Nine Thoughts on Church Splits

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For over thirty years I have been professionally and personally connected to the local church. I have served as a pastor, church consultant, author, seminary dean, and church resource provider. The most painful moments of my tenure have been those occasions where church dissension is great, and where church splits take place.

There is little good that comes from church splits. The residual pain is lasting and the negative community impact is enduring. After reflecting on church splits over my thirty-year tenure, and after conducting an informal Twitter poll, I have nine major thoughts I would like to share with you in this article.

  1. A church that has split is likely to die. Certainly, many of the congregations will hang on tenaciously. But over the course of a few or many years, the cancer of the split eats away at the health of a church body. I have conducted many church “autopsies.” The beginning of the death of these churches often took place at the point of the split.
  2. The negative community impact of a church split is great and enduring. I have done interviews of community members where a church that split is located. The merchants and residents often say, “Oh that’s the church that fought all the time until it split.”
  3. The majority of church splits focus on the pastor. I have seen some church splits where the pastor is clearly the problem. I have seen others where the pastor is the convenient and most visible scapegoat. By the way, pastors who have been through church splits are scarred for the rest of their ministries.
  4. Church splits typically originate from power groups in the church. The power group may be a formal body, such as deacons or elders. Or they could be an informal group that still wields great power in the church.
  5. Some church members have actually been a part of several church splits. In other words, they have sown the seeds of dissension in different congregations where they have been members. Be cautious about accepting new members who are not vetted with their former church. Problem church members tend to recycle.
  6. Church splits are typically preceded by inactive church members becoming active members. It is amazing to attend a church business meeting or conference where divisive issues are discussed. Inactive members come out of the woodwork.
  7. Church splits are more likely to occur in “country club” churches. A country club church is a metaphor for a church where many of the members have a sense of entitlement instead of an attitude of service. They pay their “dues” to get their way. And if they don’t get their way on every issue, even minor issues, they may sow the seeds of dissension that lead to a church split.
  8. Some churches still split over doctrinal issues. These types of church splits are not as common as other splits, but they still take place. It was more common in mainline churches in the past, but it is becoming more frequent in some evangelical churches today.
  9. Some churches still split over financial issues. These issues include disagreements over budget expenditures, mission expenditures, incurring of debt, facility expenditures, and building programs.

There are no winners in church splits. Those who leave typically leave hurt and angry. Those who stay become a part of a church that usually begins a steady, if not steep, rate of decline. And the reputation of the church in the community is damaged greatly—sometimes permanently.

Let me hear your thoughts on this difficult issue.

Posted on March 9, 2015


With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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120 Comments

  • I know that some members can cause so many problems that most people are glad to see them go.

    However, I hold the leadership responsible for most church splits. Most Americans think of churches as democracies with leaders representing the members. This is an ideal situation where everyone gets some representation and is not left “out in the cold”. However, in some (or many) churches this is not the case. Some churches have leaders who are benevolent dictators and a few churches unfortunately have one or more despots as leaders. All long-serving church leaders have benefactors in some form who keep them in power or prevent a vote of no confidence. This typically pits the leadership and their benefactors (cronies) against the unrepresented members. Rarely does a power-sharing situation last for long if it ever begins.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks for those thoughts, Mark.

