When (Differently) Gifted Pastors Destroy the Church (Rather Than Build it Up)

This was a church conflict that never should have happened.

One man was excellent at vision casting, capturing the excitement and motivating people for great things in the name of the Lord. The other was an excellent teacher. Working in harmony they could have accomplished so much for the Kingdom. Instead, frustration and anger plagued the work of the church. Staff members quit their jobs; members left; blame-casting began; and soon both of the pastors were looking for new calls.

The use and misuse of spiritual gifts are major causes of conflicts in the church. Paul seeks to bring some order to our understanding of the use of gifts in the church as he corrects the Corinthians and urges them with these memorable words:

“Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.” 1 Corinthians 14:12 (emphasis added)

There are four main reasons why church conflicts often emerge due to the misuse of spiritual gifts:

  1. Jealously
  2. Criticism
  3. Blindness
  4. Lack of Appreciation

Consider how jealousy destroyed the relationship between these two gifted pastors. Rather than rejoice in God’s gracious provision of gifting for His glory and the benefit of His work, these men competed with one another and envied the “advantages” of the other. Their jealousy lead to critical judgments of one another whenever they perceived a lack of support or excitement for “their” passion and vision (and gifting). Of course, foundationally, they both had extreme cases of spiritual blindness (a topic that Tara and I tackle at depth in Chapter 8 of Redeeming Church Conflicts). Rather than see and humbly acknowledge their weaknesses (and then compensate for their weaknesses by enjoying the strengths of one another), they tried to be fruitful in areas where their particular gifts were lacking. And all of these conflicts were fueled by a consistent failure to appreciate and encourage one another.

Rather than working within their areas of giftedness and appreciating the unique contributions each man was making for the advancement of the Kingdom, these leaders misused their gifts. Their relationship was doomed as a result and their church was terribly damaged. This could have been avoided if they had heeded the counsel of the Apostle Paul to “try to excel in gifts that build up the church.” Yes, the specific context of this argument applies directly to a distinction between prophesy and tongues as gifts, but earlier in Chapter 14, Paul provides the direction and goal for the use of all spiritual gifts:

“…for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3) …so that the church may be edified” (1 Corinthians 14:5).

All appropriate uses of spiritual gifts have these common goals:

  • Strengthen the believers,
  • Encourage the believers,
  • Comfort the believers, and
  • Edify the believers

No gift is superior to another; no gift is to be overlooked because all spiritual gifts are for the edification of the church. As one body, united in Christ, we share one calling: Build up the church! We do that best when we build up each other. That is why the Spirit has poured out his gifts upon living stones…we, the church. There is no room for jealously, criticism, blindness, and lack of appreciation when it comes to our mutual joy of unleashing the gifts of the Spirit that have been poured out for the sole reason of building up the church. Such foolishness and sin is immature and destructive and we ought to pray that our churches would never have conflict due to the misuse of the abundant spiritual gifts God has given his people.

Paul ends chapter 14 with this warning (verse 20):

Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.”

How do we think (and live) as adults? We avoid the works of the flesh as listed in Galatians 5 (including, of course, enmity, strife, jealousy, rivalries, dissensions, divisions and envy) and we manifest the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control).

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” Galatians 5:25

For the Glory of the Lord and His Church,
-Dave Edling

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About David V. Edling

Dave Edling is an experienced Christian conciliator who has worked with many conflicted churches. During his decade of service on the senior staff of Peacemaker Ministries, he participated in over 200 mediation and arbitration cases and worked with nearly twenty thousand Christians engaged in conflicts affecting churches of almost every denomination. Dave holds several graduate degrees in addition to his Bachelor of Science degree from Oregon State University. They are: Master of Arts in Human Behavior, United States International University (now Alliant International University); Juris Doctor, California Western School of Law; Master of Arts in Religion, Westminster Seminary California; and Master of Arts in Biblical Conflict Resolution, Birmingham Theological Seminary. Dave has served as a trustee on the Board of Directors for Covenant College and Westminster Seminary California and has taught in the Doctor of Ministry programs for Reformed Theological Seminary, Mid-Western Baptist Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. In addition, Dave has been a lecturer in practical theology for several other Christian colleges and seminaries.
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2 Responses to When (Differently) Gifted Pastors Destroy the Church (Rather Than Build it Up)

  1. Dee says:

    This is exactly what is happening at our church. Almost to a tee. My heart is breaking and I am so sad – the leadership are so gifted, but in attempting to maintain elements of leadership that they aren’t good at, it has created offence & we are hemorrhaging good people, & gifted people are sidelined & stepping down from their roles as they get replaced by people “more loyal” to the vision…

    I’ve already gone through a very messy departure from a previous church, & it’s looking like it’ll happen again, except this one hurts more as I can see how gifted the people involved are…but ego, yet again, ruins everything.

    At this season of peace, love & grace – I’m not seeing any. And I’m not quite sure what we do next.

    • Dee,

      Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus.

      Of course, I am saddened to hear of your church situation…but God is still God and he has something for you even in this conflict. That is the good news and I hope you will explore more our articles and perhaps be encouraged by reading Redeeming Church Conflicts. Tara and I wrote the book for people just like you; searching to find meaning out of a less than positive experience and helping others see in you the hope of the gospel.

      May God bless your journey. He never wastes our time.

      In the Lamb,

      Dave

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