Church Doctor® Report

When Your Church Faces Civil War:

Holy and Unholy Discontent

 VOL. 9 NO. 6 November/December 2013
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In This Issue
Ten Ways to Manage Civil Unrest
Meet Lloyd
Join Us on An Immersion Excursion!
When Your Church Faces Civil War


 Kent Hunter is founder of Church Doctor Ministries, a ministry dedicated to helping churches become more effective for the Great Commission.

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Ten Ways to Manage
Civil Unrest
  1. Sympathize with those who feel the stress of change beyond their control. Recognize that change is difficult. Encourage one another.
  2. When initiating change, use the strategy of a short trial period. Welcome feedback. Change incrementally, whenever possible. Change by addition rather than substitution.
  3. Clarify the difference between styles and forms-which must change, to be relevant-and substance of the faith, which never changes.
  4. If your church is growing, help everyone understand that the larger church is different. Large churches have both advantages and disadvan-tages, as do the smaller churches.
  5. In the growing church, change the glue of fellowship. In the small church, it is "one big happy family." In the larger church, the fellowship glue is many happy families/one church. Provide the infrastructure of middle size and smaller groups.
  6. In the declining church, don't ignore reality. Ask: "What can we do about this?" Get help.
  7. If unrest occurs about staff, validate it. Is it a dysfunctional staff member or dysfunctional staff? Or is it a subjective person-ality conflict? Or is it a symptom of discontent projected on staff?
  8. If discontent is due to staff changes, communicate that relationship adjustments take time.
  9. Learn about generational differences. Develop effective strategies to assimilate the next generation. Coach previous generations to honor the substance of the faith without idolizing familiar styles.
  10. Recognize that some discontent is holy − caused by the Holy Spirit. Support those who have this spiritual restlessness. Encourage them to be the spiritual engine for a move of God-without alienating others or acting superior to those who are "not there" yet.   
Meet Lloyd


Lloyd was a lifelong member of the church. As the new pastor, it didn't take me long to realize Lloyd was a contrarian. Ralph, a contemporary of Lloyd, said, "I went to grade school with Lloyd. He's been contrary since he learned to talk... about everything!"


Lloyd was on the "glass-half-empty-side of the pessimist-optimist scale. In fact, most often, Lloyd's glass was bone dry. Lloyd was a Christian. His worship life and Bible study habits reflected spiritual priorities.


One Sunday morning, I was in that little room, just off the front of the church. It was about four minutes before the first service. I had been in prayer, and was spiritually ready to lead worship. I was enjoying a few moments of solitude, as the pre-service music was playing and the church was filling. "This is the day the Lord has made" I whispered in my heart, "I will re...."


My thought was interrupted by someone entering the room. It was Lloyd, and he was steamed. I turned to him. It was now two minutes before church. "Hi Lloyd," I said with a professional smile ... and personal anxiety. Lloyd was not happy. "All those people YOU are bringing in to this church. There's someone parking in my spot." I quickly calculated that some ignorant, first-time visitor had parked under the only shade tree in the lot. The lifelong members knew better than to park in Lloyd's unofficial spot. I didn't know what to say.


In a moment of sinful reaction, I turned away from Lloyd, poked my head through the door to the sanctuary, and gazed at the growing crowd. I turned back to Lloyd, smiled, put my hand on his shoulder, and said, "Lloyd, you're going to have a really bad day." "Why?" he asked. "Because they're also sitting in your pew!"

I know. Not very pastoral. Civil unrest comes in many forms.

Immersion Excursions
 You Cannot Miss!

We invite you to join us as we explore where God is moving, working, and blessing right here in North America.


Coming Up - January 2014 

Church Doctor Ministries has partnered with LakePointe Church for an Immersion Excursion: A learning experience in which this cutting-edge philosophy of ministry can be taught, and, more importantly, caught.


Church Doctor Ministries has chosen LakePointe primarily because of the excellence of "doing church" in a sound, biblical approach, yet translated for contemporary unchurched Americans.


LakePointe is implementing pioneering ministry efforts in the city and surrounding areas of Hot Springs, Arkansas. You will experience first-hand these pioneering efforts to reach those in the community not being served by any other local church.


On this Immersion Excursion you will learn biblical and practical ways to:

Discover opportunities for ministry in a postmodern culture;

Reach "twenty-somethings;"

Attract unchurched members of your community with key outreach strategies;

Catch the New Testament culture of God's revival that you can bring back and infect others within your church.


Join the travel team!




It was predicted years ago the Church in England would soon die, not due to lack of money or programs, but because of the loss of people.


