships and working on ourselves?

Let me boil it down for us.

0. If You Are In An Abusive Relationship, Seek Help and Get Out 

Let me start by introducing this huge caveat. If you are in an abusive relationship, Scripture does not teach you to suck it up and take it. Seek help. Get out. Go to a friend or pastor.

With that very important truth out of the way, let’s look at how we should treat others.

1. If Someone Is ‘Toxic’, Love Them 

I put the word toxic in quotes here, because oftentimes we use hyperbole and exaggeration to state the simple fact that someone is hard for us to be around. Yes, a lot of times it’s deeper than that, but in my experience, we like to call people toxic or negative simply because their world doesn’t revolve around us. 

Love them! In Miller’s book, he talks about how we have taken a therapeutic view on most of our relationships. If we don’t feel loved or appreciated by others, or valued or served, we see the friendship as pointless, or in this case, ‘toxic’. But the call of Scripture, the call of Christ, is to love those who may make our lives more difficult.

2. If Someone is ‘Toxic’, Serve Them 

One way to show love for someone is to serve them. Have you done that? Have you sought to serve the person you’re thinking of right now that is difficult for you to be around? Have you modeled the humility of Christ, stooping low, giving up your rights, to serve them? Guess what. Service and love may not result in restoration or perfect relationships. You may get nothing out of it. We’ve made relationships transactional, and that is not the way of Christ either. Serve.

3. If Someone is ‘Toxic’, Pray For Them

Have you prayed for them? I’m not talking a “God help them” kind of flippant or sarcastic prayer. I’m talking an intentional, genuine, Christ-centered prayer for them. Again, the book of Philippians is not a model of dealing with ‘toxic’ people (although chapter four sheds light on some tension in the church), but what is cool is how Paul’s prayers for them are about gospel growth, not circumstantial changes (1:9-10 for instance). Do you pray for those ‘toxic’ people in your life?

4. If Someone is ‘Toxic’, Confront Them

My biggest pet peeve in the church (or one of my biggest), is how we just drop people that we’re frustrated with or annoyed by. If someone bothers you, you drop them, because it’s too much work.

But.

Have you confronted them? I’m talking about a real honest talk where you tell them why there’s tension or frustration. Now, we don’t like to do this, because we’ve misunderstood the implications of the gospel in our communities. We think that to believe the gospel is to forgive to the point of not acknowledging wrongdoing.

It’s not pleasant to confront. But brother or sister, if you have dropped a friendship or relationship without telling the other party why the distance occurred, you are not absolved of guilt (so to speak). To do your part is to go to the source and confront.

5. If All Else Fails, Love Them Some More 

And if all else fails, keep loving, keep engaging, keep relating. In Miller’s book, he quasi-addresses the whole “Don’t be a welcome mat for people” mentality. He says that life itself is a fellowship in the sufferings of Christ. To be a follower of God is to intentionally take on difficult relationships. To be a follower of God is to focus on others, not ‘working on myself right now’.

Church, let us be men and women who live for others. Not ourselves.

That has been my anthem as of late. I’m a son, saint, and slave of Christ. I’m only still here to live for others. Yes, I’m going to enjoy my life and do things that I enjoy (like going to play golf once a week). But I’m not called to ‘work on myself’. I’m called to engage all people, even the ‘toxic’ ones, for the sake of Christ.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

We’re Losing Them

We’re losing the next generation of students.

Yet, we’re not losing them in the way we might think.

We’re not losing them to evil, malicious, atheist professors in college.

We’re not losing them to the temptations of this broken world we find ourselves in today.

We’re not losing them to some craze where they indulge in the world once they get their college independence.

No, we’re losing them much earlier than that.

We’re losing them while they are students in our churches, even as early as elementary school.

Right now, I function as the family discipleship pastor at my church in Vernon. My primary role is in youth ministry, but my role includes children and young families.

Here’s what I truly believe. If we as the church were perfectly doing what we’re called to do, my job wouldn’t exist. It just wouldn’t.

Now, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that there is no aspect of the Christian life that I do perfectly. But if we were to get there as a church family in the area of discipleship, we wouldn’t need me.

