Forgiveness is at the Heart of Every Redemptive Encounter in the Church

In prior posts we have noted the distinctions drawn by the Scriptures between the wisdom of this world and the wisdom that comes down from heaven. James 3:13 through 18 is one place where we see that distinction being drawn:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

There are other places in the Scriptures where God communicates that what passes for wise living in this world nowhere even comes near to what passes for holiness or wisdom from his eternal perspective. Consider, for example, 1 Corinthians 1:20 through 25:

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified; a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

One of the latest examples I came across of the difference between the truth of God’s wisdom and the deception of the wisdom of this world was written about in a Wall Street Journal article titled When Forgiveness Isn’t a Virtue (WSJ, October 30, 2012). In that article, the author does make some observations about forgiveness that are consistent with a biblical worldview:

Remember that you have likely hurt people, too, and reflect on what it felt like to be forgiven. It is best to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. We sometimes judge intent when it wasn’t there. Often people did not intend to hurt you.

It’s important to be empathetic, to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to see why they did whatever they did. Is your spouse under a lot of pressure at work and that is why he or she blew up at you? Try to see your part in the situation.

But the main gist of the article is that forgiveness is best seen and best used as a tool of manipulation in order to get the other person to change:

A psychology professor has been studying the costs versus the benefits of forgiveness. The potential cost of forgiveness is that it doesn’t hold the partner [other person] accountable for the behavior.

Forgiveness always makes people feel good immediately, but the question is what does it do to the person I am forgiving?

Experts believe emotional hurt serves as an evolutionary defense. You feel sadness and fear so you don’t want to go back to the person and get hurt again. Just because you forgive someone doesn’t mean you have to remain in the relationship. It is possible to forgive and leave.

Reading these quotes reminds me of what Ken Sande noted about biblical forgiveness in his book The Peacemaker:

Forgiveness can be extremely costly, but if you believe in Jesus, you have more than enough to make these payments. By going to the cross, he has already paid off the ultimate debt for sin and established an account of abundant grace in your name. As you draw on that grace through faith day by day, you will find that you have all you need to make the payments of forgiveness for those who have wronged you (page 208, The Peacemaker, Third Edition).

God’s wisdom is that we are to be expansive in acts of forgiveness just as he has been expansive in his forgiveness of us. That is the whole point of the parable of the unmerciful servant we find at Matthew 18:21 through 35. The king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants called before him one who owed an unimaginable sum of money. The man couldn’t pay and since he didn’t like the potential consequences (he and his family being sold into slavery) he begged the king for mercy. The king said “OK. Your debt is canceled.” This is truly unbelievable grace!

But then the servant who had been forgiven his huge debt (an amount so unrealistic it would be impossible for any person to amass such a debt) immediately goes out and harshly demands that a fellow servant who owes him a week’s wages pay up…now. Unable to pay, the previously forgiven servant has his fellow servant thrown into debtor’s prison.  The others seeing what has occurred report this action back to the king (the master) who becomes rather indignant that his act of compassion wasn’t likewise followed and confronts the ungrateful man by saying:

I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?

The lesson, God’s wisdom coming down from heaven, is clear is it not? We are to forgive others just as expansively as God has forgiven us our debt for sin, an unimaginable indebtedness that no one could ever pay. What debts are owed you that could ever compare?

It is only unmerited forgiveness that gives any of us the hope of eternal life in Christ. In the same way, only unmerited forgiveness will enable a church to redeem its conflicts and enjoy the fruits of reconciliation. Forgiveness is at the heart of every redemptive encounter in the church. Forgiveness is the “other-centered” act that God bestowed on us so that we might follow in his steps and do the same. Forgiveness may be the most “God-centered” act we will ever undertake, an act intended to fulfill God’s goal of unity in the church rather than any personal goal of fulfillment or trying to teach somebody else a lesson. It is costly activity but you have the expansive account from which you can afford the payments.

For peace among God’s wise people,
-Dave Edling

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When to Leave a Church

A few weeks ago in response to my blog about church membership, member vows, and what might be a valid reason to leave one’s church, a reader wrote that she didn’t think I answered the question. She also expressed her opinion that when church leaders become abusive that a very good reason to leave one’s church exists. So, I thought I should write a bit more about what I believe about a church member feeling that circumstances may establish grounds for leaving one’s church.

