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

PS
To read part 3 of this “How to Fire Your Pastor” series, 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

PS
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

Keeping God’s Word Primary re: Our Critical Needs

How grateful we are for two careful book reviews (and recommendations)!

Matt Smethurst, an assistant editor for The Gospel Coalition and a Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, commended us on the IX Marks website for “keeping God’s Word primary, the gospel central, humility necessary, God’s glory precious, and an eternal perspective as our one orientation.” You can read the entire review here.

And Pastor David Mundt (M.Div., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) wrote the following review for The CBA Retailers & Resources Magazine:

“Conflict is an unfortunate but normal part of every relationship and most group experiences. The church isn’t immune to conflict, but the stakes are often higher because the world is watching to see if our gospel of grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation really works in our lives. Thankfully, conflict can be redeemed so that God is glorified, relationships are restored, and God’s intended work in us is accomplished.

Conflict isn’t only about the presenting material issues, but it also reveals the sanctification that the Spirit is performing. Employing Acts 15 as their framework, Barthel and Edling describe a conflict-resolution process for groups, revealing our critical need for perspective, discernment, leadership, and biblical response.

This book is extremely well written with lots of Scripture and personal examples. As part of the Peacemakers ministry, Barthel and Edling are insightful and articulate. Recommend this book to every pastor and elder, and to fans of Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker.”

Thank you for your careful reading, gentlemen! We continue to pray that our efforts on this project will serve well our Lord and His Bride.

– Dave Edling & Tara Barthel

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Child Abuse in the Church: Justice Can Be Grace

Since I linked over to it in today’s post on my personal blog, I thought I would share this post with you too:

Child Abuse in the Church: Justice Can Be Grace

Not only is this an extraordinarily important topic because of our duty to protect our children to the best of our abilities, it is also one of the “most prone to destroy/divide a church” topics.

Oh. And if you think that your church doesn’t have men and boys (and increasingly women) habitually viewing p*rn and reading er*tica? If you think “that will never happen in MY church!” If you don’t think that abusers intentionally prey on churches? Then truly: it is particularly important that you read this article.

For the glory of God and the service of His Bride—

Your sister in Christ,
Tara B.

Posted in Abusive churches, Causes of Church Conflict, Conflicts involving church leaders, Conflicts with our youth pastor, Lawsuits and Church Conflict | Leave a comment

Making the Decision to Leave Your Church

A few weeks ago in response to my blog about church membership, member vows, and what might be a valid reason to leave one’s church, a reader wrote that she didn’t think I answered the question. She also expressed her opinion that when church leaders become abusive that a very good reason to leave one’s church exists. So, I thought I should write a bit more about what I believe about a church member feeling that circumstances may establish grounds for leaving one’s church.

First, I believe that this reader is correct in saying I didn’t answer the question, at least not in the way she thought I should. My purpose in writing here at Redeeming Church Conflicts.com is not to provide specific answers to specific questions that a person would then use to make a final personal decision, but rather to help questioners think through for themselves what should be the way of asking the best questions, at the right time, in the best forum, for the right reasons, and with the application of biblical truth driving every aspect of that process. (Please see Tara’s and my “About Us” page and our “Disclaimer” statement on this site.) Not only that, please remember Proverbs 18:17: The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him. In this format we cannot be expected to have all of the information from both sides relevant to any story or comment.

In this instance, our reader’s comment concerning her belief that a valid reason for leaving a church was when church leaders become abusive indicates that she is seeking an answer to confirm or deny that that reason is valid and one based on, in her opinion, biblical principle. She cited Ezekiel 34 as an example of unfaithful shepherds and how that provided her argument that that reason was a valid one for leaving one’s church. But, in my opinion, there are so many other better questions that should, and must, be explored first before closing the door on this important issue.

Let me rephrase what seems to be our reader’s core question: “Is it biblically valid to break one’s church membership vows and leave the church when church leaders become abusive?” This question can be further subdivided into: (1) When is it biblically valid to break one’s church membership vows and leave the church?” and (2) When can a church leader’s behavior be labeled “abusive?” The second question may be one way to a potential reason or answer to the first so I am not going to go into the many potential forms of pastoral abuse here since the list would be very long (such as breach of a church member’s confidentiality, sexual abuse, counseling abuse, greed, failure to shepherd, intentional lying to protect self, not preaching the Gospel, etc., etc.). Those may all be valid reasons to label a leader’s behavior as “abusive,” but they may not all be valid reasons to leave one’s church. So, the first of our subdivided question becomes the key one on which to focus.

Breaking a vow, any vow, is a very serious matter. Breaking a vow of church membership is one of the most serious because it was one made as a promise to both God and God’s under-shepherds, and the people who inhabit the pews with you. Vows should never be taken lightly. My first question back to our reader may be something like: “When you became a member of your church did you know everything you possibly could about how the leaders of the church would undertake their shepherding responsibilities toward you and others?” I believe too many people make decisions too quickly about joining a particular church before knowing everything they can about it. That is why “potential new member’s classes” are so important. But, it also takes some time to see if what was taught in such a class is what is actually practiced in the church. A rash vow can be a dangerous thing (see the account of Jephthah and his daughter in Judges, chapter 11).

