When Churches Fall Apart
by Melanie Kerr
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There are very few Christians that make it through life without being hurt or injured by the action of other Christians. It is bad enough when the world start flinging spears at you, but when it is so called "friendly fire" it is so much harder to take.
Five years ago, I wish I could be less precise, but the scars are still very visible, my church came apart at the seams. I was the editor of the church magazine at the time and determined to put a positive face onto something that wasn't very positive at the time.
Here is how the editorial began…
Dawns and Departures
"I have to admit that the title is not an original. If you have ever read "Tom Brown's Schooldays", the character Harry Flashman is in there somewhere. Another writer went on to scribe accounts of what Flashman got up to after leaving Rugby School and had him publishing two autobiographies. The one was "Dawns and Departures" and the other was "'Twixt Cossack and Cannon". "Dawns and Departures" seems very relevant right now…."
I went on to list some of the people who were leaving. A young man called Leon was leaving to return to South Africa and I went on to write..
"He is going to be leaving behind a deposit of himself in people, and taking away something of each of us as we have spoken and fellowshipped with him. Nothing is going to fill the Leon shaped hole but I hope that each one of us picks up his mantle and asks God for a double portion of his spirit."
That was the easy bit. Also leaving were the two people who had a vision in the beginning to move to Inverness and build the church. They had recently stepped down as Pastor's to allow a younger couple to take the reins. It was hard watching them leave.
Another couple were also stepping down from leadership roles in the church, although I believed at the time that they would still lead in some capacity.
"So many changes!"
"Change is inevitable when you grow and we are growing. Changes cause growth and growth causes changes. That is all about "departures". What about the "Dawns"? I think the dawns come when we make steps of faith to move in and take up the tasks that need to be done. We need the encouraging words, the singing in the Spirit, the prophetic words - the things that these people did. Let's not leave them undone! Let's not wait to see if someone else does it first!"
I had no clue as to what was really going on. There were so many worms about to explode out of so many unsavoury cans. I am not going to identify who the worms were, or describe the unsavoury nature of the cans that exploded, but it was bad. Over the next few months over half the congregation left. Some people felt they couldn't trust anyone anymore. As the congregation dwindled, some people suddenly felt exposed and headed for bigger churches where they could hide.
Six months later in another editorial, again with a determination to focus on the positive, I wrote these words…
Divide to Multiply
"I know that you are familiar with the saying "divide and conquer", but there is a biblical principle "divide to multiply". When the new church in Jerusalem went through a period of persecution they were scattered all over the Mediterranean area. They dispersed from one place into a hundred other places. As they dispersed they took their faith with them, introducing Jesus to new communities. By dividing they multiplied."
It was hard for those of us who remained behind seeing our friends and family leaving. I was determined to see that it was important to recognise that we were not divided about what we believed but about where we wished to go to express our faith. I ended my editorial with the words...
"Just as there is a principle "divide to multiply" perhaps there is also one that reads "subtract to add", There is now an opportunity for us to add a new contribution to the life of the church, and through that to allow God to "add" to us."
Perhaps I was able to distance myself from the hurt because many of the people who left were not a part of my personal circle of friends. Indeed, I had made many unsuccessful attempts to break into that particular circle.
Things became personal two years later. Having thought that the battle was over and the wounds were healed, I settled down to nurture the new growth that I saw coming.
Suddenly another family, people that I really loved, quite out of the blue, decided to leave. I was very angry. It had come at the end of a six month period of the husband opting out of everything. He just gradually shut down to the extent of not coming at all. There were other people in the church that were struggling with issues. When one of the "lights” splutters and appears to go out, it not encouraging. There is almost an unspoken message being given out that “God is not big enough to deal with my problem.”
My husband had been with them one night watching football. I went to pick him up after music practice. For the first time ever I felt awkward being in their house. They wanted to know whether I had any questions to ask about why they left. I did but I didn’t want to sound petulant and childish, which is how it would have come out.
When I am angry my kitchen gets cleaned every thoroughly. As I was banging around, God asked me a question, “Is that it? When someone leaves, do you just let them walk away without fighting for them? If you do nothing it is like you are saying that you don’t care, that it doesn’t matter. Is that how you want it to end?” There are some questions that God asks that cut to the heart. The banging dropped a few decibels.
Next question from God “Do you think it right to be remembered for the mess you made of the last six months of your life or for all the successes of the last fourteen years?” When people hurt you, you think of the present hurts and upsets and forget the past when that same person stood by you in your heartaches. The kitchen was silent as I thought back over the past fourteen years that I had known this couple and all the things I admired in them.
Then God said, “Now go and tell them exactly that.”
I went back to that same house where not twenty four hours before I had felt so uncomfortable. I had written it all down – not one gripe but just a list of all the things that I had seen in them. There’s that bit in Philippians about whatever is noble and praiseworthy. It was awesome. They cried. I cried. Perhaps the angels in heaven cried too. I couldn’t believe it was me, saying what I said, and not saying the things I didn’t say. Seriously, left to my own devices I would not have come up with that in a million years - it was God being awesome.
Previously, our pastor had been round to see them and asked them to give the church a chance to say goodbye. They would not agree to coming on a Sunday morning but did agree to coming to something social like a BBQ. God told me that it was like leaving by the back door and I asked them again to consider the Sunday morning – that what I had said other people needed the chance to say too. All the other people that left when they did, there wasn’t the chance to say those things. They agreed to think about it. They came on the Sunday morning.
There is no special armour that protects us from the hurts caused by other Christians. There is a very special God that can show us a path towards healing and reconciliation, if we are willing to follow.
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Thanks Melanie for sharing this article with us. We learn from our experiences if God gives us the wisdom to do so, otherwise we keep making the same mistakes. God opened your eyes and you responded. There is a lesson here for all of us.
I loved this story, Melanie. So full of emotion and truths. I'm so glad you shared your feelings and how you listened to God when He spoke to you. What a blessing you are to all who read this testimony. Yours in Christ, Karen
Praise God! This is sort of like confirmation that our ways are most definately not His ways. Oh, but aren't His wonderful! I really needed this one. Thanks a bunch!
You are so right Melanie! None of us are excempt from being hurt, but isn't it amazing how God will deal through us if we just let Him? I found your article to be a real blessing. In His love, Sharon