Is Splitting Up All Bad?

They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord (Acts 15:39-40).

We need partners in ministry: The Great Commission is not a solo mission. Churches, not individuals, are God’s primary instrument for transforming the world. We need brothers and sisters in Christ, but what happens when irreconcilable conflicts occur?

In Acts 15:36, 3 years after the 1st missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas agreed to return to the mission field. They could not agree on whom to take with them. Barnabas wanted to bring John Mark but Paul wanted to leave him behind because he had abandoned them on a previous journey.


Paul and Barnabas Split, Jacob Jordaens

Who was right? Barnabas seems to focus on giving a high potential leader a second chance. Paul’s seems to focus on the demands of the mission. Luke, the author of Acts, doesn’t take sides. He simply reports a sharp disagreement between friends, and the sad dissolution of a 15 year old ministry partnership.

Was it all bad that Paul saw wisdom in one strategy while Barnabas saw wisdom in another, so that two mission agencies were formed? Even today there are agencies with different standards, strategies and beliefs. Some agencies are like Paul’s, and have stringent standards for their candidates because of the rigorous demands of the journey. Some are like Barnabas’s, and are looking for anyone who wants a chance to go. Neither of these are necessarily bad, but different beliefs have given birth to new missional opportunities.  Is this all bad?

Christian ministry in local churches, denominations and missional agencies includes having these types of disagreements. The Bible is interpreted and applied differently to different kinds of situations. Sometimes members of a denomination or local church do not share a philosophy of ministry. Sometimes agreement doesn’t seem possible on this side of eternity.

Rancor, bitterness and resentment in churches, denominations and missional agencies are always bad. What if Paul and Barnabas had continued to fight and eventually postponed the second missionary journey? What if they stuck it out, and lived in constant tension on the mission field?

Let’s not quickly assume that different missional strategies and disagreements over biblical interpretation are all bad. Paul and Barnabas’ ministries continued and multiplied. They maintained friendship and Paul continued to affirm Barnabas’ ministry (1 Cor.9:6; Col.4:10). Even Paul and Mark were later reconciled (2 Tim.4:11). Most importantly, the mission of God continued and expanded.

Church and denominational splits are painful, messy and complicated. Discontinuing ministry with another person hurts, but parting with a blessing means that healthy ministry can continue and even expand. Relationships are strained for a season, but they do not have to end. Staying together and fighting produces pain and power struggles, but very few disciples.


About Corey Sharpe

Where do we get our beliefs? Three theological perspectives have significantly shaped my Christian identity: Evangelicalism, the early Methodist tradition and liberation theology. From my coming to faith in a Baptist church and throughout my education in a Baptist school and college, I was nurtured by convictions that emphasized a spiritual rebirth, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Bible. Even when I disagree with certain aspects of evangelicalism, it has deeply influenced my sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. My seminary studies spawned my interest in early Methodism, particularly its approach to spiritual formation. Its leaders were convinced that only a foundation of doctrine and discipline would lead to a meaningful transformation of the heart and mind. In other words, having the mind of Christ enables me to be more like Christ. Life in a suburban culture obscures the increasing gap between the poor and rich, as well as the Bible’s close identification with the poor. My doctoral work in socio-cultural context exposed me to liberation theology, which helps me see redemptive history as a history of oppressed groups, written from the perspective of the powerless, about a God who is actively involved with the poor in their struggles. I am now the pastor at Huntingtown United Methodist Church in Calvert County, Maryland. Together my wife and I are raising 4 young theologians.
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1 Response to Is Splitting Up All Bad?

  1. Pingback: Is Splitting Up All Bad? - HUNTINGTOWN UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

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