FREE Checklist to Help You Select a Third-Party Church Conflict Consultant

Hope for Redeeming Church Conflicts

One of the most common questions we receive has to do with how to evaluate a third-party church conflict consultant. This is such an important topic, that we have an entire Appendix on it in our book. And today, we want to give it away for free to you:

Redeeming Church Conflict Conclusion and Appendices

We hope that it is an encouragement and help to you as you seek to redeem your church or other organizational conflicts.

God bless!
Dave & Tara

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Posted in Excerpts from "Redeeming Church Conflicts", Hiring a consultant to help with your church conflict, Uncategorized

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

“It was like being in Hell with instructions!”

I have been writing this week, but it hasn’t been for this website. Rather, my efforts have been directed at writing a requested review of a new book for The Gospel Coalition.

So, I was thinking of just taking the week off from blogging when I read a passage from a book I recently started that fits in my category of “relaxation/pastime” pleasures, a luxury I have afforded myself in my retirement years. The book is A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols (HarperCollins Publishers, 2001) which is about the 1968-1969 non-stop circumnavigation of the world sailing race by nine solo yachtsmen. The book’s sub-title is: Nine men set out to race each other around the world. Only one returned.

The opening chapters of the book go into some detail about each of the nine participants. One, a rugged British paratrooper by the name of Chay Blyth, had never sailed in his entire life. Here was a man of adventure who had rowed across the Atlantic several years earlier but had not one clue about sailing. He was in this race, in his own words, for survival adventure:

“Out here it’s all black and white, survival. I’m not particularly fond of the sea, it’s just a question of survival.” (page 49)

My brother and I used to have a vision of one day sailing from Bellingham, Washington to Bora Bora. He is a commercial fisherman and boat-builder and I am retired from the Coast Guard with both Navy and Coast Guard deep water sailing experience. I was once even the navigator of a U.S. Navy ship. We thought this would be a fitting adventure for our mid-60’s until both of our wives heard the plan. Now, we are not going and my brother sold his boat. Oh well! At least I get to live the vicarious life of reading about others who have taken to the high seas. I have to admit that differing from Chay, I was not out for merely the survival aspect of such a voyage…I expected to survive and have some serious fun along the way.

Chay’s race did not begin well. Three weeks into his passage he sailed into a gale and discovered he had no idea how to meet the challenge. He was helpless in a vessel he was quickly discovering had poor design qualities for such weather. As the boat became unmanageable and began to broach before the huge seas and high winds, he wrote the following words (which were also my inspiration for this week’s RCC blog entry):

“So I lowered the sails…and once I had lowered them there was nothing more I could do except pray. So I prayed. And between times I turned to one of my sailing manuals to see what advice it contained for me. It was like being in hell with instructions.(page 50)

As co-author of a book on dealing with the crisis of church conflicts, I was immediately struck with the thought:

How many pastors feel exactly like Chay when the gale waters of conflict hit their church? Yes, they pray. And then they turn to the many “manuals” to see what advice they may contain…but how often do they feel that they are “in hell with instructions”?

Unlike Chay’s knowledge of sailing, most pastors know a lot about how to lead a church. But that leadership is usually under conditions of calm seas and gentle following winds. When the storm hits, however, the climate changes and “all hell breaks loose” (to use an old nautical and other adventurous term).  As I read A Voyage for Madmen, I began to wonder:

“Have Tara and I just written another “manual” that offers little real advice in the storm of church conflict? If prayer is not sufficient what is?”

Having worked with a significant number of conflicted churches, we know that church conflict can feel very much like a foretaste and glimmer of “Hell” … so the analogy is apropos.

Of course, Chay’s problem was that he didn’t learn how to sail through rough and stormy waters before he left port on such an adventurous undertaking. That should never be the case in the church as regards conflict. Pastors, other leaders, and every church member have time to prepare for the looming storm of church conflict. In Redeeming Church Conflicts we warn readers to prepare before the high winds of conflict begin to swamp the hallowed halls (and every relationship is at risk of being washed overboard). Don’t wait to read the “manual” until the turbulent times are sinking your ship…read and prepare now! Don’t be like Chay!

As of my reading this morning, I don’t know yet how Chay fares in the race he has entered. I will finish this book and discover the ending in a couple of days. But I do know that if you, as a pastor, church leader, or church member, don’t prepare for the voyage of church conflict before it strikes the bow, stern or amidships of your church, you will broach. Therefore, you must enter the race prepared!

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” 1 Corinthians 9: 24-25

For the glory of His everlasting crown,
-Dave Edling

Posted in Biblical peacemaking in the church | 2 Comments

“I Already Know That!”