First, I believe that this reader is correct in saying I didn’t answer the question, at least not in the way she thought I should. My purpose in writing here at Redeeming Church Conflicts.com is not to provide specific answers to specific questions that a person would then use to make a final personal decision, but rather to help questioners think through for themselves what should be the way of asking the best questions, at the right time, in the best forum, for the right reasons, and with the application of biblical truth driving every aspect of that process. (Please see Tara’s and my “About Us” page and our “Disclaimer” statement on this site.) Not only that, please remember Proverbs 18:17:

The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him. 

In this format we cannot be expected to have all of the information from both sides relevant to any story or comment.

In this instance, our reader’s comment concerning her belief that a valid reason for leaving a church was when church leaders become abusive indicates that she is seeking an answer to confirm or deny that that reason is valid and one based on, in her opinion, biblical principle. She cited Ezekiel 34 as an example of unfaithful shepherds and how that provided her argument that that reason was a valid one for leaving one’s church. But, in my opinion, there are so many other better questions that should, and must, be explored first before closing the door on this important issue.

Let me rephrase what seems to be our reader’s core question: “Is it biblically valid to break one’s church membership vows and leave the church when church leaders become abusive?” This question can be further subdivided into:

  1. When is it biblically valid to break one’s church membership vows and leave the church?” and
  2. When can a church leader’s behavior be labeled “abusive?”

The second question may be one way to a potential reason or answer to the first so I am not going to go into the many potential forms of pastoral abuse here since the list would be very long (such as breach of a church member’s confidentiality, sexual abuse, counseling abuse, greed, failure to shepherd, intentional lying to protect self, not preaching the Gospel, etc., etc.). Those may all be valid reasons to label a leader’s behavior as “abusive,” but they may not all be valid reasons to leave one’s church. So, the first of our subdivided question becomes the key one on which to focus.

Breaking a vow, any vow, is a very serious matter. Breaking a vow of church membership is one of the most serious because it was one made as a promise to both God and God’s under-shepherds, and the people who inhabit the pews with you. Vows should never be taken lightly. My first question back to our reader may be something like:

“When you became a member of your church did you know everything you possibly could about how the leaders of the church would undertake their shepherding responsibilities toward you and others?”

I believe too many people make decisions too quickly about joining a particular church before knowing everything they can about it. That is why “potential new member’s classes” are so important. But, it also takes some time to see if what was taught in such a class is what is actually practiced in the church. A rash vow can be a dangerous thing (see the account of Jephthah and his daughter in Judges, chapter 11).

Because a church membership vow is so important it is also wise to think through, “what is the nature of this vow really?” That is:

  • Is it a unilateral vow where all responsibility for fulfillment is solely mine or is this a reciprocal situation where the church is also making a vow to me?
  • If the church breaks its vow to me am I free to break my vow in return?
  • What about my responsibility to quietly use my position as a member to seek to correct the breach?
  • If a church leader is not living up to his responsibility should I not seek to help this leader see that and change? (This is an aspect of accountability that many church members don’t embrace when things aren’t going as they should in the church based on a biblical standard and from a biblical perspective.)
  • What about those who have spiritual authority over church leaders? Can they hear your concerns and appropriately be brought into the situation so that errant leaders can have the benefit of correction? If you have joined a church where there is no meaningful accountability for leader behavior and practice you have likely not fulfilled your responsibility to take a vow wisely. Every church leader needs the benefit of being under meaningful accountability. That is a question of “polity” (church governance structure) and should be one of the most important subjects taught in a potential new member’s class and completely understood before a church membership vow is taken.

The question we are focusing on is a very difficult one to find a completely satisfactory answer to because God took his own vow one day long past that stands as a model for us of the severity of vow-taking. You can read about it in Genesis, chapter 15. Because God can make a binding promise on nothing higher than himself this vow is called a self-maledictory oath (it includes the punishment as part of the vow if broken). The best discussion of this vow that demonstrates how seriously God took his own vow is in Tim Lane’s and Paul Tripp’s book How People Change at pages 68 and 69:

What is going on in this strange encounter? Abram is struggling to believe God, so God helps him. He tells him to cut some animals in half. That night, a smoking firepot and a blazing torch pass between the animal halves. God was saying, “If I do not keep my promise to you, may what happened to these animals happen to me!” This is called a self-maledictory oath. God is saying, “If I don’t keep my end of the bargain, may I be ripped asunder!” Over two thousand years later, God the Son hung on a cross, crying out, “My God! My God! Why have we been ripped asunder?” God allowed what should have happened to us to happen to Jesus. We were the ones who failed, yet the triune God was torn asunder so that we might be united to him and to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. The perfect love, unity, and joy that existed between the Father, Son, and Spirit were demolished, for a time, for our sake.

