Are Your Church Relationships Otiose? (Vain. Ineffective. Of no use.)


Q. How can church-going Christians truly build the “ties that bind” and cultivate “the unity of the Spirit through the bonds of peace?” through intimate, safe, authentic relationships that will persevere through conflict?

A. “Where a people prays, there is the church; and where the church is; there is never loneliness.” … “It’s much easier for me to imagine a praying murderer, a praying prostitute, than a vain person praying. Nothing is so at odds with prayer as vanity.”

These statements begin chapter 5 of the wonderful book I am presently reading: Eric Metaxas’ biography Bonhoeffer. They are taken from a journal entry that the 22 year-old German theologian, Bonhoeffer, wrote over eighty years ago. Yet, they provide a fit starting point for a reply to today’s question because they challenge us to think careful about two words: church and vanity.

Have you ever felt alone in the church because you know your relationships there are in vain?

Vanity denotes emptiness. Futility. Ineffectiveness. To be in vain is to be of no value. Trivial. Insignificant. Superfluous. One of the synonyms for vanity (“otiose”) actually suggests that when something is vain, it serves no purpose and is even an encumbrance.

How often are your relationships in the church empty, hollow, lacking in real substance or soundness? Do your church relationships ever feel like an (encumbering) burden?

Many Christians have told me that they had absolutely no hesitation leaving their churches when conflicts arose because they had no significant or meaningful ties to their churches. Prayer was superficial or absent. Most relationships were hassles rather than comforts. Worldly worth and achievement were valued more than bearing with fellow sinners who were broken in contrition. All of these descriptors are evidences of vanity in the church—and sadly, they all too often perfectly portray what we Christians mistakenly call fellowship.

So how do we overcome vanity in the church so that we can build and enjoy genuine relationships in Christ? How do we begin to pray as people full of righteousness and not self-righteousness? We turn again in faith and obedience to God’s Word:

Jesus said, “For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13b).

Paul wrote quoting the Old Testament, “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10).

In the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14), our Lord makes it very clear that the one who prays in humbleness will be justified before God.

Vanity will be overcome by humility and real relationships will be built in the church when God’s people abandon all self-righteousness and fully embrace our only true righteousness—the righteousness of Christ. Consider some practical ways that we can do this:

  • First, we truly believe God’s Word that everyone is a mess. I am not OK and neither are you. I must believe that I sin because by nature I am a sinner. You, too, must believe the same about yourself and about me and everyone else you know.
  • Second, we embrace the truth that all of our worldly accomplishments are worth nothing in God’s church. They are only vanity: empty, valueless, nugatory, otiose …
  • Third, together, we practice prayer that demonstrates humble dependence on God and not on our effort, wealth, or worldly standing. This is prayer that will be used by God to overcome our loneliness and knit us together in genuine love and friendship.
  • And fourth (and preachers please hear this clearly), we encourage (dare I say demand?), preaching that takes the Gospel to the specific challenges we messy people face every day.

To quote Paul Tripp and Tim Lane:

“People need to see that the gospel belongs in their workplace, their kitchen, their school, their bedroom, their backyard, and their van. They need to see the way the gospel makes a connection between what they are doing and what God is doing. They need to understand that their life stories are being lived out within God’s larger story so that they can learn to live each day with a gospel mentality.” How People Change

We build and cultivate real relationships in the body of Christ when we live every moment with a Gospel mentality that directs our prayers and our desires to value Christ (and what He values) above all else. Of course, this is also how the people in a conflicted church will redeem their conflicts for God’s glory by persevering against the temptation to merely flee. They will stay because they know that to do otherwise would be to abandon their beloved friends.

-Dave Edling and Tara Barthel

Tara here … Just wanted to add a note that I’m the reason “otiose” is in the title. I love learning new words! And I thought some of our verbivore friends might enjoy it too.

Posted in Authentic Relationships in the Church, Biblical peacemaking in the church, Disappointment in the church, HOPE in the midst of conflict

There are people in the church who have been in the church so long they have forgotten they are hypocrites.


Tara often does Q&A’s at her events and one question she hears a lot is: How can I help a person see and confess their sin that has become a barrier to our relationship?

