Friday, September 07, 2007

Anatomy of a Church Split

I have never been through a church split, thankfully. I don't say that to brag, but it seems like something that a lot of people have been through that I haven't. The closest that I've come was when some of the members of Otter Creek, including the then-preacher left to form Harpeth Community Church. But that was more of a seeding.

On another blog I've been following..., the author Dennis has been chronicling what been going on at his church in Texas, a church of Christ, as some of the members move into a desire for a "freer" experience and several members of the congregation and some elders disagree with that.

Here's are the links of pertinence.

- Lynch Mob - August 27, 2007
- Aftermath - August 29, 2007
- Termination - August 30, 2007
- Can't Go Back - September 3, 2007
- Church Colonoscopy - September 6, 2007

Obviously, the first thing to say is to ask for prayers for this congregation, for those on all sides. As you might guess, my sympathies lean toward Dennis and the people that agree with him. However, a church split has got to be one of the most painful things that a person can experience. It's got to be like a death or divorce, like a painful separation from someone that you love or even thought you loved.

From an outsider's standpoint, like me, this entire thing is very interesting and such a useful look into a church dynamic where you have an established leadership, supported by a vocal group of people, trying to maintain a status quo, and another group who feels called to a more free experience, such as clapping in worship, and is trying to express those feelings, even when they might offend or disconcert others. The trouble is how does this get accomplished? Is there any scenario where the "status quo" people would allow for clapping in worship? Could they regard that as an opinion matter, not related to salvation? It doesn't seem so.

Is there any scenario where the "clappers" could refrain so as to not offend their brothers and sisters, if they feel God is calling them to this, and ultimately to other understandings of Scripture rather than the traditional ways that the Church of Christ has interpreted Scripture?

Or is it simply better to let these to groups go their own way, worshiping and understanding God in their ways, so as to not offend one or bind the other?

And where does the concept of family work into all of this?

Like I said, one thing we can all do is pray for this church, but I'm also curious. Have you been through a split? What was that like? How did it affect your spirituality and feeling toward and about God? Were you able to "maintain fellowship" with the others that split or were all relationships broken? And if you're not a Christian and you're reading this, you might be thinking, "Those crazy Christians. Splitting over stupid stuff like clapping? Give me a break." To you I would say, "Yes. Churches break up over clapping, or kitchens, or preachers. Churches, as much as they are the Body of Christ, are also made up of flawed creatures, so it's not going to be perfect and it's not always going to be right."

So what do you think?


Anonymous said...

I think some people talk too much. There is no need to spread things of this nature, especially if it doesn't concern you.

Phil said...

Thanks for your input. Just to let you know, I didn't post this to spread gossip or cast a negative light on the church or this congregation in particular. It's simply an example of what many people have been through. I respect your disagreement, but I happen to disagree with you.

Jennifer Thompson said...

My church in NC split during the last few months I was there over women's role in public worship. We had done a semester-long congregational study, and at the end the elders, with input, decided to allow women to pray, lead singing and serve communion. It was highly emotional, especially for some of those who stayed (the pro-female leadership group), because they felt as though those who left thought they were doing something incredibly wrong. The people who left did try to do it in as friendly a way as possible, but there were lots of hurt feelings. I'm not sure how things are now; personally, I respect both sides and feel like the "splinter" group dealt with things as best they could. So that one was not fun, but I think it was better for everyone to split somewhat amicably and worship separately rather than arguing together. That church is very good about coexisting with different opinions, but that issue, I think, is too big and too public to be able to do that. I'm not sure how much the members on both sides see each other, but I think things are friendly (in general) on both sides, although they're not as close as they used to be.

The church I grew up in split last year. As I understand it (I hadn't been there regularly for several years, but my parents are really involved), there was a pretty sizeable group who had been frustrated with the elders for several years. Things came to a head when they decided to select new elders, and I think about half the church eventually left and formed a new church. I found myself feeling resentment toward both groups - with some of the group that left because of some things that were said, and with the group that stayed because honestly, I shared some of the frustrations of the splinter group. My parents decided to stay. I don't like going to church with them now - the church and the people I called home are, for the most part, the other group. Being in that building just reminds me that there are so many people I'm missing.

I think in the long run having two separate churches will be good, because that area of town is growing rapidly. But it was a painful split that very possibly could have been avoided, at least from my perspective (which, again, is not exactly first-hand). Individuals on both sides still talk; lots of us were at a friend's wedding last fall and it was all fine, although I'm not sure if it was awkward for my parents. I don't know what would happen if one of the "new church" families ran into one of the "old church" elders at the store or something.

Splits are almost always painful. But the one at home hurt me personally much more than the one in NC. Neither affected my spirituality in terms of whether or not I believed in God or attended church, but they did really make me think about the women's role issue (which was definitely a good thing) and make me more aware of how broken and stubborn people can be (on either side). I think it's a rough time no matter what.

Gardner Hall said...

I think Paul had the right to write with love and firmness about divisions in Corinth to educate others, and you have the same right, especially since you have done so with much love.

