“I appeal to you . . . that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Cor. 1:10, NIV). Paul is writing to the Corinthians and explicitly tells them that divisions within the church body shouldn’t be tolerated. Rather, he says to unite beliefs together to find harmony with one another. This is a concept many churches have trouble with, including my own home church.
I am a pastor’s kid and have been all my life. I’ve been in three churches, and each experience has been vastly different, yet also surprisingly similar. Being in a pastor’s family allowed me to see and experience church politics, the ins and outs of the church, and all of the nitty gritty details average church members don’t necessarily see. My journey has been both eye-opening and shocking.
Aversions to change
One church in particular showed how easy it is for churches to be divided rather than united. I spent many years in that same Adventist church where my dad was the pastor. When he first started, the church had only one, very traditional service. At the church we had been in before, there had been two services–one more contemporary and the other more traditional. My dad wanted to create a service to reach a broader audience for those who left our church for a more contemporary service, so he started a first service. However, the second service remained the more traditional service. Over the years, first service started to grow and gain attendees, yet it was still nowhere near the size of the second service.
Because of this large differentiation in size, and the style of the first service, the more conservative members of the church opposed it. But it wasn’t just the average members—it was the leaders of the church. In fact, one of the church’s key leaders was the main opponent of this service. Yet my dad stood firm and did what he believed was right for the church.
Unfortunately, the leaders of the church liked things the way they were and didn’t want to change; they believed their way was the best way and people can’t actually be reached by the methods my dad was trying to implement. Yet the numbers showed differently. First service started off with a small attendance of fewer than 10 per week. But as the time went on, that number began to grow to its current attendance of 40-80 people. We even had some young adults return to our church because it was now meeting their needs in a way it hadn’t before.
In time, my dad accepted a call to pastor in another church in another conference. Soon after my dad left, leading figures began to pressure the new pastor into eliminating first service, and eventually they called a business meeting to get rid of it. Their intentions were to bring the church back to what they considered its glory days.
The business meeting was open to all church members, and those who had an opinion on the continuation of first service attended. They spoke their minds, and by the end of the meeting they had reached their decision. First service was there to stay.
When I heard the news, I was overjoyed! I was so glad that the program my dad had put into place to help other people connect to God was going to continue to fulfill its mission. Yet on the contrary, it saddened me to see that even after 10 years, having two services was such a major issue that it divided my church.
Church: a gathering place for all
Being a part of that church and witnessing this story and many, many others play out has distanced me from the whole concept of church. I’ve seen this type of political frenzy with other churches I’ve attended, so I know it wasn’t an isolated problem just within my church. These divisions are happening all across the nation.
Going into a church, I have trouble trusting the people I see; who knows if they are planning a meeting to undermine the work the pastor has done when he or she leaves? What if someone is already vocalizing their displeasure with the pastor to a conference official? What if this community that God instructed us to have isn’t a community at all, but rather a pot of opinions and self-imposed hierarchies?
Churches are meant to be a gathering place for those who want to worship our Creator together. It is a place for people of all different walks of life to join those with similar beliefs. It is not a place to argue about which way is the right way to worship, or a time to fight about any other controversial topics.
A church is a sacred meeting place for those who love the Lord. Maybe instead of creating divisions within the church based on our opposing beliefs, we can talk with our fellow believers to discern what God’s will is in our lives. We need to be willing to shift our perceptions to help others have an opportunity to connect to God in a way we might not think of.
Most importantly, church is a place to gather together with those who share a passion for Christ, not for those who have an abrasive opinion that shuts people out. The goal of the church is to have a group of people who are united in mind and thought, with no divisions among them, all agreeing with one another. Let’s work together to make that goal a reality.
—Ashley Bower is a sophomore at Union College studying English Language Arts Education.
What Are the Three Most Controversial Topics in the Adventist Church?
Four Union College senior theology majors who are currently serving as student pastors in the Mid-America Union responded to this question about current challenges facing the church.
[Byline] by Ashley Bower
- Race (separate conferences for different ethnicities)
- Church leadership (a lack of understanding of the decisions the church makes, and a judgement on the administrative side of church by the youth based on their lack of knowledge)
- Women’s ordination
- LGBT community and how to create a place where our church is welcoming
- Compliance over the rules that the church has put into effect
- Women’s ordination
- Righteousness by faith
- The Trinity, in regard to the Holy Spirit being a part of the Godhead
- Women’s ordination
- Music in worship
Twitter poll: 38 young adults respond
58% LGBT involvement
32% Women’s ordination