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Monday, March 13, 2006

Steps to Avoiding a Church Split

Churchsplit_1Great article from Crosswalk.com...

When a church – God’s house – is split by disagreement, the experience grieves God and wounds everyone in the congregation. After all, as Jesus said, a house that’s divided cannot stand.  In the mess of a church split, evil runs free in your church, twisting God’s values. People begin to justify anger as fighting for a principle and excuse slander and gossip as searching for the truth.

But there are ways to prevent such heartache from infecting your church.  Here’s how you can prevent a church split:

* Ask God’s forgiveness. Acknowledge that any lack of unity that exists in your church is sin. Ask God to forgive you for tolerating it, and to cleanse both staff and laypeople of the effects of division.

* Recognize the real issue. Understand that disagreements about the style of music or way the sanctuary is decorated or how long sermons should be are just surface issues that mask the real, core issue: In spite of their differences, will your congregation defend the unity of Christ within the fellowship? Refuse to be manipulated by false issues. Respect different people’s personal preferences and appreciate the diversity that exists within your church. Decide to remain united in love.

* Choose to pray instead of prey. Rather than criticizing people when they bother you, decide to pray for them instead. Remember that no one is perfect, that Christ loves everyone unconditionally. Realize that mere criticism won’t help people change, but prayer has the power to cause great growth and transformation. Regularly intercede for others in your church.

* Think of seekers. Consider how pettiness and discord in the church drives people who otherwise might have come to Christ away. Ask God to make you aware of how well you and others your church are truly reflecting Christ as His ambassadors. Ask Him to prevent your church from causing seekers to stumble.

* Confess unrestrained ambition. Be honest with yourself and God about any pride and selfish motives that have contributed to strife in your church. Don’t try to push another person out of a ministry position that you want. Instead, ask God to help you be patient and trust Him to provide you the opportunities He wants you to have, at the right time. Be content to wholeheartedly serve God where He has currently placed you.

* Serve without strings attached. Don’t give your time or energy to a project just because you hope to get something for yourself out of it. Don’t flatter people or meet their needs for the purpose of manipulating them to do something you want. Ask God to give you a real servant’s heart that truly desires to help without expecting anything in return but the knowledge that your service pleases God.

* Make sure “prophecy” is genuine. Understand that, if you think you may have heard a prophetic message from God, you should submit your perceptions to church leaders and trust God to bring it to pass, if He chooses, at the right time. Realize that God has placed your church’s leaders in their current positions to guide the church. Know that, if any change is to come, it should come through the proper channels of authority that have been set up at your church. When you pray, intercede without trying to control.

* Avoid gossip. Refuse to gossip yourself or listen to other people spread gossip. Understand that words have incredible spiritual power; positive words can do much to heal and encourage, but negative words are potent poison that can destroy people in your church. Ask God to purify your lips. Refrain from discussing other’s faults and failures whenever you can. And whenever it’s truly necessary to do so, don’t harbor any malice toward them. Let grace and mercy motivate your words and actions toward others in your church. Seek redemption, not revenge. Devote much more time to praying for people than you do talking about them.

* Forgive. Whenever people in your church fall into sin or fail your expectations, be willing to forgive them. Don’t allow bitterness to fester in your heart. Ask God to grant them – and you – new grace.

* Be thankful. Rather than focusing on what’s lacking in your church and complaining about it, be positive. Take time regularly to remind yourself of all that you appreciate about your church. Ask God to show you clearly how He is at work in your church, and thank Him for it.

* Seek God’s perspective. Ask God to help you see the best part of every situation you encounter at your church. Ask Him to help you view problems and weaknesses as opportunities, struggles as refining tools, and sinners as saints in progress.

* Be accountable. As a pastor, make sure you’re accountable to other people (such as elders or a deacon board) who will encourage you to do the right thing when it’s challenging for you. Ask them to support and encourage you as you seek to live with integrity and maintain a close relationship with Christ.

* Be willing to listen. Genuinely listen to and consider suggestions from church members. Show humility and openness when interacting with them.

* Encourage people to use their spiritual gifts and natural talents. Provide plenty of opportunities for people to contribute to the life of your church so they don’t get frustrated – and so everyone benefits from what they bring to your congregation.

* Make it easy for people to transfer to another church. Give people who want to leave your church your blessing with no hard feelings if God leads them elsewhere. Trust God to bring your church the people it needs at the right times.

* Submit to authority. Recognize that, just as God has created the universe with a certain structure, He also orders human relationships so that people who hold certain positions are in authority over others. Out of love for God, submit to the authorities He has placed in your life.

* Show other people honor and respect. Understand that God calls you to honor and respect people even if you disagree with them. Don’t shame other people, no matter what their views. Treat everyone with dignity.

