Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Divisive People

Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned (Titus 3:10-11 NIV).

The Bible’s advice for dealing with problem people is zero tolerance.  Don't put up with it.  No ifs, and, or buts about it.  Deal with them swiftly and decisively.  Look at the verse above, it's clear: warn them once or twice, after that have nothing to do with them.  Why?  Such a person is warped and sinful, that’s why.

I know this sounds radical.  But it is what the Bible says to do.  It’s as counterintuitive to the average pastor, or Christian, as you could possibly imagine.  It doesn’t even feel Christian.  Yet, this is what the Christian Bible says to do; have nothing to do with them.  Write them off, disfellowship them, and move on.

The double standard we embrace is ironic.  We’ll teach what the Bible says about everything else – and apply it – but for some reason, this clear directive about dealing with problem people is either ignored or just so uncomfortable that we refuse to consider it for our lives or practice it in our churches.

Still, it’s what the Bible says to do.

There is something so destructive about divisive people and the effect they can have upon a church that it must be dealt with swiftly and firmly to ensure that it is never allowed to take root.  It’s obvious that such a person is out of line and rebellious against God, therefore they are not to be given any platform to spread their division and dissension in the church.  It simply cannot be tolerated.

Why?  Because it is so damaging.  So much so that is was the one thing Jesus prayed about just before His crucifixion (John 17).  Jesus prayed for unity and love among His followers because it would be the ultimate proof of authentic Christianity. 

Little wonder there is zero tolerance in the Bible toward those who would rip the church apart through dissension, disunity, and division; through the spreading of false doctrine, or overstating petty doctrines; through power plays and malicious gossip; through slander and the undeserved undermining of established leadership.

If a pastor and his trusted leadership team do not follow the Bible in this matter, they do so at great peril.  One of my biggest leadership mistakes cost PCC two years of growth and forward progress.  You have no idea how just writing those words makes my stomach knot.  Two years!

My leadership mistake was simple but profound:  I allowed a staff infection to take root that manifested itself in a spirit of division and dissension, and then I failed to confront it quickly enough.  As a result, it took hold and spread like a cancer, infecting people and teams, families and leaders in way that, in many cases, were irreparable.

It began with a single person.  The warning signs were there for me to see, but I ignored them too long hoping they would go away.  They didn’t.  And the situation didn’t get better.  It worsened.

Over a period of many, many months, one person single handedly spread more negative thoughts and vibes than any other person in the history of our church.  His style was simple:  where there had been no disappointment or disunity, he planted the seed.

“Did you think that was a good sermon?  No, the pastor mishandled the text.”

“How did you feel about that staff meeting?  We didn’t spend enough time in prayer?”

“Aren’t you excited about PCC’s growth?  No, because this church caters to people with felt needs.”

“Do you think the sky is blue today?  Well, I know Ron  says so, but you should read this book written by Dr. Super Duck.  Now he knows how to make the sky blue.”

Okay, he didn’t really say the last one, but it would have fit.

Before I knew it, I was the worst teacher, the worst pastor, a shallow leader, a poor shepherd, not very spiritual, too business, and the least accountable.  You get the picture.

What a person like this does is create discontent and dissatisfaction where it did not exist before.  (Read that previous sentence again slowly – they create discontent and dissatisfaction where it did not exist before).  That’s what makes their actions so criminal.  They are the instigator of trouble in a place where no trouble existed until they started it.  Or they take the weakest embers of such potential feelings and fan them into a flame wildly out of proportion to the reality at hand.  Sadly, he and his followers found ample kindling in our church family.

We had just moved into our building and were growing rapidly.  Assimilation and discipleship were lagging behind.  And I was tired.  Midlife kind of tired.  Church planter tired.  Taking it through 8 ½ years at a local high school tired.  Just built a building, watched it fall to the ground by Hurricane Dennis, and rebuilt it all over again kind of tired.  Just buried my father kind of tired.

So I found myself pulling back.  I was emotionally drained and relationally guarded.  As a result, my response to this staff infection was, to say the least, slow and ineffective.  I wanted to “win” people over and make them like me – which made me responsible for the ever-spreading dissent.  I should not have wasted my time with this approach because what these people were doing was SIN, and much of it was directed against me and our church.  I should have been confrontational, sooner.

My mistake was that I waited too long.  If I had been swifter, more decisive, less nice, and more Biblical, I would have saved myself, and PCC, a great deal of grief.  Furthermore, PCC would not have lost two years of forward progress.  Although I did deal with the problem when I could not ignore it any longer,  I was left battered and bleeding by the time it ended.

Fortunately, I learned my lesson.  I know now that I should have met this situation with zero tolerance at the first signs of trouble, because that’s what the situation deserved.  I should have fired the instigator immediately.  Additionally, I should not have tolerated those individuals who engaged in hallway conversations, parking lot meetings, and “sharing” in small groups as they spewed out their junk.  At the earliest signs of discontent, there should have been immediate confrontations on the basis of Matthew 18:15, instead of allowing it to get a foothold in our church.  And those unwilling to be confronted and brought to repentance should have been removed from their positions, brought under church discipline, and if necessary, shown the door.  After all, that’s what Titus 3:10-11 says to do.

Why don’t we do this?  It’s simple.  We are by nature people-pleasers and non-confrontational.  It’s like having a toothache but avoiding the pain of the dentist’s chair.  So we live with the ongoing, throbbing ache that grows in its infection until it takes over our entire body in blinding pain – when thirty minutes in the dentist’s office would have solved everything. 


Stuart Royall said...

Bro, i am feeling you. Going through it right now...only 7 years in. Dealing with lots of dissension. The reality is that when sinners go on uncontested, they begin to get arrogant and accuse the church of its foibles and then the dark is accusing the light (ironically). Christians then are confused and don't know how to deal with it all. Thanks for sharing your experience. -

sue said...

Thank you. I just heard that someone was maligning my name. I knew i needed to take care of it right away. Your words consoled me and gave me courage. Thank you again