Before I get to my reasons as to why we’re losing the next generation while they are sitting in our churches as kids and teens, let me start with the great things I’ve seen in my specific context.

We have children’s ministry leaders right now who have served faithfully, often unthanked, for decades. They have given of their time and effort.

Last Summer, our church’s generosity was astounding. Via a luncheon and auction, we raised enough money to send every single student to camp free of charge.

We have youth ministry leaders who give not only their Wednesday nights, but their Sunday mornings to our youth group. I can’t do what I do in ministry without people like them.

But let’s get to where there’s still work for all of us to do.

Here’s why we as the church in America are losing them.

We segregate them from the rest of the church

Most churches have the following:

Youth Sunday School and Children’s Church. Youth group and children’s programming on Wednesdays, distinct from the rest of the church. Homegroups for youth only on Sunday nights. All of these generally take place apart from the rest of the church.

Here’s what this not so subtly communicates to our students and children.

You’re not part of us.

Now, I know that’s nobody’s intent by any means. But it’s what happens subconsciously.

It’s what happened to me for a season.

When I went to college at OBU, I struggled for all four years to get involved in a local church. It’s one of my biggest regrets. I was a member at one, sure. But I never went all in. Instead, I’d sneak in and sneak out of the service, never really getting involved.

I believe many of our children and students who end up leaving a local church in college do so because they didn’t feel part of a local church as a child or teen.

In Scripture, I’ve never seen children and young adults separate from the body. Instead, I see mothers investing in sons, children being brought to Jesus, and teenagers being called out and used by Jesus. The only reason children’s and youth ministries exist is because we made church aboutfun and entertainment, comfort and preferences.

We condemn them more than we invest in them

Ouch. This one hurts me. Even as the family pastor here in Vernon, I fall into this one. I don’t believe I’m alone in that.

When I peruse social media, I see Christians condemning and demeaning the next generation. Regularly. Are there things about the next generation’s behavior that isn’t in line with Christ? Absolutely. Can the same be said for any and all of us? Absolutely, times a thousand.

I find myself treating kids and students as problems to be fixed or maintained rather than young men and women to be discipled. I’m thankful for a wife who calls me out when needed in this way.

Our kids and students know what you say about them and what you think about them. They see you complaining about this generation in comparison to the good ol’ days, and they see you refusing to invest in them.

They leave their church family because that’s not how families are supposed to act.

We teach them fluff and stuff

Felt boards and dating tips. That’s probably that which comes to mind the quickest when you think about children and student ministry respectively.

Too often, our churches are teaching our kids and teens the most frivolous and flippant things. Too often, our churches are not giving the next generation the meat of the Bible. This too is a new method. The catechisms of the early church were rigorously taught to young Christians.

The next generation is leaving the church because the fluff and stuff doesn’t mean anything to them. They aren’t prepared to know the story of the Bible. They aren’t prepared to love God and love others.

We promise too much

In an effort to avoid teaching fluff and stuff, we can unfortunately go the other direction and promise them too much.

Here’s what I mean.

We promise students changed lives and a changed world.

At first glance, this seems just fine, right?

But here’s how we teach these things incorrectly.

We teach them that they can see their lives transformed in a moment, and we teach them that they, not Jesus, can change the world.

Sanctification, becoming like Christ, is an arduously long process. It’s never quick. Yes, our standing before God is changed in an instant when we accept the sacrifice of Christ. Our temptations and sin struggles persist, however. Students go to college or grow up and give up on faith because they were told they could overcome all the sin in their life in just a few moments.

You won’t change the world.

I won’t change the world.

Jesus changed the world, and only He continues to change the world.

This is what I teach the students at our church. God uses ordinary people in ordinary jobs in ordinary places through ordinary churches to make disciples.

Students are leaving the church in college or when they grow up because they were told they were world-changers, and yet they really aren’t.

If the next generation isn’t discipled, our churches will close their doors.

We aren’t losing the next generation in college.

We’re losing them now.

Let’s do something about it.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach