The Bible talks more about UNITY of the church than it does about either heaven or hell. It’s really THAT IMPORTANT.
I have a conviction. One of my roles as a senior pastor is to always keep an eye open for potential divisiveness within a church family. As a pastor I must teach God’s Word, I must pray, I must be an example, and I must shepherd God’s sheep. Yet I must also do those things with an eye towards developing unity and confronting disunity.
It’s kind of like PREVENTATIVE HEALTH CARE. Most of us go through life without giving much regard to our health and we neglect our bodies. We eat bad food and drink gallons of poisoned beverages filled chemicals you can’t even pronounce. Then one day we hear the bad news: we are told we have clogged arteries or a cancer growing within us.
CHURCHES ARE LIKE THAT. We adopt certain habits, deny the warning signs, and then are surprised when a certain part of the body attempts a coup d’état.
Here are some early warning signs:
GROWING NUMBERS OF CLIQUES and FACTIONS. Cliques present themselves as "natural friendship" groups of people who "get along" because of some shared interests, backgrounds, or ideas. But without supervision and oversight these groups will harden into impenetrable factions that use their common interests as a rallying cry against the rest of the body. They are unhealthy groups - very unhealthy - and should be avoided.
SELF-INTERESTS DOMINATE GROUP INTERESTS. Certain individuals or cliques make it all about themselves, their ministry area, or their little corner of the church with little regard as to how it affects the bigger picture, or the mission of the church. They want to be told “yes” all the time and cannot handle being told “no” – not even once. They want their way and could care less whether or not other people in the church family will get their way. Tell these people “no” just one time and the rebellion begins. Say “yes” to them 100 times over a period of years and “no” just once, and the plot for a coup d’état begins. They are reluctant to share floor space, classrooms, the building, and expect the church's financial resources to be diverted to their cause first. They are also the most likely people to engage in turf-wars (turf-ism).
LOW CONCERN FOR THE BODY AS A WHOLE. A manifestation of this symptom is a deliberate intent to harm church leaders or other members in the body; and to do so with malice of forethought. This is a crime and sin of such proportion that the guilty party cannot even see the wickedness of his evil deeds. He is deceived by his own delusions.
We must never forget this one truth - HOW WE TREAT EACH OTHER is how we are TREATING CHRIST.
- “He that DESPISES, does not despise man, BUT GOD, who has also given us His Holy Spirit” (I Thessalonians 4:8).
- Jesus said, “In as much as you have done it unto one of the least of these MY BRETHREN, you have done it UNTO ME” (Matthew 25:40). "In as much as you did it NOT to one of the least of these my brethren, ye DID IT NOT unto Me" (v.45). (i.e., show concern).
When we have a low concern for the rest of the body, God takes it personally as a sin against Himself. When you despise another believer God takes that personally too. Yikes!
ISOLATED & ABSENT MEMBERS. Some members begin to isolate themselves from the body, from church services, and from the pastor. These isolated and absentee members actually undermine the very fabric of the church, it’s fellowship, and relationships within the body. They are loosely connected to the church while at the same time are absent from the main life of the body. They hang around in the hallways and don’t attend service. They volunteer to serve but skip church. They teach classes but neglect corporate worship. They attend ministry events on week-nights and consider it as a substitute for church. These are the very people who grow unhappy the quickest and end up in factions.
POLARIZATION OVER PERSONALITIES. Sometimes people will feel a certain kinship or affinity with certain church leaders more than with others. This is probably normal and natural. But when a church family becomes polarized over personalities and chose to become followers of men, you can be sure that a certain number of them have taken their eyes off the TRUE HEAD of the CHURCH – Jesus Christ Himself!
This was the problem at Corinth. Some said, “I am of Apollos” others said, “I am with Paul.” Still others said, “I am in the camp with Cephas.” Paul rebuked them by asking, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? NO!” (I Corinthians 1:11-14).
What’s the Remedy? One Eye Toward Prevention
These are some of the early warning signs that something is unhealthy in the body of Christ in a local church. Undetectable at the start, these symptoms grow very slowly. By the time you begin to feel discomfort from them, they are deeply rooted. Like a cancer they will have their tentacles already wrapped around vital organs, extinguishing life. Cutting them out will be painful and costly.
I'm convinced that it's my job to pastor and lead a church in such a way that I try to ward off, retard, uproot or cut out these problems before they give birth to greater sin. I need to approach the basic task of pastoring with at least ONE EYE TOWARD PREVENTION.
I also need to look beyond the horizon of this present congregation to consider those who are coming after us, to take the long view with the hopes of leaving a congregation that would be healthy for years to come should the Lord delay His coming.
When Surgery is Necessary
Sooner or later even the best of churches encounter problem people. In fact, ALL churches do. That’s because churches are made up of imperfect people and the people who lead them are imperfect too. Nevertheless, some people DELIBERATELY CAUSE problems and when it arises must be dealt with. Effective leaders know that too much is at stake to allow anyone to get the church off its mission by causing disruption and disunity.
1. We never allow a problem person to have any room or authority.
Once it is apparent they are a liability to family-harmony we move in quickly for a difficult conversation. In fact, we RUN TOWARDS confrontation – never away from it (using Matthew 18:15-18 as a model).
2. We follow Titus 3:10 which tells us to warn such a person once, and then twice. If they refuse to change after two warnings they are asked to leave.
It’s just that simple.
Churches can be held hostage by one or two bullies or controllers who are opposed to the church doing anything without their permission. These persons get their sense of self-worth by keeping the church so intimidated, either by their actions or their money, that very little can happen without their approval.
The sad thing is most church leaders know that these persons are a “stumbling block” to the rest of the flock but they won’t do anything about it. They don’t confront the bully because they think being passive is the “Christian thing to do.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The body of Christ cannot survive with division in its midst, so they must be dealt with.
3. We follow the example of Jesus Christ.
Who can forget that fateful day when Jesus drove the money-changers out of the temple? In a holy rage He entered the temple with a whip and drove them out (Matthew 21:12). That wasn’t very nice, but it was very Christ-like.
People who would rather be nice than Christ-like do not understand Christian leadership. Church leaders care so much about their ability to reach more people for Christ, that they will not allow anyone to stifle their ability to do so.
Since pastors tend to impress upon their congregations something of their own personalities, their strengths and weaknesses, for good and for ill, I realize that I need to work hard at BEING AN EXAMPLE that LOVES LIKE JESUS LOVES, and PURSUES PEACE and UNITY like Jesus did.
I give you my pledge that I will do my very best at trying to accomplish both.