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Division... How Do We Pastor Through It?

Join Matt Steen and Joel Rainey on a conversational journey exploring how to pastor through division.

A Chemistry Conversation with Joel Rainey


Join Matt Steen, co-founder of Chemistry Staffing, and Joel Rainey, pastor and author, on a conversational journey exploring how to pastor through division.


Watch the conversation or view the transcript.



Joel O. Rainey, Ph.D. is a pastor, missionary, and mobilizer of churches to accomplish God's global mission. He has been involved in planting more than 100 new churches in North America, has trained pastors and church planters nationally, and internationally, and has intercultural experience on five continents. Visit Joel's Amazon Author Page

We'd love to hear your strategies for addressing this with your congregation (just email us at news@chemistrystaffing.com). As always, we are here for you, and we're praying for churches and teams all over the United States!




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Read the Full Transcript

Matt Steen: Well hey, I'm Matt Steen, Co-Founder of Chemistry Staffing. This is another Chemistry conversation. So today, really excited to have Joel Rainey on with me. Joel Rainey is the lead pastor of Covenant Church in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. He's also authored three different books and is an adjunct in Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Joel, thanks for being with us.

Joel Rainey: Great to be with you, Matt.

Matt Steen: So here's how these conversations have been going. We're just going to talk a little bit about what's been going on today and how we adapt to it. So here's the question that's really been kind of eating at me and keeping me up at night. And Joel, my hope is that you have the answer, so no pressure on that. But we came into a season starting mid-February where we've got COVID taking over all the news media and all that kind of stuff. And so now we're at a point - and we were already kind of at each other's throats as a society at that point anyhow. We were kind of divided. Now we've got arguments about masks or no masks, should we open church or should we not open church. Add to that all the racial tension that's happen since the George Floyd killing. And just for a cherry on top to 2020 if it wasn't hard enough already, we're about to enter into a presidential election season, which should be just absolutely delightful. So here's my question. How do you walk this balance with a congregation of all different beliefs, not spiritually but politically and all that. How do you manage that tension? How do you pastor a divided congregation in a way that people aren't at each other's throats all the time and we can still get done the work of the church?

Joel Rainey: Well first off, you forgot the murder hornets. I'm not sure what happened to them. That might actually be better than whatever happens in November.

Matt Steen: Yeah, no kidding. I'll take a batch of those.