    • James Lambert says on

      This is when some serious prayer will take care of the problem. Recall how John the Baptist announced to coming of Jesus and stated to the scribes and Pharisees how he would “baptize them with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” The fire of Jesus’ message of course got them riled. I am for the Word of God being preached and serious attention brought to the sermon that Moses spoke to the idolatry of the children of Israel when they were worshiping the golden calf: He gave the message and the people who repented came to him. The others stood where they were unrepentant. “Who is on the Lord’s side, let him come unto me, ” was his message. (Exodus 32:26) Joshua said in Joshua 24:15: ” for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” This is the time for the”redeemed of the Lord to say so,” as the scripture says and in the song: “What does it mean to be saved, isn’t it more than just a prayer to pray? More than just a way to heaven? What does it mean to be His? To be formed in His likeness, know that we have a purpose? To be salt and light in the world? Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.
      Oh that the church would arise, Oh that we would see with Jesus’ eyes. We would show the world heaven. ” And with this the redeemed say so, whom He hath redeemed from the land of the enemy.” (Psalm 107:2) it is to show the world that in Christ, there is a purpose to live. Let that gospel be preached again and again and if those who oppose it, just pray for the poor souls but do not let them overcome, and through the power of the Holy Ghost they shall not prevail. Perhaps they just forgot who they are dealing with. The Lord of Hosts He is called. The Great I AM he is called, and “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that brought you out of the land of Egypt.” You did run well. Who hindered you? (From Revelation)
      A positive, uncompromising sermon and in a series, not just one sermon, but many. Please feel free to email me at [email protected]! I wish to help inspire. And to encourage, and get the Word of the Lord out as this will hasten the coming of the Lord!

  • I am in the midst of one now that has been festering for nearly twenty years. My denominational structure is such that at times we are sent to lead a bunch of wolves dressed as sheep, convincing at first, but if you cross the country club boundaries the costumes come off. That church is closing soon.

    I know of another congregation that split because one faction was too charismatic for the other, so this disgruntled group of people started a new church in another section of town. Built the building the pre-split church was intending to build. About 25 years later the first church has closed its doors while the second church has paid very little beyond interest of the loan and is likely to close in the near future as they never really grew beyond the initial launch team.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks for sharing, George. There are indeed too many sad stories.

    • James Lambert says on

      There is or was a church I used to attend that had a split congregation. It was charismatic, but had a formal service followed by a charismatic service. The latter seemed to be the right one but the whole church finally split in I don’t know in how many directions. I know they reorganized but some of the key former elders are no longer there.

  • Les Ferguson says on

    A couple observations on church splits. The one split I’ve seen personally was healthy – 35 of 105 members left a small rural Episcopal Church “over the consecration of an openly gay Bishop”. The remaining 70 dwindled a little but the church was stronger and more alive without the dissenters. The dissenters “went in search of a more orthodox church” in the Anglican tradition and were founding members and, this shouldn’t be a surprise – they left the “more orthodox church” in search of a “more orthodox church”. In the end the splits were over power and not over theology or doctrine.

    Interestingly, at least in our tradition, the overarching cause of disaffection leading to splits is claimed to be doctrinal: ones I’ve heard since 2003 include (1) consecration of a gay bishop (there were certainly gay bishops before 2003), (2) the “new” prayer book (which was published in 1979, and (3) the ordination of women (which happened starting in 1976).

    I think, in retrospect, some of the cause of splits is the church has “changed” in the splitting group’s mind into something that is not the church they grew up with.

  • The negative community impact of a church split is neither great nor enduring if they were not having a positive impact to begin with. Sadly, many church splits go completely unnoticed by the community for that reason.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      That is a wise (but sad) observation, Jim.

    • James Lambert says on

      Some church splits I agree with. One I know about after it’s bishop announced he was gay and the church split. Good for the God loving people who opposed it. The church building went up for sale because the ones that got stuck with the mortgage couldn’t pay it. It was later the supreme court passed the law on gay marriage. But that I believe the gays are about to discover is NOT the life it’s not cracked up to be. It’s too bad though how badly this scars the children they are able to adopt. But even then, will the children grow up to know they got cheated out of a real home, with a real mother AND father, and rebel. IT remains to be seen as yet how many of these kids in maturity will simply disown their two daddies or two mommies!! IT’s coming, believe me. They are bound to speak out how they were cheated! And hopefully the churches that support the gays will be the ones with egg all over their faces!

