By Kay Harms

In recent months, Arizona Southern Baptist Church Revitalization Specialist Keith Durham has been conversing with pastors throughout the state about a daunting but unavoidable topic: how to deal with toxic people.

Durham has been taking his first topic of discussion on what he has coined a “revitalization roadshow,” meeting pastors and directors of missions in the regions of the state where they serve. He says he wants all of his topics of discussion to be ones that are most relevant to the pastors in the field.

“A 2015 LifeWay study on church conflict indicated that eight of ten pastors acknowledge that they will need to confront conflict in their current church eventually,” said Durham, whose position with the state focuses on helping to revitalize existing churches. “It’s a significant topic.”

Durham asserted that, according to additional relevant studies, approximately 23 percent of pastors have been fired by a church sometime during their ministry, and usually by a group of fewer than 10 members who have been led to the decision by one toxic church member.

“Every church has disgruntled or disagreeable people,” said Durham. “That, unfortunately, is to be expected, and a healthy church can absorb that kind of discontent and still function. But a toxic person is a different matter.”

The over 50 pastors, directors of missions and church life specialists who have engaged in the conversations so far have discovered that toxic people can be identified through six distinguishing markers. These people are — according to G. Lloyd Rediger in his book Clergy Killersdestructive, determined, deceitful, demonic, disguised and living in denial. The revitalization specialist contended that handling toxic members wisely and expediently is necessary for a church’s overall health, which further affects the congregation’s effectiveness in kingdom work.

Durham admitted that most of what he brings to the table he has gathered from studies and books similar to the ones quoted here. But he says the bigger value in his “revitalization roadshow” conversations seems to be the opportunities they present pastors for discussion, encouragement and fellowship.

“I’m not the silver bullet guy,” said Durham, “but I try to bring to surface topics and tools to allow God to work in our churches. I’ve formed a team made up of directors of missions and pastors. We have established a strategy and are working it.”

Having completed or scheduled church revitalization dialogues about dealing with toxic people with the Yavapai/Grand Canyon, Gila Valley, River Valley, Yuma, Catalina, Estrella and Cochise associations, Durham is still willing to conduct additional dialogues.

For future roadshow discussions, the facilitator is considering such topics as closing the generational gap in churches, change in the culture and how to change the church without dividing it and how to move the church forward from where you are currently. To schedule a dialogue about toxic people or to recommend a topic for future dialogues, email him at kdurham@azsbc.org.