In a previous blog, I responded to one aspect of that question: the problem of spiritual blindness. But that is only part of the response that should be considered. Unrecognized sin that has become a barrier to a person’s relationships in the church is a major contributor to wider church conflicts. While spiritual blindness does trap a Christian into thinking they have no sin that needs to be faced, there are other factors that we should consider.

On Tara’s personal blog, she recently posted a link to a CCEF podcast entitled “How Can We Lovingly Help a Friend to Face His Sins?” The core of that excellent message focuses on the best methodological way to answer that recurring question. Dr. David Powlison (one of my all-time champions in the world of biblical counseling) says all the right things:

  • “Confront sin in the context of mercy.”
  • “If someone genuinely knows I care for them I can speak truth to them.”
  • [It is quite appropriate to say to a sin-captured friend … ] “In what you believe and how you are living you are destroying yourself.”

As always, Dr. Powlison’s counsel is based in Scripture. “Speak the truth in love” is the message of Ephesians 4:15, 4:25, and 4:29. And 2 Timothy 2:24-26 encourages us to love people by demonstrating mercy and care even as we confront them with the sin that has taken them captive. I find it reassuring to know from the counsel of one of the church’s most godly and respected biblical counselors that the loving thing to do is to bring to a sin-captured friend the truth of sin’s effect on their life and in relationships. The podcast interview concludes with the observation that even if the person continues on their path of destructive sin they will remember your mercy and care. Ultimately, God will use the way you spoke to your friend at some point to change that person.

I agree with everything said in this podcast interview. And I obviously believe that spiritual blindness is a major cause of Christians being unable to face their sin because they simply don’t presently perceive or believe their words or actions are sinful. But this brings me to another difficult observation:

What if my friend, a self-professing Christian, cannot discern spiritual blindness due to something else?  That is, what if they are (despite their Christian profession) actually unregenerate and unable to spiritually discern sin?

That is the issue of 1 Corinthians 2:14:

“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (emphasis added).

Even in the context of mercy; even if my friend knows that I love, like, and care for them; even if they may agree their behaviors are self-destructive, the fact remains, according to Scripture, that my friend will not discern their behavior as sin because sin is something spiritually discerned.

This reminds me of what one of my seminary professors taught us:

“There are people in the church who have been in the church so long they have forgotten they are hypocrites.”

Sadly, unbelievers on the membership rolls of every church are the norm rather than the exception. The church is a mixture of true believers and those who may think they are believers but actually are hypocrites. (See the frightening words of this reality at Matthew 7:21-23.) These are the friends needing our greatest care, mercy, and love … they need the Gospel for the first time! Repeated denial of ones sins is clear evidence of unbelief going beyond spiritual blindness. We would expect a true believer to actually “see” their sins when mercifully confronted about them by a friend and to repent and do everything possible to change. That is clear evidence of belief and faith. Repentance and confession is the norm for a Christian. Everyday life in the kingdom is reflected by one simple character trait: humility.

I have been in too many churches where conflicts go on and on because there is no repentance, no confession, and no humility. I fear at the heart of those conflicts there are people who are unregenerate but who think they are Christians.

The Bible teaches us that sin is something that is spiritually discerned (see, for example, Romans 1:18-32), and that too often we expect people in the church to quickly change and turn from their sin when, in fact, they simply cannot because they have no ability for spiritual discernment. In many church conflicts what is most evident is a level of spiritlessness that defends sin rather than discerns it. Authors Tim Lane and Paul Tripp put this far more delicately and articulately when they say in their wonderful book How People Change:

The average Christian defines sin by talking about behavior. Beneath the battle for behavior is another, more fundamental battle — the battle for the thoughts and motives of the heart. Everything we do is shaped and controlled by what our hearts desire. As much as we are affected by our broken world and the sins of others against us, our greatest problem is the sin that resides in our hearts. That is why the message of the gospel is that God transforms our lives by transforming our hearts. Lasting change always comes through the heart. This is one of Scriptures most thoroughly developed themes, but many of us have missed its profound implications” (pages 14-15).