Because a church membership vow is so important it is also wise to think through, “what is the nature of this vow really?” That is, is it a unilateral vow where all responsibility for fulfillment is solely mine or is this a reciprocal situation where the church is also making a vow to me? If the church breaks its vow to me am I free to break my vow in return? What about my responsibility to quietly use my position as a member to seek to correct the breach? If a church leader is not living up to his responsibility should I not seek to help this leader see that and change? This is an aspect of accountability that many church members don’t embrace when things aren’t going as they should in the church based on a biblical standard and from a biblical perspective. What about those who have spiritual authority over church leaders? Can they hear your concerns and appropriately be brought into the situation so that errant leaders can have the benefit of correction? If you have joined a church where there is no meaningful accountability for leader behavior and practice you have likely not fulfilled your responsibility to take a vow wisely. Every church leader needs the benefit of being under meaningful accountability. That is a question of “polity” (church governance structure) and should be one of the most important subjects taught in a potential new member’s class and completely understood before a church membership vow is taken.

The question we are focusing on is a very difficult one to find a completely satisfactory answer to because God took his own vow one day long past that stands as a model for us of the severity of vow-taking. You can read about it in Genesis, chapter 15. Because God can make a binding promise on nothing higher than himself this vow is called a self-maledictory oath (it includes the punishment as part of the vow if broken). The best discussion of this vow that demonstrates how seriously God took his own vow is in Tim Lane’s and Paul Tripp’s book How People Change at pages 68 and 69:

What is going on in this strange encounter? Abram is struggling to believe God, so God helps him. He tells him to cut some animals in half. That night, a smoking firepot and a blazing torch pass between the animal halves. God was saying, “If I do not keep my promise to you, may what happened to these animals happen to me!” This is called a self-maledictory oath. God is saying, “If I don’t keep my end of the bargain, may I be ripped asunder!” Over two thousand years later, God the Son hung on a cross, crying out, “My God! My God! Why have we been ripped asunder?” God allowed what should have happened to us to happen to Jesus. We were the ones who failed, yet the triune God was torn asunder so that we might be united to him and to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. The perfect love, unity, and joy that existed between the Father, Son, and Spirit were demolished, for a time, for our sake.

This is the ground on which we build all relationships. Every time you are tempted to shun another believer [be that a church leader, pastor, or fellow member], remember that the Father, Son, and Spirit were torn asunder so that you might be united. When you sin or are sinned against, you are to move toward your sibling in Christ aware that Father, Son, and Spirit were torn asunder so that you might be reconciled! If we approached relationships in the body of Christ with that in view, it would transform our friendships. In Ephesians 4, Paul says that to the degree you do this, you will be “built up,” “become mature,” “ attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ,” and “grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”

I hope that all of our readers have a better understanding of vow-taking and vow-keeping in the church when they reflect on Genesis 15 and the words above.  To the reader who asked the direction question weeks ago: Yes, leaders may be abusive and you should leave if that is true and you have no avenue open to you for holding them accountable for their abuse, but first take responsibility for the fact the fault may have been yours for taking the church membership vow in the first place. Did you agree to be in submission to these leaders without knowledge? Did you know if they were men under meaningful ecclesiastical accountability? If not, acknowledge your sin for taking a vow perhaps a bit too rashly. Humbly acknowledge that the fault was yours and try your best not to fall into the same situation the next time you join a church.

-Dave Edling

Posted in Abusive churches, Conflicts involving church leaders, When is it valid to leave a church? | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Biblical peacemaking in the church, Hiring a consultant to help with your church conflict | Leave a comment

Inconsistency Reveals Deception–Especially in Church Conflicts

Q. Has there been one key similarity or common characteristic you have noticed about how Christians typically respond to conflicts in their churches?

A. While always difficult to name just one dynamic given the complexity of church conflict, yes, I have observed a common trend in situations and that has been a lack of consistency between a believer’s faith and life. Let me explain.

My motivation to be in ministry has always been tied to an interest in consistency. Being consistent—living in a manner that unites what you believe with what you then actually do—is, of course, not easy. It has always been a struggle for me. There are too many temptations, too many traps along the route, and too many idols to satisfy that are ready to derail the best of intentions in my pursuit of consistency. I know this all too well from 65 years of life, and, if honest, you, dear reader, know it well also. Even when it comes to a life of faith in Christ how easy it is to say something that is a compromise of what I believe and then allow behavior to wrongly follow. It seems that the human condition for inconsistency has been with us for a long time (Romans 7:15 and 19):

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate to do. (v. 15)

For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (v. 19)

The apostle Paul goes on to describe accurately what we all know:

For in my inner being [what I believe] I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body [what I do] waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:22-24)

In church conflicts, I have seen this battle between belief and behavior, between faith and life, raging more violently than in almost any other arena. Caring Christians become deceitful schemers; brothers and sisters in Christ become engaged in doing harm rather than following what they say they believe: to “make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Evidence of inconsistency is everywhere but unseen, unappreciated. Many heart idols (those personal desires and agendas) that are revealed through harsh words and actions come to tower over Christ’s call for gentleness and “wholesome talk” (Ephesians 4:29).  The beliefs that form the core of one’s profession of Christ are quickly compromised in favor of winning an argument.