England is more secularized than North America. Young people are often generations removed from the church and have no reference points to the Bible, church, or Jesus.


Yet, God is bringing revival to England through ministries like The Mes-sage Trust in Manchester who touch the lives of over 100,000 young people a year, providing hope, bringing opportunities, and releasing enormous potential.


St. Thomas, an Anglican-Baptist church in the Crookes section of Sheffield, is reaching, discipling, and reproducing mission-minded and servant-hearted young leaders through leadership huddles, "white-hot worship," kingdom culture, and outreach "clusters."


During this Immersion Excursion, you will be exposed to cutting-edge ministries that are pioneering new ways of spreading the Gospel and making disciples. We have partnered with these exciting ministries. Their leaders will share with you how they are engaging their communities!


God has given St. Thomas a unique approach, to "live life better" in relationship with God. Jesus lived a balanced life in three dimensions:


UP: The time He spent with God His Father;

IN: The time He spent with His disciples, His community of faith, His friends;

OUT: The time He spent with those in need in the world, showing them in word and action the better life He came to bring.


For more information about our Immersion Excursions, email Penny Cole or call 800-626-8515.



Church Health Assessment

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Matthew 16:18


Input from everyone in your church? An assessment of your church's vitality in 9 categories? A graphic profile of your church's health? A 12-page report describing the 9 categories? A forecast of increased health your church could achieve? And all for $175?

For more information, contact Terry Atz or call 800-626-8515.

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After years of outreach teaching, the aging, all-Anglo church was approaching a threshold of spiritual opportunity. "We are finally going to make a reasonable effort to reach the young African-American families in our surrounding neighborhood," the pastor enthusiastically shared with a neighboring pastor. "This Sunday, after church, we will have a congregational meeting. A small group of Great Commission oriented people will cast the vision to reach out cross culturally."


During the second service on that historic Sunday morning, the young pastor reminded the congregation of the meeting: "After service today, we will have a congregational meeting. On the agenda is the strategy that will be explained by our outreach team-a plan to reach out to our neighborhood." The pastor realized the crowd would be small. Only 10% of those in worship showed up at these congregational meetings. "But it will be a small step in the right direction," he thought.


The worship service was coming to a close. Before the last hymn, the pastor would give the traditional benediction. He raised his hands over the standing congregation, took a deep breath, and − suddenly − the president of the congregation jumped to the center aisle from his place in the first pew. He turned to face the congregation. The pastor was frozen in astonishment. Steve, the congregational president, spoke loudly enough so all 600 worshippers could hear: "You've heard the pastor announce that we're having a meeting after church. You better come to this meeting because this will change our church forever. Do you really want those people in our neighborhood coming in to our church? If not, you better come to this meeting and make  your voice heard."


The pastor was in shock, as Steve rejoined his wife in the front pew. His mind was racing: "I thought disruptions in church only happened in movies." Meanwhile the whole congregation, including the organist waiting to play the closing hymn, were staring at the pastor. The pastor regained his composure after what seemed like a long silence-and muttered his way through the benediction.


The meeting after church that day broke all records in attendance. There was standing room only in the upstairs venue, as President Steve called the meeting to order. The pastor, still recovering from the worship disruption wasn't sure he wanted to face this crowd, which he privately considered a mob. As the pastor took the podium, he described the strategy developed by the outreach team. Then the meeting was opened for discussion. Immediately, one of Steve's friends spoke strong words of caution, along with a somewhat interesting proposal: "Why don't we go through the neighborhood with two brochures in hand. For the white families, we can hand out a brochure about our church, with the worship times. At the black homes, we can hand out a different brochure, general in content, without our church name; one that says, "God bless you."


The outpouring of support for the outreach began with a few − and continued for hours. The seeds sowed in discontent by the congregational president actually galvanized the other 98%. It resulted in a public display of outreach to the African-American families in the neighborhood. Steve had greatly underestimated the mission mentality of the majority.


Sometimes, unholy discontent can become a turning point for good. It can become
holy discontent. Civil unrest can be the darkness before the dawn. God can work all things together for good, for those who love Him. (Romans 8:28)


Civil War


Those of us who grew up in the U.S. have learned about the American Civil War, which tore this nation apart. A recent film about Abraham Lincoln refreshed many of us about that vicious and devastating conflict. It reflected how committed citizens of the same nation could become so diametrically opposed to one another. Abraham Lincoln became one of the giants of history for following his moral convictions in the face of massive resistance. In his June 16, 1858, speech to the Republican State Convention in Springfield, Illinois, Lincoln said those memorable words, "a house divided against itself cannot stand."