I strongly believe that one of those profound implications is the fact that the heart of an unbeliever is unable to spiritually discern sin. Thus, we have no right to expect change. What we ought to do instead is prayerfully and lovingly bring our friend to the Gospel in such a way that the truth of their behavior convicts them of their inability to spiritually discern. In effect, we are saying:

“Even though you have professed Christ as your Lord and Savior you seem to be demonstrating that your passion and desire for _______________ is more important and stronger than your love and passion for Jesus Christ.  Your behavior is one condemned by Christ as sin, yet you persist in it.  Will you please allow me, as your friend, to help you to see the Gospel and all of its implications so that you can have the sure foundation of a real relationship with God and a real relationship with your loved ones (including me)?”

Jesus Himself spoke directly to this issue in Luke 6:

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete” (Luke 6:46-49).

Church conflicts are like floods. Will your house, your church, stand or fall in the torrent? Does the foundation of true belief reside in every member’s heart? You will certainly know as soon as the flood of conflict hits.

-Dave Edling

Posted in Biblical peacemaking in the church, Confrontation, Spiritual Blindness, Uncategorized

Destructive Church Conflict — The Antithesis to Our Faith

AntithesisDestructive church conflict causes pain … to God.

Of course, it causes pain to the people going through the church conflict too. But the pain of the antithesis to our faith is felt most by God. When his eternal children live in the church as if their faith made little or no difference, His warning, “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other (Gal. 5:15),” is tragically fulfilled.

What does it look like when we respond to church conflict with an antithesis to our faith?

  • What can now be seen trumps what is unseen.
  • The temporal is of greater concern than the eternal.
  • Self-interest supersedes the interests of others.
  • Loyalty to a person is more highly valued than loyalty to Christ.
  • The present is more important than the future.
  • Angry venting feels more productive than controlling the tongue.
  • The opinion of other people is more important than the opinion of God.
  • Being a victim is more satisfying than being an overcomer.
  • Fear of man is more terrifying than fear of God.
  • Anxiety over possible outcomes takes priority over trusting God.

Consider your current church conflicts. How are you living in antithesis to the very Christian faith you profess to believe?

Church conflict reveals antithesis.
Church conflict fuels antithesis.
Church conflict grieves God.
Church conflict destroys.

But there is one among us who loves the antithesis of faith that destructive church conflict is (Rev. 12:9).

– Dave Edling

Posted in Biblical peacemaking in the church

Q. OK. We’re “reconciled.” I guess. But how could we ever trust one another again?

broken heart

Q. OK. We’re “reconciled.” I guess. But how could we ever trust one another again?

A. Trust God. Love People.
So how do Christians rebuild trust with one another in the aftermath of church conflict, even if problems have been resolved and words of reconciliation spoken? The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector found at Luke 18:9-14 is instructive. While the parable addresses the problem of seeing self-righteousness as the path to right standing before God, it is equally a pattern for recovery from the effects of church conflict:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like all other men — robbers, evil doers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Humility is the healing balm for the continuing malady of the loss of trust. Genuine humility calls us to put our trust in God, not in our own hearts. Our knowledge and evaluation of our church’s situation is imperfect. It is folly to put all of our trust in ourselves:

He who trusts in himself is a fool … Proverbs 28:26

… lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5

Humility seeks relationship with former combatants. Rather than putting our trust in people who agree with us and affirm only our perspectives and our convictions, humility calls us to seek counsel from people of varying perspectives, but ultimately never to put our trust in others either. Trusting inappropriately in people leads to disaster:

This is what the Lord says: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength…’ Jeremiah 17:5

 Fear of man will prove to be a snare… Proverbs 29:25

True humility trusts in God; its focus is on the Lord. In faith, we are called to give God our worries, fears, and doubts. We can trust that he is the Redeemer who will right every wrong in this life or in the life to come—for every wrong has either already been paid for at the cross, or will be paid for in hell. Therefore, we can turn away from any spiritual adultery related to vengeance and prize Jesus above even our own vindication! We can trust in that which is unseen more than in that which is seen (Hebrews 11:1). We can determine what would please and honor God and then do it. Trusting God is our only truly safe haven.

