Happenings, News

Of splits in the church Or when ‘church planting’ is a bad name

AJITH FERNANDO, author and Bible teacher, who said he has been grieving a lot about the state of the Evangelical movement in his country, Sri Lanka, shared a message recently with the staff of Youth For Christ in Colombo at their staff devotion. Methodist Message, which obtained a copy of his text, is reproducing it here. Dr Fernando will be the keynote speaker at the 2004 Aldersgate Convention to be organised by the Bishop’s Office of The Methodist Church in Singapore.

COLOMBO — It seems that in the past seven or eight years there has been an amazing amount of church splits.
The phrase “church planting” has got a bad name because to many it has come to mean that a disgruntled worker leaves the church he is working at, with a section of the congregation, to start a new church with the backing of a foreign sponsor.

While this has not been a major problem in Youth For Christ here, we must always be on guard.

The key would be to follow Paul’s admonition: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” (Eph. 4:26). In other words, we must not allow anger against a colleague to remain without initiating the painful process of a “love
fight” that will not conclude until there is a resolution. There are three keys to persevering with this fight:
* Belief in the doctrine of the body of Christ, which says that what unites us is so much greater than what divides;
* Belief in the doctrine of God, which says that He is greater than the things that temporarily divide us.
* Belief in the biblical teaching about personal holiness in which a key aspect is being “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. (Eph. 4:3).

Things to be careful about

There are some other things that are happening which we are very susceptible to. Many Christian leaders are in serious trouble in Sri Lanka, and I believe a primary cause is that we leaders have not sufficiently heeded Paul’s call: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Tim. 4:16). Let me mention six areas where we have been careless.

1. We have been sacrificing family life at the altar of ministry.
We have been so busy with ministry that we have not given quality time to our families. The result is that our spouses and children are unhappy. If our spouses are unhappy about God’s ministry, then our children will rebel against the God who “caused” the unhappiness in the family. Also, if we are not talking enough to our spouses we might end up saying things that we should be saying to our spouses to another person from the opposite sex with whom we are working closely. The result is an affair!

2. We have been sacrificing the Word at the altar of experience.
Today people are depending less and less on the Scriptures and more and more on exotic experiences and what they recognise as “words from the Lord”.

Ministers are also focusing more on fostering dependence on these exotic experiences for nourishment rather than dependence on the Word. This is because people are finding immense emotional satisfaction from these experiences and because ministers will need to devote a lot of time and energy if they are to have an effective ministry of the Word. Studying the Scripture and applying it to audiences is hard work! If this goes on we could have a very immature, ungodly and nominal church in a few years because Christians are not grounded in the Word.

Also I believe this lopsided emphasis is fostering some unscriptural practices in many churches which are going unchecked because people think the experiences are coming from God.

3. We have been sacrificing our time alone with God at the altar of activity.
Once we get into this pattern we can get into such a rut that the quiet time really gets less and less important to us. As a result of the insecurity that comes to us from not being in close touch with God we can end up so restless that we find it difficult to stop to spend time alone with God.

We are afraid of silent self-examination, so we find refuge in activity rather than in God. The result is that we lose the glow of God’s nearness in our lives and the freshness leaves our ministry. How sad it is to see so many ministers who seemed to have so much potential in their early years of ministry either burnt out or become a shadow of what we thought they would be.

4. We have been sacrificing holiness at the altar of giftedness.
How is it that people who are committing adultery or beating their wives (verbally or physically) or telling lies or being dishonest in their use of money are still having such prominent and apparently powerful ministries? Some say that gifts remain even after a person moves away from the Lord. Perhaps so. But I also think that people have certain needs, and if those needs are met by a church through a relevant, attractive and well-managed programme that church will attract people even though the leaders’ lives may not meet with God’s approval. It is the result of good marketing and management techniques.

There is a great danger that because of the success of gifted ministers we could ignore their sins because too much is at stake if they are to bow out of the ministry. We must not forget that the Bible teaches that unrepentant adulterers cannot even enter the Kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10).

No short cuts to preparing godly ministers of the Gospel

5. We have been sacrificing high ministry standards at the altar of growth.
Today there is a lot of motivation to mission and ministry and Christians are challenged to join in the force that will fulfil the growth goals of their churches. The result is that relatively new Christians with a lot of enthusiasm for mission are being sent to new areas as workers. But they are not adequately mature for such a work. The teaching they have received has been primarily motivation to mission and training in ministry techniques. When they face a crisis they may act unwisely or in an ungodly manner.
We hear of Christian workers who are inconsiderate towards their neighbours, who tell lies to get visas to travel abroad, who take revenge, and pay bribes. Many end up as serious casualties after a few years.

Paul is clear that one appointed as an overseer “must not be a recent convert”. (1 Tim. 3:6). Indeed new believers must get involved in the mission of the church. But they must not be sent to lead ministries in new fields till they are mature. There are no short cuts to preparing godly ministers of the Gospel. Jesus lived with His disciples for three years and spent hours teaching them before they were ready to launch into their mission. Similarly, those who have been converted from godless backgrounds will need long and close exposure to the lives and teaching of godly leaders before the nature of Christ is stamped onto their nature.

6. We have not been scrupulously accountable and open about our use of funds.
There is a growing suspicion among Christians that their leaders are not really open about their financial dealings. The result is that there is murmuring among Christians about the expenditure and wealth of leaders and a resultant lowering of standards of unity. Money is the one area that Acts 2 and 4 mention as an example of Christians being of one heart and mind.

But today heart unity is usually not extended to the use of money as it was in Acts. The anger of poor Christian workers about the riches of other Christian workers is growing, and this could soon be a very serious problem. When it comes to money and possessions it is always “better to be safe than sorry”. It is better to feel constrained by rules than to have the freedom for indiscriminate behaviour in such a dangerous area.

Let us regard with fresh seriousness Paul’s words: “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Cor. 9:27).

Ajith Fernando is a Methodist Local Preacher who directs Youth For Christ in Sri Lanka, while being very active in his local Methodist church. He has an international Bible teaching ministry and is the author of 11 books.