* Pursue true success. Realize that true success in life comes from only one thing – becoming more and more like Christ. Seek to attain qualities of His character that will make you a success and lead to unity in your church: humility, submissiveness, a passion for prayer, and a mature, redemptive heart attitude.

* Don’t be easily offended. Ask God to strengthen your heart so you’re not easily offended. Ask Him to help you let minor offenses go and move on beyond them toward maturity.

* Adjust your expectations to reality. Ask God to help you discern what’s truly reasonable to expect of people in your church. Don’t compare people to others, but appreciate the unique way God has made them.

* Maintain love in the midst of injustice. Know that God sometimes allows injustices to help people learn to love better. Ask Him what He wants you to learn from being wronged, and trust Him to transform your bad experiences into good according to His purposes. Rather than seeking revenge, continue to act in love, remembering that God is looking out for you.

* Ask God to use you. Regularly invite God to use you as an instrument of His love to unite people in your church. Do all you can to make your church a gate into heaven, where people celebrate in unity.


Adapted from A House United: How Christ-Centered Unity Can End Church Division copyright 2005 by Francis Frangipane.  Published by Chosen Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Mich., www.chosenbooks.com

Francis Frangipane is the senior minister of River Life Ministries and the author of 12 books, including This Day We Fight! A pastor since 1972, he travels throughout the world ministering to thousands of pastors in hundreds of cities. He and his wife, Denise, have six children and live near Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Visit his Web site at: www.inchristsimage.org.


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Comments

Splits are sometimes good things... without one would we have had a Reformation?

Posted by: Pastor Al | Mar 13, 2006 1:26:56 PM

Good points. I would add just two more:

Make friends. Make lots of them in the congregation. Build those relationships.

Use Jesus' 3 steps of discipline. Go to that brother or sister who is offended immediately if not sooner. Nip trouble in the bud. Seek reconciliation. Most of my pastor friends seem afraid of conflict but I'd rather go one-on-one in love than have a riot in the sanctuary over something as slight as the color of the carpet.

The above two items helped me stay the course for the past 11 years.

Posted by: Dan Moore | Mar 13, 2006 2:02:39 PM

Pastor Al, I have to say that based on personal experience with a near-split, I worry when I hear people say that "Splits are sometimes good things." It's not that I disagree, but in my experience those words have most often been spoken by people most responsible for divisiveness. (That is a very narrow statement about my experience, not a suggestion that it is usually true in most circumstances.) I would venture to say, though, that most splits - indeed, most division - is not about the major theological issues such as those that led to the reformation. In fact, the article hints at some of the common divisive issues: carpet color, worship style, power struggles....

I will say that I don't agree with the article's statement that "any lack of unity that exists in your church is sin." I think that too often we think of unity as agreement, and so "lack of unity" means that we don't agree. Follow that through to its logical conclusion and you'd have to say that if 80% of the church wants blue carpet and 20% wants red, they're in sin. I don't think so - they're simply expressing the unique ways that God's made them. Just because we don't all agree doesn't mean there's sin. But if that lack of agreement leads to divisiveness and working at counter-purposes...that's sin.

Posted by: Randy Ehle | Mar 13, 2006 2:28:52 PM

All in all, the list sounds like a good one for everyday church behavior -- potential split looming or not.

Posted by: rev-ed | Mar 13, 2006 3:16:55 PM

Randy,

Your Points are well taken. I would not want to seem to minimize the pain involved in a split having experienced one in the church I grew up in as a young man. I would only add this advice to all of us in a “tongue and cheek” way; Quit griping about your church; if it was perfect, you couldn't belong. :-)

Blessings,
Al

Posted by: Pastor Al | Mar 13, 2006 4:21:18 PM

Wise words, Al!

Posted by: Randy Ehle | Mar 13, 2006 4:28:08 PM

I simply don't believe in "Church" splits. I do believe in power struggles within religius organizations and in the reality of the personal and institutional ruptures that occur as a result of these.

The problem with viewing a "Church" split as synonymous with an institutional divide is to miss what the Church is...the Body of Christ. The Body cannot be divided. The reality is that the Body is one. In Christ there is no distinction but all are One.

When Christians refuse to yield to temptations to control or manipulate others, these organizatioal conflicts will be deprived of the spiritual energy required to power them.

I agree with the sound spiritual teaching in the posted article, but it does appear that the writer clearly views church as primarily institutional in nature.

For example, he writes "Make it easy for people to transfer to another church." It seems evident that this mindset is one of institutional affiliation rather than spiritual union.

I've seen and experienced such division and it really never is nothing more than a struggle to be in control and to manipulate people. This spirit and behavior do not take place in the Body but they do occur all the time in organizational contests.