Paul asks the right (and best) question: Who will rescue me from this body of death?”  And that, too, is the question we must ask when engaged in church conflicts.

We must look for consistency. When there is a want of it we must suspect deception.
–Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Problem of Thor Bridge”

Just as the fictional sleuth pursued the unraveling of crimes, we too are called by faith’s appeal for consistency to unravel the crime of church conflict. We are called to look for inconsistency in our own hearts and also help those of our eternal siblings in the church so that we may all put first things first. Inconsistency reveals deception—we must suspect it! And what is Satan’s prime work? Deception, of course! We have been called to “not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27), and to “resist him, standing firm in the faith” (1 Peter 5:9). There is no more important task at hand when the church faces conflict.

Who will rescue us from this body of death? There is only one—The Prince of Peace who lives—the One has been consistently calling us to “be self-controlled and alert” (1 Peter 5:8). Only by turning and returning again and again to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and all of its implications for faith/life, belief/behavior consistency have I ever seen church conflicts redeemed and biblically resolved. Getting everyone back to the basics of our faith is the first step. Consistency of faith (what we believe) and consistency of life (what we say and do) answers the key application question of our faith: “So What and Now What?” How we answer that is the evidence, the only evidence, by which we demonstrate that we know He, The Prince of Peace, lives and reigns.

If you are presently involved in a church conflict search your heart for any inconsistency between what you believe and what you are doing in response to the conflicts. Are you making every effort to be a redemptive peacemaker? If not, repent and begin again by bringing forth the fruit of consistency.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)

-Dave Edling

Posted in Biblical peacemaking in the church, Causes of Church Conflict | Leave a comment

How do you respond when fellow Christians REFUSE to repent / “Get the Logs out of Their own Eyes”?

Q. What do you do when you confess to someone in your church, but the person is completely unwilling to see the logs in their own eyes and / or repent / confess to you? Especially when the other person is an ordained church leader?

A. I am going to respond to the second sentence, the second part of your question, first. While you are absolutely on solid biblical ground to have a higher expectation for a humble response from an ordained leader, the fact remains that church leaders are also sinners who need the moment by moment application of the regenerating power of the Gospel as much as any of us. Not only that, remember also that the Bible warns that there are false teachers, shepherds, and leaders in the church (see, for example, Matthew 5:19; John 10:12; 1 Timothy 1:7, 4:2, 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 4:3; and 2 Peter 2:1). So, in my opinion, the heart of your question lies in the intent of your first sentence: “How do you cope with a fellow believer who is spiritually blind to their contributions to the conflict between you?” I hope you would agree that that is a fair restatement of your first question.

First, I think it takes great wisdom, patience, and a heart overflowing with the love of Christ for a person who has been rebuffed in their attempts to reconcile to step back and say to themselves: “By their response (or lack thereof) I can see that that brother or sister is trapped in spiritual blindness and they are suffering. What can I do to gently lead them into sight so we can be reconciled?” Rather than seeing and interpreting the person’s lack of a humble response as “unwillingness” (hardness of heart) you have the opportunity to make a charitable judgment and approach the situation from an entirely different perspective. When I was serving on a church staff as a ruling elder, I had to learn to turn a personal attack or harsh rebuff into an opening to see the hurting hearts of the people speaking and acting in a way that was inconsistent with their own profession of Christ and their promise to follow his commands. When Christians refuse to do everything they can to be reconciled to other Christians, they are demonstrating rebellion to Christ and his commands to “be reconciled” (Matthew 5:24); “make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3); and, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

How do we help people stuck in rebellion to Christ? Especially when they don’t even appreciate the nature of their rebellion?

The answer lies in our consideration of the first question: the problem of spiritual blindness. Spiritual blindness is so complex that Tara and I devoted an entire chapter in Redeeming Church Conflicts to it. One of the things that makes spiritual blindness so hard to handle is that those who are suffering from this serious condition don’t realize they are afflicted. Thus, it takes a spiritually wise and patient friend to come alongside and be a gentle guide. A biblical word study of “blind” and “eyes” and “heart” will unpack the Scripture’s comprehensive teaching on this subject. Meditating and praying on what you will learn should give you many insights into what to do in the situation you ask about here. Of course, that will only happen if (and only if) your attitude has been transformed by the Gospel of Christ to be a heart of compassion, committed to helping your trapped sibling in Christ, ordained or otherwise.

 Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law (Psalm 119:18).

 -Dave Edling

Posted in Biblical peacemaking in the church, Causes of Church Conflict, Conflicts involving church leaders, Disappointment in the church | 1 Comment