 But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. Jeremiah 17:7

 It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. Psalm 118:8-9

To trust in God is to grow in spiritual maturity. When we trust God, we pray. When we trust God, we stop valuing the things that the world values (comfort, success, recognition, fame) and we begin to value the things that Jesus values (sacrifice, service, humility, love). We start to view ourselves as the “chief of all sinners” and we throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus and wash his feet with our tears. Our weeping comes, but we have the hope of joy in the morning. When we are living by humble trust in God, we overflow with love for our neighbor and our enemy. Then, when we see our fellow brothers and sisters also trusting God, we can begin to trust each other again as well. Trusting God, especially while we are in the midst of conflict, is indispensable to redeeming church conflict because it opens to us the reality of again being able to trust others.

(c) Tara Barthel & David Edling, “Redeeming Church Conflicts” (Baker Books, 2012)

Posted in Authentic Relationships in the Church, Biblical peacemaking in the church, Strengthening the Church, Uncategorized

I don’t understand what one person could possibly do to help in this midst of this terrible church conflict!

Path Broken Between People

Q: I don’t understand what one person could possibly do to help in the midst of this terrible church conflict!

A. You can be God’s instrument in redeeming your church’s conflicts by humbly depending on the Holy Spirit and following the biblical principles revealed in Scripture.

Every church conflict can be redeemed because every church conflict can be used for genuine spiritual growth, both individually and corporately within the body of Christ. Christ can use you to redeem your church’s conflict—regardless of how other people respond, even if you are only one lay member out of hundreds or even thousands, even if you are only one leader out of many. You can be God’s instrument in redeeming your church’s conflicts by following the biblical principles revealed in Holy Scripture—in humble dependence on the Holy Spirit.

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 one book or biblical model could possibly address with specificity. Therefore, be careful and pray as you seek counsel from church leaders and members about the application of this book 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 book as a weapon to hurt others or fulfill any sinful demands 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 that will never be the case with this Acts 15 model. Instead, we pray that our efforts in this book 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 Johnson hits the nail on the head 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.

(c) Tara Barthel & David Edling, “Redeeming Church Conflicts” (Baker Books, 2012)

Posted in Excerpts from "Redeeming Church Conflicts"

“Helping entrenched people is what we do and who we are.” (Pastor Whipple of Kossuth Street Baptist Church)

rescuing drowning person

Dave and I were blessed to read an endorsement of “Redeeming Church Conflicts” by Pastor Whipple of Kossuth Street Baptist Church in Lafayette, Indiana.

I especially appreciated Pastor Whipple’s encouragement for his church members to be prepared to redeem conflict (since it doesn’t sound like their church is facing extreme conflict right now); and also his insights into how conflict is a normal part of real relationships:

“Close and committed relationships like those found in a church family are always prone to be tested by conflict, disagreements, and misunderstandings (PHIL. 4:2-3). Here’s a helpful quote from the introduction to the book:

One of the most common emotions people feel when facing serious church conflict is hopelessness. Often this is because conflict puts blinders on our eyes and tempts us to isolate ourselves into self-protective groups who agree with us. In our passion to defend our position, we develop tunnel vision that clouds our judgment as we focus our time, energy and emotions almost exclusively on temporal matters. Things of heaven, theological truths about God and his church, even a passion for bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to the unsaved, all begin to fade from focus as positions become entrenched in daily battles and we experience despair.

This is a wise and helpful warning both for ourselves and for our understanding of those we are trying to lovingly encourage that may be experiencing some form of conflict. Helping entrenched people is what we do and who we are—after all, we are the church.”

I love his wording: “Helping entrenched people is what we do and who we are–after all, we are the church.” So wise! And sadly, so rare.

Most churches just GIVE UP on people when things get hard. People become entrenched in sin. They are hurting, wandering, drowning … and their so-called “shepherds” abandon them. It doesn’t have to be that way! We can REDEEM our conflicts for God’s glory and our good.

Please, God, help us to help entrenched people, rather than judging and rejecting them.