My friend and colleague, Dennis Kutzner, a Civil War expert, quotes Lincoln in regard to his Christian faith: "In his own words, Lincoln said, 'When I left Springfield, I asked the people to pray for me, I was not a Christian. When I buried my son, the severest trial of my life, I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg, and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ.' In the days that followed, Lincoln worshipped regularly at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, not only on Sunday, but at the Wednesday evening prayer service as well."


Christians do participate in civil unrest! Earlier this year, America recognized the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington, led by a Christian clergyman, Martin Luther King, Jr. and his words, spoken from the Lincoln Memorial, "I have a dream." This 20th century preacher demonstrated how long civil unrest continues when the remnants against change linger.


Today, civil war is in the news regularly with reports from Egypt, and, most recently, Syria. The world knows much about civil war. So does the church. In fact, many who met Jesus were disappointed. He was not who they expected: a civil leader to free the Jews from the tyranny of the Roman Empire. Jesus made it clear that His Kingdom was not of this world. What people didn't understand was that the Kingdom of God would indeed one day transform the Roman Empire, through an internal movement, not by the sword but something more powerful: love. Can you believe it?


The church is full of civil unrest: citizens of the Kingdom at odds with one another. If you haven't seen evidence of this unrest, you haven't been a Christian very long. Yet God can turn any difficult civil unrest into good. Still, it isn't fun!


Seven Causes of Civil Unrest


In our work with churches we've seen at least seven causes that lead Christians to get sideways with one another. While all of these causes bring challenges, the seventh represents potential for a new day for the Christian movement.


Cause #1


Whenever our world changes dramatically, it causes stress. Change is difficult. Mark Twain once said, "The only person who likes change is a baby with a wet diaper." The 21st century will go down in history as a time of seismic change. The technological explosion has brought many benefits, and, simultaneously, produced enormous stress. For example, the church staff needs computers. Those computers are expensive-pressure on the budget. The church secretary, who has served for forty years, is resistant to learn the technology. The leadership board generously "retires" her. She and her husband have been visible members of the church for years. They sue the church for age discrimination. This true story, from a church in Florida, caused significant division-civil unrest-in the church.


Demographics change many churches. The  story from the church in Detroit was shared in the introduction of this issue. It is sometimes an ethnic challenge, but often reflects a shift in economics. Houses get older, people move out to maintain their investment, and the socioeconomic world of lifelong members is dramatically different from residents who now live around the church  in the previous homes of the members. Economics drive lifestyle. Different lifestyles cause stress between two different groups of people, as a church in North Toledo discovered. These stress issues are universal. 


Cause #2


Innovative pastors and leaders have a passion to keep worship and preaching fresh. Many churches still experience civil unrest due to change in worship styles. This issue isn't restricted to the obvious choir vs. band or organ vs. guitars or acoustic guitars vs. electric. Sometimes civil unrest among Christians is tied to issues like the volume of the music, as a church in a north suburb of Omaha recently discovered. There are hundreds of cases of civil unrest over new hymnals, changing dress codes, and the color of the carpet. This civil unrest over internal changes can escalate. A church in Wisconsin reported a division at a meeting about pews or chairs, and a fist fight broke out! Since bad news travels fast, how would you like that legacy for your church in your community?


Cause #3


Sometimes outreach success brings civil unrest among church members. (See the sidebar story about Lloyd, a member of a rural church in northeast Indiana). New people crowd the bathrooms, hallways, parking lot, and Sunday school. That leads to the need for a building campaign. Most everyone is excited about baptisms and full churches. Yet adding space costs money, and not everyone is excited about the capital campaign.


Cause #4


This issue is the opposite of finding room for new people. It is also not as obvious. It is the slow, consistent decline of a church. Empty seats, shrinking budgets, and staff reductions represent a subtle depression, called the "sinking ship syndrome." It is within the DNA of Christianity to win. Jesus calls us to win the world. A church that is not growing is a painful disequilibrium that eats at the heart of the Christian movement. It reflects a dysfunction of the church. Christians know this is not what Christ intended. There is internal civil discontent that simmers in Christians who know at least one church nearby that is rapidly growing. As a church near Portland, Oregon, discovered, this trend brings civil unrest. It fosters a critical atmosphere. People are not at their best, but their worst. (This same church is now thriving, and the context is now more exciting than they could ever have imagined.)