This is the ground on which we build all relationships. Every time you are tempted to shun another believer [be that a church leader, pastor, or fellow member],remember that the Father, Son, and Spirit were torn asunder so that you might be united. When you sin or are sinned against, you are to move toward your sibling in Christ aware that Father, Son, and Spirit were torn asunder so that you might be reconciled! If we approached relationships in the body of Christ with that in view, it would transform our friendships. In Ephesians 4, Paul says that to the degree you do this, you will be “built up,” “become mature,” “ attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ,” and “grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”

I hope that all of our readers have a better understanding of vow-taking and vow-keeping in the church when they reflect on Genesis 15 and the words above.  To the reader who asked the direction question weeks ago:

Yes, leaders may be abusive and you should leave if that is true and you have no avenue open to you for holding them accountable for their abuse, but first take responsibility for the fact the fault may have been yours for taking the church membership vow in the first place. Did you agree to be in submission to these leaders without knowledge? Did you know if they were men under meaningful ecclesiastical accountability? If not, acknowledge your sin for taking a vow perhaps a bit too rashly. Humbly acknowledge that the fault was yours and try your best not to fall into the same situation the next time you join a church.

-Dave Edling

(This post was originally published in 2011.)

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What should we do when our church’s leadership is boldly rewarding and promoting their own “inner circle”?

Q: We have all heard of “cliques” in the church, but what should one do when it becomes obvious that the church’s leadership culture boldly rewards, acknowledges, and promotes their own elite “inner circle?” This is occurring while at the same time others are being ignored, neglected, or avoided.

A: First, we start with biblical truth! God’s propositional truth regarding any form of “favoritism” is discussed extensively in the Scriptures. God does not show favoritism (see Acts 10:34-35; and Romans 2:11), and we are equally commanded to not show favoritism (see Ephesians 6:9-10; Colossians 3:25; and 1 Timothy 5:21). The specific portion of Gods’ Word that most clearly demonstrates that there shall be no favoritism in the church, however, is James 2:1-10. Anyone practicing favoritism is spoken of there as a “lawbreaker”: “But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers (verse 9).

Second, knowing with certainty that any practice of favoritism in the church and among Christians is forbidden as sin now brings to the forefront your question, but stated in a slightly different way:

“What should one do when they see a sinful practice occurring in the church and it is the leaders of the church that seem to be caught in that practice?”

Do you see how starting with God’s standard for faith and practice lays the foundation for asking the next best question that will most accurately help you make decisions and focus your next steps? That is a critical step when seeking to use the Scriptures as a guide. But even here we have to be careful. Look carefully at how I have restated your question; it is a compound question that contains a presupposition. The next thing we should do is break the question down into its parts and then strip out any presuppositions.

The first question would then seem to be:

“What should one do when they see a sinful practice occurring in the church?”

The next question may be stated as follows:

“What should one when do when they see a church leader apparently caught in sin?”

I use the word “caught” here as it is used in Galatians 6:1 where it does not simply mean that an act of sin has been discovered. Rather, the meaning there is that the victim of sin has been overtaken by surprise and is in need of mending (restoring, rescuing).

I believe you know the answers to both of those questions as now stated. Every person needs the benefit of accountability, even pastors and other leaders. Paul, writing to the Corinthians says,

“Don’t you know that a little yeast [sin] works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast – as you really are (1 Cor. 5:6-7).”

“Sin in the church is to be dealt with; it is to be expelled so that the sacrifice of Christ, our Passover lamb, may be celebrated not with the old yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast [without sin], the bread of sincerity and truth (1 Cor. 5:7-8).”

Leaders are not exempt from being taken captive by sin. Read again Ezekiel chapter 34. God holds those who would be shepherds accountable for their ministries. Hebrews 13:17 says that such men “must give an account.” There are also some very important words at 1 Peter 2:13-17 that would be helpful in breaking the cycle of abuse you have described.

