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Grieving in Divisive Church Situations

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If you’ve been there, you know the heart wrenching feelings that go along with divisive church situations, especially when some you have come to love leave or you feel like you must leave because of it. The church is never the same. People aren’t the same. Some eventually learn and grow from the situation but others get stuck in their grief.

Grief Cycle Applied to Grieving in Divisive Church Situations:

What I have observed is that the sense of loss in these kinds of situations sets into motion the grief cycle — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. We may need to feel these emotions to get to the point where we are willing to do what God wants us to do in the situation. If we don’t keep advancing through these stages, we will not learn and grow from what has happened.

1) Denial – downplaying, avoiding

People stuck in denial are the ones who tend to be content with the dysfunction. They shun the idea of church discipline for immoral situations. They think the church will be fine just as it is, even if it is on a downward spiral. They try to avoid thinking about and dealing with what might be the inevitable.

Getting Unstuck:

Work at finding the truth in the situation, not how you want it to be.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5)

… that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:26)

2) Anger – blaming, resenting

People stuck in anger sometimes make things worse as they lash out at people for their real or perceived parts in the problem. They are so frustrated about what is happening that it just pours out of them. Not everyone, however, expresses their anger in these situations but rather bottles it up within themselves. Nonetheless, it is there and eats away at their soul.

Getting Unstuck:

Work through your anger.

In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Eph. 4:26-27)

Remember that you are accountable for what you do.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? … first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matt. 7:3-5)

Exercise humility regardless of how you feel.

But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. (James 3:14)

3) Bargaining – postponing

People stuck in the bargaining stage could be the ones who put conditions on staying or leaving. They’ll stay as long as … or until … but often get caught up in the dysfunction even though they said they would leave if things didn’t change.

Getting Unstuck:

Make your goal trusting the Lord rather than testing Him.

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” (Matt. 4:7)

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. (Prov. 3:5-8)

4) Depression – feeling helpless and hopeless

People stuck in depression realize the inevitable is about to happen and are so saddened by it that they slump into despair. They tend to be ones who give up on the church. Even if they attend another church out of duty, they don’t get involved like they had been. Their goal is protect their hearts from further hurt.

Getting Unstuck:

Find your help and hope in the Lord, not your circumstances:

Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken. (Ps. 55:22)

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Pet. 5:7)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)

5) Acceptance – releasing to God

People who work through this variety of feelings aroused within them eventually get to the point where they are able to gain some perspective. They might not like what has happened and it may still hurt, but they trust God nonetheless to work for the good even in a bad situation (Rom. 8:28). Consequently, they’re able to experience God’s peace even in the midst of turmoil and change. Their prayers for the church are more selfless growing out of desire for God’s glory more than their own hurts.

A Final Note about Grieving in Divisive Church Situations:

Moving through these stages of grief is not a sign we aren’t trusting God. Getting stuck is.

Remember that grief often does not follow a straight path. We can re-cycle through some of these stages. We must learn to keep turning it over to God. It is when we get our eyes off of God that we risk getting stuck in our grief.

Also remember that not everybody grieves the same. Some people cycle through grief quicker than others. We must allow one another to grieve while constantly reminding each other to look to the Lord.  In the next post we will look at how to help people heal in these grievous church situations.

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5 Replies to “Grieving in Divisive Church Situations”

  1. Thank You sooo much for the Article “Grieving in Divisive Church Situations.” It really helped me to step back and look at the situation from another perspective. I was so drained and tired of the same picture replaying itself over & over again in my mind until I was just going through the motions week in and week out. As a result of taking the time to be willing to read your article; some new perspectives came into view.
    I began to realize that our church was not the only Church having problems, all the Churches in the Bible experienced growing pains. Then I made a list of the things that I saw as being problems. These points begin to be my prayer requests in my times of prayer. I did not call or discuss my evaluations with anyone else in the church, because what I see as an issue may not be the same as someone else.
    Are all my hurts and disappointments solved, (No Indeed); but as I re-read the letters to the Churches in the Bible I can see the human-ness of people, (including me). I rethink the good times in the Church and the help and growth I have obtained. You know what? The good out-weighs the bad, I have decided to let others grow at their own pace just like the LORD Jesus has allowed me to grow at my own pace. Also, I now stay off the telephone with my personal opinions, reading the letters in the Bible to the Churches help me see myself as part of the problem!!!

    • Praise God, Anita, for where God has brought you!! Often what we need is a change of perspective. You make some very good points. I especially appreciate how you have decided to stay off the phone with your personal opinions. So often problems become worse because of that as we can influence one another for the bad rather than for the good in these kinds of situations. If everyone spent as much time praying, talking to God about the issues, as they do to one another, we would have much healthier churches. I also particularly appreciate how you have come to see your personal accountability. We are each responsible before God for how we respond in situations. We can, and should, pray for and encourage one another but at the end of the day, we each must answer to God. — I hope other people are encouraged and blessed from you sharing your story.

    • The stages I mentioned in this post are those you will find in the book On Death & Dying by Elizabeth Kubler Ross (clicking on the link will take you to one of our affiliate stores where you can learn more about the book). As you can read in her biography, she was a “co-founder of the hospice movement around the world.” These cycles grew out of her experience in helping people in their grief. Do we find the cycle in the Bible? No we don’t, Jack, but we do find where Scripture addresses a variety of emotions we humans feel. Let me also point you to Jesus’ words to His disciples. The situation was different but the feeling was the same — loss. After telling them He would be leaving them, he acknowledged that they would grieve … giving plausibility to grief. — “Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away … You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy … Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” (John 16:6-8, 20-22 NIV) — These kinds of feelings are typical to the human experience. How we handle those feelings is the real issue for Christians.

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