Splitsville (1,176)

June 13th, 2011

It was my joy and honor to share this weekend at a church which is presently experiencing the aftermath of a split. I have decided not to share the name or location of this congregation, so as to grant them the solitude they require and deserve during this juncture. Instead, I have selected to take a moment to relate to you my own experience in relationship to a church splitting apart.

I was part of such a severing. Matter of fact, there are those who would insist that I was the cause. I would not argue with them because I did bring in an infusion of creativity, newness and joy which many found to be beneficial and others of a more traditional bent deemed an intrusion.

Mine was a short stay.

After several disagreements over procedure and the value of liberty in worship, the leadership decided it was best for me to take my gifts and talents elsewhere. I should have just left quietly, but because I was a thirty-one-year-old, still shedding many of the insecurities and fantasies of my youth, I raised enough objections that a goodly clump of the faithful decided to go with me and start a new congregation. That in itself, dear friends, was not catastrophic—except for the fact that it is flawed from the onset.

If human beings truly had a divine nature, we would possibly never disagree—and if such schisms did occur, we would grant the other party permission to be different without insisting that they were inferior. You see, the problem with a church split is that even when it’s amicable, there’s just too much to prove on both sides for it to initially produce spiritual maturity.

It was subtle at first. Our little clump prayed for their little clump. Our little vestige insisted that we forgave them for their indiscretions. Our tiny conclave rejoiced that we were finally in an atmosphere of freedom instead of being bound up in legalism and fussiness. I’m sure it was much the same on their side.

But then, pride slipped in. This is similar to what happens in a divorce. If people could just walk away from declare, “We actually do have irreconcilable differences” and move on to new relationships without feeling the need to quietly hope for the failure of the ex-partner, then our courts would not be jammed with rampaging custody battles, often making our children mere bargaining chips. But human beings find it difficult to experience rejection without silently plotting the demise of their rejecter.

As I said, it was subtle at first. My sermons and messages were laced with a bit of venom against the doctrines of intimidation that my escapees had undergone with the previous administration. There was a giddy sense of superiority when we triumphed and we heard through the grapevine that their numbers were dwindling. We were pompous over our successes rather than humbled by the granting of such gifts. And even though I was very young and still intoxicated with my own sense of self, the Holy Spirit was eventually able to penetrate my thick skin, which was disguising the true contents of my soul—and convince me by convicting me that my ministry was becoming malicious rather than fruitful.

It hurt. I still wanted to blame those who had dared to challenge my calling. I wanted to see them suffer. It wasn’t what I prayed and it isn’t what I spoke aloud to the faithful. But deep in my heart I was a rejected lover who wanted to make sure that my former partner was deemed ugly.

It is amazing to me when we all choose to insist that we’re children and therefore allowed to be childish—and when we climb a little higher and proclaim ourselves fully grown and adult. I was a leader of humans, although our numbers were small at the time—and my leadership was grounded in pain rather than the pleasure of spiritual discovery.

I repented. More importantly, I stopped being a jerk. I called the former pastor who had crossed swords with me and asked his forgiveness. Honestly, he was not very gracious. I didn’t care. The forgiveness was not contingent on how he reacted to my overture. The call was necessary in order to free me from my wounded condition and it set me on a road towards recovery.

Churches will split because they never should have been together in the first place. One group has accidentally landed with another group, usually by either proximity or tradition, and rarely by principle or practice. We should have the maturity to pursue our own spiritual path without condemning the roadway of another. We just aren’t very good at that.

So let me offer a tender admonition to the dear hearts I met this weekend: Get to the business of your own lives as quickly as possible and find NEW people to join you in your mission. If God wants to restore people together, let Him be the repairer of the breech.

It was a tough lesson. I even found the need to explain my inadequacy to those who had followed me from the previous church. Many of them were perplexed because they were deeply enjoying attacking their former captors. I understood.

For some, pain is better endured by inflicting it on others. But eventually we have to bind up the wounds and acknowledge that unity can be expressed in two ways: (1) it can be the agreement of brothers and sisters in a common cause, or (2) it can be permission to be different as we pursue a common cause.

I gave my former friends in that church permission to be who they were. I received freedom. I received the benefit of knowing that my labors would now be based upon the fruit of the spirit instead of the vegetation of frustration.

Splitsville—sometimes things just don’t work out. And often we do more damage by insisting that they should instead of releasing one another to pursue Christ in us, the hope of glory.

Published in: on June 13, 2011 at 2:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

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