It starts small and grows quietly, hidden from view, but eventually infects others. Insidious and sinister, it threatens to dismantle God’s work. Whether you are a leader or a follower, it’s important to be on guard for this dangerous foe. People, beware of division!
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! (Psalm 133:1 NIV)
Unity can be described as oneness of mind or objective among a group of persons; concord, harmony, or agreement (dictionary.com). Unity creates synergy as different people with different gifts and talents work together to achieve a common goal. Division stands in opposition to unity. Division is threatening because it can be subtle and hard to detect, especially in the beginning stages. Eventually it affects the organization like yeast in a batch of dough. As division grows it becomes increasingly destructive.
Dag Heward-Mills describes seven stages of disloyalty, which are manifested in various degrees of division. Awareness of these stages helps us to identify when division begins, and then make adjustments in ourselves and guide others away from it.
Independent Spirit—This is an attitude that begins to question the set up of the group. While dissenters still actively participate, they do what they want in spite of contrary instructions. They may think, “This meeting isn’t valuable; I’m not going to attend” or “I don’t agree with the way things are done; I’m going to do it my own way.”
Offense—No matter where you go, there is no such thing as a perfect church or company. We can hurt each other without meaning to. This hurt, when not dealt with appropriately, can easily turn to offense. When people harbor offense in their lives, it colors the way they view others and the ones with whom we work and serve. Unresolved hurts and offenses can push them down the path of division.
Passivity—When offense grows and is left to its devices, people become passive. They disengage, becoming indifferent and uninvolved. Rather than speaking with those who offended them to resolve difficulties, they shut down and keep it to themselves.
Critical Spirit—There is a small step from passivity to being critical. People with a critical spirit see more and more negativity around them. They scrutinize others for faults, and they only see the imperfections of others.
Political Spirit—People who are politically motivated seek to involve others in their beliefs and ideas. They want to gather a following of supporters to address what they believe to be problems, or to sympathize with their offenses. Some political statements might be:
I love (insert name), BUT (insert an offense). Please pray with me about this.
How did you like the service today? I didn’t really get anything out of it.
A lot of people are saying “such and such.”
A political spirit creates an environment of discontent.
Deception—At this stage, people have become blind to their own faults and believe they could do the job much better than those currently leading when given the chance. They may despise their mentors and teachers, or become deceived by personal success. The greatest deception occurs when divisive people fight the authorities that have been set over them, those who have been a blessing to them.
Rebellion—If allowed to continue, deception evolves into rebellion. It seeks to replace and take over rightful authority, to betray and turn against its own leader. This is the ultimate disloyalty.
Do you see yourself described in any of these stages of division? What corrective action do you need to take?
Friends, beware of division. It is a tool of the enemy to dismantle the work of the Lord. God does not support a rebellious spirit in any way. Pray for discernment, and keep yourself walking in loyalty and unity for Kingdom causes.
Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me (Psalm 51:10 NLT).
Dag Heward-Mills, Loyalty & Disloyalty: Dealing With Unspoken Divisions in the Church (TN: Carpenter’s Son Publishing, 2013).