Sunday, August 18, 2019

Church Splits: Fear or Fact?

Church Splits: The Terror of Healthy Kingdom Growth

Pastors fear the horrible idea of “church splits” almost more than anything.  Usually because fear sets in that people (money) will walk out the door and bills won’t get paid. (Not usually…99.9% of the time.)  Nature tells us that for an organism to grow, it’s got to “split” or multiply in order to do so.  Church history reveals the necessity of the restless to seek new pastures in order for the Kingdom to become more effective.  Please indulge me as I share a few thoughts on this misconception.

Church history tells us all we need to know.
I’m a proud Pentecostal who grew up in the Assemblies of God.  My parents came to Christ in an A/G church. I’m proud of my roots and most of my dearest friends, mentors and heroes of the faith are A/G. My church’s governing board of Overseers has three A/G pastors serving on it.  The Assemblies of God, in order to preserve and continue the Pentecostal revival of the early 1900’s sought their own governing structure. “In April 1914, after splitting from the Church of God in Christ, about 300 preachers and laymen were invited from 20 states and several foreign countries for a general council in Hot Springs, ArkansasUnited States.” (Assemblies of God ‘Origins’)
Martin Luther could be considered the all-time champion at church splitting.  With his 95 Theses nailed to the door at Wittenberg Castle Church, Luther brought the greatest disruption to “business as usual” to the Christian world.  The entire Protestant Reformation was a vital “split” from the corruption of the Catholic Church at the time. Untold millions have to come to Christ because of his very unpopular act of “rebellion.”

Every major denomination was a split off of the vine of existing religious structure.  The Wesley brothers, Calvin, Knox and many others bucked the status quo in order to birth something new.  The Pentecostal revival of the early 20th century spawned hundreds of new denominations that spread across the globe and actually gave birth to the Jesus Movement and Charismatic movements of the latter part of the century.

I recently read a list of the largest churches in America.  More than half of the top 25 largest churches were birthed as independent churches within the last 20 years or so.  They were born out of other existing church structures. 

Growing Churches Reproduce

My intention is certainly not to promote the idea that the only successful churches are splits.  And I am completely aware of the devastation of inappropriate church splits have caused.  Wrong people with wrong motives and methods can be incredibly destructive and I believe they grieve the Body and the heart of God if they handle things from woundedness rather than health.

I do, however, believe that every local church has the potential of such an event and should prepare themselves for the possibility.  It wouldn’t surprise me if every healthy church hasn’t had someone who feels “called” leave with some of “your” people and start a new work. You should prepare and here’s why.

Anything healthy will grow. 

Every healthy tree grows and produces fruit and enjoys the benefit of more branches and healthier leaves.  (Okay, enough of the botany lesson.) This simply means that if you’re doing your job well, you’ll raise up people strong in the Word, passionate for people and hopefully wise in church ethics.

One of the great privileges I’ve enjoyed in my ministry is hosting former pastors and church leaders who have either been misplaced or who had taken a break from full-time ministry for a season.  I’ve loved walking with them through their healing journey.  However, some have decided they were ready to fly again…and why not?

Three very notable times in my tenure as a Senior Pastor, individuals in my church felt the call of God to start new works.  Two of the didn’t consult me first. When others in the church discovered their intentions concern rose through our leadership.  My staff and elders came to me on one particular occasion to voice their concerns that these future pastors were going to “take people with them.”

Fear never keeps the gate closed.

I’m not the first pastor to feel the twinge of fear of who might leave in such a circumstance. When I took these matters to the Lord He showed me that I could do only one of two things:  I could get angry, fearful and concerned and do my best to stop it; or, I could get behind it and bless it because it might truly be the Lord’s doing.  I decided that I could never go wrong as a pastor or leader by blessing something.  As a matter of fact, I quickly realized that blessing a new work, even if I wasn’t controlling it, was the ONLY way to respond.  How would fearful meetings or angry misgivings cause ME to win?  I would only set myself up as a pitiful victim.  My daddy didn’t raise me that way.  (Neither did Abba Father.)

