3 Issues that Divide the Church (and Can Leave You Jobless)


Have you ever jumped into a cold pool without checking the temperature? It will literally take your breath away. What about hammering a square peg into a round hole? Something is going to break.

Such is the story of ministry if it not approached with the intention of checking the temperature first.

I have to admit, in my excitement for Jesus and to be used in a big way, I have jumped into cold pools. I have found that I was one of those square pegs.

I was so hungry to make a difference – so passionate to jump in and start saving souls – that I didn’t really take the time to make sure the church I was serving at was the right fit. But what I eventually found out was the longer I was there, the more issues arose. I found myself at odds with people that I loved. And after I left, I was floored at how these relationships could be so strained. If I knew the right questions before going into these relationships, I could have addressed them before I started.

Why is it that no one ever told me, before jumping in headfirst, about the issues that divide?

1. Theology

Theology it is critically important. And its the easiest issue to deal with.

It’s so important that both you and your employer are more likely to deal with this issue upfront – at least on the “major or central issues”. If you serve at a non-denominational church, you can most likely expect that there will be differences on the so-called “less important issues.”

Hopefully, you and the people that you serve alongside, will be able to agree early on what the “non-essentials” or “less important issues” are and be able to see each other through eyes of grace on the doctrines that are not central to the gospel.

2. Philosophy

The most division and frustration seems to occur around the issue of philosophy of ministry.

Does this have deep theological implications and roots? Yes – but for the sake of conversation, let’s separate philosophy of ministry from theology.

Things like “vision” or “mission” or even language such as “being attractional vs. incarnational” or “seeker sensitive vs. discipleship driven” could be considered philosophy of ministry. You may even hear words like “Christo-centric” or “gospel-centric” or “kingdom-centric.” We could go on and on, of course, using a myriad of of the latest descriptive buzzwords. At times this seems downright silly, but I think this is crucial to understanding why these words and ideas are constantly being developed and refashioned.

It’s because most churches are straining to find their identity and mission.

And just as it’s hard to have a relationship with someone who is in the midst of an identity crisis, it’s equally as hard to serve a church. If you can’t have clarity on where the church is trying to go, it will be impossible to help it get there.

3. Practicality

Another issue is that of practicality – or the definition of your ministry model.

If the senior pastor, search team, recruiter, and so on, is able to define the philosophical identity that they are striving for, what is the preferred practical outpouring, pattern of engagement, or ministry design that they are hoping for? In other words, does the defining philosophy and pattern of engagement correspond?

Once you understand the destination, you must have the same ideas on the method of travel. You may love one another but if one of you are saying “lets take a limo” and the other is saying “how about a scooter,” then issues will arise – no doubt.

Again, if one side believes there is one ordained way to do church and it’s done with utmost excellence, leaving the results up to God, but the other side believes that you can date the model but marry the mission, then it’s just a matter of time before feelings get hurt.

Would you agree that a lack of communication on the front side of serving can diminish a ton of pain on the back end? Or does addressing these issues too early might just muddy the water? Leave a comment below.

POSTED ON October 31, 2013
  • Tim Cool

    Hey Doug….there are 3 others: The steeple, the organ and the ladies parlor – LOL 🙂

  • Stephen

    Agreed, communication all the way around is a good thing. Knowing what we are getting into ahead of time is essential. Unfortunately everyone puts on their best face going in, then the makeup comes off, and it turns out we’re all human after all.

  • Andrea Noel Ames

    I so deeply wish this would have been a course you had to take to graduate bible college with a degree in ministry! As a woman raised in a church with staff and pastors that were generous and encouraging towards women in ministry I literally had no idea what I was in for diving into full-time ministry as an assistant pastor and full-time missionary. ‘Women in Ministry’ was a ‘secondary issue’ for all those I’ve worked for but often was driving the way people dealt with and addressed me in a way I didn’t know or understand. It’s so culturally taboo to publicly disagree with a philosophy of ministry that allows for women in ministry or women in leadership that most people kept their beliefs to themselves and instead it just effected the practicality of how they chose to relate to me. It’s taken 10 years for me to figure out what kind of questions I need to ask up front and how to really make the people I serve comfortable enough to voice how they ‘really feel.’ I had to learn the hard way how to still love and accept those who theologically, philosophically, or practically disagree with what I believe to be God’s purpose for my life. I think it is important to ask these questions up front…but I also think it is important to learn to ask these challenging questions without putting someone on the defense. We have to learn to ask these questions up front in such a way that leaves room for disagreement without causing secondary issues to bring division. I think you can work for people who don’t 100% agree with you theologically, philosophically, or practically, as long as you’ve agreed in the beginning that your diversity is an asset and not an atomic bomb.

  • PAT

    I would suggest… Being too idealistic. This leads to being disillusioned by thinking there should be a certain outcome that is not realistic. I am assuming there is an article on this somewhere. I am new to this site. -_-

Doug is a renewed pastor & former professional MMA fighter. He's the husband of one and a dad of two. He's a writer, speaker, coach, and activist on faith and culture.