Joel Rainey: Yeah, yeah. I think the answer to that question is we're all still kind of learning that, Matt. And so part of the reason for that might be, we've had a propensity for a long time in western evangelicalism where we have the privilege of things like religious liberty and prosperity and air-conditioned buildings, all kinds of things that you and I know because we've been to the Third World that our brothers and sisters don't have. And there's no reason for us to feel guilty for that except that maybe those things can divert our attention maybe to other issues that are less important. So before the world fell apart, for example, in February we had experienced a 21% jump in attendance here. See an uptick in our baptisms. Which you know my heart, I'm all about coming to know Christ as Lord and Savior. My executive pastor and I, literally the week before we had to shut everything down, were talking about how to capitalized on this and how to keep this snowball rolling. And I don't want to make light of COVID-19. It's killed a lot of people. It's made a lot of my own folks sick. And it's cost us economically and in other ways. I wouldn't want anybody to think what I'm about to say is some cavalier statement about what God's doing. I don't know the mind of God in this. But at least in a very, very, very small slice of what he was doing to us through this was just kind of thumping us off of our little throne. And saying maybe the things that you're focusing no right now are not the really important things because does it really matter how big you are if you can't really push through and disciple your people so they're having different kinds of conversations than the one that our culture has that produce the kind of division that you're talking about. And so, I think I'm still learning what that looks like. I would tell you - and I think it just depends on what it is - in the first place I would say, to pastors especially, don't forget to teach your people about God's revelation of himself generally as well as specifically. If we're evangelical, then that means that we believe Jesus is God made into flesh, second person in the trinity, substitutionary death, bodily resurrection. We also believe that scriptures are the inspired word of God. Those are not the only ways God speaks. He speaks through the natural order, and he speaks through human conscience. We know that because the bible that we say we believe tells us that. And so when it comes to the science of all of this, let's trust in some people. I think one of the reasons we've been able to navigate this pretty well on the COVID front at Covenant is because I have a team of professionals - medical professionals - doctors, nurses, and the like who know way more than I do about this. I was sharing this on another call couple of weeks ago. You know, 150 years ago, the guy in my position was likely, particularly in a community like ours that's still rather pastoral and rural, the guy in my role was the smartest guy in, not just the church, in the town. They came to their pastor for everything, and I just thank God that that's not true anymore because I would not know what to do without these men and women. And so I would say trust in what they're telling you to do. Doesn’t' mean that the doctors become the pastors. That's not what it means. But it does mean if you're a teachable pastor who loves your congregation - and if you're opening back up by the way, I think you should seriously consider to do it on the one hand. Because I don't take those commands about gathering lightly, nor do I take them metaphorically. The idea of physically being together. But you're going to have to do it differently. We've had to do it differently in a way that's made us rather uncomfortable. So we're learning really in some ways what it means to be the church in the midst of all this. For a pastor, the other extreme is, don't be cavalier about this. And I told a guy the other day - this is going to sound pretty stark, Matt, but I said, "If you want to know if you're mitigating efficiently, I'm going to ask you two things. Number one, have you envisioned the national guard in your church helping you clean and mitigate while the rest of the community wonders what in the world are those people doing over there. Have you envisioned the risk of your church becoming a liability rather than a blessing to your community? And even more importantly, have you envisioned people that you love that call you pastor on ventilators and ICUs, multiple families at graveside services? When you have done that, don't let it scare you to the point that you're afraid to move, but do let the reality of that sink in because this threat is very real and it's only at that point that you'll be ready to sufficiently mitigate and bring your people back. So that's on the COVID front. On the political front... where do you want to go from here? I don't know.

Matt Steen: I want to circle back to something you said, and I want to kind of get a sense of how you're walking with your crowd through this. But you said, so bringing about different kinds of conversations than maybe what we're seeing on cable news or Facebook. How are you - especially now, we're neck deep in this now - but how are you guiding your congregation to begin at least having some of those early stage different kinds of conversations, and what do they look like?

Joel Rainey: Right. Well first of all, I don't want to discourage anyone, but you really needed to have had these conversations way before now. Because if you've been passive as a pastor and just let your people wander wherever they want to go with this regard or if, even worse, if you've become the kind of pastor that takes a side to the point where you're one of these voter God distributing, "This is God's man," "Nobody can be a Christian and vote for that guy." You've already become the very thing that we don't need any more of if I can just be frank. Yeah. Was I too blunt? I'm sorry.

Matt Steen: Hey, as long as hate mail goes to you.