Thank you, Pastor Whipple.

Posted in Authentic Relationships in the Church, Biblical peacemaking in the church, Change in the Church, Excerpts from "Redeeming Church Conflicts", Reviews of "Redeeming Church Conflicts"

Twenty Years Without an Apology


I heard from a friend this week (after she had made an apology to a pastor and asked his forgiveness) that the pastor was gracious, forgiving, and VERY surprised/grateful.

Why surprised? Why grateful? Because, you see, as he explained:

He had served in ministry for over twenty years and she was the FIRST PERSON to ever apologize to him.

I believe her–but it breaks my heart.

How can it be?
Surely this man had been sinned against at some point.
Hurt relationships; conflict; offenses …
Surely at some point, he was misunderstood, misjudged, treated uncharitably.

How could it be that NO Christian had ever apologized to him?

Oh, friends! It is SO sweet to experience the JOY of genuine, Christ-centered, Christ-exalting reconciliation.

My friend and her pastor experienced it this week.
I have experienced it time and time again when people have lavishly forgiven me.

How I pray that we would ALL begin to confess and forgive to one another—that the world might see that the Father sent the Son and the Father loves them (John 17:20-23!).

Posted in Authentic Relationships in the Church, Biblical peacemaking in the church, Conflicts involving church leaders, Conflicts with our youth pastor, Strengthening the Church

How to Fire Your Pastor (Part 3 of 3)

Q. Sometimes, even in a mature church, a time comes when a servant-shepherd pastor must be let go. In this situation, how should the pastor and his family, and the other church leaders and members respond so that they can all work together to redeem this difficult situation?

A. My last two blog entries in this short series have distinguished between two types of pastors/situations:

  • Those in ministry for career employment (“hired-hands” as described in John 10:12-13) who are “fired” from their position just as any person in a secular job is fired (Part 1); and
  • Those “servant-shepherd” pastors who are called to a life of humble sacrifice and suffering for their service, who are then persecuted for the sake of Christ’s righteousness (as described in Matthew 5:11-12) by being maltreated (and ultimately “fired”) by immature Christians in their churches (Part 2).

Today’s post addresses a third type of situation—one in which a servant-shepherd pastor is appropriately  let go by mature (wise, loving, God-glorifying) Christians.

A few notes before I begin …

First of all, I fully recognize that these three groupings of people and situations may seem too restrictive. I readily admit that most situations are actually somewhere in-between on the spectrum: many pastors truly desire to serve as servant-shepherds, but they also recognize that their calling is also their “job” in that they provide for their families through the income they earn through the pastorate. I also recognize that many church members and leaders likewise fall somewhere in between “mature” and “immature” on the spectrum—they may (immaturely) be persecuting their pastor for worldly reasons and using secular causes and means for firing him; but often, there is a mix of godliness and maturity in the situation that causes these situations to be far more “gray” than I am describing in this series.

But 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.”

So, with all of those caveats in mind (my lawyerliness is really showing today) … how ought we to respond when we (wisely and lovingly) discern that it is time for a pastor to leave a specific church?

We ought to embrace God’s agenda for change and allow that change to produce holiness in all of us.

Will that change be easy? By no mean. There will undoubtedly be uncomfortable moments in leadership meetings when new ideas are discussed or information is analyzed and everyone involved (including the pastor) will begin to have that uncomfortable sense that God may be leading their church in a way that is not a good fit for the current pastor. Hopefully, everyone involved will be prayerful and careful (full of care) as small discussions begin to grow into larger discussions. Communication with other leaders (for example, elders to deacons or council members to bishops) will be intentional and clear. At all times, people will hold firmly to the standard set for speech in Ephesians 4:29—edifying, bringing God’s grace. There will be no gossip or slander. Love for God and neighbor will be the defining mark of every meeting, announcement, and decision. The pastor will never be gracelessly criticized. Instead, every person will guard him, build him up, and help him (and his family) to transition to his new pastorate.

