FOREWORD BY KEN SANDE
The closer the relationship, the more excruciating the conflict.
Nowhere does this principle prove itself so vividly as in a family, whether it’s biological or spiritual. Most of us have seen the agonizing pain that accompanies the breakdown of a marriage, especially if it is followed by a divorce. The sense of betrayal, anger, bitterness, and hostility that are spawned by the severing of marital bonds can trigger fierce infighting that poisons hearts and relationships for a lifetime.
The same can be said of conflict in a church. Scripture uses familial terms to describe our spiritual relationships—father and mother, son and daughter, brother and sister. We invest our hearts and souls in these relationships; we sacrifice, we share, we struggle, we rejoice, we worship, we grow, we celebrate and we mourn … together. As we do so, our hearts and lives become deeply entwined, and we develop high expectations of one another.
By God’s grace, most of us can overlook the minor disappointments of those expectations and continue to worship and minister together for many wonderful years. But when frequent, prolonged, or serious disagreements pervade our church families, our expectations of one another can be deeply shaken. Small waves of disappointment can grow into tsunamis of conflict that sweep over an entire congregation, destroying relationships, ministries, and the witness of the gospel.
I have seen this destructive process far too many times. In my own community, one of the most vibrant and evangelistic churches in town became tangled in a prolonged battle over vision and leadership style. Instead of responding redemptively, both sides formed well-organized factions that maneuvered for control for years. That church is now a parking lot. Literally. The congregation was shattered and scattered, the building was leveled, and the entire campus is now asphalt. I grieve every time I drive by it.
This is why I am so excited about this book. Through their work with The Institute for Christian Conciliation, my friends Dave and Tara have served dozens of churches that were teetering on the brink of destruction. Again and again, they have immersed themselves in the conflict and distress of entire congregations, listening to story after story, seeing the pain and anger of others, and gaining the trust of people who had lost all ability to trust.
Having gained a passport into the hearts of individuals and opposing factions, Tara and Dave became channels of God’s reconciling grace. They have helped people replace worldly suspicion with a Kingdom perspective. They have facilitated discernment and understanding. They have inspired leaders to kneel in confession and prayer, to stand up with gospel boldness, and to lead with wisdom and love. And by example and instruction, they have taught entire congregations how to apply scriptural principles to promote reconciliation, peace, and unity.
Their experience and wisdom is set forth in the following pages. I pray that you will study this book carefully and apply its principles in your church with the love and power of Christ. In doing so, you can redeem church conflict, turning it into an opportunity for growth, worship, and Kingdom expansion.
Ken Sande, Author of The Peacemaker
Founder of Relational Wisdom 360
Please note: This Foreword is taken directly from our book, Redeeming Church Conflicts (Baker Books, 2012; repring by Hendrickson Publishers, 2016) and is used with permission. You can also view a video endorsement by Ken Sande by clicking here.
“With years of experience in conflict mediation through Peacemaker Ministries, Tara Barthel and Dave Edling are well qualified to speak to this issue. Structured around the ‘Acts 15 Model for Redeeming Church Conflicts,’ Barthel and Edling suggest we have much to learn from Luke’s account of the meeting in Jerusalem to redeem the early church’s first major conflict. The strengths of Redeeming Church Conflicts are many. Here are five that particularly stood out to me: The Primacy of God’s Word, The Centrality of the Gospel, The Necessity of Humility, The Context of Eternity, The Preciousness of God’s Glory. According to Barthel and Edling, the question of supreme importance is, ‘How can I please and honor the Lord in my church’s present conflicts?’ (175). They are exactly right. Barthel and Edling have done the church a vital service in applying biblical counseling principles to the realm of congregational conflict. Don’t wait until you find yourself in a relational mess to consult this helpful resource; read and benefit now.”
Matt Smethurst, Managing Editor of The Gospel Coalition, as published in the 9Marks Journal
“The Facts: Barthel and Edling tackle a subject most would prefer to ignore yet all have to face. Drawing from their experience with Peacemaker Ministries, the authors face the reality of conflict within churches head-on, including the devastating effects unresolved conflicts have on congregants and mission. But this is ultimately a book about redemption. Hope permeates each chapter. Multiple case studies provide nice balance to the theology and advice. / The Slant: Does anyone actually want to think about conflict? We pastors are especially prone to avoid this subject, unless it’s staring us in the face. But lest this book sound like the word equivalent of broccoli (you’ll eat it, but won’t like it), be assured that it’s more like a hearty dinner with family. Yes, there are some hard realities to face, such as our own complicity in conflicts, but there’s much to enjoy as well. The book is theologically rich, seasoned with wisdom that comes from years in the trenches of church conflict. The hope here is powerful: even our conflicts become opportunities for the gospel’s redemptive work.”
Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal
“In Redeeming Church Conflicts Tara Barthel and David Edling draw on their extensive experience helping brothers and sisters resolve serious divisions in ways that bring glory to Jesus, the prince of peace. Perhaps even more important than the wisdom they have gained from walking with congregations through conflict are the insights that they draw from God’s Word itself and their confidence that a deepening grasp of the gospel of God’s grace sets hearts free to seek and grant forgiveness and to find the humility to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Believers and church leaders should read and take to heart the wisdom offered in Redeeming Church Conflicts not only when conflict threatens our congregations, but also when peace prevails.”
Rev. Dr. Dennis E. Johnson, Professor of Practical Theology, Westminster Seminary California and author of The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption and multiple other books
“I wish I had to wonder why a book like this is even needed. But anyone who has spent much time in a church populated by imperfect humans knows that it is. This book delivers exactly what is needed in church conflict: a wealth of biblical wisdom and professional expertise as well as an unflinching challenge toward self-examination and away from angry entrenchment and graceless condemnation. But best of all it offers a huge dose of hope that what is so hurtful and seems only destructive will be used by God to conform his church to his image for his glory.”