  • Michelle says on

    My husband took a job as an associate pastor 3 years ago with a short term goal of planting a church alongside the church. The process started & the pastor left soon after. Only half of the congregation was on board with the plant after he left. So we continued the plan & planted 18 months ago. A lot of people in our small town say it was a split. This is so disappointing. But, God has been moving! We are up to 500 in this short time, so if it was a split-are splits really always negative? I Later learned this same church has split 3 times before this-every church that left is thriving – one being the largest church in town for 15 years. Did God perhaps allow this church to split in order to grow His Kingdom?

    God’s Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. A

    • Thom Rainer says on

      God does indeed have a way of working His will despite our sin and imperfections. Thanks, Michelle.

    • James Lambert says on

      A very good point indeed. God has a way to sort things out and it is imperative that we let Him.
      “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
      He is tramping out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.
      He has loosed His fateful lightning of His terrible swift storm
      His truth is marching on.
      I started thinking after the supreme court passed the law on same sex marriage, and then discovered major denominations that got “on the band wagon” and supported it. But now it is like God has already started separating the sheep from the goats? He will destroy the trees that do not produce fruit. Good if God loving, uncompromising people of God stand our ground. “Rise up O men of God!”

      • True!
        Just last week, our Church of which we were the founders, my husband and I split because the Pastor who was heading the of the first branch of the ministry for 8 years when God moved us to Europe where we were planting the second branch thought to himself he has right over the first Church and has moved with all the Pastors, other leaders, and members.
        One day he just wrote us a resignation letter that he was living our ministry to start his own. And that himself and the family have prayed and come to the conclusion that they must leave to start their own ministry.

        Unknown to us that he intended to transfer the members of our Ministry to himself, because he feels he owns the members and that he was laboring for them all these years.
        That was what he used to convince the members. Some of the members even said they did not know us, it is only him they know as their Pastor and daddy.
        Now we are sitting with only very few members who feel it was not right to do that. The Pastor is busy campaigning to have all members on his side. He still wants those who are with us. He feels so bitter towards us, he has changed the name of the ministry to his own and he wanted to even to have the hall where we are fellowshipping for himself and the instruments.
        He created a new Facebook site and put his picture and his wife as the founders and owners. Many members have followed him and some are in confusion and traumatized.
        This happens barely a week ago. He is trying to go with the money and the equipment, Choir leader, etc.

  • I’m the pastor of a church which split about a year before I arrived. The surface issue which caused the split was doctrinal, but the underlying issue was interpersonal friction between the former pastor and the power brokers.

    For the most part my tenure has been joyful. The church has slowly reestablished its reputation in the community, we’ve continued winning folks to Jesus, and the fellowship has grown closer. The biggest reason for these positives? The interim pastor between the split and me. He was an older man who preached the Word and brought a sense of peace to the congregation. He was like a wise triage physician who carefully tended to a very wounded church. He has since become a mentor of mine. I am so grateful for him.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Well said, Robby. Intentional interims that can be healthy and healing.

    • Pastor38 says on

      I came into the church I pastor after a time of great turmoil. The previous pastor seems to have had a track record of causing discord. Shortly after he left his previous church to come to the one I currently pastor, his church split. After he left this church, there was discord and several people feared a split. And having been here for a while, I feel that there concern was warranted. About 20% of the attending members left when he did. That might be defined as a split but I have no intention of ever using that word to describe it. There are also at least two main power groups, and a third that wields influence when they decide to be actively involved in a matter. All of this, coupled with a stalled building program created great turmoil. I know that the fault lines are still, but they are far less pronounced and we are able to get some things done (even some larger decisions) without much turmoil. The intentional interim pastor we had was quite similar to what Robby described. I fully believe that he helped put out a lot of fires and soothe some ruffled feathers. His work has made my ministry here far more fruitful. Still, I know that these divisions can rear their ugly head at any time, but gratefully the power groups are peacefully coexisting and even working together. And we are seeing some people come back who stopped attending, and we are adding new people, some by transfer but praise God, some through salvation and rededication.

