Signs that a conflicted church is not ready to change …

Q. What would make you decline a church intervention? Are there certain signs that a church is not ready for a Christian conciliation intervention team to go in and work to help the church to redeem their conflicts?

A. In 1 Peter 3 at verse 15 we find these words: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have (emphasis added).”  These words come in the context of Peter’s teaching on suffering for doing good.  While we don’t necessarily enjoy suffering (even for doing good), how could we ever not be ready to help a church in conflict if they asked us to bring words of hope, reasons for our hope in the Gospel, all of God’s Word as necessary to redeem a conflict for His glory? That would seem impossible.

But on the other hand Scripture warns:

Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces. Matthew 7:6

And …

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.   1 Corinthians 2:14

These two verses capture the two main reasons that we would decline an invitation to help a conflicted church.

First, Matthew 7:6:

Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces. Matthew 7:6

Any church (or any person) not willing to accept the Holy Bible as the authoritative Word of God pertaining to all matters of faith and life is not ready to receive the life changing work of the Gospel  and redeem conflict in a manner that would be pleasing to God. If the church has placed its confidence in anything other than the revelation of Christ and his ethic as set forth in the Holy Scriptures then the effort to help would be fruitless.

I (Dave) learned this lesson the hard way. On one occasion, I accepted an intervention for a conflicted church that did not accept the Holy Bible as authoritative. The church was a large and fashionable establishment in a large and fashionable city. The members carried their Bibles and everyone used “god-speak.” But the bottom line was that leaders and members alike professed faith in faith and not faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible to them was an historical account of what two ancient societies thought about God , but it was just a book. The church leaders and members did not embrace the Bible as God’s actual Word to them. As a result, when exhorted to understand the way out of their conflicts via the Gospel, it fell on deaf ears. To them the text of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 did not mean anything of significance:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

They were polite people but they were frustrated that I wasn’t helping resolve their conflicts by helping them to apply modern principles of group dynamics and conflict management rooted in secular psychology.  I was unable to help these people because they weren’t committed to the authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures to answer their deepest needs. They valued the wisdom of man ahead of the wisdom of God (see James 3:13-18).

I learned my lesson. I no longer invest time, talent, or treasure to help conflicted churches that believe God’s Word is merely optional.

Second, and very related to the first point, we have the warning 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.   1 Corinthians 2:14

This point is a bit more difficult to express, but we hope you will bear with us because it is important.

When it comes to redeeming church conflicts (and really, all conflicts), it is absolutely imperative that the Holy Spirit softens hearts, opens blind eyes, and leads people to repentance. All of the teaching in the world on divisiveness, gossip, slander, and idolatry will never lead anyone to repent and confess. Only people with the Spirit of God at work in their hearts can begin to spiritually discern what is really happening at the root of their conflicts. Therefore, although we would never claim to sit in the seat of God and judge the hearts of people, we do believe that we have gained some discernment and wisdom from decades of church leadership experience (Dave) and the numerous conflicted church intervention teams we have served on or supervised. And thus, one gauge of spiritual maturity is how ready people are to feel and express that the status quo must change and thus, that they must change.

If church leaders and members are not substantially united on the need for something to change, then they are most probably not spiritually discerning important truths from Scripture. For example, without spiritual discernment, people will easily place a higher importance on getting their way, defending their perspective, and protecting their “rights,” rather than valuing and obeying God’s call to them as Christians “to make every effort to maintain the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3), and to “live in peace with each other” (1 Thessalonians 5:13b).

If people at a church do not value God’s priority for peace and unity, then they are bringing evidence against themselves that they are driven not by God’s Word and the implications of His priorities. They are not spiritually discerning as regards their conflicts. Therefore, as a general rule, we do not accept a conflicted church intervention case unless 75% or more of official church leaders and 60% or more of church members state that they are no longer content with the status quo; the state of their conflicted church must change. Until those benchmarks are met, the calling in of outside consultants is premature.

-Dave Edling and Tara Barthel

PS
We have an Appendix in Redeeming Church Conflicts on Selecting an Outside Third-Party Church Conflict Consultant. You can read it soon—publication is scheduled for May 1, 2012.

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About Dave Edling & Tara Barthel

We use this name whenever we co-author blog posts, or whenever one of us substantially edits the other's post. You can read our detailed bios on the "About Us" page of this blog: https://redeemingchurchconflicts.wordpress.com/dave-and-taras-bios/
This entry was posted in Biblical peacemaking in the church, Hiring a consultant to help with your church conflict. Bookmark the permalink.

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