By Mike Bryant
Most pastors could say that they have led or have been a part of a divided church. However, not every divided church becomes divided over the same concern.
I am going to be very direct in how I talk about the things that I have learned and found. I love God’s Church. I love the people God has placed in my life to care for and learn from in the congregations that I have served. In the event things I have learned come across otherwise, I want to make sure that my love for God’s Church is clear.
This is something I have struggled with much more than I would have anticipated. I feel like I am a gentle soul with a patient heart. I don’t push for things very hard. I prefer to have conversations about issues, rather than give lectures about changes. I thought my personality and demeanor would have curbed a lot of the tension in a traditional church among different generations.
However, this has not been the case. I have listened, I have taken things slow and patiently, but I have found that if I do not arrive at the same conclusion as the other party, whether that party is young or more seasoned, then I am perceived as wrong. This creates an incredible amount of stress for the Pastor, especially if the Pastor is trying to navigate between both groups.
The wisdom I have learned in this complex issue is to actively listen and try to understand the perspective I am listening to with an open mind. Try not to speak much. Simply let them speak their mind. Use that information to understand how their life experiences have led them to their conclusions. Then, search the scriptures for God’s heart on the matter. Seek Him fervently and develop a strong Biblical foundation for your thoughts. Once you feel you have a firm grasp on this, you can begin to speak in these conversations as they arise with a Biblical foundation.
Lastly here, be ready for backlash, be ready for attack, be ready for the unexpected. Things can go south in the navigations of this generation gap faster than I would have ever imagined. However, if you have sought the Lord, if you know that you have been obedient to His Word and how He has led you, then you can be confident that you have been faithful no matter how the situation turns out.
Pastors struggle to not allow that weight to affect the rest of their lives, which means spouses and children experience the impact firsthand.
2. Mental & Emotional Health
I have found that leading a divided church takes a massive toll on the leader’s mental and emotional health. Many times, I don’t think pastors realize the toll it is taking. In my own experience, my family noticed that toll a long time before I ever did. I think one of the reasons for this is the call on a pastor’s life. Pastors have compassion and love for the people God has called them to lead. This in turn means that when there is division in the church, it weighs much more heavily than we realize. It hurts our hearts and souls to see the division. Pastors struggle to not allow that weight to affect the rest of their lives, which means spouses and children experience the impact firsthand. This weight manifests itself in different ways, depending on the person. It could be a short temper, anxiety, lack of energy for the family, loss of relational motivation at home. The list could go on and on.
I have not practiced this personally, but looking back on these seasons in my life, I would suggest that the pastor see a professional counselor on a consistent schedule. I think bi-monthly would be a healthy place to start. This gives the pastor the opportunity to work through frustration, anxiety, or whatever else there might be so that it doesn’t impact the family.
3. Open communication
The pastor needs people around him that can encourage him. The pastor needs people within the church that will support him without bias or agendas. If these people cannot be found, or do not exist in the church, the pastor’s job is near impossible. The pastor needs people that understand the vision and mission God has given the church and will speak to that end.
This group does not need to be people that will agree and say yes to whatever the pastor wants to do. The pastor needs people who have a close beat on what’s happening in the church, what people are thinking, how people are feeling, and what people are saying. A pastor cannot fix an issue that he does not know about.
The pastor also needs this group to stay true to the mission/vision God has given for the church. It is so easy to get distracted and influenced by culture, conferences, and other churches.
I want to acknowledge that this is a difficult group of people to find. It may only be one or two people, but regardless, this is crucial for a pastor to have.
Leading a divided church is an extremely difficult task. In the “American Church Culture” today, this is a very common issue pastors will have to navigate. A pastor must decide what they are willing to go through and what they are willing to put their family through as they enter into a season like this. An important passage to meditate on concerning this is John 15:1-26, specifically verse 5. Jesus says “Apart from me, you can do nothing”. If a pastor tries to lead from trends and tools rather than abiding in Christ, they will fail every time, whether the church knows it or not.
The Pastor must remember John 13:35 throughout these seasons: “People will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” It’s easy to lose that love in the midst of division. The pastor must lead by example in order to lead a congregation out of division.
Lastly, Philippians 1:3-4 comes to mind. It says, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy.” Does the pastor love their local church like this? Does the pastor thank God for each and every person in that church? This kind of love can only come from abiding in Christ.
If you are leading a church through division, ask your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ for prayer. Don’t try to be the hero. Don’t try to do it alone. We are called to lean on one another. This is one of the things I love about the Pastors Common. It is a place where we can support each other and be authentic and honest with one another about how ministry is really going.
May God bless you and your family as you serve the Kingdom of God!