The following is a letter (with names removed) I sent to a church which was on the brink of splitting in two. I’m sorry to say that I think the letter probably has application to many other situations. I wrote it – and am placing it here – in hopes that God will use it to influence some of His people for good. BAT
To my dear friends at ________ Church, Words can’t express how greatly you encouraged my heart as I kept hearing that God was working so powerfully at __________. I’ve been learning a lot about how the Apostle Paul felt: you are “my joy and crown” (Philippians 4:1). Neither can words express how heartbreaking it has been to hear about the division and strife that has occurred more recently. The following are mostly thoughts that occurred to me while talking to _______ ________ last night. You may do what you want with them of course;
I’m no apostle, but Donna and I love you and I think that gives us some credibility. The first and most important thing I have to say to all is, please, please, please understand that this is not a contest between people; this is primarily a contest between God and Satan and I do not mean to imply that some of you are on God’s side and some on Satan’s side!
I mean that you caused our enemy (your brother is NOT your enemy; the devil is) great consternation while the church was going “great guns.” Do not be ignorant of his devices; his best methodology is to simply use the flesh of Christians (our sin-powered humanity) to destroy our absolutely essential unity. Galatians 5:15 says “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” As Donna says, when the same old tactic works so well year after year, why should the devil come up with anything new? It sounds like unity at the board level is what was sacrificed first and that was a mistake. A great pastor, Larry Osborne, wrote a book on the subject called “The Unity Factor.” At some point in your healing process, study it carefully. There’s no getting around the necessity of a unified board/pastor leadership team. I don’t pretend to know or understand all that’s gone on in your fellowship in the past few months. I’m confident that none of you do either; there are at least three sides to every story, yours, mine and God’s; the essential matter is what you do now.
My understanding is that Pastor _______ has resigned. Now you’re going to be tempted to be embittered with each other. Don’t fall for it. Forgiveness is absolutely essential and it must be given even to those who never apologize for what we see as their sins. Our value differences cause us to see things differently and to sometimes view our brother as sinning when he or she is absolutely confident that he is doing the right thing. This even occurs in our marriages because of the different FOO (family of origin) cultures we’ve come from. What Donna considers sin I consider acceptable and normal and we’ll never completely see every issue eye-to-eye.
Some of you have a very strong loyalty ethic and believed that you should stand by Pastor _______ no matter what. Others among you have very high standards regarding a pastor’s loyalty to a church constitution. It may be that you will never, until reaching heaven, agree on this. Better yet, put your good values together and go forward into the future with an absolute commitment to maintain a tight, tight unity at the leadership level, to deal with your differences in godly ways and to have a “rule book” (constitution) that all agree to follow.
In any case, the crucial matter right now is what you do right now. Right now, tonight, you need to start forgiving one another and moving in the direction of reconciliation. (It will take time to feel good about each other.) You can beat the devil at his own game if you will start forgiving now. You are handing him a victory on a silver platter if you don’t.
This is not about your “rightness;” this is about God’s glory. God will be glorified, His reputation enhanced, His power displayed, if you reconcile and become a stronger, holier church. You will give Christ “a black eye” if you don’t. Right now, tonight, you will need to resolve to not make the situation worse with blaming and name calling. “Getting it out” is a worldly concept, not a biblical one. Anger expressed without restraint does not “spend” the anger and lead to peace; it leads to hotter, more deadly anger. You might want to read Ephesians 4 together, very slowly.
If you must meet tonight, make your comments from the floor addressed to the “chair” and do not allow any angry outbursts by anybody, period. You will need to resist the temptation to think with your hearts. Hearts are for feeling; heads are for thinking.
Do not try to fix your problem by latching unto someone nearby who seems like “pastor material.” Of course you need someone to come and preach and teach on Sundays for awhile, and God will greatly bless you through these speakers, but they will not be a substitute for the “native guide” which you will need for a few months. You need more than a godly man; you need a trained and experienced man who knows how to lead a church through a process of reconciliation. I shared with ________ the name of an organization which might be able to provide some wonderful, short-term help with reconciliation. I also shared with her that I have names and phone numbers for three organizations which supply trained and experienced, peacemaking, interim pastors to churches. This is what you’re going to need now (and I don’t mean me! We have our hands full here in __________).
In time, you will need to oh-so-carefully call a new long-term pastor. In the meantime, your best chance for healing is going to be with the help of someone who has been gifted by God for just such a time as this. We love you all and will be praying for you tonight and in the weeks to come. For HIS Glory, Brian Thorstad