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Church Musings: Whose Church is it, anyway?

A funny thing happened while I have been traveling the better part of the last month. Not funny “ha, ha” but funny “weird”. (Actually more like the way your stomach feels “funny” right before you get sick.) By the time I returned from Africa, I had heard o of three different churches all pastored or attended by friends or colleagues that were being torn apart by congregational division. Since I had already known of another church and recently had someone send me an email asking for input about yet another painful situation that might also lead to a split. I realized that I was now praying for the peace and unity of five congregations who were falling apart.

What is happening here?

The circumstances are all different and the details are hard to discern completely. But here is what they have in common, from my (in some cases cursory) awareness of the situations.

• None of the turmoil in any of the churches was theologically driven. These are not cases of division because of theological or biblical disagreement. (There are lots of rumors in at least one case about “liberal takeovers” and such, but those are really red-herrings that are only adding gas to the fire.)

• None of the turmoil in any of the church is about social issues.

• The churches are diverse in their polity representing four different denominations in the five churches. And the church polity structures or governing bodies seem to have little ability to help the congregations through these troubled times. (Indeed, in some cases it appears the governing bodies are making it worse.)

• There are committed, biblically centered Christians who are pitted against each other on opposite sides of the split in all of the churches.

At the center of every controversy is the pastor. In short, these church splits, unlike so many of the past are personal. They revolve around the personality, abilities, leadership style and vision of the pastors who lead the church. And in every case, the most common response to the turmoil is for the congregations to split. Over the next few days, I am going to try to look at these churches and see if there are some lessons to be learned about leadership, community and mission. I won't take sides. For those of you who know the details of a particular church, please don't even think about trying to make a case in this forum. I am not interested in debating the details, but instead learning from the mistakes. For me, this discussion isn't about who's right in a particular church, but what is so painfully wrong in the whole Church.

And that probably includes me. I happen to be pastoring a church that is in a wonderful, fruitful, joyful season of life. But I shudder to think that my own leadership style could sow the seeds that would lead to division and discord in future days.

So, let's jump into this discussion by prayerfully asking Christ to perfect and work in us, humbly asking the Spirit to bring to mind the Scriptures that we need to hear and heed once again, and faithfully seeking to fulfill the words of Paul to the Ephesians:

I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3)

Here's the opening question that I want rolling around in the back of our heads, settling deep into our hearts. Muse on this one with me and I urge you to be slow to answer: Just whose church is it, anyway?

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