The WRONG Question: What Should I do NEXT in this Church Conflict? (Learn the RIGHT question to ask …)

One of the most frequent questions I have heard over the years while consulting with churches in conflict has been “What should I do next?” Usually, that question should have been “What should I have done first rather than act the way I did and say what I said in the heat of that moment?” How I wish I could have been there at the first moment of conflict to answer “What should I do first?”

Since I have the luxury of this format to address the question “What should I do next?” divorced from the context of an actual conflict, I am going to indulge and ask and answer the better question: “What should I do first when I find myself in a church conflict?” I know that is a bit unreal and idealistic but perhaps readers will benefit from such a moment of indulgence and use these thoughts when the next church conflict comes along as God’s assignment.

First, I believe, there needs to be a lot of remembering:

  • First, remember your identity in Christ (Colossians 3:3, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.),
  • Second, remember you are a member of the church of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:25b, “…for we are all members of one body.”),
  • Third, remember you are an ambassador of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:20, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors…”), and
  • Fourth, remember that you have been called to be a peacemaker (James 3:18, “Peacemakers who sow in peace…”).

After all of that remembering then there needs to be a lot of doing (fulfilling the implications of what you know to be true about yourself as an intentional Christian who has remembered rightly):

  • First, consistently live out the implication of your identity in Christ (Colossians 3:5, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”),
  • Second, consistently live out the implications of your body life as a church member (Ephesians 4:25, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor…”; Ephesians 4:26, “In your anger do not sin…”),
  • Third, consistently live as an intentional ambassador of reconciliation by becoming the “righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”), and
  • Fourth, consistently live as a peacemaker to raise a harvest of righteousness (James 3:18, “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”)

Remembering and then doing the obvious is not so easy in the face of church conflict, however. The inspired words of the Scriptures above are easy to read but difficult to live out when in the midst of church battles. But that is what we have been enabled to do and called to do through the power of the Holy Spirit so there is no excuse (see John 15:22 and Romans 1:20). Those who have gone before us have known and lived in the power of his spirit and so can we: For we know, brothers loved by God that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with joy given by the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 1:4-6).

In our churches when conflict comes let us also be imitators of our forefathers in the faith and in the Lord in spite of our sufferings and bring the evidence that we, too, have welcomed the message with joy.

What should I do first?  What should I do next? Remember and do! It is never too late. And, it is in the small moments of life (that conversation, that facial expression, that opportunity to choose a different word), that all of the remembering and doing makes the real difference.

-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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