In each of those three occasions I put the new church efforts on our monthly missions giving list, prayed for the new work and joyfully announced to the congregation that we were “sending” this leader and their new work out with our full blessing and every resource we had available.  I wasn’t 100% sure these plants would work out, but that wasn’t my call.  My response at the moment was vital to settling our congregation and building confidence in God’s Kingdom.  I believe in the local church and had to do more than simply give that conviction lip service.

Gamaliel’s Advice

I’ve often been reminded of Acts 5 when Peter and the other disciples were brought before the Sanhedrin to be judged for their spreading of the gospel.  Most of the judges were ready to drag them to the streets and hang them, but a man named Gamaliel stood up with great wisdom and advised that they be very careful of how they treated these men.  He stated that if they were preaching under their own human motivation that their movement would eventually die.  However, he warned, “But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God.” (Acts 5:39) Not a great position to find oneself in. 

My encouragement to pastors facing the consequences of their own strong leadership is the same.  “Who cares?  If God is really in it, then bless it, get behind your young proteges and help them.  If they are running off pursuing selfish ambition then they will fail.  But if it’s God, who’s side do you want to be on?”

It’s sad that some insecure leaders in the body today reveal the woundedness of their own hearts and react with flesh, fear and often anger.  They never win.  Their integrity quickly comes into question and even their strongest advocates often step in and offer clarity to their blindside.  Too often that clarity is ignored. 

If we’re truly all on the same team, then let’s act like it.  God will replace anyone who felt “led” to leave.  Could it be that they weren’t that strongly rooted in your vision anyway?  And be honest.  Are you truly motivated by the security of the flock or are you panicky because of the money?  You can’t serve both God and money.

Stay confident pastor! People will come and go and you’ve been a very important part of their process.  Remain steady in your own integrity and watch God bless your church!

Integrity will always win the day.

Friday, May 17, 2019

My Story - Verse 1

My Story. Verse 1

I’ve been contemplating the idea of writing down my story for a long time.  I’m more stirred toward that end since my parents both passed away in late 2016.  They had a story to tell. Their lives were an incredible journey of faith, love, endurance and accomplishment.  I’d like to think my life has been that as well so far.  Maybe that’s not for me to judge, but for others.  I do know that I want my boys to know more about their parent’s journey.  It’s certainly interesting, exciting, scary and fulfilling.  One’s story is all they really have.  Our stories of love, of faith, of perseverance, pain, suffering and recovery can help others.  Our stories are interconnected in such wonderful ways.  I’m an important part of somebody else’s story…and so many others are certainly part of mine.
I’m also keenly aware that for me, writing is therapeutic, healing and restorative.  There’s something about “getting it out” so it can be read, remembered, processed…and again, possibly help someone else along the way. It sure helps me to write it.  It’s certainly therapeutic.

There’s also a delicate tightrope to walk, in that we must know when it’s too soon to share parts of our story.  Will someone not receive it well?  Will it stir unwanted reminders of wounds not quite yet healed?  I’m asking God for guidance.

Six years ago, my story, our story, took an unexpected turn.  One of great loss, anger, regret, betrayal…but also one of great growth and insight.  We simply don’t get the good without the bad.  It’s all part of the recipe.

On May 5, 2013 I resigned my long-held position as Sr. Pastor of Believers Tabernacle in Wichita, KS.  At the time, it was the worst day of my life.  Humiliating, devastating…but I would later experience a couple of worse days at the passing of my mom, then my dad just seven weeks later.  It’s all perspective.

I didn’t want to resign. It wasn’t my idea. I was told I needed to by my superiors.  I understood. It’s what I signed up for. It took a while to get to that decision and with such decisions comes great emotion, confusion and of course, incredible loss.  With that one decision, hundreds and hundreds of relationships built over a 12 year period would be cut off immediately with no opportunity for explanation, context or clarification. No closure.  Just a tearful confession of my shortcomings as a leader, a heart-felt apology, and a quick “good-bye.”