  • Ron Lawson says on

    A professor at the university I attended views a Church split as a natural occurrence. His method is to find the faction that is causing the split and embracing it as a pregnancy and guiding the split by treating it as time to help birth a new congregation.
    A guided birth instead of a quarrelsome split actually sometime works. You embrace the leaders of the split, support their discomfort by offering to help fund the new work with financial help for the first few months. Faced with becoming the official leader of birthing a new ministry embraced by the Pastor defuses the mess. If you see a split in its embryo stage before it has gotten too far along, it can work. Sometimes the excitement of supporting a birth instead of an “church abortion” will lead the mother church into a new growth cycle. The faction is never very large in the beginning. If it is guided as a birth, people in the church do not have to choose sides. They can choose whether to be part of the members tithed into the new work. What would it be like to turn a split into a positive experience where growth can occur during what could have been a disaster? Try this at the first sign after identifying a small growing dissention. What if it the chief dissenter is struggling with a call and doesn’t have guidance? There may sometimes… albeit not every time, another way. What would it hurt to try? But if you do, go with the right attitude or you could increase the chance of a split instead of avoiding one.

    • This is an interesting approach, as it does treat it more like a church plant than a split. There are some models out there that are actually set up to do this naturally, and I would wonder if it isn’t even in some cases supposed to happen naturally. We should be constantly equipping people to be mature believers and in some cases leaders and teachers. It wold atnd to reason that a church could eventually have “too many” leaders, and it would be healthy to let part of the assembly split off in order to give new leadership space to “breathe”.

      This is likely not what we are talking about in most of the cases referred to in the main article, but I like the direction that you are taking the conversation.

    • Thanks for posting this. I was going to ask whether an impending “church split” could ever be pivoted into a “church plant.” I imagine it is very difficult but it sounds like in some cases it might be possible.

      My major concern with this is that often times church splits happen because of spiritual immaturity in both congregations, which is an underlying problem that would still have to be dealt with, either in the new “plant” and/or the original congregation.

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Good thoughts, Steven. But you are right. A split typically leaves two unhealthy churches.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks for that input and perspective, Ron.

    • Excuse me for being blunt but this is bad advice. First is, that is a huge risk that could lead to worse things. Second, leaders are supposed to be chosen from the faithful. Sounds like throwing a ball into a busy highway and saying go play. I don’t believe this is Biblical advice.

  • How do you define “church split?” Is it a number who leave at the same time? An official action at a members’ meeting or something altogether different?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      I don’t have a set definition, Mike. Any of those situations where a significant number of members leave unhappy could be called a church split.

    • James Lambert says on

      Simply means that people are not in unity and trying to move in different directions instead of praying about it. This kills many churches. Paul wrote and stated that “There be no schism in the body.” It is time to back off a ways with continuing programs that do not work and pray for God’s direction.
      “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.
      So, anyone who has the spiritual guts, please email me: [email protected].

  • I know of 4 specific instances in our community where a Pastor “resigned” and went on to start a new church within 15 miles of the original church. In three cases, both churches have survived and five are healthy. With the last church, both the original and the split have closed.

    It’s not the best way to plant, but that’s the way it has worked out.

  • When I was in college, there were two Baptist churches in town that were right across the street from each other. I attended one of them, and I had several friends that attended the other. They were both solid, Bible-believing, Southern Baptist churches. Somebody asked me what the difference was between them, and I said as far as I knew there was no difference. He said, “Then why are they built so close to each other?” I laughed and said, “That probably goes back to something that happened years ago that both sides have long since forgotten about.”

    Several years later I was visiting with my old college pastor and I told him story. He just laughed and said, “No, they haven’t ALL forgotten about it.”

  • So, is it likely that a long festering poor culture within the congregtion has finally led to a split, an unpopular decision is made that cannot be reconciled in the body, or I suppose in many cases the latter is the thing that finally breaks what was going on in the former situation.

    It’s hard to say it since actual people are involved, but is it possible that some of these churches have become so toxic that the best thing in the long run is a split and ultimately death of the assembly?