That sounds great in theory, doesn’t it? But we know that there will, of course, be bumps in the process. Immaturity and even outright sin will arise. But the pastor, his family, and every mature leader and layperson will embrace even those difficult and painful situations as opportunities ordained by God for growth in holiness. As Drs. Paul Tripp and Timothy Lane state in their must-read book, How People Change:

Making us holy is God’s unwavering agenda until we are taken home to be with him. He will do whatever he needs to produce holiness in us. He wants us to be a community of joy, but he is willing to compromise our temporal happiness in order to increase our Chrislikeness.

Wise and mature pastors, leaders, and members will recognize that this pastoral change is part of God’s plan for producing holiness in His eternal children. They will respond with light—truth, healing, beauty, compassion, and care—because their life goal is to reflect all of the characteristics of their Lord and King, Jesus Christ. But others? Sadly, they will respond with darkness—lies, distortions, relational injury, ugliness, judgment, and betrayal—because even though they claim to live for Jesus and His glory, they are ultimately motivated by their own selfish desires. They are willing to sacrifice the unity of the saints to fulfill their agendas. They do not pick up their cross and lay down their lives for their friends.

But even then, the wise and mature Christian will see even these attacks of darkness as opportunities to model Christlike humility and love because how we fight in the church differs significantly from how the world fights. Or it ought to.

I will close with just a few questions that you might consider in order to walk through your pastoral change with holiness:

  • How can we please and honor the Lord in this situation by respecting and honoring His under-shepherd, our pastor, even though we agree he should leave this church and continue his ministry elsewhere?
  • How do we guard our own hearts and minds through all of this so that our trust in God for our church (His church) is evident to everyone?
  • How can we continue to fulfill our duty to render “double-honor” (1 Timothy 5:17) to our pastor by meeting all of his and his families’ worldly needs during the transition period?
  • How can we best work with our pastor to help him continue his ministry during the transition period and into his next assignment in the Church (note the capital “C;” the Church is much larger than any one local congregation)?
  • How can we utilize pastoral change as an opportunity to help our immature brethren grow in Christ?
  • How can we guard the pastor’s family from harmful gossip and speculation?
  • As needed, how can we best use God’s plan of accountability (church discipline) to build his church by correcting the sinful behaviors of those acting in a manner inconsistent with their own profession of faith?
  • How can we bless our present pastor by ensuring that we call another true servant-shepherd pastor to follow in his steps building on the foundation he has faithfully laid?
  • How can we craft our pastor’s legacy of godliness as a model for future pastoral relationships?

Over the past two decades I have witnessed how both “hired-hands” and true servant-shepherds respond to dismissal from their pastoral office.  The thing that has surprised me (and inspired me!) the most has been not only how the latter personally responded but how they also prepared their fellow church leaders for the trial. I have not seen servant-shepherds respond with anger (although frequently with a degree of sorrow), and not with self-justification (although frequently in defense of God’s Word).  As they have led other church leaders and members into an understanding of what being “called to the ministry” means (a life-long quest for God’s glory wherever their unique contribution to God’s Kingdom can be made) they have imparted an understanding of the cost of redemption. While we use the word “redemption” frequently and in different settings, are we remembering that the cost was the death of Jesus, the Son of God? Church leaders and church members tutored in the message of the “cost” have been equipped to see God’s much grander plan for his Kingdom when they face even the loss of a beloved pastor who is being unleashed for even greater Kingdom service and sacrifice. To quote Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

Praying for peace as we await “The Day” of The Shepherd’s return (Hebrews 10:25; 2 Peter 3:10)!

-Dave Edling

Posted in Biblical peacemaking in the church, Conflicts involving church leaders, Conflicts with our youth pastor, Excerpts from "Redeeming Church Conflicts", How to Fire Your Pastor

How to Fire Your Pastor (Part 2 of 3)

If you’ve read last week’s blog, “How to Fire Your Pastor — Part 1,” then you know that its content only applies when the pastor is best characterized as a “hired-hand” (see John 10:12-13). In contrast, today’s post addresses the issue of letting a pastor go when the pastor is a true servant-shepherd. In these situations, there may be godly and appropriate reasons why he must leave. There could be compelling personal considerations, changing demographics, a difference of opinion or purpose that is not sin-driven but may reflect a differing philosophy of ministry, a humble recognition of the fact that the spiritual gifts of another may better serve the changing environment, etc. But, sadly, there may also be sinful reasons why the servant-shepherd pastor is being let go. The “firing” may actually be revealing spiritual immaturity in a few (or many) members of the flock.