Posted by: Dean | Mar 13, 2006 9:22:17 PM

I totally agree with Randy’s point about discerning between unity and agreement. And although I don’t like the statement that sometimes a church split is a good thing, I do think that sometimes people need to leave a church because their disagreement, if expressed, will lead to disunity. It’s just part of people finding their way to a fellowship where they can serve, be served, grow to become more Christlike. And because churches are organic and changing, sometimes a church changes in a way that no longer fits how God has “wired together” some of her members.

For example, a few years ago the Lord orchestrated some leadership changes in a church I was part of, which brought about some changes in vision, direction and methodology. While there was unity among the new leadership, there was not among all the people. One of these changes (just for example – one change among others), was the elevation of women to positions of pastoral leadership and teaching. There were quite a few people who disagreed with this change theologically and biblically. Some people made a big stink, lots of water cooler conversations, camp building, and public questioning of leadership. Others realized that the church was heading in a direction they did not agree with and that as a result, it was no longer the right place for them to worship and invest their lives. Upon determining that the disagreement was a deal-breaker, the refused to allow it to create disunity in the church they loved. Bless them!!

At some point we all need to decide which hills of disagreement we will die on, and when we get to that hill we know God is calling us to move on. Because at the end of the day, even the most pressing of issues about which we disagree are still non-essentials. And in my opinion, unity should remain the trump card.

Wendi

Posted by: Wendi | Mar 13, 2006 11:37:08 PM

I especially liked this point. "Avoid gossip." I think it should possibly have been at the top. I think it might be the most dangerous sin in the church today, and often people don't even think they're sinning when they're doing it. I have recently had to call someone on this who was gossiping about me, not before, but actually AFTER he left our church because of differences in ministry philosophy and methodolgy. I have to say that the conflict was ended positively, and he and I can remain friends (after a fashion) AND he did indeed see what he had done wrong and was sorry for it. But it did some damage that I'm continuing to clean up, and I lost a lot of sleep over it.

And I agree with the author about the seriousness of lack of unity in a church. I mean, it's one thing if the church is teaching something that is heresy, but I'm guessing any reader of this forum is the type who should really know all about that kind of stuff BEFORE they start serving or attending a church. (An interview with the pastor before you become a member is not such a bad thing.)

Posted by: Peter Hamm | Mar 14, 2006 8:20:08 AM

just a few more...

1. Do away with business meetings.

2. Avoid talking about the color of carpet.

3. Avoid talking about the color of paint to use.

Posted by: Clairvoyent 1 | Mar 14, 2006 1:06:20 PM

Clairvoyent 1

You write [1. Do away with business meetings.] Actually, think about that... Impossible, and even unscriptural. We have "business meetings" recorded in the book of Acts even.

And... I think the color of carpet and paint might be a little more important than you think... When I was househunting, I went in a couple houses that had brand new carpeting that was a HIDEOUS color of burgundy. Just plain ugly. I bought neither of them. I suspect that a really ugly carpet might keep some people from coming back...

Posted by: Peter Hamm | Mar 14, 2006 1:16:13 PM

Peter,

Thank you for your post. I was being a little humours with it but serious at the same time. The reason for that is because every business meeting I have ever been in, ends up in a fight, people not speaking to one another, hurt feelings, and the church splitting.

The reason I mentioned the Paint and the carpet is these are the two biggest things I have seen break up a business meeting, and split a church. You will have to forgive me, but I have not been to a business meeting in over a year because this nip picking stuff gets on my nerves.

As a matter of speaking we have had two churches here split because of a business meetings. You'll have to work with me cause I am learning.

Posted by: Clairvoyent 1 | Mar 14, 2006 1:33:37 PM

Clair, you said "every business meeting I have ever been in, ends up in a fight, people not speaking to one another, hurt feelings, and the church splitting" and "we have had two churches here split because of a business meetings." I'm not sure if that first sentence is intentional exaggeration or not, but it seems to me it must be. Business meetings aren't the problem; there is some underlying problem in the church that comes out in the context of a business meeting. The answer isn't to get rid of the meeting - or the paint or the carpet - but to fix the underlying problem. More often than not, splits are related to some sort of power struggle, whether between two pastors, a pastor and a board member, the congregation and the pastor, the congregation and the board.... I think James' words (ch. 4) are quite appropriate:

"What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? 2You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures."

Posted by: Randy Ehle | Mar 14, 2006 1:56:44 PM

Maybe a split is a good thing. After all, an offshoot can become a great church. Not all churches are for all people. If you love high liturgy,and ornate symbolism,
then an Episcopal or Old Catholic church may serve your needs better than a pentecostal church. If you are hardcore
hyperdispensational, an IFCA Bible church or an Open
Brethern Gospel Chapel or Bible Chapel may serve your needs (and need your service) a lot better than a United Methodist congregation. A young family may not be best served in a church full of 80 y/o+ parishoners. Any church can be all God's wants it to be, and that is not to be all things to all people. Perhaps two are better than one.

Posted by: vincent | May 6, 2006 9:41:17 PM

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