Be a rescuing servant to your leaders and let them know of your concerns and why you believe their practices have brought sin into the place where there is to be no yeast.

- Dave Edling

(Originally posted on August 17, 2011 by David V. Edling.)

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Embracing Church Conflict: The Implications of Doctrine

Tara and I recently had the joy of serving at the 2014 Peacemaker Conference on the topic of “Embracing Church Conflict: The Implications of Doctrine.” I prepared a handout with several attachments for our two-hour long workshop. In many ways, this document is “the rest of the story”–i.e., things I wish that Tara and I had included in the first printing of our book, Redeeming Church Conflicts, for Baker.

Thanks to the generous permission of Peacemaker Ministries, we can share that handout with you on this site:

Embracing Church Conflict – The Implications of Doctrine

For the glory of the Lamb,
Dave Edling

Posted in Biblical peacemaking in the church, Change in the Church, Excerpts from "Redeeming Church Conflicts", Strengthening the Church, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Battered Pastors with Weary Souls

Although I still think my pastor (Rev. Dr. Alfred Poirier) wrote the best opening lines for a book on this topic (and my overall favorite go-to book on this topic as well):

“I did not plan to be a heretic. It just happened. I woke one day to find in the mirror a pastor with a tired face and a weary soul. I had entered the pastorate eager to walk in the footsteps of the pastorate and practice what the ancient church called the care of souls (cura animarum). But I woke that day frightened to find that I did not care anymore. I was tired of the conflicts, the sin, the gossip, the threats, the divisions, and the dissensions. You know what they look like … ” The Peacemaking Pastor

I was blessed and edified by this blog series by Todd Pruitt and I wanted to be sure to let you know about it:

Battered Pastors (Part 1 of 5)

Oh oh oh … how deeply I desire that we sheep would learn to protect and guard our leaders so that such resources would never be needed.

Posted in Conflicts involving church leaders, Conflicts with our youth pastor, HOPE in the midst of conflict, RedeemingLINKS | Leave a comment

It is naive to deny that professing Christians are quite capable of gossip, innuendo, spin and outright lies when engaged in conflict …

Many thanks to our friend, Dr. Tim Lane (formerly of Westminster/CCEF, currently serving as President of the Institute for Pastoral Care) for his insights and endorsements of Redeeming Church Conflicts:

Redeeming Group Conflicts

I particularly appreciated this note:

“It goes without saying that Christians are quite capable of gossip, innuendo, spin and outright lies when engaged in conflict. To deny that professing Christians are capable of this is naive. When you combine group conflict with perceived hurt, character scrutiny or doctrinal rectitude, the terrain can be challenging to navigate …”

Amen, brother. And thanks again!

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How to Fire Your Pastor

Since we may be receiving a few visit from friends of our mutual friend, Dr. Tim Lane, tomorrow, I thought I would link to what has ended up being our most popular blog series on this site: How to Fire Your Pastor.

We wrote this series in three parts and it is, by far, the phrase that brings the most readers to this site other than searches for the actual title of our book:

I hope these links are helpful to you. And even more so, I pray that every person who is searching for biblical, Christ-centered counsel on this (important!) topic, will be encouraged in their love for God and neighbor—including our close neighbors, our pastor-overseers; especially those who may currently be at great risk of being removed from their ministry positions or for those among us who may be deeply hurt after having been removed from their ministry positions.

With prayers, love, and deep appreciation for our church leaders—

Your sister in Christ,
Tara B.

PS
This is such a sensitive and oft’ painful topic, that I feel compelled to include verbatim the caveat Dave wrote in Part 3 of the series:

“A blog entry can only be so long! And the focus of Tara’s and my book, Redeeming Church Conflicts, is the painful division engendered by the reality of conflict in the church. Thus, we hope that you will read all three of these blogs from a perspective of grace and “wisdom from Heaven” which we know from James 3 is “pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit.” Seeking wisdom is particularly important today, as my personal observations and convictions about this topic will undoubtedly bring up many questions and ideas that I can’t possibly try to address. There are simply too many variables present when a pastor is let go from a church. To paraphrase our own words in Redeeming Church Conflicts by applying them to this blog series (rather than to our book) …

‘Church conflict is complex. The various causes of church conflict, the personalities involved, the church’s polity, and the level of spiritual maturity among leaders and members will raise questions that no [blog series] could possibly address with specificity. Therefore, be careful and pray as you seek counsel from other church leaders and members about the application of [these posts] and various scriptural passages to your church’s specific situation.