It is the latter situation—sinful reasons for the firing—that usually brings up the greatest amount of hurt and destructive conflict for the pastor, his family, and the rest of the church. This is the focus of today’s post:

How does a servant-shepherd pastor redeem even his unjust firing for God’s glory and for personal and corporate spiritual growth?

First, let’s consider the background for when a servant-shepherd pastor is sinfully fired (treated just like any employee at any old job).

We live in a day and age when even Christians, having been conformed to the priorities and patterns of our loud culture through its incessant demands, forget they have been called to hunger for the things Jesus hungered for: righteousness, mercy, peace, humility, compassion, and justice, to name but a few. People conformed to the pattern of this world (see Romans 12:2) can lose focus and even become intolerant of a pastor who models Christ-like obedience and humility in their confused quest for greater “relevance” in the world. Whenever church people begin to measure the “success” of their pastor by making comparison with what passes as successful in this world, it is not unusual for persecution of the pastor to follow. How should a true servant-shepherd respond?

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil things against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12

Furthermore …

And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth. 2 Timothy 2:24-25

A servant-shepherd who has preached, taught, and modeled Christ by manifesting all of the fruit of the Spirit does not respond to conflict with conflict. He responds with the message of redemption and reconciliation. The issues of concern that go by secular titles (“wrongful termination,” “due process,” etc.) seem trite and insignificant to the true servant-shepherd because he doesn’t carry concern for his “job” but, rather, is consumed with a passion for the souls of God’s sheep (who are also his sheep), even those souls seeking his dismissal. Having been called to the ministry by God, his vision is one of care and compassion even for (especially for!) the spiritually weak, confused, and immature.

And so we find ourselves at the real questions in this situation:

  • When immature Christians try to force a servant-shepherd pastor out of office, how will the other church leaders and members—those who are mature in Christ—respond? Will they look at their pastor and recognize the presence of grace and godliness in their midst? Or will they be taken over by worldly goals and patterns?
  • And how about the pastor and his family? Will they confidently continue to trust in God, even in the face of persecution? Will they keep an eternal perspective and see God’s glory at work, even if their own personal story becomes one of being forced to leave the church on account of righteousness? Will they remember that how they respond to even this persecution is going to be a part of their lasting legacy at this church?

From God’s perspective, “firing” one of His under-shepherds is the epitome of foolishness. In Psalm 14:1 we are told:

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

Whenever God’s people seek removal of a true servant-shepherd pastor due to any priority inconsistent with the Lord’s revealed will, they essentially affirm in their hearts that there is no God. In their foolishness, they deny that God could place in their midst one who would speak and model God’s Word of truth in love. Because God’s truth is frequently hard to hear given our culture’s demands and its loud voice, it is not surprising that churches do seek the removal of godly pastors. And shouldn’t that cause conflict? Shouldn’t there be people rising up to oppose the ungodly acts of unrighteousness seeking to be imposed on others? And the true servant-shepherd will not run from conflict (as the hired-hand does), but he will stay and guide his sheep in the way of redemption and reconciliation regardless of the outcome. He will do that with care and compassion because he knows that God will sovereignly grow his people up in maturity through such encounters. He always remembers that:

God is present in the company of the righteous. Psalm 14:5b

And this presence reveals itself even when conflict comes to the church.

One closing note to servant-shepherd pastors: In at least half of the church conflict intervention cases I have consulted on, by the time mediation services were engaged, the pastors had already fled the congregation. Rather than staying to shepherd their people at the point of their greatest spiritual need, these men proved the charge that they were merely “hired hands” when they saw the wolf of conflict coming! It grieves me to say it, but I do believe that such men are no longer worthy of the title “pastor” because they did not prioritize the care of the flock over their own personal or professional “needs.”