    On a brighter side, the first church that I was associated with came about after one congregation had split, and had been struggling for some time, but still had a building. They ended up merging with a growing church plant that had momentum, but had been somewhat transient as far as their meeting places. The two joined their leadership and resources and became a thriving congregation. (I came in a couple years after the fact, so all the details might not be exactly correct). The interesting thing is that in meeting the people in the congregation, you could actually tell who the people were that were left over from the split, and not because it was some power block clique within the church, but because God had seen fit to wittle that congregation down to some strong mature brothers and sisters that could be very useful in raising up what was in many other ways a young church.

    Sometimes things don’t turn out so bad.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks for sharing, Dallas.

    • I was wondering about what you are talking about, the possibility of a “good church split”.

      That this situation could be a method for God to clear out the dross, etc.

      Not a tug of war with power groups but the result of prayerful consideration and decision to become a more holy and righteous church family.

      Have never observed or experienced it but I wonder…

      • I’m fairly certain that it was probably a fairly ugly situation in the front end, but it was encouraging to see what God did with the pieces.

      • I think I read over that too fast the first time.

        It seems to me (just my opinion) that a church that was able to make a decision that is as mature as what you are describing would probably lack the cultural issues that would make such an action necessary…. I don’t know, it might be possible.

        I was describing something more like a church where the relationships have gotten so unhealthy that God may use a split to just hit the reset button for everyone involved. Sometimes social dynamics can put otherwise good people into bad relationships that aren’t bearing the fruit that we would hope for.

        It’s all hypothetical though, I actually lean toward the thought that we too easily bail when conflict arises in our congregations. Conflict can be a crucible that leads us to a more pure representation of what it is to be God’s people… we just need to be mature enough to let it do the work that God has intended for it to do.

      • James Lambert says on

        But still, don’t you think that some powerful sermons, well thought and put together with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that serves to “Purge out the ungodly leaven” from the congregation. If revival should come to a congregation that has been known to be the over all cure for indifference, for bringing reconciliation. AND a powerful sermon on “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” With the sermon of forgiveness it MUST be stressed that to be forgiven, we must forgive, and that an honest “forgive and let go!
        We all remember the past but when true forgiveness happens that is a “rung on the ladder” or a definite step toward perfection and is guaranteed to bring “well done thou good and faithful servant.” “If we do not love the brethren that we see, how can we say we love God that we haven’t seen?” And He said “This is my commandment that you love one another that your joy may be full.”

      • James Lambert says on

        The funny story I got from a DD from the Missouri Synod Lutheran church was about the “First Church of the Navalites.
        This I don’t know was a true story but it shows something about some of the stupid things that churches split over. They couldn’t agree on whether or not Adam had a naval!! So those who thought he did, split off and became “The First Church of the Navalites!”

      • James Lambert says on

        I do wonder and have to agree, especially in case of one and now more churches who accept same sex marriages. Churches split over that. Well and good. The church of Jesus Christ cannot compromise with the same sex epidemic plus other abominations allowed by the government “terrorists” running the government. If the gays insist on being in the church, hey, make their own. It’s already in progress. It’s called the “New Age Church.”

      • I would agree with that. I don’t hate gay people, but the Bible is clear on this.

      • True, at times God need to cleanse and to drive away the traders in his house and the abusers of God’s money or those who are unfaithful with God’s money, or not being transpirate with the congregation finances.

    • James Lambert says on

      People in any and all churches need to examine themselves, that includes me, and ask the Lord: “Lord, let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight.” That is a powerful sermon topic, along with “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Do the people who consistently hold ought against their brother qualify as being led by the Spirit of God? No. Just “Leave your gift before the altar, be reconciled to thy brother, then present your gift to the Lord. Otherwise it’s a lot like Cain, whose sacrifice was not received by the Lord and neither would mine. First reconcile. If the brother is dead, give the whole thing to God. If brother is far away, write a letter of reconciliation or phone, or both! That way we show good faith toward the will of God and then we are acceptable to the Lord Jesus. If the brother refuses then let God deal with him (or her).

