One of the most common themes in the New Testament is unity. Jesus prays for it (John 17), and Paul writes about it in numerous places. He also talks about division and that leaders must protect the unity against division. What he says in Acts 20:17 – 38 is scary and telling: Division, and wolves (false teachers) will come out of the churches, not come in. Meaning, those that are most divisive and will do the most damage are the ones who are in the church and who sin.
After working in churches for 13 years, I have seen a lot of divisive people. Been on divisive teams. I’ve even been divisive myself and had to repent to those I was divisive against. Often though, if you confront a divisive person about being divisive, they will tell you they aren’t being divisive, protective of the church. That may be in their mind, it is also poor ecclesiology. Elders are called to shepherd and protect the church, they are held accountable to God for this.
I put together a list of ways to know you are being divisive or are on your way to being divisive:
- You want everyone to know why you are mad. Misery loves company and when you are mad about something at church, you want others to know. You want people to validate your opinion. You want them to know why you are hurt, why you are mad, why you are leaving. There was a couple once who left our church and they did a “farewell tour” to let people know why they were leaving. As they said, “We don’t want people to think we just disappeared into the sunset.”
- You’ve talked to everyone about this but the elders and leaders of the church. You are mad at what the pastor said, a change that was made, the direction of the church. Instead of talking to the people who made the decision, the people who are held accountable for the decision, you talk to everyone else. You will say things like, “I want to see if I’m the only one, just getting feedback.” In reality, you are trying to get people to your side.
- You call for accountability of the leadership. I often get asked, who holds the elders accountable. Biblically, we hold each other accountable as men and women, as Christians, but that the elders were accountable to God. This didn’t sit well, so they pressed, what about humans, what humans hold the elders accountable for their decisions. What’s funny about this, is that people think it is scary to an elder if you hold them accountable versus God. Here’s my take, if you don’t like what I do, if you don’t like me, if you are disappointed in me, if you think I’m preaching heresy, I’m not that worried about that. If God thinks those things, that’s a bad day. People in this category will ask for more than the leaders to be part of a meeting, a third party. Unless you are in a congregational church, the third party is God.
- You say, “I’m just trying to get reconciliation” when in reality you are about winning. Divisive people don’t want reconciliation, they want to win. They are right, they know it and they want you as the leader and everyone else to know it. You can tell if someone’s goal is reconciliation by what they do. Do they talk to the leaders? Do they talk to everyone else?
- They broadcast what is happening. Even after talking with the leaders of the church, if they don’t like the response they put up a blog post or send out an email to the rest of the church “letting them know what’s going on.”
- They refuse to submit. They will throw out verses about being under God and he is their ultimate authority, which is true. We are also called to submit to the leadership of the church we are a part of. The elders submit to each other, everyone submits to someone in some way.
- Pride. This one is plain and simple, divisive people have a ton of pride driving them.
- Be prepared. Know this is coming. They are coming to your church. More than likely, they are already in leadership at your church as Paul stated in Acts 20.
- Know you aren’t the only one. Lean on other leaders, ones who have dealt with this. Gain some perspective and wisdom.
- Remember God cares more about your church than you do.
- It will happen again. That probably isn’t a comfort to you, but that person right now that is being divisive will not be the last one. In fact, if your church is growing and reaching people, you can expect more and more to show up.