I know these situations are frightening and often infuriating. This is exactly how an attack from a real wolf would be! If you are reading this and you just found out that you are being fired by your church, you are probably flooded with adrenaline and tempted to give in to fight or flight. Please fight this temptation with all of your strength! Don’t be afraid. Don’t be fooled. Stay the course! As needed, repent, confess, and change. But stay the course. Don’t stay merely to contribute to the conflict through self-serving defensiveness, but rather lead your people through the conflict by redeeming it for God’s glory and your (and God’s!) sheep’s spiritual growth. You can always leave later if that seems wise and would serve God’s interests, but first build a legacy of sacrifice that will leave a lasting impression and enduring memory that will change your sheep for their future in the church. Even foolish sheep, after all, need a model of what a true shepherd is like.

And for the rest of the leaders and church members? Tune in next week to read my entry on how you should have dealt with your servant-shepherd pastor, rather than merely firing him in a worldly manner.

For the glory of the Lamb,
Dave Edling

To read part 3 of this “How to Fire Your Pastor” series, click here. To review part 1, click here.

Posted in Biblical peacemaking in the church, Causes of Church Conflict, Conflicts involving church leaders, Conflicts with our youth pastor, Confrontation, How to Fire Your Pastor

How to Fire Your Pastor (Part 1 of 3)

Q. Getting rid of a pastor can cause a lot of conflict. What should be happening for both the pastor and other church leaders and members when everyone is figuring out if the pastor should be let go? How should a church let a pastor go?

A. It depends (typical lawyer answer, eh?) …

  • Is your pastor a “hired-hand” (see John 10:12-13) or a servant-shepherd ready to lay down his life for God’s sheep?
  • Is the tradition and history of the church to hire a man to lead by fulfilling a “position description” or is the attitude of everyone (pastor, leaders, and members) reflective of “calling” only God’s chosen under-shepherd who through supernatural spiritual gifting humbly models Christ by imitating His sacrifice?
  • Is your pastor one who curries favor with people or one who pushes forward Christ and the Holy Spirit’s agenda while making nothing of himself?
  • Do people of the church want a pastor who is popular by the world’s standards or one who is poor in spirit (MT 5:3), one who mourns (MT 5:4), one who is meek (MT 5:5), one whose hunger and thirst is for righteousness (MT 5:6), one who is merciful (MT 5:7), one who is pure of heart (MT 5:8), one who is a peacemaker (MT 5:9), and one willing to accept persecution because of righteousness (MT 5:10)?
  • Has the church “filled the pulpit” with an appealing and clever orator or a man of godly character who is qualified as one who is above reproach, husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money, a model manager of his own family, and one who has a good reputation with those outside the church (1 Timothy 3:2-7)?
  • Is your pastor displaying evidence of the influence and fruit of this world (loud, pushing his agenda, seeking man’s approval, demanding his way, proud, arrogant, etc.) or the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)?

If your pastor, and the people of your church, are predominantly described by any of the characteristics and/or descriptive statements appearing before the word “or” in the above questions you most probably have a mere hired-hand for a pastor. Firing a hired-hand is no different than firing any other person holding a secular job: you must be knowledgeable of and comply with your state’s statues and laws concerning employment to avoid a charge of “wrongful termination.” It will mean dotting all of the “i’s” and crossing all of the “t’s” of procedure dictated by legally-mandated due process considerations. And, it will mean “managing church conflict” among those who will be driven by worldly expectations and sentiments akin to those experienced when the best player on the local high school sport’s teams is benched because he or she is failing academically (howls of indignant outrage). But the church will get through it even though some people may leave. That won’t be the concern in such a church because the focus will be merely on answering the question, “Who can we hire into the position next?”

But …

If you have a servant-shepherd pastor, and the people of your church are characterized by the statements following the word “or” above, then you have an entirely different situation … an entirely different problem. That discussion comes, Lord willing, next week in “How to Fire Your Pastor — Part 2.”

-Dave Edling

This post has two follow-up posts: parts 2 and 3.

Posted in Causes of Church Conflict, Conflicts involving church leaders, Conflicts with our youth pastor, Confrontation, How to Fire Your Pastor | 4 Comments