1 Corinthians 3:10
“According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.” (1 Corinthians 3:10)
Division within the church often comes when the leader falls into sin. But it also may come when the leader fails to lead. They may be insensitive to what is taking place among their people, appear to play favorites, give the impression of a domineering approach, fail to fulfill some essential function in the church, or fail to seek and allow someone else to fulfill the function in which they themselves lack strength. All the characteristics of God-like leadership, if neglected or absent, could sow seeds leading to disunity in the body.
Personal failure is the most common cause of division in the church. There can be personality clashes or temperamental differences as in the church in Philippi. There can be personal animosity developing from envy, selfishness, pride, or even from misunderstanding. When this morally cancerous attitude is spoken in criticism or gossip, it can easily become group failure, and schism results.
Someone has said that when Satan fell, he fell into the choir loft. The implication is that music is often the focal point of division in a church. The same might be said of those in charge of the finances of the church. Why should the areas of music and money so often prove the scene of church fights? Perhaps because in these areas a worldly person can succeed whereas in a ministry such as teaching or evangelism, success would not be so common through efforts unaided by the Spirit. Again, there may be those who serve in the areas of music or finance who are motivated by something other than the welfare of the church. At any rate, these two areas are often the scene of conflict and division, so the leadership does well to be on alert.
Structural failure. Division in the congregation can come because of failure in some program. Again, the form of government may enhance or militate against unity. But another factor, less suspected, may be size and geography.
The potential increases for superficial unity and decreases for deep family solidarity with the increase in the size of the church and the distance between the residences of members and/or from the central meeting place. If the church is a large church or the flock is widely scattered, true biblical solidarity will prove impossible unless compensating structures are provided within the larger congregation. Two approaches to compensate have proved popular. The plan to assign each member of the congregation to a small accountability group, geographically based, has been observed more in theory than in practice, perhaps, but the cell group concept has sometimes proved successful. The other approach is to hive off new congregations as a policy rather than simply growing larger. I do not advocate one approach over the other but do advocate that some compensating approach is necessary if members of a mega-church are to have the unity in family solidarity, the caring and responsible relationships necessary to experience God’s purposes for the church.
Change. When the leadership decides that change is necessary, that there is some better way to accomplish some particular objective, success in making that change without causing division depends on many factors apart from the merit of the objective. If these other factors in the management of change are not fully observed, division and failure to reach those objectives is predictable.
The timing of the initiation of any change and of the various stages in that change is of great importance. Are the people ready for the change, has the education/preparation been adequate? Are all those affected by the change incorporated in the decision, structure permitting, or at least in the communication network?
Not only is timing important, but the rate of change has a great deal to do with success in making the change. If the rate of change is more rapid than can be sustained by the group without division or, on the other hand, more slowly than can be tolerated by the group without division, the rate of change must be modified. This is an extremely difficult factor to manage. Ordinarily, one cannot hope to manage the rate of change with perfect success in terms of approval of all members of the fellowship. The most that can be expected is that the pace will be within the tolerance of all members so that division does not result.
The method chosen to make a change and the person who initiates or who carries through some aspect of the change are major factors in potential for making the change without causing fragmentation of the body. Our school pioneered the concept of distance learning and the man responsible was an unparalleled visionary. But he was not an unparalleled change agent. He so disrupted the unity of the body that the vision was a quarter century in coming to fruition. In that case, the visionary was the wrong person for leading change.
As C.V. Matthew, an Indian educator, puts it, “It may take months or years to build a ministry, but only a moment to destroy it.” I don’t know exactly what that would look like, but Paul says destroying God’s church is very serious business indeed (1 Corinthians 3:17). Which of these do you see yourself doing? Are you building or destroying?