Our church is entering a time of transition. A couple of weeks ago, our senior pastor of almost 9 years announced that he and his family are headed to the mission field full-time. They leave in less than 3 months. And so the process of finding an interim senior pastor and, eventually, a permanent senior pastor is beginning.
Our church is led by a group of elected elders. They vote on things to make the decisions for our church (1 Timothy 5:17). Members can speak freely to the elders at any time, but, ultimately, members do not decide the direction of the church. The elders do.
In any type of government, ecclesiastical or secular, there is potential for disunity among the governed. And during times of transition, that potential is even greater.
And I fear the church-fracturing effects of possible dissension within our body at a time like this.
Dave Ramsey has a rule in his corporation. If you have a problem, a gripe, a complaint of any kind, you can voice it up the chain of command without fear of penalty. But if you voice it to an employee under you or equal to you in authority, you are fired on the spot. Why? Because Dave understands the crippling potential of unhealthy criticism within a body of people.
I fear that members of our church will begin to voice their negative opinions to one another on how they feel the pastoral search is going, spreading disunity like gangrene, focusing our body on lesser things than spreading the Gospel (Romans 15:5-6).
(I fear this not because our church is especially disgruntled but because our church is made up of humans, and humans, as we all know, are bent toward discontent. So, while this particular post is about my fear for my church, I also fear for your church and the Church at large.)
To be clear, I am all for members voicing their negative opinions to senior staff members and elders. Do it! Do it in love (1 Corinthians 16:14; Ephesians 4:15). You have a voice. If you feel things are going in the wrong direction, speak up. But speak up to those who have the ability to change things, NOT to your fellow members. Spreading negativity within the congregation is not fruitful. In fact, the destructive effect of such speech cannot be overstated.
And it plays right into Satan’s hand.
Satan wants our church to fold. He wants us to split over whoever the new senior pastor is. He wants to divide us, pitting members against members, directing our attention to ourselves and our preferences so we will have no energy left to spend on loving people like Jesus did. Satan wants to stir our pride against our elders to convince us that they are incompetent so we dwell on our anger and bitterness each Sunday instead of worshiping our resurrected Lord together.
Paul understood what was at stake.
In Ephesians Paul wrote, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace,” (Ephesians 4:3-4).
In Colossians he wrote, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity,” (Colossians 3:12-14).
Part of this unity that we should strive for includes submitting to the elders – and their decisions – even if we disagree with them. The author of Hebrews puts it succinctly, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you,” (Hebrews 13:17).
We won’t always agree with our leaders. And that’s okay. What matters is what we do with our disagreements. We can handle them rightly by discussing them with those in authority over us, or we can handle them wrongly – sinfully – by discussing them with those around us. Ultimately, though, Scripture commands us to submit to those in authority over us, whether we like it or not.
If you are in a church where you are unwilling to submit to its leaders, figure out why that is. The leaders may not be acting in accordance with Scripture. If that’s the case, leave that church! Go find a Bible believing church to be a part of.
But if it turns out you are unwilling to submit to the leaders for personal reasons instead of biblical reasons, ask the Lord to work the rebellion out of your heart. Ask Him to cut out your bitterness and your pride. Ask Him to help you authentically and properly submit to your church leaders and, more importantly, to Him.
Your church’s unity – THE Church’s unity – depends on it.