I Survived a Church Split17
For the first time in my life, my mom didn’t want me going to church. Normally, that wasn’t an option, but she had heard that the monthly business meeting that night could get ugly. I told her I was old enough to handle it, and after much begging, she agreed to let me sit in the balcony, which also never happened.
Looking down on the congregation below, I realized there were a lot more people at this business meeting than normal. The congregation was divided that night. Literally, there were two distinct groups of people sitting on opposite sides of the sanctuary. The two sides went back and forth as people went up to the microphone down front and voiced either their concern or support for the direction of the church. Some shouted, some cried. Some quoted scripture, some quoted bylaws. Some pleaded for unity, some called for change.
Seemingly everyone had an opportunity to make their case, everyone except for one person on the very front row. Our pastor sat directly in front of the microphone, five feet away, never saying a word or even shaking his head. He just quietly listened as people from his own flock hurled accusations and even insults. I realized in that moment why my mom didn’t want me there. It’s hard watching your pastor endure that. It’s especially hard when your pastor is your dad.
Growing up, my dad was my hero. He could do no wrong. He was the greatest pastor in the history of pastors. So seeing someone criticize him was a shock. I was so confused. Don’t they know all that he’s done? Don’t they know what he’s sacrificed? Don’t they know all the people he’s helped? They didn’t see the hours he worked off the clock. They didn’t know about the anonymous letters, the frustrating meetings, the late night phone calls, the house visits. They had it all wrong.
As a 7th grader, I remember feeling totally betrayed. For me, our church building was an extension of my home. It was a safe place. I had grown up there. So much of my identity was wrapped up in being a pastor’s kid. Too much, probably. I loved being a pastor’s kid, and I took pride in it. I bragged about knowing the best hiding places in the church and which Sunday school rooms had candy in them. In many ways, the church was my home and my family.
That’s why this moment rocked me like it did. For the first time in my life, I felt unwanted and unsafe in my own church. The place I saw as a constant had become a threat. Some of the very people who loved on me every week were now calling for my dad to be fired. I looked around the room, waiting for someone to fight for us. I saw some of the very people I thought would do anything for us, and they remained silent. They just wanted “to stay out of it.”
My dad chose to resign and walk away before things became worse. I remember asking him, “Dad we can win. Why don’t you fight back?” And he said, “Why didn’t Jesus fight back?” I knew then it wasn’t about winning. It wasn’t about sides, “us” versus “them”. It was about the church.
Growing up in church, I saw the good and the bad. I saw moments of revival and moments of rage. I saw people radically changed by the gospel, and I saw people so stuck in their ways. I saw people who loved Jesus, and I saw people who loved tradition. I saw it all.
I’m willing to bet that if you’ve spent any amount of time in church, you’ve seen some good and bad. Maybe like me, you’ve been burned by the church. Maybe you walked away and swore you would never go back. Sadly my story is not uncommon. I personally know many people who have been permanently damaged by something that happened at church.
If it were not for my parents, I’m not sure where I would be. Because of the way they responded, with humility, choosing not to speak badly about the church, I survived a church split. I actually walked away loving and believing in the church more than ever. Since then, I have committed my life to serve the local church.
Here are three reasons why I still believe in the local church:
1. The church is my family.
Church is not a building, a list of programs, or a big room with pews and a steeple. The word “church” in the original language of the Bible literally means “assembly” or “gathering”. The church is people. People gathered together in unity as the body of Christ.
When the very first church got started, they didn’t have a building or even a name. But they had 3,000 people filled with the Holy Spirit and passionate about Jesus. So what did they do? Acts 2:42-46 tells us, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…All the believers were together and had everything in common… Every day they continued to meet together.”
They immediately started meeting together…every day. They viewed the gathered, assembled church as absolutely essential to their Christian life. In fact, there is absolutely no concept in the New Testament of someone following Jesus and rejecting the church. All of the books in the New Testament were letters written to churches or leaders in churches. There were no solo Christians.
I could not live the Christian life without the church. Seriously, many of the commands in the New Testament for Christians have to do with the church. How can we love one another, serve one another, pray for one another, and confess our sins to one another if there is no “one another”? We can’t. We need the church to obey scripture.
I have learned to view the church as my family. Not because of the warm hugs during the welcome time, or the elderly ladies that remind me of my grandmother, or the potluck dinners. It’s because I have a unique bond with them that’s deeper than human blood. Our bond is the blood of Christ. My church and I have the same spiritual DNA. We believe the same things, value the same things, and strive together for the same things.
Sure, we have a few crazy uncles. We have our family disagreements. But that’s my family. I’m joined to them and will one day be in heaven with them (with even better potlucks).
2. The church is the bride of Christ.
“I love Jesus, but man, I really don’t care for his wife.” I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sit well with me. You can say all you want about me, but attack my wife? That’s just not ok.
Ephesians 5 tells us that Jesus is married to the church. He loves the church in a special way. So it makes no sense to accept Him and reject His bride. It’s just not right. It’s also not right to attack and put down the church.
Look, I know she’s not perfect. No church is perfect. It’s filled with horrible sinners! (It always makes me laugh when people reject the church because it’s filled with hypocrites. What do they expect? Your workplace, school, the gym, Walmart are also filled with hypocrites. Should we avoid them as well?)
This is where the marriage analogy is helpful. I don’t love my wife because of the way she makes me feel or the things she does for me. I love her because she’s my wife. I’ve made a commitment to her until death do us part. My wife is not perfect (though I think she is pretty darn close!), but I choose to love her anyway. No matter what she does, I will love her. She’s my wife.
This is how I feel about the church. There will be conflicts and some issues to sort through. (Have you read Paul’s letters to the churches he started? They had some serious issues.) Occasionally there will be some hurt feelings and even sinful mistakes. But at the end of the day, I love the church because Christ loves the church.
3. The church is God’s plan A.
When Jesus gave the Great Commission, He gave it to a group of followers that would become the church. When the Holy Spirit came, He filled that group of people known as the church. When the Word of God was written, it was sent to the church.
The hope for the world is not found in the government, the education system, science, technology, or anything else. Our only hope is in Jesus Christ and the salvation he brings from sin and judgment. The good news about his death and resurrection is the only message that saves. The church has been entrusted with that message. We have been called to take that good news to the ends of the earth and make disciples of all nations. That mission will not be accomplished by individuals. It will be accomplished by the church. The church has always been and will always be God’s plan to accomplish this mission, and there is no plan B.
Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” That’s why Jesus came. To build the church, teach the church, die for the church, and send the church. Organizations will come and go. Programs will succeed and fail. Even nations will rise and fall. But the church will endure forever. Jesus said so.
If the church is God’s plan to accomplish the Great Commission, then I want to be a part of the church.
I understand that being a part of the church can be challenging, frustrating, and even hurtful sometimes. If I can be honest, there are some things about the church that bother me too. But at the end of the day, I choose to believe in the church, love the church, and commit my life to the church. That’s what Jesus did, and that’s what I believe He calls us to do.
Denominations will rise and decline, buildings will be built and torn down, and sadly, churches will split. But one day, there will be a greater split. The heavens will split open, and Christ will return for His church. And when that day comes, everything will be the way God intended. No more conflicts. No more controversies. And no more business meetings. We will be with Him, and He will be with us…the church, that is.