By seeking counsel from wise and spiritually mature Christians, all of us will hopefully avoid using any part of [this series] as a weapon to hurt others or to fulfill any sinful goals we might have. Plenty of biblical peacemaking principles have been taken out of context and forced on others in loveless and selfish ways. We pray this will never be the case with [these blog posts]. Instead, we pray that our efforts in [these blogs] will encourage and guide Christians and their churches in redemptive responses to conflicts—responses that are based on the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Theologian Dr. Dennis E. Johnson captures the heart of our concern when he writes: “In Scripture the starting point of instruction on right behavior is not a list of our duties, but a declaration of God’s saving achievement, bringing us into a relationship of favor with him.’”

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“It was like being in Hell with instructions!”

Recently, I read a passage from a book I that fits in my category of “relaxation / pastime” pleasures, a luxury I have afforded myself in my retirement years. The book is A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols (HarperCollins Publishers, 2001) which is about the 1968-1969 non-stop circumnavigation of the world sailing race by nine solo yachtsmen.

The book’s sub-title is: Nine men set out to race each other around the world. Only one returned.

The opening chapters of the book go into some detail about each of the nine participants. One, a rugged British paratrooper by the name of Chay Blyth, had never sailed in his entire life. Here was a man of adventure who had rowed across the Atlantic several years earlier but had not one clue about sailing. He was in this race, in his own words, for survival adventure:

“Out here it’s all black and white, survival. I’m not particularly fond of the sea, it’s just a question of survival.” (page 49)

My brother and I used to have a vision of one day sailing from Bellingham, Washington to Bora Bora. He is a commercial fisherman and boat-builder and I am retired from the Coast Guard with both Navy and Coast Guard deep water sailing experience. I was once even the navigator of a U.S. Navy ship. We thought this would be a fitting adventure for our mid-60’s until both of our wives heard the plan. Now, we are not going and my brother sold his boat. Oh well! At least I get to live the vicarious life of reading about others who have taken to the high seas. I have to admit that differing from Chay, I was not out for merely the survival aspect of such a voyage…I expected to survive and have some serious fun along the way.

Chay’s race did not begin well. Three weeks into his passage he sailed into a gale and discovered he had no idea how to meet the challenge. He was helpless in a vessel he was quickly discovering had poor design qualities for such weather. As the boat became unmanageable and began to broach before the huge seas and high winds, he wrote the following words (which were also my inspiration for this week’s RCC blog entry):

“So I lowered the sails…and once I had lowered them there was nothing more I could do except pray. So I prayed. And between times I turned to one of my sailing manuals to see what advice it contained for me. It was like being in hell with instructions.” (page 50)

As co-author of a book on dealing with the crisis of church conflicts, I was immediately struck with the thought:

How many pastors feel exactly like Chay when the gale waters of conflict hit their church? Yes, they pray. And then they turn to the many “manuals” to see what advice they may contain…but how often do they feel that they are “in hell with instructions”?

Unlike Chay’s knowledge of sailing, most pastors know a lot about how to lead a church. But that leadership is usually under conditions of calm seas and gentle following winds. When the storm hits, however, the climate changes and “all hell breaks loose” (to use an old nautical and other adventurous term).  As I read A Voyage for Madmen, I began to wonder:

“Have Tara and I just written another “manual” that offers little real advice in the storm of church conflict? If prayer is not sufficient what is?”

Having worked with a significant number of conflicted churches, we know that church conflict can feel very much like a foretaste and glimmer of “Hell” … so the analogy is apropos.

Of course, Chay’s problem was that he didn’t learn how to sail through rough and stormy waters before he left port on such an adventurous undertaking. That should never be the case in the church as regards conflict. Pastors, other leaders, and every church member have time to prepare for the looming storm of church conflict. In Redeeming Church Conflicts we warn readers to prepare before the high winds of conflict begin to swamp the hallowed halls (and every relationship is at risk of being washed overboard). Don’t wait to read the “manual” until the turbulent times are sinking your ship…read and prepare now! Don’t be like Chay!