Nancy Guthrie, Bible teacher and author of the Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament Bible Study Series
“In my roles as a biblical counselor, pastor, seminary professor, and church consultant, Tara and David’s guiding concept of “responding redemptively” deeply resonates with me. Their understanding that the Bible provides not a formula for redeeming church conflict, but a biblical, relational roadmap, equally resonates. I’m encouraged and equipped, as I believe you will be, by their practical, scriptural wisdom. The gripping way that Tara and David unfold the Scripture-saturated relational principles of perspective, discernment, leadership, and biblical response provides a real-life narrative applicable to any church conflict.”
Dr. Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, Author of Equipping Counselors for Your Church
“Conflict is inevitable and Peacemaker Ministries is prepared to equip you to respond. I am excited about this new resource that is specifically applied to dealing with conflict within the local church. Tara Barthel and David Edling do the body of Christ a significant service in Redeeming Church Conflicts: Turning Crisis into Compassion and Care. As a former pastor, I commend this helpful, practical resource to you. Have your staff and your entire church read this book. It will go a long way in creating a culture of peacemaking in your church.”
Dr. Tim S. Lane, Founder, The Institute for Pastoral Care
“To someone in the middle of a church conflict, the complex knot of spiritual and material issues, contributing factors, and personalities can appear impossible to understand, let alone untangle. As emotions rise and hope sinks, everyone in the church experiences distress, and, amid the confusion and hurt, a positive path forward often seems unclear. In Redeeming Church Conflicts, experienced conciliators Tara Barthel and David Edling offer a warm, biblical, and careful roadmap for navigating church crises. Through exposition and application, they bring the truth of God’s Word to direct suffering churches toward healing. Through practical case studies, they illuminate the way with specific examples. Perhaps surprisingly for a book about sin and its fruits, these pages are also filled with hope. Through the words of Barthel and Edling, church members and leaders will begin to see their conflicts as opportunities for growth, grace, and the glory of God. And whether your church is currently in the midst of strife or proactively seeking to avoid it in future, this book is an excellent guide.”
Megan Hill, pastor’s wife, pastor’s daughter, writer, speaker, author of Praying Together: The Priority and Privilege of Prayer in Our Homes, Communities, and Churches (Crossway, 2016)
“Church conflicts are a shameful thing—they hurt, divide, and besmirch the name of Christ. This volume does more than lament the problem. It digs deeply into the experience of the New Testament church to discover a model of forgiveness and redemption that can help the witness of the church to shine once again. May this book help to spawn a whole generation of Acts 15 churches.”
Dr. Timothy George is the founding dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University and general editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture
“Conflicts within the Church strike at the heart of our witness to the world, and yet there are very few rigorously biblical resources available on this topic. Dave Edling and Tara Barthel have seamlessly woven together their unique perspectives and lessons learned from many years of working with conflicted churches. More importantly, this book is soundly biblical from beginning to end, with a practical, gospel-centered approach to disputes within the Church – large and small. It should be a required text for every seminary student; it will certainly be a lifeline for every Church leader facing difficult conflict situations.”
Glenn Waddell, President, Birmingham Theological Seminary; Attorney, Certified Christian Conciliator with The Institute for Christian Conciliation
“With delight I commend this much-needed contribution to the field of church conflict intervention from my church conciliation mentor, Dave Edling, and his colleague Tara Barthel. More than once Dave’s clear model has guided me in helping churches in crisis (e.g., that we need to start with God’s perspective on this conflict and that leaders must proactively rise up and lead the congregation with biblical wisdom amid conflict). Few writers so richly blend sound theology with seasoned ministry experience, all in a readable case-wise manual that will aid church leaders on all levels. Thank you, Tara and Dave, for helping us help others.”
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Jones, Biblical Counseling Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Church Conflict Interventionist, and Author of Uprooting Anger and Pursuing Peace in All Your Relationships
“Redeeming Church Conflicts is Biblical, insightful and practical; based on wisdom born of faithful service to the Lord and a keen understanding of people. Barthel and Edling present a framework for conflict resolution that is God honoring, sanctifying and redeems what is often times very destructive. Much personal heartache and wounding in Christian ministry could be avoided if church leaders would follow this hermeneutically sound counsel.
Dr. Andrew S. Zeller, President, Sangre de Cristo Seminary;
Chaplain (COL) U.S. Army (Ret.), D. Min., Th.M., M. Div., B.A.
“Looking around at the modern church landscape, it can sometimes seem like a bitter irony that the Bible says the manifold wisdom of God is to be shown through His church (Eph. 3:10)–so many conflicts, so many church splits, so many factions! And yet we serve a God who is rich in mercy and does not give up on us. If you find yourself in the midst of church conflict, this book will be a balm to your soul and revive your confidence in the work of the Holy Spirit among His people. Tara Barthel and David Edling have written a wise and tender reminder that our Lord’s redemptive purposes extend even to today, even to the most fractious church bodies. Whether you are an ordained leader or a new church member, Redeeming Church Conflicts is a must read. It will give you hope that whatever conflicts you are currently in, or will encounter in the future, can be resolved in a holy and purposeful manner, to the praise of God’s glory.”
Carolyn McCulley, author of Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World and Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Trusting God with a Hope Deferred
(You can also see a video of Ken Sande’s endorsement of “Redeeming Church Conflicts” by clicking here.)