    • James Lambert says on

      It does appear sometimes that God is already separating the sheep from the goats. That is, getting the dead weight out of the way so the church can move ahead at top speed. It is written that It is impossible that these things will happen, but woe unto those through whom they happen. Would it be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for them?

  • Danny Monroe says on

    Having gone through a church split as a pastor i was the scape- goat from a power group. I 100% agree that it scars the pastor during the rest of his ministry. Fortunately our church did not fold but took about 5 years to overcome the split. As a pastor i still find my self, although I am in another church, trying hard not to rock the boat because i never want to go through it again. I love the Lord and I hope i can one day be the pastor i was before the split.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      You have my prayers, Danny. Thank you for sharing.

      • My church is going thru a split.. I’ve been there 8 years and it’s always about the pastor… The complainers leave then another pastor comes and same people come back with more and try to run that Pastor off. I feel so sad for my Pastor

      • If a Pastor lives in sin for a period and then gets back on track, can that still cause confusion and division in the church?

    • James Lambert says on

      It depends I believe how much you blame yourself for the split. Remember that Satan is the accuser of the brethren. Remember that the Lord is long suffering to us. Not willing that ANY should perish but have everlasting life. Satan would do anything to have us hang these as skeletons in our closet. There is a better way. I came by a philosophy that in every way I believe is something the Lord sent my way to overcome the ongoing guilt that Satan laid on me. It reads “We will not regret the past nor shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how OUR experience can benefit others. I took a special word from the Lord dealing with pardon for my past. Now the past is history and He assured me that He forgave and forgot my past. And that my past was history and what happened before were “Shadows and echoes from the past and these would not harm me.” There was another part to this list of promises: “Suddenly we will realize that GOD is DOING for us what we could not do for ourselves. The memories then serve to remind us of the grace of God that “is greater than all our sins.” Peace brother. Try some of this thinking for some powerful sermon topics. Certain to free others of their shaky pasts. (Information is courtesy of Alcoholics Anonymous, page 83 of the AA Big Book)

    • James Lambert says on

      What if I said God can and will take away the scars if we ask Him to and it became for me like this: “We will not regret the past nor shut the door on it. We will comprehend serenity and we WILL know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can be of benefit to others.
      Satan is the accuser of the brethren. He is the one who continues to trample God’s people in the mud. Hey, we’re God’s people. We do not crawl before ANYBODY OR ANYTHING! The power of God in salvation through Jesus Christ sets us free. We pray for forgiveness and in this process go to our brother and make amends, reconcile, and being forgiven we stand in the clear and the ALMIGHTY AND EVERLASTING GOD, through Jesus Christ lifts us! And where can other people go with that? Or where could I even go with that and not ask Him to help me forgive myself and be really free! No, my brother, “look up into the hills from where comes you help.” It is from the Lord. There are no more sins for He took them all away. “There is therefore no more condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.” AND “Those who walk in the spirit are the sons of God.” “Walk in the Spirit and NOT fulfill the lusts of the flesh. Believe in God and be completely free and be filled with the Holy Ghost!

    • James Lambert says on

      I personally know of an incident involving a pastor that was preaching the Word in a church where he was asked to pastor, momentarily. When he preached, people started getting saved, and then he recalls the bitter reaction from the board members! They finally succeeded in voting him out, and in fact, some wanted to force him to move out of the parsonage on the same day. That didn’t happen but he left, having been voted out by a savage, ungodly group that he found out later were a serious problem even before he arrived. There is no way he was at fault. I only wish I had been there to confront the opposition.

