Thursday, May 18, 2017

How Do I Survive from the Heartbreak of a Church Split?

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” 
-1 Peter 4:12

I write this from personal experience. Five years ago this month, I pastored a church that split. The split left wounds on my family and me that the Lord has healed, but we still carry scars. Scars not seen with the eye. The aim of this article is to help church leaders, pastors, and members of churches who have experienced the pain of a church split. Here are some things that helped our family:

1.    Acknowledge the Loss Openly and Honestly- Church splits are best compared to death or perhaps more acutely a divorce. As those who covenant together decide they no longer want to convent together, at least 25% of church membership leaves in a very short amount of time. Paul shows us through his painful last words in 2 Timothy 4:9-22 just how relationally hard ministry is. He acknowledges how Alexander the coppersmith harmed him, Demas deserted him, and NO ONE SHOWED UP at his trial! Friends in the church can let us down and never care about us again. Your “friends” may not have stood with you in that business meeting, and it cut deep. But remember Jesus is the only totally reliable friend you will ever have!

2.    Ask, “What is God Teaching Me Through This Pain?”- You are not going through this split for no reason, what is God trying to show you? Is there a sin or sins you need to repent of? Do you need to reach out to someone on the other side even if they are wrong? Am I being disciplined by the Lord (Hebrews 12:11)? Did I just experience what it means to live in a fallen world? How can I prevent this in the future?

3.    Recognize Sometimes Godly People have Sharp Disagreements-In Acts 15, Paul and John Mark disagree sharply leading to two missionary journeys instead of one. While we don’t have all the details, we know they patched thing up later (2 Timothy 4), and God used both of them for Kingdom work and church planting. Sometimes division becomes multiplication. While not encouraged, church splits do sometimes lead to at least a healthier and Godly church. Or the split could be releasing Godly members to be used in healthier local churches. Either way, do all that you can to seek forgiveness and reconcilation.

4.    Remember Jesus Remains in Control and His Kingdom Shall Last Forever- In Matthew 16:18, Jesus tells us that the gates of Hell will not overcome the church. While a local church may split or even die, new churches are born to take their place. We must be faithful to Jesus Christ and Kingdom work which displays itself in the local church. The battle may be lost, but the war will be won!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Do I Have to Reconcile with Someone When I Forgive Them?

"Accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive."
-Colossians 3:13

When God forgives a sinner like us, God makes a commitment to pardon graciously those who repent and believe so that they are reconciled to Him, although this commitment does not eliminate all consequences. His forgiveness is gracious and freely given. It is not free regarding the cost to God; God sent his one and only Son to pay the price for forgiveness.

While God’s forgiveness is given only to those who repent, God’s forgiveness lays the groundwork for and begins the process of reconciliation. When God forgives us, our relationship with Him is restored. One cannot receive forgiveness from God without being reconciled to God.

In a similar way, to guard the unity of the church, believers in the local body must continually be confronting and confessing sin.  Some passages in the Bible seem to indicate that you can just simply forgive someone without ever speaking to them about the matter (Mark 11:25); however, some passages seem to suggest that there can only be forgiveness when the offender asks to be forgiven (Luke 17:3-4).

To make sense of this tension, I would argue there is a difference between the attitude of forgiveness and the transaction of forgiveness.  Just like in the gospel, we must be ready to extend forgiveness at any time! Perhaps the hardest work of the two is preparing our hearts to forgive.  Christians must draw on the forgiveness given by Christ to forgive others.  A heart that has an attitude of forgiveness will do everything it can to help the offender to repent, and a forgiving heart will always be ready and quick to reconcile (Psalm 86:5). Conflict is not an issue of "speaking your mind" it's an opportunity of repairing the fractured relationship and growing closer to another.  The transaction of forgiveness takes place following the exposure of the sin.  After the one whom we have confronted has repented, we must forgive them and remember the promises of forgiveness we are making:

a.  I will not bring this matter up to you (the offender) again in a hurtful way in the future

b.  I will not bring this matter up to others

c.  I will not choose to dwell on it myself (to rehearse it and nurse it)

d. I will seek to be fully reconciled with the estranged party.

Biblically, forgiveness is much more than a feeling it is a commitment to pardon the offender. Forgiveness requires a heart focused on loving God and God’s glory, motivated by love for neighbor, and the courage to have tough conversations. Forgiveness also gives us joy. It takes two people to create offense, and it takes two people to have forgiveness.