I'm not sure about all the implications of 1 Cor. 11:19, "For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you." Seems like Paul is saying that divisions are sometimes inevitable when different people want different kinds of religion.

At least in the division Jennifer Thompson mentions, there was an effort on both sides to be civil.

May God help us

Tiffany said...

I've never been through a split, but we studied them in my "Religion and Conflict Resolution" class in law school. One service the Straus Institute offers is mediation in these exact situations. If you have any personal contact with this church, I might recommend they contact someone at Straus about getting a trained, impartial professional involved. It can't fix everything, but it can keep things from becoming heated and more painful than necessary.

jim voorhies said...

Splits are profoundly disturbing and upsetting, especially if you're not involved as an active participant and then, all of a sudden, things blow up. Our church split, as you know. (Actually, I may have heard it from you before I heard it from anyone at the church, Phil. ;) You know everything, my friend!)

Our elders and staff had been suffering in silence and everything seemed to come to a head the weekend we were out of town. Rumors and TV news stories announced the divide.

The elders (both current ones and past ones) decided that it would be the right thing to open up to the congregation and they set up a series of evening small group question and answer sessions where they went through their experiences and then opened up the floor to any and all questions - and some were very pointed.

In the end, their openness and obvious pain and integrity of intent allowed for healing and movement. Many churches are not open in their dealings, it seems. The pastor gets to make all the decisions and all the rules, with a rubber stamp board.

Anonymous said...

We experienced a church split 15 years ago and it was more painful than any death I've ever experienced. Deep, deep hurts. I understand the first comment. I hated people talking about us too. Even when it wasn't done in a spiteful way. It just hurt to be talked about....even discussed and analyzed. The main thing I learned through the split was that Jesus is Lord. People can be cruel. Scriptures can be twisted. Words can hurt. It's one of the times in life when one must kick the dust from their sandals and move on in the best way they can, leaving the hatred and hurt behind and loving some folks from a distance.

Steve said...

All my life I thought poorly of our heritage's tendency to have church splits. Now that I've been part of one, I feel differently. Good people can honestly have differences of opinion and there comes a point where its best for all involved to make the separation. I was part of the split that Jennifer talks about below. I now understand how that when these things occur, emotions let loose and people say things they regret. I have heard of much worse situations than ours was in that regard. My wife goes back to the "old" church quite frequently for baby/wedding showers and has a good time. I enjoyed the wedding Jennifer mentioned and everyone, including elders, was friendly to me.

David Kirk said...

Our church split four years ago and it still hurts because the whole thing was so stupid. The preacher was doing grief seminars and marriage seminars and things to bring new people into the church and try to minister to people where they were hurting, and the elders decided these people were coming to church for the wrong reasons, so they fired the preacher! The elders called a congregational meeting (after they had already fired the preacher) and accused him of being a change agent. They told those of us who were defending this man that we were worshipping the preacher. I'm still mad and it's been four years!

Anonymous said...

I was a deacon in a church on the east coast . I discovered sin in the camp . I have since had rumour's spread about me and my family. We have been threatened . Even this tuesday info was brought back to me in less 2 days. I tried to have a pastor read a confidential letter and he spread to at least 4 people. I have also had people come up to me on the street and pass on confidential things directly from church leadership

Anonymous said...

I am Dennis, the author of the blog about which you speak ( where you refer to the anatomy of a church split. As I look back on what’s happened this past year, I feel very good about the future of the church in this small Texas town. Though we never wanted a split and though many of us put forth much effort to bring freedom and grace into our former congregation, there were some who were bound and determined to not let any change take place. I would have probably left things pretty much alone had I not asked my son (32 yrs) about what motivated him to come to church and his answer was that he had no motivation to come except for the fact that it was important to his grandfather (former Elder at PH and now Honorary Elder at Outreach). Several other young adults gave similar answers. So, it seemed the options were to stay the way we were and die slowly or to try to bring grace and freedom so we could reach our young families (as well as other families in our community). That was more than some could handle so it eventually came to a head. Church should not be something you endure, but something that encourages you to be all you can be for Christ and God.
Though the separation has been difficult (we didn’t pull away, but felt pushed away), the new church environment is so positive and warm and welcoming. I believe that many more “outsiders“ will be reached with the good news because of the split than would have ever been reached without it. Pragmatically speaking, if it could have happened 10 years ago, we could be far ahead of where we are now, but it didn’t happen because we just wanted to keep trying to make it work together. And though I hate some of the vitriol that has taken place and though I hate some of the dirty laundry that has been aired, I just believe that true Christianity will stand up in the light of day. And I believe that we went for many years in denial (some still are) because the dirty deeds were done in darkness and they knew those deeds would not be exposed. The world doesn’t respond positively to appearances. It responds to authenticity. And that is what we want to be---authentic Christians. God Bless. Dennis

Template Designed by Douglas Bowman - Updated to Beta by: Blogger Team
Modified for 3-Column Layout by Hoctro