      • William Updike says on

        I totally identify what you are saying. I was a member of a church that went through a split because 90% of the people in the congregation were not supporting the pastor. I thought that the pastor done a great job with his sermons. They were all preached directly from scripture. He never sugar coated or watered down his messages. I think part of the reason the new pastor was forced out because he was not about cliques, social clubs, or playing the games that everyone else was playing. He was 100% in for serving God, not going along with the agenda that everyone thought he should be doing. The church was getting further and further away from the Great Commission, which is to go out and make disciples. Unfortunately, he was only there for 1 1/2 years and left because he was hurt by the comments by some church members and there was too much drama. Now the church has a hard time getting a pastor because the pastor that was there before was mistreated badly by the church members and there was division. The church is slowly dying because of a lack of leadership and people just doing their own thing all the time. God is not about private and separate agendas. He is about loving and bringing people to him. The church has become very inward focused. When the church becomes about one person trying to control everything, then everyone else hurts because of it.

    • Francis James says on

      I have been on both sides of a church split. Both times it was about the pastor. The first time, I did not question the direction that the pastor and his group chose to actually “lock out” the dissenting members. I didn’t really think about it. I was on the worship team and I just felt called to continue to do my volunteer job. I didn’t feel that it was my place to second guess the decision. Ten years later, the pastor again “locked out” a dissenting co-pastor. The co-pastor was fired for not going along with the pastor. The co-pastor was a man of great integrity. This time I was 14 years into my position on the worship team, and deeply hurt but the lack of accountability the “elders” and lead pastor had. I realized that the two church buildings we had built, ( the first one built largely by members’ sweat equity and the second one built largely by the generosity of the members) and completely paid off , had nothing to do with the direction the church was going. Having grown up in a church where the members actually got to vote on calling a pastor, it was a harsh reality for me to realize that my church was run by a group of men, who were pretty much all the same. People tell me that this is the way the New Testament church was governed and that Paul set up a governing board on each of the churches. But, I am still left feeling insecure and unwilling to join another church that is led by an elder body. Some of the decisions seem very cold, and aimed at keeping questionable authority in place, despite the pastor’s sins and flaws that are swept under the rug. I love Jesus but I am not sure that the mega church is all that effective. People listen to the sermon, sing the songs and walk out without talking to each other. Would that be Jesus’s heart for His people?

      • David Rogers says on

        Good point from Francis James — in some churches an entrenched group of elders is the main cause for a split. I have seen one church split like that (while in another, the problem behind the split lay more with the pastor).

        After 50 years of observing various church problems — in four denominations so far — half that time serving as an elder, half of it not — I think I can suggest four strategic church by-laws which both help elders’ boards in the long run, and greatly reduce them as sources for splits. The by-laws are:

        1. Elders are elected into their position of eldership by a vote of the members of the congregation as a whole.

        2. Half of the elder positions come up for a vote in one Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the congregation; the other half of the positions are voted in the next Annual General Meeting.

        3. It follows from 1. and 2. that each elder serves for a two-year term, and then must be re-elected by the congregation in order to serve another term.

        4. After two consecutive terms (four years) as elder, an individual is not eligible for a third term; he or she must sit out one two-year term. After that, he or she may stand for election to the elders’ board at a subsequent AGM.

        I recommend measures like that, to regularly rotate elders on and off the board, because they helped such churches which I have belonged to avoid elder-led church splits. Conversely, in churches I’ve known where the elders were elected or nominated for life, the elders’ board eventually became “all the same” as well as very elderly, and able to relate mainly to the oldest, most longstanding members. Together, those two power blocks (lifetime elders together with senior members) opposed many needed changes, eventually bringing about the death of the church — either through a split or just through old age. I have witnessed one example of each church outcome, and have heard of several others nearby.

        An elder in a Presbyterian church in Kenya (Presbyterian elders serve for life) told us that recently their national governing body put in an age limit for elders: age 80, after which one can no longer be an elder. In some churches, the result was that the entire elders’ board had to resign! The Kenyan Presbyterian church is also a church in numerical decline; I suspect that elderly eldership was a contributing factor to the decline.

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