Joel Rainey: It's fine, I get that too. To bring them together, have the conversations beforehand. And understand that the body - Jesus prayed for unity among his body, and he prayed for the same sort of unity in John 17 that exists within the members of the trinity. So if you're having the conversation, I'm not saying you can't have republicans and democrats and greens and libertarians in your church because we do, but if when they converse with one another it sounds a lot like the world, then we have not yet achieved that kind of unity and we need to learn how to do that. Unity is not uniformity. It's not that we're always going to agree with each other, but learn. And especially when it comes to something like the race conversation that we've had. Even here in West Virginia, we have a sizable African American community that's part of our church family, and we also have a lot of law enforcement. So while the talking heads are doing their thing on CNN and Fox and people around the world are tuning into their favorite poison to get their daily dose of confirmation bias, most pastors I would suspect are kind of like me. You're dealing with this. You're dealing with African American families that are not out looting, tearing stuff up, but they're hurting. And it's yet one more time that they've seen someone who looks like them unjustly murdered - and that's the only word to use for this - by someone in authority, and then they're lectured and told to trust the system. And that night, I get phone calls from the spouses of police officers at various levels, state and federal, who have said my husband/my wife has been deployed to guard this area or that area and it's a hot spot where some riots have been right around D.C. And so you're praying for that individual, number one, that God would keep them safe and, number two, God forbid they have an altercation and now here's the spotlight. And all that does is just ratchet it up. So I would say, you've got to do a lot of listening. But you have to preempt that listening with an emphasis toward unity. What I said to our people on Sunday was this. I'm not a Black man, so I don't know what it's like to live with what our African American brothers and sisters have lived with for way too long. And it's got to stop, but we can't get on the merry go round where we go, okay, a cop does something, there's a lawless reaction to that, and then we start choosing sides about who was worse, as if it's both not wicked. And then we get on the same bandwagon and there's a few pat sermons about how we all just need to get along. Nothing even distinctly Christian. Nothing Rodney King himself couldn't have preached. And then we're back on the merry go round again in six months, a year. If we want to stop that, we have to do a lot of listening. So I don't know what it's like to be an African American man. I also don't know what it's like to put on a badge and strap on a gun. And I certainly don't know what it's like to do that in this environment where now I have to go out. I just had one of our law enforcements in this office yesterday and I'm listening. The other thing I would say as a pastor is in the midst of that, you're going to listen to a lot of things you disagree with, some quite strongly. And you just need to button it and keep listening because you cannot correct or pastor, shepherd effectively sheep that don't think you listen to them. We've got to do a lot of listening at this point. And then what I said to our congregation is don't ask me to choose between blood bought members of my own church family because I'm not going to do it. I'm just not. We're not going to divide blue and black. We're not going to do that. Now the other thing is don't... unity is not uniformity. Unity is not monochromatic. Unity is not, "I don't see color." That actually as well, it ignores and thus enables some of the very real issues that we've got to get to. But those are some ways that I would say to pastors, you really needed to have started these conversations way before hand, and you need to do a lot of listening, and when you speak, speak about the unity that Jesus talked about. But you got to push into that. That's a lot easier said than done.

Matt Steen: Yeah. You've got to be willing to, you know the Patrick Lencioni phrase of "entering the danger." Right? You've got to be willing to actually go there and have the hard conversation and not just stop at, "Hey, let's all be united." But actually call the issues the issues and walk through that. Joel, that's really helpful. And not easy, so I'm sure there's a lot of people that are watching that. Thank you for making our jobs that much more difficult.

Joel Rainey: Good news is I didn't do it. I didn't make it more difficulty. It's called being a pastor. You don't sell ice cream for a living, dude.

Matt Steen: There's days, and typically Monday, that most of us are thinking hey that would be a good gig.

Joel Rainey: And for those of us that are in that role already, Monday's the day when most of us want to quit. So that's interesting isn't it?

Matt Steen: Absolutely, absolutely. Well Joel, thank you for your time today. Really appreciate your thoughts. Really appreciate you sharing some of your wisdom with us. Any last words that you want to pass along to anybody that might be watching this?

Joel Rainey: Matt Steen is a wonderful, steely-eyed missile man, but you can't hire him because I've tried multiple times.

Matt Steen: Outstanding. We will definitely end with that. Thanks Joel, appreciate the time.

Joel Rainey: Thank you, brother. God bless you.

Matt Steen

Matt Steen

Matt has served the local church for over two decades as a youth pastor, church planter, and executive pastor. Originally from Baltimore, Matt currently lives in Orlando, with his wife Theresa, and has a B.S. in Youth Ministry from Nyack College and an M.Div. and MBA from Baylor University. Certified as an Urban Church Planter Coach by Redeemer City to City and as a StratOp facilitator by the Paterson Center, Matt has made a career of helping churches thrive through intentionality, clarity, and creating healthy cultures. He is convinced that a healthy church is led by a healthy team with great chemistry, and loves partnering with Chemistry’s churches to do great things for the Kingdom.

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