How should I respond to conflicts in my church?

Q: “I have been a member of my church for 14 years. Recently some things have happened that have raised a lot of conflict and anger among some other church members, but I don’t exactly know what those things are. I have heard some rumors and gossip but that has been inconsistent, and, I feel, unreliable. I have asked our pastor what the problems are but he is evasive and just says the elders and deacons are going through some difficult times and that I should just be patient.  That is hard for me to do since I have seen some people leave the church and others talking about it.  I don’t want to be a busy-body and trying to find out things I shouldn’t know but when it is right for me to want to push harder and find out what is really going on?”

A: First, thank you for not listening to or acting on gossip and rumors. As you know, God’s Word condemns the spreading of such worthless talk (Prov. 16:28; 2 Cor. 12:20-21; Eph. 4:29). Nothing kindles the fires of church conflict more than such foolish language. You show you cherish God and His Word more than the wisdom and practices of this world (our loud, secular culture that thrives on gossip) by not listening to or spreading rumors and gossip. Too many church cultures become ones of gossip rather than ones of peace when conflicts develop. Continue to intentionally practice wisdom from Heaven rather than the wisdom of this world by not listening to those who may press their words of gossip on you (see James 3:13-18).

Second, I am pleased to hear you are being sensitive to the boundaries of confidentiality in the church. Church leaders need the grace and patience of church members when responding to the many difficult aspects of church conflicts. Conflict can become far worse if sensitive information is released at an inappropriate time. Please pray for wisdom for your leaders as they work through these matters. There is a limit, however, to the boundaries of confidentiality when the effects of unresolved conflicts become evident to church members, the body of Christ (see 1 Cor. 12:29). It is the shepherding responsibility of pastors and church leaders to guard, protect, and warn the church body when conflicts disrupt the peace, purity, and unity of the church family. It is not acceptable for leaders to remain silent when the body of Christ is hurting. So, your question of “when” to appropriately seek answers to your questions is an important one, but perhaps more important and appropriate is “how” should you, as a church member, become an effective peacemaker. When you are on that knife-edge of wisdom’s application between gentle patience and gentle encouragement you are called to practice eternal perspective thinking and speaking. Encouraging your leaders to be the shepherds God has called them to be when you are suffering the effects of unresolved conflict requires great wisdom. When you do go to your leaders demonstrate gentleness, an attitude of submission, and speak only in the first-person, that is, tell your leaders how the effects of the apparent conflicts are negatively affecting your worship and causing spiritual damage in your life. Resist “judging” your leaders but gently persist in your role as a faithful church member by seeking to contribute to a church environment where shepherds will lead you once again into the place where you can worship in truth and peace.

-Dave Edling

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About David V. Edling

Dave Edling is an experienced Christian conciliator who has worked with many conflicted churches. During his decade of service on the senior staff of Peacemaker Ministries, he participated in over 200 mediation and arbitration cases and worked with nearly twenty thousand Christians engaged in conflicts affecting churches of almost every denomination. Dave holds several graduate degrees in addition to his Bachelor of Science degree from Oregon State University. They are: Master of Arts in Human Behavior, United States International University (now Alliant International University); Juris Doctor, California Western School of Law; Master of Arts in Religion, Westminster Seminary California; and Master of Arts in Biblical Conflict Resolution, Birmingham Theological Seminary. Dave has served as a trustee on the Board of Directors for Covenant College and Westminster Seminary California and has taught in the Doctor of Ministry programs for Reformed Theological Seminary, Mid-Western Baptist Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. In addition, Dave has been a lecturer in practical theology for several other Christian colleges and seminaries.
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