Tim Challies at Challies.com posted twice this last week on the issue of unity within a church (“Satan’s Great Desire” and “How to Build Unity in Your Church“). As usual, Tim does a good job of noting the problem, rooting it to Scripture, and offering a solid biblical response to maintaining unity.
But what is left unsaid in those two posts is what has nagged at me the last few days, especially since I believe the topic of the year is church community (and the sudden interest in community seems to be widespread now).
Tim says that a lack of mutual love within a church is a major reason for disunity. His answer is for those in the church to use their spiritual gifts to serve each other.
You’ll get no arguments from me on this.
However, I believe that the problem we have with disunity within churches is more insidious than a lack of love.
What I share below is my experience as a trained observer of churches and people. I can’t give you a lot of Bible verses (yet) to back my observations, only that I believe that what I write is going to resonate—especially with seasoned Christians who have been wounded by their church experiences.
First, a clarification. How does disunity in a church manifest?
What most people see of disunity itself is anger, frustration, resentment, people leaving the church in numbers, and church splits.
Personally, I don’t believe that the majority of this disunity and its fruit can be traced to the Smiths not loving the Joneses. For the people in the seats on Sunday, not getting along with other people in the seats is almost never their reason for manifesting the bitter fruit that leads to people leaving the church.
What I know of people who have left a church or of a church that has split, the reasons are of a different sort. The leavers and splitters are far more likely to note the following failures:
1. Church leaders failed to address “sticking points” within the church despite others (usually nonleaders) noting those issues.
2. Church leaders failed to respond to pleas for personal help.
3. Church leaders failed to nurture other people’s God-given spiritual gifts (or even purposefully stymied them).
4. Church leaders failed to communicate vision and direction to the rest of the church body.
5. Church leaders failed to recognize they are fellow brothers and sisters of equal stature with the rest of the people in the church and therefore failed to lead humbly.
Picked up on the pattern yet?
Most solid people (as opposed to church hoppers/shoppers) who leave a church or most churches that split do so for one major reason: church leaders failed.
This is not to excuse those who are not church leaders for their personal culpability in that failure, but it demonstrates an enormous, glaring problem.
If church leadership failures are a major reason for disunity in a church, perhaps the problem is not one of love, as Tim Challies notes, but of the entirety of the way we allow our churches to be led. Perhaps the models of church leadership and proper church functioning we have fallen into over time are not the models depicted in the New Testament. Perhaps this is why church leaders fail so often, why so many people leave a church (or Christianity altogether), and why disunity reigns.
Sadly, almost no one within the North American Church wants to deal with this problem because it means a total rethink of the way we do church and would prove too threatening to a vast number of people.
But if the Church is to do more than survive, thriving means dealing with that problem.
And that is going to have to take a whole lotta love.