Alcoholism is more than a drinking problem; it’s an addictive way of dealing with the world. You don’t even need to drink alcohol to be an alcoholic. Alcoholics who don’t drink are called “dry drunks”. They are just as manipulative and abusive, but without the intoxicating aroma of Tennessee whiskey on their breath. Churches, if led by a “dry drunk”, can become unhealthy alcoholic systems, toxic to staff and members alike.
Use our checklist below to determine if your church is one of these unfortunate alcoholic systems. This is, of course, completely unscientific and is based solely on my own observations, as an addict, of other addicts and addictive systems.
- All-or-Nothing Thinking: Do you often hear messages about maintaining absolute moral purity at the risk of losing your salvation? Do your pastors consistently preach an “all-in” mentality toward Christian discipleship? If so, your church may be suffering from “all-or-nothing” thinking. This alcoholic state of mind sees the world only in extremes of black and white. Alcoholics believe that if a person, place or thing is not completely good it is, by default, completely bad.
- Worshipping To Cheer Up: There’s nothing wrong with feeling good when you worship God, but have you noticed that some churches make a habit of “getting high” on their worship experiences? Members of alcoholic church systems will often be heard saying that the only time they feel good is when they’re at church. Alcoholics say the same thing about alcohol; drug addicts, about drugs.
- Picking Favorites: Alcoholics pick favorites to emotionally manipulate others. “Dry drunk” church systems are no different. Church leaders in alcoholic systems will pick favorites among staff and volunteers to manipulate those around them, and to keep everyone’s attention off their own alcoholic behavior.
- Intolerance To Criticism: If you want to figure out whether someone is an alcoholic, criticize their drinking. They will not like it. At all. Alcoholic church systems are the same way. Test your church by constructively criticizing their stated theological beliefs. If they enter into a thoughtful, considered discussion with you, you may be safe. But if they’re “dry drunks” they will fly off the handle. Be prepared: Their ire won’t be limited to your criticism. They will attack you and shift the conversation from your legitimate questions to your own faults and shortcomings.
- Problems With Family Members As A Result of Church: It’s one thing to hold to your faith in the face of persecution. It’s quite another to abandon family and friends to maintain your status at your church. Any pastor who encourages this kind of inappropriate sacrifice is likely an alcoholic at their core. Or possibly a cult leader. I would run if I were you. Fast.
- Secretive Behavior/Lying: Christianity isn’t that complicated and it doesn’t require secrecy to be successful. We’re not the CIA. In fact, the New Testament authors were very big on being honest and authentic in every aspect of their lives. Church systems which can’t follow this simple guideline may be alcoholic. Frequent closed-door meetings or bald-faced lies should be a big red flag to you.
- Constantly Brings Up The Past: Remember your SNAFU at church three years ago? Your “dry drunk” pastor sure does! Alcoholics, whether they drink or not, are great at bringing up the past over and over. This usually happens when the alcoholic is under attack and wants to deflect attention away from themselves. Alcoholic church systems won’t let the little things go, and they don’t easily let people out of the “dog house”.
Being aware of alcoholic behavior is the first step in protecting yourself! If your church shows signs of suffering from three or more of these alcoholic symptoms, it may be time to find a new spiritual home.