Thursday, August 1, 2013

Some Of The Real Reasons Churches Break Up

One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism
But about the feuds and struggles that exist among you—where do you suppose they come from? Can’t you see that they arise from conflicting passions within yourselves? You crave for something and don’t get it, you are jealous and envious of what others have got and you don’t possess it yourselves. Consequently in your exasperated frustration you struggle and fight with one another. You don’t get what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And when you do ask he doesn’t give it to you, for you ask in quite the wrong spirit—you only want to satisfy your own desires.
James 4:1-3 (J.B. Phillips translation) 

What are some of the root causes of so many church "divorces" happening these days? Since I became a member of Virginia Mennonite Conference in 1965, the number of branches on this Anabaptist tree in Rockingham County alone has quadrupled.

If we assume these result only from differences in how we interpret the Bible, we may be only partly right.

The primary underlying needs, I've come to believe, are among those described in the passage above and by American psychiatrist and educator Rudolph Dreikers:

1. The need for love and belonging. Church groups that foster strong bonds among members, where each person and each congregation within a conference feels respected, appreciated and needed by others, tend to stay together in spite of their disagreements. Where such friendship-forming interactions are limited or neglected, however, and where people who differ from each other feel undervalued and alienated, it doesn't take much for them to separate.

2. The need for power and influence. By this we don't mean power over others, but power with them as equal players in the process of negotiating differences and effecting outcomes. If people's convictions are acknowledged, and their ideas taken seriously, they will seldom pull out to form their own separate entities. But if people feel powerless in their ability to influence others, they may feel separating is the only way to gain the kind of empowerment they feel they need.

3. The need for vindication and evening the score. If the above two primal needs are perceived as not being met (and perception is everything!), the need for getting back at others for the hurts they feel may come into play. Without being willing to openly acknowledge their anger, people and groups may act it out by withdrawing as an act of protest against the ways they feel they have been mistreated. This represents the "fight" part of the "fight or flight" response that comes when a group or an individual feels their legitimate needs are not acknowledged.

4. The need for withdrawal and retreat. When all efforts at redress, repair or respect seem to fail, conflict-weary individuals and groups tend to go into retreat mode, and may just give up, drop out and go their own way. This is the "flight" part of the "fight or flight" response.

Unless churches are willing and able to pay serious attention to such underlying unmet needs (felt by people on all sides), no amount of debating scripture texts will heal the rifts that are the likely to result.

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