In describing the consuming nature of conflict in churches, church consultant Henry Klopp observes, “Instead of focusing on the mission and vision of the church, they spend the majority of their time in fire-fighting efforts. In many cases, this effort proves totally ineffective and simply diverts the attention of the congregation from its real mission and vision.” (1)
The “Sin of Preferences” is one reason the Church is weak and fragmented today. Ed Stetzer writes,
Our preferences should never become more important than what our church needs to be and do missionally. For that matter, the church’s focus should not be the preferences of other church members either. A truly biblical church will ask, “What will it take to transform this community by the power of the gospel?” not “How many hymns do we have to sing to make everybody happy?” (2)
Rather than focusing on personal preferences, wants, desires, and needs, Christians need to focus on what unites the Body of Christ. A few years ago, the Missionary Church faced an issue that threatened to fragment and fracture the entire denomination. It had the potential to be devastating to the unity of Christ’s Church. The outcome has defined the Missionary Church from this point forward. The crucial question was regarding doctrinal beliefs that have been held since its inception.
In an effort to promote unity, I posed the following questions to our denominational leadership: “Will our denomination be defined by its Arminian doctrinal and theological positions? Or, will it be defined by its biblical mission and commitment to church multiplication and world missions? Will it be defined by its unity on the essentials? Or, will it be defined by its exclusion of those who do not embrace its Arminian beliefs?
I am grateful that unity has prevailed. Situations involving disputes and disagreements that could separate believers, leaders, and churches are often used by the enemy to destroy the testimony of the Church. Conflicts and strife seem constantly to surface at times when great progress seems just ahead. Maybe that is why Jesus prayed for unity in John 17:23, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent Me and have loved them even as you have loved Me.
In Church Planting Landmines, Gary Rohrmayer identifies leadership backlash as a significant cause of problems and disunity in new churches. It is also present in many established churches. He defines it as “a surprising and antagonistic reaction from other church leaders to a trend, development or event that you hold closely.”3
A variety of issues can result in agenda disharmony and eventually will keep churches from accomplishing the mission of Jesus. These may include:
- Philosophy of Ministry
- Degrees of Seeker Sensitivity
- Role of Women
- Advertising and Marketing
- Missions Philosophy
- Birthing a Daughter Church
- Home Schooling
- Having a Christian School
- Purchasing Land
- Constructing a Building
- Incurring Debt
- Polity and Leadership Structure
In order to stay focused on the mission, Christians need to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3). Striving for unity is not always easy, but it is always necessary to preserve an active, Christlike presence in every neighborhood and sphere of life.
Bob Roberts, founding pastor or NorthWood Church in Dallas, sums up this challenge when he said, “People are not turned off by the Gospel, they are not turned off by Jesus, they are turned off by us.” (4)
A fractured and fragmented church that lacks a true experience of community will never engage a lost and hurting world.
1. Klopp, The Ministry Playbook, 69.
2. Stetzer and Putman, Breaking the Missional Code, 51.
3. Nebel and Rohrmayer, Church Planting Landmines, 41–42.
4. Roberts, “Reproducing Movements,” (lecture, National New Church Conference, Orlando, Florida, April 25, 2007).