by Paul Vallee.

Church splits are incredibly painful. Often God’s people are so broken and disillusioned by the experience that they never fully recover. Instead of the church being a place for healing and understanding, it becomes a battleground.

I’ve walked through this ugly experience. I’ve seen firsthand that there are no winners, only people alienated from each other and often from God himself.

My wife, Patty, and I had enjoyed the privilege of seeing God establish and develop a vibrant, thriving congregation in Red Deer, Alberta, a growing city in the corridor between Calgary and Edmonton. After serving ten years, we felt God directing us to leave for a new challenge in the state of Washington. Little did I expect that this decision would humble and transform my life, giving me a totally different paradigm for our ministry.

We headed for our new location, while the church selected a replacement pastor. Three years later, conflict erupted, leaving painful casualties. A broken-hearted elder telephoned one night, asking us to come back and help them in this time of crisis. The pastor’s office was now unoccupied and only a few staff members remained.

We arrived to find a demoralized, dispirited people. Everyone wanted us to come to their home and hear their heartache. Like Nehemiah hearing news of the chaos in Jerusalem, I began to weep and travail in prayer. I had taught leadership principles from that Old Testament book for years, but now I experienced its deep sense of grief. I even lost my appetite.

I challenged the church to gather for a time of fasting and prayer. I suggested that individuals could come to me there and talk about their hurt. We met every night at the church, where I urged people to focus on God, not just their pain. It was a time of progress.

Two weeks later, we returned to our current place of ministry in Washington. But our hearts had been deeply moved. Months later, the church leadership and pastoral selection committee asked us to consider coming back to Red Deer to be their pastor once again. We felt torn between our present start-up church and the idea of returning to an established but troubled church. We sought God and others for direction.

A wise and seasoned FCA minister, who had been helpful to the Red Deer church during its time of difficulty, asked me a penetrating question. “Where is your burden?”

“I’m really concerned about Red Deer,” I replied.

“Well, where the burden of the Lord is, that’s where God’s blessing is,” he replied.

“But it’s only natural that I’m burdened for a church in trouble,” I protested. “In our present church, there’s little to worry about. It’s peaceful and healthy.”

“A burden is different from a concern,” he said. “It’s deeper. It’s God’s way of communicating to us about where we should be engaging our lives.”

Patty and I took a deep breath and accepted the call to return to this disheartened congregation. Once there, we realized how deep the breach was. All the infrastructure of ministry had been destroyed during the split. Trust and morale were at an all-time low. At the end of our first service, I observed almost no natural conversation or fellowship among the people; the sanctuary was cleared out in five minutes, and the building was ready to lock up. People were emotionally spent. They didn’t know whom to trust.

We threw ourselves into re-establishing some of the infrastructure, but we realized that there were deeper issues within the souls of the people. As the new year of 1999 began to unfold, we agreed as an elder board that we would call the congregation to another time of fasting and prayer.

What started as nightly prayer meetings turned into times of public confession of sin and reconciliation with others. The first week became six weeks. The church gradually came alive with God’s presence. The church started growing dramatically, as people began coming from every direction.

The following year, we once again called the church to a time of extended prayer and fasting. We finally reached a point I wouldn’t have dreamed of at the start: a reconciliation service with the split-off church. Tremendous healing had occurred. Eventually, that new church experienced some leadership difficulties-and called its next pastor from out of our congregation, which gradually led to a healthy relationship between the two groups.

Meanwhile at our church, attendance is now larger than at the time of the split. That dark season has not been allowed to define who we are. Neither the past victories nor failures have branded us. We have moved forward to hear what God’s Word says to us as believers.

Along the way, I have undergone a major paradigm shift regarding the ministry. (Pain has a way of getting your attention!) I’ve come to see that ministry is about developing people rather than growing an institution. I’ve also taken a fresh look at the “how” of this work. My earlier model was to give high support to church members while expecting little back from them. In other words, I was under-challenging people. In my desire to see the church grow, I was making unwise accommodations to personal whims and desires. I was affected by the consumer mindset of our culture–to meet people at their point of need.

Reaching people in need is important, but we need to help them grow up. We are not to become enablers. I realized that God not only deeply supports us as his people, but he also challenges us to give up our lives for his sake. Balance in ministry today is not only to encourage people but also exhort them to rise to the challenge of the gospel. This will bring them to health and spiritual maturity.

It is possible to find hope in a broken environment. When we invite and encourage the presence of God in our lives, He will come and mend the broken-hearted. He loves the church more than any of us could ever love it, and as Head of His Church, He will bring it back to fruitfulness and progress.

Paul Vallee is Senior Pastor of Living Stones Church in Red Deer, Alberta.

One thought on “Finding Hope in a Broken Church

  1. Thanks for sharing your article pastor Paul. It truly is inspiring to see God’s heart for restoration and reconciliation. What a wonderful outcome to see Him bring beauty out of ashes and the oil of joy out of mourning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.