Breaking Fellowship

This week I had to do something I rarely do…something that always causes me great pain…something that is a necessary evil of church leadership. I had to cut someone out of my life. The fantasy world of their mind was a stark contrast to the reality of their actions. After three years of being blamed for all their failures and everything that had gone wrong in their life…enough was enough…it was time break fellowship.

I can count on one hand the times I have broken fellowship with someone. It is never an easy thing to do and it always causes you to take a hard look at your own life. However, the reality of leadership is that breaking fellowship has to happen on occasion. There will be those that get mad…get offended…wear their heart on their sleeve…look for the negatives in life…or just can’t face the fact they are to blame for their misfortune. Instead of handling things in a Scripturally mature manner or moving on…they stay and make problems. Negative correspondence, a constant barrage of verbal attacks, a desire to cause division, endless unproductive “meetings”, public displays of anger and other things that can just completely drain your energy. It can come in the form of church members, others pastors, friends, family or staff members. Whatever the case it will cause sleepless nights, great frustration, abuse of your calling and many wasted hours that could have been better spent actually making a difference for cause of Christ. Go the “extra mile”…but don’t hesitate to break fellowship when the distraction from evangelistic ministry becomes too great.

Over the last 20 years of ministry I have discovered several things about the need and process of breaking fellowship:

1. Some people can’t be reasoned with. No matter how talented a pastor, leader or counselor your are…there are some people that can’t be reasoned with. Some have too much baggage, live to be offended, are only content when they are angry at someone and some are simply not emotionally unstable. Try your best to reason with them…but know when to walk away.

2 . Cancer always destroys. You can do two things with cancer…cure it…or cut it out. Cancer grows and destroys with an alarming rate. Some people are just cancer…spreading negativity and destruction throughout your church, ministry or life with lightening quick results. Try to cure it…but if that fails…move quickly to cut it out!!!

3. Always run to the conflict. It is too easy to hide from areas of trouble…especially with people…and think that it will go away naturally. Like the warning light on a car…it will not go away until the problem is fixed. Yes, there is prayer…yes, there is love…but there is also you…the leader that God put into place to protect the flock. You never want to hurt the sheep…but never hesitate to confront the wolves.

4. Strive for restoration. Some people just need a swift kick in the butt when it comes to their attitude and behavior. Don’t break fellowship until you have confronted…and offered a structured plan for restoration. Forgiveness and restoration are two separate things. Forgiveness is immediate…but the trust that comes with restoration takes time…many years…much submission…and incredible oversight.

4. Make the break clean. As harsh as this sounds…if the time comes to break fellowship…make the break clean. Leave no bridge in place for the person to return. There will be other churches, pastors or leaders that God will use in their life…but your time is done.  Forgiveness is a Biblical mandate…but it does not mean that the person needs to be allowed back into the fellowship to cause problems again. If restoration and submission is refused…make the break quick…clean…and complete.

5. Don’t let it become baggage. If you don’t want to be attacked…don’t lead. However, when the attacks become too much to bear…and breaking fellowship becomes a necessity…don’t let it become baggage for you. Not every case is the same…don’t judge someone today over something someone else did in the past. Yes, you will hurt.  Yes, you will have moments of regret.  Yes, you will not feel total resolve in the matter.  However, move on…know that tomorrow is a new day…and follow God without fear or reservation.

Breaking Fellowship

9 thoughts on “Breaking Fellowship

  1. Wow Chris, what a great post.

    I have been found guilty of waiting too long to confront a problem, praying and ‘hoping’ that the situation would heal itself…but it rarely does. I got burnt twice and that was all it took for me to learn to face the problem head on , without hesitation.

    I actually had a person come back to me later to apologize and thank me. Now they are faithfully serving at another church in our area. The pastor is a friend of mine and he has said that they are one of the best volunteers he has.

    Truly a ‘God thing’.

    As always…I enjoy your blog…keep up the good work.

    Peace

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  2. Yep. That stinketh. I’ve only had to do the whole “breaking fellowship” thing twice here on the lakeshore, and both times it was nasty bad. Sometimes a shepherd has to shoo away the wolves.

    Not fun, though.

    Good post.

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  3. Curt says:

    Great post.
    My wife and I went through a similar experience about a year ago. We called an end to the friendship and then were accused of not being forgiving. To which I responded and said that forgiveness doesn’t require a restoration of full and complete trust. So I appreciated your comments on that.
    Overall, it was very painful and hard to do and we lost some good friends as a result of it. But God is good and we’ve grown from it. Trying not to let it impact us or keep us from trusting and building relationships with others though.

    For the Kingdom.

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  4. Chris,
    That is one of the best posts on church discipline I have ever seen. You can tell how mature a pastor is in his walk and leadership by how he handles situations like this. As a church planter, I have found that we have attracted some people who are like you described just because we are the new kid on the block. If we dont deal with these issues by running to conflict the potential number of dead and hurting bodies seems to increase proportionality to the time we spend trying to advoid the “check engine light”.

    well said my man!
    Henry Judy

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