“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!