If you are in a local church and you are considering leaving, take the time to think and pray about it. Be clear about why you want to leave.
In this post, I want to address those who want to leave their church because of conflict and disunity.
LESSONS FROM TWO NEW TESTAMENT CHURCHES
- The church in Jerusalem
In the book of Acts, the church in Jerusalem is pretty close to being a perfect church in my opinion. The first four chapters of Acts describe a church with:
- powerful preaching
- Spirit-filled believers
- persistent and powerful prayer
- a commitment to fellowship and worship
- boldness in evangelism
- power to perform miracles
- caring and sharing of resources so that none of the believers were in need
Wouldn’t you enjoy being a part of that church?
Yet, in spite of these strengths, jealousy and lying reared their ugly heads. Acts 5 tells the sobering story of Ananias and his wife Sapphira, who wanted to appear more generous than they were by selling a piece of land and giving the money to the church. However, they claimed that they were giving all the money from the sale, when in fact, they kept some of the money for themselves. God’s judgement came upon them harshly and immediately (Acts 5:5,10).
The church in Jerusalem reminds us that even the most dynamic, Spirit-filled church is not perfect. If sin could arise in that church, should we be surprised when unacceptable behavior is seen in our own church?
- The church in Corinth
This church was very different from the church in Jerusalem. You probably would not seek out a church like this one! Here are some of the issues faced by this church:
- immorality in the church
- arguments and infighting
- Christians suing each other
- chaotic worship services
- abuse of spiritual gifts
- greed and selfishness displayed even at the Communion table
Recently I was studying 1 Corinthians chapter 1 and I gained some insight into this church and its problems that I believe is relevant for today. In this chapter, conflict and division arose regarding church leadership. Some of the believers claimed to follow Paul, others followed Apollos, others claimed that Cephas (Peter) was their man, and the most spiritual among them claimed that they just followed Jesus (I Corinthians 1:12)!
Let’s consider the appeal of these human leaders. (Obviously, they weren’t all following Jesus or they wouldn’t have been in the mess they were!) Why didn’t they all follow Paul? He started the church (Acts 18:1–17). Perhaps many of the Gentiles were drawn to Paul who was called to minister to them. Some of the Jewish believers though questioned Paul’s authority for he was not one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, but Peter was. In fact, Peter was one of Jesus’ closest friends. His words likely carried more weight in the opinion of some of the Corinthian Jewish Christians. The third man in the leadership race was Apollos. He was well versed in the Old Testament and was an eloquent speaker and effective in debate (Acts 18:28). He perhaps appealed to the more cultured members of the church.
SUCCESS → PROBLEMS
I believe that one reason for this lack of unity regarding leadership was due to the SUCCESS of this church in Corinth. Through effective preaching, and witnessing through word and deed, this church attracted people who were diverse in at least two ways.
Diversity in Social Standing
Two men are mentioned in this chapter, Sosthenes (v.1) and Crispus (v.14) who had high standing in the Jewish community (see Acts 18:1-17) as leaders in the synagogue. However, it appears that most people in the church did not have such status, for Paul says to them and of them,
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many of noble birth.” (1 Corinthians 1:26)
Diversity in Culture
This church consisted of both Jews and Gentiles with very different cultural beliefs, values and history. What these two cultures did have in common was their contempt for the other. Because of Christ, they were now brothers and sisters in the faith in the Corinthian church.
With these differences, it is easy to see why there might be conflict. Successful evangelism can lead to all kinds of problems even today. Growth can lead to misunderstandings and power struggles. Numerical growth will create new problems like lack of parking and seating space, lack of volunteers, and a strain on financial resources.
A successful church will not be a problem-free church.
Success is a positive factor that can lead to conflict and disunity. A negative factor in the case of the Corinthian church I believe, was the influence of PERSONAL PREFERENCE. I believe that different groups of people likely aligned themselves with a particular leader in the church who they were naturally drawn to – someone who understood their culture, someone from their own culture, or someone they just liked more than the other leaders.
In church conflict today, personal preferences often create or escalate problems. What I have observed, is that as long as people take a stand based on personal preferences, there will never be unity. There will always be a winner and a loser.
THINK ABOUT THE CONFLICT THAT IS TROUBLING YOU
Could it be, that some of the problems and disunity in your church are caused by your church doing the right things?
Is your perspective being clouded by your own personal preferences?
Do you really want to leave your church with its problems to join another church with a different set of problems? After all, no church is perfect.
In the next blog post, I want to talk about staying power – how to stay in a difficult church when you would rather walk away.