Recovering from a church split

I am thankful that I have never been through a church split as a pastor. I pray that I never will. However, this is an interesting article by Mark Barnard that sheds light on how a church can heal following a split. I think it is helpful information for all of us who are in the ministry:

As I walked into the church, I immediately sensed something was wrong.  The group had just lost their beloved pastor to an opportunity in another state, but the church’s collective emotional state exhibited deeper wounds.

It turned out that their pastor’s departure was the latest aftershock of an earlier earthquake—a church split—which had rendered the church depleted of both members and momentum.

Churches split for a variety of reasons, few of them justifiable and all of them painful.  It is the equivalent of amputation in a body. Their case was no different – except for the repetition.

The church had split three times in ten years.  As hard as it is to believe, they became accustomed to amputation as a means of “solving” church problems.

Church splits happen, but how do leaders survive one and bring their church back to health?

1.  Acknowledge what happened. In most cases everyone knows the split happened, but no one talks about it publicly.  Leaders, who usually bear the most severe wounds, often just want to put the split behind them. Yet we have found that failing to address the church’s corporate wounds leaves them to fester rather than heal and actually increases the chances of additional splits down the road.

2.  Grieve the loss of good friends.  What makes church splits so painful?  In a split, we many times divide from those we have known and loved for years.  The reality is that most who left the church were good people too.  A congregation needs to grieve such losses. We will likely see these people again at Walmart or at work and unless you release your feelings before the Lord, you may find it hard to be civil to your brothers and sisters in Christ.

3.  Discern God’s voice in the split.  Jesus threatened more than one church in Revelation 2-3 with corporate discipline if they failed to correct the issues He held against them.  Was the split in your church an act of divine discipline over other unresolved problems in your church? If so, how do you discern Christ’s voice in the pain such corporate discipline brings?

Here are some things to consider:

  • Is there a pattern of pain in the history of your church?  If Jesus has a problem with your church that you have not addressed, He will keep bringing it up until you do.
  • Was there a deeper issue, like distrust of leadership, of which the split was merely a symptom?
  • Did your leaders handle past crises, as well as the split, in a God-honoring way?

Church pain reveals the heart of a church and its leaders.  How your church behaved in the midst of the battle may make people aware of the attitudes and behaviors which require repentance.

 4.  Take steps to reconcile.  You might think this refers to reconciling with those who departed the church, but the primary concern is to reconcile with God over the split itself.  A split mars the beautiful picture of unity God designed for the His bride to portray to a watching world. A split is no small thing to Christ and church leaders must take responsibility and do what is necessary to make things right with Him.

Putting all this together may seem daunting, but others have blazed a trail for you to follow.  Healing the Heart of Your Church by Dr. Ken Quick offers such a pathway, providing a process for healing a wounded church in a spiritually sensitive way. A ministry likeBlessing Point can facilitate the healing process if you need assistance from outside.

Whichever path you take, don’t put it off.  Surviving a church split, like surviving an amputation, largely depends on how quickly your church’s wounds receive attention.

How has a church split impacted you?

Mark Barnard serves as President of Blessing Point Ministries and is the author of The Path of Revival – Restoring Our Nation One Church at a Time and co-author of the Healing the Heart of Your Church Facilitator Guide. Like us on Facebook.

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