I’ll address my “shortcomings” later, but for now I will simply say that I did fail. I have never had a problem admitting that part of the story.  Actually, I failed from the first day I became pastor of then Hillside Assembly in 2001.  Policies, procedures, practices were put in place from the very first board meeting, with full board support, but mistakes nonetheless. Intentional? No, never…by me or those precious board members.  Actually, some great, godly people trying to bless their young pastor who had taken a great risk and followed God’s voice to lead them after five candidates before turned them down. (That bit of information wasn’t revealed until a few months after we settled in.)

Arriving at Hillside Assembly of God in August of 2001 was quite a journey in itself.  I had spent eight wonderful years as the Music Pastor of Bethel Life Center in Wichita under the leadership of Kenneth Woods.  What a risk he took on me.  I was a 26 year old, newly married kid who had never directed a choir or waved a baton in front of an orchestra. I had led very little worship leading experience.  However, I knew what sounded good. I was born to do it. My training in opera, in theater and singing on national television with Oral Roberts University’s television ministry had given me great experience and confidence.  But I was green…really green.

Polly and I had relocated to Wichita after six months of marriage for her to work in the Wichita office of SRS (now DCF) as a social work case manager.  I was traveling in concert ministry sporadically and working as a siding installer during the week days for a godly man named LaVern Becker.

On Easter of 1992, we were looking for a home church.  My brother and his family had visited Bethel a few times and suggested we check it out. We met my parents there as well.  I’ll never forget walking up the stairs to the church and being greeted by Eldon McClemore.  He was the most congenial, sweet individual who grabbed our arms and led into the church’s gym/sanctuary and sat us in the few remaining seats left in the building (along the back wall underneath the coat rack.  Hangars kept hitting my head the entire service.)  I was actually quite disappointed to be handed a program telling us that today’s service was not actually a service, but the music ministry’s rendition of some Easter musical, with full orchestra, drama, choir, costumes…all of it.  Again, my slightly judgmental attitude was critical…as I thought to myself, “This is great. I don’t get to experience the worship, don’t get to hear the preacher preach.  And…let’s face it, every church in America thinks they know how to pull off an Easter cantata. This is about to get lame!” 

As the orchestra tuned and the lights came up…I was actually blown away at how good the choir sounded, the orchestra was rich and the drama held my attention thoroughly.  At the end of the service, I purposefully sought out the Music Minister to congratulate him and tell him how impressed I was with the program (not that he needed it from some stranger like me). 

It was this particular day that my dad really showed his true colors as salesman, pitch man, etc.  Without my knowledge, he had brought into the service two of my CD’s and two promotional packets that I used to solicit ministry opportunities with pastors and ministry leaders.  He handed one to the Music Minister and handed one to Pastor Kenneth Woods.  He put on his best pitch…making them aware of my experiences, talents and desire to come and hold a service at Bethel at some point.  Wow…was I embarrassed and put off!  While God had certainly blessed me with some uncommon opportunities to that point, I was always terrible at promoting myself. It was simply never in my DNA.  Not out of false humility…but out of awkwardness and the feeling that so many others were better than me in this arena.

What I didn’t know at the time, was that six weeks later at 8 AM on a Saturday morning, Kenneth Woods would ring my phone and wake me up asking me to meet him at McDonalds for breakfast.  We sat there for 3 hours.  He was interviewing me and I didn’t know it.  I thought I might get a ministry date from the meeting…but the ministry opportunity would later come in an offer to become his full-time Music Pastor.  It turned out to be an incredible eight year run, growing, learning and sharpening a new-found calling that God was stirring in my heart.  I was called to be a pastor.

More later…

Church Splits: Fear or Fact?

Church Splits: The Terror of Healthy Kingdom Growth Pastors fear the horrible idea of “church splits”...