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Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A., Editor
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How To Survive A Split
Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.
- The loss of a major portion of a congregation resulting from major (level 4+) conflict
can be the most trying experience in ones life. It will test your spiritual character and
your physical and emotional stability in ways you never imagined. Like Peter, you will be
"sifted like wheat"
- What can you do to survive?
- 1) Remember The "Peak To Peak" Principle.
- Robert Schulers "Peak to Peak Principle" says that when we are down in
the valleys we should change ourselves. Then, after weve made adjustments, we climb
back up the next peak. When were at the peak--when everything is going wellis
the time to change direction, churches, or leadership styles. Dont
immediately change churches, resign or give up. Wait until youre back on the
peak if possible before making any drastic life changes.
- 2) Work A "Normal" Full-time Schedule.
- Do not succumb to pressures of guilt and emotional obsessions to try to "fix"
everything by overcompensating with enormous resources of time and energy. On the other
hand, don't withdraw or shrink from your regular responsibilities. Save your "after
40 hour work week" energy for maintaining your own self in conflict. Take some time
offmorning, afternoon, whateverand get away. See Rick Warren's
suggestion in Ministry Health Snippets.
- 3) Pray
- But in a different way than you are accustomed. Devote a half-hour at a regular
time slot and go into a chapel, take a prayer walk, or whatever. Just be careful not to
let your prayer time become a depressing brooding time. Use the crisis as an opportunity
to develop your faith in with a more spiritual understanding and connectedness with God.
- Discerned reading of spiritual literatures will help to deepen your
understanding of faith. An outstanding place to start is a consideration of Scott
Pecks Road Less Traveled. Though his Christianity is certainly not orthodox,
his insights into the experience of faith and life's difficulties can be remarkable.
- 4) Start a Bible Study on Suffering.
- Those who would wish to support you, but dont know how, may find attending a Bible
Study on Revelation 2-3, I Peter, II Timothy, et al. a wonderful way to support you. As
they grow, they will be there to pray and support you enthusiastically after the dust
settles. Be sure to check out Ministry Health
Archive entitled, "Principles of Suffering."
- 5) Repeatedly Clarify and Communicate the Congregations Mission.
- Conflict often may arise because a congregations ministry is not well-defined and
articulated. Denominational specialists in missions and evangelism can help in remarkable
ways by leading seminars, workshops, etc. highlighting, clarifying and communicating the
churchs mission. Sermon series on outreach are also helpful.
- 6) Dont Triangulate.
- People will follow the leader...especially in conflict. Peopleeven those
supporting youwill be watching and evaluating whether you are trustworthy in the way
you communicate with (and about) others, observe confidentiality and, in general, avoid
slander, put-downs, etc. Dont let them down.
- Your model will be the seed for the communication patterns to prevail when the
post-split healing begings. Communicate your stress to confidential outsiders. Counselors
are best; Wives, secretaries and staff members ought be spared the continued, unending
unloading of emotion that often accompanies stress.
- 7) Attend Conflict Training Events.
- Psychological Studies (Bloomfield Hills, MI) and Lombard Mennonite Peace Center are two
outstanding opportunities to learn about conflict and leadership. Contact your
denomination or judicatory for a listing of various types of trainings. Internet searches
can also be helpful. Various events will also be publicized through Ministry Health E-mail
newsletter and those of other related sites.
- In general, any type of professional growth program from attending seminars to getting
another academic degree can be helpful by stimulating growth, reflection and giving
opportunities for growth.
- 8) Read.
- Reading also helps to give "handles" to work through the grief, guilt (earned
or unearned), confusion and self-doubt. Some of the best readings suggested might include
Friedmans Generation to Generation, Alban Institute Publications, and
readings on co-dependencies (especially those published by Health Publications, Deerfield
Beach, Florida). Charles Stanley also has good spiritual resources (e.g. Advancing Through
Adversity, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996). After the conflict is over, resolve to attend
at least one conflict training per year.
- 9) Evaluate Your Expectations.
- Some of the most devastating emotional downturns result from dashed expectations. In the
"calm before the storm" when everything seems to be going soooo well, our
expectations can rise to great heights. The storm which comes knocks us from these highest
heights to fall to depths weve never before experienced.
- 10) See Your Doctor Immediately.
- Stress usually causes physiological symptoms. Get a full physical. Check your blood
pressure. If you are feeling tired, moving slower than normal, forgetful, feeling
apathetic, angry, etc., youre likely depressed. Ask your doctor for a mild
anti-depressant such as Zoloft. St. John's Wort can be an inexpensive effective
alternative for those without insurance to cover prescriptions.
- For anxiety, Paxil is often used and is supposedly better than Xanax which is addictive
and generally considered best for short term use (6-8 weeks). Temporarily taking
prescripbed medications for the duration of the conflict can keep your body from becoming
burned out and can help you keep a "non-anxious presence" so necessary in
conflict. Such medications will also enable you to experience a quicker recovery for the
rebuilding period following the split.
- 11) See A Professional Therapist.
- The most valuable confidant and support is a competent professional therapist with whom
you can discuss, rag, vent, cry, and complainwithout unfairly bearing on others.
Even best friends and family members have their limits. In personal grief and anguish, be
a friend to your friends and dont burden them with everything you feel. (cf.
Ministry Health article #14, "Five Types of Necessary Coping
- 12) Evaluate Your Leadership Style.
- Are you co-dependent? Do you care too much for people? Are you too aloof? Do you tend
not to delegate? Do you have a disregard for authority and accountability? Are there
personal issues from your past which affect your leadership style?
- There are many good books on personal and leadership issues. Read some and be open to an
honest scrutiny of yourself. Some resources such as Injoy Leadership tapes can be helpful
and motivational, but can leave one with a sense of guilt and failure.
- 13) Join A Secular Club/Take Up A Hobby.
- The key here is to get into something totally unrelated to the church. Try to
find a club that is not local where no members or others who know you will be there. That
way you can be yourself, relax, and enjoy the affirmation of a "normal"
atmosphere where you can be affirmed, respected, and enjoyed for who--not what--you
- 14) Remember Rule #6.
- This rule was popularized by the sainted Dr. Martin Scharlemann, former professor of
Exegetical Theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO. Rule #6 is "Dont take
yourself too seriously." And what are Rules 1-5? His response? "It doesnt
- 15) Finally Trust--Really Trust--Gods Leading.
- Jesus promised that "He will build His church and the gates of hell shall not
prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). Let go of your own control and simply trust
- Churches are very hardy, tenacious, and enduring organizations. That's why they
become so entrenched in the dysfunctions and traditions they have! But it's also a
positive, too. Such tenacity is God's way of preserving His Church...even through storm.
- After the storm, you will clearly see how Gods rainbow of promise and renewal on you
and your church. Let go, be patient, and let God transform both you and His
church before your very eyes!
- Certainly here are many other things that might also be helpful. This is just a start.
But be sure to remember that youre not alone. As John Maxwell once noted,
Whenever youre thinking about the 20-30 people in your church who are always
grumbling, just think of Moses. He had 1.5 million
grumbling Children of Israel with him every day for 40 years!
- Thomas F. Fischer
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was revised on:
Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:02:36 PM