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.

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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3 Things Pastors (and Their Wives) Should Say Publicly More Often

An excellent list to consider:

3 Things Pastors (and Their Wives) Should Say Publicly More Often

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When Friends Talk About Us Behind Our Backs

It is always such a shock to discover friends (real friends!) are talking about us (critically) behind our backs. Sometimes, their motivations really are loving and God-honoring—they are seeking counsel, prayer, and encouragement for how to face a difficult situation. Sometimes, they are just speaking ill of us to others or sharing publicly something we entrusted to them in private.

Whatever the situation, it hurts. It can feel like betrayal and sometimes it is betrayal. There is a reason that James 3 describes the tongue with such strong language as “a world of unrighteousness,” “staining the whole body,” “a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” This is not hyperbole! As anyone who as ever been gossiped about and slandered knows full well.

Thus, I appreciated the reminders in this article by Matt Mitchell from EFCA Now and hope you do too:


Plus, of course, there is nothing like meditating on the most evil acts in all of history—the painful and shameful sufferings of the Son of God during Easter week—to help us to forgive friends who abandon and betray us, attacks we do not deserve, and unjust suffering.

The Perfect Lamb of God knows our sorrow. He is the Suffering Servant! And He knows pain we will never know because He has secured the fait accompli that God the Father will never turn His face away from us. We will never taste death or Hell. And in the face of these glorious truths? Comforted under His wing? We can turn again to our brother or sister with forgiveness and restoration. We can risk again. Maybe be hurt again, sure. But maybe, experience the sweetness of deep friendship and abiding love—a foretaste of Heaven.

May God help us to forgive our friends who hurt us! And May God help them to forgive us too.

For the glory of the Lamb,
Tara B.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well.

Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.

The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.

Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3 ESV)

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Is Church Membership Really Required?

Worth the read!

Is Church Membership Really Required?

So many sections worth meditating on—but especially this one:

You need to know we’re all in this life together, and we won’t walk away from you just because you let us down or we disagree. Together we build each other up into the image of Christ; no one can make it alone. I encourage you to rethink the importance of church membership. Our fellowship may be an affliction, but we are a glorious affliction. And we will walk into glory together.”

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