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, Arkansas, United 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.
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.