Cause #5


One of the most volatile origins of civil unrest revolves around church staff. Divisions occur when a staff member is perceived by some as ineffective or mismatched. A church in Bakersfield, California, experienced the meltdown of a senior pastor who fell into public misbehavior. Later, his condition was diagnosed as a treatable behavioral disorder, but the event left the church polarized. Sometimes the church staff is dysfunctional as a team. A church in Minneapolis was deeply divided, but no one could figure out the cause. After further diagnosis, they learned that some staff members were not functioning in the area of their strengths and gifts. When visible  staff leaders are "in the wrong seats on the bus" (as Jim Collins, author of Good to Great would say), it causes civil unrest. More often, staff dysfunction occurs when everyone is not on the same page. This is an issue of philosophy of ministry.


Cause #6


A great source of civil unrest today is the major shift in generations. Research by The Barna Group and The Pew Research Center demonstrates that a significant demographic shift has occurred through the mass exodus from churches by young adults. Postmodern young adults are relational, not institutional. They are attracted to team, not hierarchy. Matt, a 20-something who attends a large church west of Detroit, is an example. He is still in the church, but the governance structure and staff's approach drive him nuts. Ironically, Matt's generation, if they could make changes, would increase the effectiveness of most churches significantly. But Matt's generation has no power. Generational unrest may continue to drive young adults away. A recent author and national speaker recently said, "The median age of most churches is 62."


Ironically, in England, young adults in churches experiencing revival are the backbone of the movement. This movement is just beginning in North America, with young adult boot camp training mechanisms, like SEND North America (built on a postmodern structure, yet teaching New Testament mission culture).


Cause #7

Related to this new move of God is a phenomenon that may appear as civil unrest at first blush. However, this discontent is different. It is "holy discontent" or "spiritual restlessness." (See The Future Is Now: How God Is Moving in the 21st Century.) Prior to a revival in the land, there is an awakening in many churches. "Holy discontent" occurs among loyal church members, led by the Holy Spirit. Church leaders can identify those with "holy discontent" and help them grow the outreach of the church. The church becomes effective for God's movement. The "early adopters" begin to influence, relationally, those in their social networks. A church in Wichita, Kansas is being transformed like this. 


If, however,  a church leader ignores those with "holy discontent," they may stir up civil unrest in the church.  Some top-down programs try to superimpose "outreach effectiveness" in churches. Pushing this type of change stimulates division, leading to church blowups. A second possible result is that those with "holy discontent" conclude that their church is road blocking progress, and seek out another church where they can make a difference. Some of the strongest members leave first, in this scenario, and the church becomes weaker than it was before. The tithers, the mission-minded outreach-oriented people − those strongly involved in leadership in the church − are the first to leave.


Civil War in Your Church


When you face tensions and stress, recognize that this is common. Second, focus with objectivity on the cause(s). Identify the issues behind the issues. Third, recognize that discontent and difficulties can lead to positive results. The 1st century Christians at Rome had challenges. The Apostle Paul helped them consider a positive perspective: "We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love." (Romans 5:3-5)


Finally, watch for those experiencing "holy discontent." Guide them to grow spiritually and learn biblically based mission principles. Develop them through a bottom up gentle movement, not a top down, leadership driven programmatic approach. Allow the Holy Spirit to work.


This can happen in your church.


(Contact Church Doctor Ministries for a free DVD, Spiritual Breakthrough, an interview with a pastor whose church is experiencing transformation beyond civil unrest.)




Addington, T.J. "Holy discontent in the church," Leading from the Sandbox (blog) April 2, 2013,

Barthel, Tara K. and David V. Edling. Redeeming Church Conflicts: Turning Crises into Compassion and Care. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012.

Collins, Jim.  Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't. New York: HarperBusiness, 2001.

Frangipane, Francis. A House United: How Christ-Centered Unity Can End Church Division. Ada, MI: Chosen Books, 2006.

Hunter, Kent R. Your Church Has Personality. Corunna, IN: Church Growth Center, 1997.

Hunter, Kent R. The Future Is Now: How God Is Moving in the 21st Century. Corunna, IN: Church Doctor Ministries, 2011.

Hunter, Kent R. "Young Adults Leaving Church," The Church Doctor Report, Vol. 9, No. 3, May/June 2013.

Hybels, Bill. "Holy Discontent." Taken from Accessed 7/30/2013.

Kinnaman, David. You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church ... and Rethinking Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011.

Kutzner, Dennis. "Pioneering Thought: Lincoln's Resolve," Church Doctor Ministries, July 23, 2013.

Schultz, Howard. Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul. Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 2011.

Whitesel, Bob and Kent R. Hunter. A House Divided: Bridging the Generation Gaps in Your Church. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000.

The Pew Research Center, Religious Trends in the U.S., August 19, 2013.