Prevent a Church Split
- Whitney Hopler Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2006 8 Mar
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.