At church one sunday morning in British Columbia, a young mother approached evangelist Ron Susek. Her family wanted to begin attending the church, she said, but would he mind if they didn't join it?
"We've been through a church split, and we don't want any obligation or responsibility," she told him. "We want the freedom to walk away."
Susek could empathize with the wounded parishioner: he had reluctantly served as interim pastor after the split of a large church. He was so troubled by that experience that he collected his insights into what would become an influential church-split treatise: Firestorm (Baker, 1999).
The book serves as a resource for two organizations devoted to assisting churches on the verge of rupture: Firestorm Intervention and Restoration Ministry (FIRM—a division of Susek Evangelistic Association), and Peacemaker Ministries. Especially for churches not backed by denominational structures, such organizations can be lifesavers.
Sin at the Root
Susek identifies various factors contributing to church quarrels in Firestorm: destructive family backgrounds, resistance to authority, rapid church growth, and the "condition of the human heart," among others.
That last factor is the one Peacemaker Ministries emphasizes. Dave Edling, director of church relations for Peacemaker Ministries, says his organization tells troubled churches, "Your problem is not psychological. Your problem is sin."
"Disagreements begin," Edling says, "when the desires that battle within us, as described in James 4:1, lead to expectations of others—maybe an over-elevation of who we think we are, and what our rights are, and what we deserve to have."
Peacemaker Ministries uses Firestorm with the caveat that a chapter outlining the "psycho-social ...1