As of my reading this morning, I don’t know yet how Chay fares in the race he has entered. I will finish this book and discover the ending in a couple of days. But I do know that if you, as a pastor, church leader, or church member, don’t prepare for the voyage of church conflict before it strikes the bow, stern or amidships of your church, you will broach. Therefore, you must enter the race prepared!

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” 1 Corinthians 9: 24-25

For the glory of His everlasting crown,
-Dave Edling

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What Rules Govern Your Interactions with Others (Especially in Your Church Conflict)?

In the October 16, 2012, Wall Street Journal there was an article titled Big Explosions, Small Reasons.  The article reports recent research on “Why Social Rule Breakers Spark Angry Outbursts.”  I have written previously on this site about how secular research in the behavioral sciences can contribute significantly to our understanding of one another if we remember that any findings must be set within a context that accounts for God. Our Creator made a universe filled with creatures of both complexity and order. Because of that amazing order secular researchers can make faithful observations; what they typically don’t do is set such observations in the larger perspective that recognizes God’s sovereignty and creative orderliness: the bigger picture.

After recounting several stories of sad but common interactions of conflict with strangers over relatively minor matters (the delivery of a wrong restaurant meal order, being cut-off in traffic, an annoying noise emanating from a fellow bus passenger’s I-phone, etc.),  the article asks,

“Why do adults throw tantrums over seemingly trivial provocations?”

The answer given:

“Their findings suggest we are reacting to a perceived violation of an unwritten yet fundamental rule. It’s the old, childhood wail: ‘It’s not fair!’”

Breaking “social exchange rules” (unwritten laws of behavior), one researcher explains, leads to major social consequences:

“We can’t have successful interactions in relationships, mutually beneficial to both people involved, if one person violates these rules. And we can’t have a beneficial society if we can’t trust each other not to lie, not to be unethical, not to watch out for our general well-being.”

“There must be something critically important about unwritten social rules if we feel so deeply violated that we need to let the world know when someone breaks one.”

Then comes the most insightful comment that summarizes why this occurs. It is not the specific, frequently trivial incident itself that leads to the angry outburst:

“It’s that you are doing something that makes me not trust you, that you may harm or disadvantage me because you are not playing by the rules.”

As a Christian, what are the rules that govern your interactions with others–especially your interactions in your church conflict? Merely the unwritten rules of general “fairness?” Or should there be something else in your life as a believer in Christ that mediates your behavior when you feel someone hasn’t “played by the rules?” I am sad to say that in most cases of church conflict that I have observed that what is at work is nothing different from what these secular researchers report. That means that people who have been called out of the world to be part of a holy kingdom have usually been unintentional about their behavior. They react no differently than other human creatures and that is not the plan God reveals:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” 1 Peter 2:9-12

This passage is our call to be intentionally different. How is your church doing to make sure that this message is part of the life you share together in the church? If we are not intentional about the commitments of our faith then what is the point? Even common wisdom from secular research reveals the obvious truth that we feel bad about ourselves when we lose our temper:

“The feelings that linger after an angry outburst usually make the person who exploded feel worse.”

If your goal is to simply not feel so bad about yourself following your behavior the researchers have some good coping tips for you:

  • Picture a scenario that is likely to trigger your anger, and imagine a calm response. Think about the consequences of your anger. Anger can make you feel bad.
  • Ask your spouse or significant other to help you calm down in the heat of the moment. Create a password—a hand on your arm, a funny look—that will diffuse your tension, not escalate it.
  • Empathize. Remember a time when you inconvenienced someone. What’s wrong with being nice?
  • Talk yourself down in the heat of the moment. Tell yourself a coping statement, like “It’s not the end of the world.” It’s important to decatastrophize the incident.
  • Don’t react to rude or inconsiderate behavior. If someone cuts in front of you at the grocery it’s not about you.

But, if your goal is to represent the King of Kings as his new creature, then you are called to go beyond those surface-level, behavioral changes and live in line with the new heart you have been given as a forgiven, adopted, child of God.  As you intentionally remember your Lord, your identity in Him, the brevity of this life, and your future home with your eternal family in Heaven to come, your interactions with others will change at a heart-level. You will glorify God through your unity:

“For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Romans 15:3-6

For the glory of God’s intentional church,
-Dave Edling

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Destroy a Church in Four Simple Steps

Well said, Challies.com!

Destroy a Church in Four Simple Steps

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