When Gathering Together Does More Harm than Good

Tuesday Re-mix –

In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it.  I Corinthians 11:17-18

I once worked with a certain church in East Texas who had more than its share of divisions and unmanageable conflict.  There had been an ugly history of conflict in this church…dissension about a number of different issues over the years.  By the time I had gotten there, the pastor had become the “issue du jour” and was the object of much of the fighting.  Two camps had already formed: those who wanted to keep him and those who did not.  This was the church where I actually had a deacon sit with me, look me right in the eye and say, “I don’t care what the Bible says about reconciliation, I’m not doing it…I’ll deal with whatever consequences that brings in Heaven.”  I didn’t even know what to say to him.  I mostly just bit my tongue, but that conversation is perhaps for another post.

It was this church’s custom to have the Lord’s Supper (or “communion”, depending upon which parlance you favor) on the last Sunday of each month.  The pastor found himself in a dilemma.  He had to decide whether or not to move forward with communion or not.  If he decided to move forward, he would surely be criticized for holding communion when everyone in the church was fighting with each other.  If he canceled it, he would surely be criticized for that as well.

He canceled it.  And it was a right decision.  Because there was so much contention and animosity in that congregation at the time, to come together for communion would have been a two-faced lie before God.

Sometimes, when our conflict gets out of control in a church and our hearts are no longer turned toward Christ in one another, to gather together for worship or communion or under any other similar pretense of unity is just wrong.  This, I believe, was Paul’s warning to the Corinthian church, whose divisions had become big news.  How can we come to worship, saying to God, “You are worthy” when we have intentionally turned our back on Christ in our brother?  How can we take communion under the pretense of “community” when we are seriously divided?  To do so would actually do more harm than good.

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus said, “…if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23.  Do you see that, if you have a broken relationship with a brother/sister in Christ, God wants that fixed before you come to worship?

Is it any wonder that there is such a mass exodus from the church today?  It is hypocrisy at its worst that we should gather together in the name of Christ and yet permit our relationships to stay broken indefinitely.  Paul’s words to the Corinthian church were harsh, and I suspect his words to us would be equally harsh.

Let’s get it together, folks.  We can get this right, can’t we?

© Blake Coffee
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4 responses to “When Gathering Together Does More Harm than Good”

  1. Great thoughts!

  2. Dear Blake,
    I have to tell you just how close to home your post hit today. I am currently working in a church that is choosing up sides and holding “private” little wars. Unfortunately for us, the minister in this situation is also the target of both sides. Unfortunately, events are taking place that I think will change the landscape drastically and all “private” wars will become very public. As a new member of this church as well as an employee, I am deeply saddened by the activities of these God-fearing people-both sides. And yet, I think a lot of the blame lies with the pastor who, as the leader, the father figure, has given up his position in favor of untruths, partial truths, and dividing himself.

    When this is the kind of leadership exhibited by the shepherd, how would the sheep behave any differently? These are good people who genuinely care about each other and their church, but I am ever fearful that this body of Christ is about to be torn limb-from-limb. I pray that God will perform miracles here (and it will take more than one) to keep this body in tact and repair the wounds.

    Thanks so much for your very thoughtful post!

  3. Interesting post, Blake. As a followup, I’d be curious to find out what happened to this pastor (interms of retaining his “job”) and wht became of this congregation.
    I am currently at a church that has been through several major splits, still has major issues, but has new people working hard to right the ship. The issue that I am trying to get at is, did this tactic ulitimately serve and benefit everyone.
    There are many times during meetings and worship service, I’d like to just stand up and ask people to stop what they are doing; to get back to the reason for gathering. This probably won’t happen. But, how do you get people back together, and moving in the same or at least similar direction; and back to th corporate job of worship and caring for God’s people? Especially when everyone seems focused on their own well-being, protecting the contributions they have given to the church, and an “us vs them” mentality.

  4. Thanks, Ereline and Martina, for these comments. Ereline, I am praying for that miracle in your church!

    Martina, we got the waters calmed in the church I mentioned in this post. We actually found a way forward. But, alas, a few months later, the pastor ended up leaving…not because of any genuine “calling” elsewhere, but because it was just the easier course to take. It made me sad.

    Finding a right focus in the midst of conflict is a huge challenge. It starts and ends with prayer. Please know that I will be praying for your praying for your church’s praying!

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