In my years of serving as a Christian mediator, I have been privileged to assist extraordinarily gifted men and women of great faith and world-class formal educations. In one such situation, I was sitting between two (very angry) co-senior pastors of a large suburban church. Both loved the Lord and loved their church—but their years of subtle maneuvering for the position of greatest power and influence over their members had brought about a terrible result. Their relationship was nonexistent. It had been months since they had even prayed with one another. And the church was crumbling beneath even these “gifted,” “brilliant” men.

“I already know that!”

One pastor responded to the most recent point made in our four hour stretch of meditating on Holy Scripture.

“I already know that!”

He flung at me and his opponent. Not with gratitude (“Thank You, Lord, for allowing me to see You and Your Truth in Your Word”), but as a weapon to attack, a wall to hide behind, a way to proclaim his superior knowledge of God’s Word and put any hope of reasoned discussion to an end.

“I know that. I know all of God’s Word better than you. So what? Let’s move on!”

But we could not move on. To merely give intellectual assent to something with no personal engagement or response of obedience is the rhetorical equivalent of saying, “Your Mama wears combat boots!” Nothing productive is gained. No one is helped. This pastor could claim to believe anything he wanted to—as long as it didn’t have to change him. And these biblical truths did not change him. He was unmoved. Unimpressed—by me as his mediator, by God’s inerrant Word. Despite multiple graduate degrees and years of pastoral experience, this man was immature:

“Spiritual maturity results from practicing truth in everyday life, not from knowing truth in one’s mind.” Paul Tripp (see also Hebrews 5:11-14)

The fruit of his immaturity was the destruction of his church. This pastor walked away from the mediation and he walked away from his church all in a rage. Hundreds of people followed his lead and broke their membership vows, abandoning deep friendships in the process. The name of Christ in this community was tarnished. No unity. No reconciliation. No bearing with one another in love. Instead, just a bad ending to a bad situation because one pastor poured all of his passion and commitment into one statement:

“I already know that!”

“Knowledge puffs up” (1 Corinthians 8:10), “But love builds up.” There is a world of difference between mere head knowledge and the faith-filled, God-centered, application of that knowledge. True theological knowledge is defined by one word:

Love.

Love is the only thing that will apply knowledge so that truth becomes relevant to life:

“So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.” 1 Corinthians 8:12

But:

“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” James 3:13

With wise and love-driven application of God’s truth to our everyday struggles and conflicts, we have the privilege and joy of loving our Father and his eternal children just as He has loved us:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love …” John 15:9-10

May God give us grace to redeem every conflict for His glory as our wisdom—our love—is on display (not merely our knowledge).

In the Lamb,
-Dave Edling (with Tara Barthel)

Posted in Authentic Relationships in the Church, Causes of Church Conflict, Conflicts involving church leaders, Conflicts with our youth pastor | Leave a comment

“Hope permeates each chapter …”

Thanks for your patience re: our delayed postings as Dave and I are currently a little too busy actually serving churches to blog about it …

To tide you over, our gratitude goes out to Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal for this endorsement:

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.”

And I (Tara) would also like to bring to your attention a wonderful book by one of my favorite contemporary churchmen, Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile, that I received in the mail this week and just couldn’t put down until I had read every word. It is a beautiful, accessible, theologically-rich treatment of how our life together in the church is both “rooted in God the Son and grows up into the full resemblance of the Son because our union with Jesus is both the root and fruit of spiritual fellowship”:

The Life of God in the Soul of the Church: The Root and Fruit of Spiritual Fellowship

I truly believe that Redeeming Church Conflicts would be needed much less if we all lived out the truths that Pastor Anyabwile exegetes in this book.

Posted in HOPE in the midst of conflict, Reviews of "Redeeming Church Conflicts"

In Church Conflict (as in War), The Malice of the Wicked is Reinforced by the Weakness of the Virtuous

Over the holidays, I began reading Winston Churchill’s Memoirs of the Second World War (the abridged version not knowing if I would live long enough to read his entire six volume set!).  In one of the opening paragraphs Churchill writes of his purpose in setting to paper his experiences:

It is my purpose, as one who lived and acted in these days, to show how easily the tragedy of the Second World War could have been prevented; how the malice of the wicked was reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous; how the structure and habits of democratic states, unless they are welded together into larger organisms, lack those elements of persistence and conviction which can alone give security to humble masses; how, even in matters of self-preservation, no policy is pursued even for ten or fifteen years at a time. We shall see how the counsels of prudence and restraint may become the prime agents of mortal danger; how the middle course adopted from desires for safety and a quiet life may be found to lead direct to the bull’s-eye of disaster. We shall see how absolute is the need of a broad path of international action pursued by many states in common across the years, irrespective of the ebb and flow of national politics.

As I read those words I was struck by the truth that with some minor tweaking they would apply with equal force to the state of today’s church as it seeks to remain relevant:

It is my purpose, as one who has been active in the church, to show how easily the tragedy of the irrelevance of the church on modern culture could have been prevented; how the malice of the wicked was reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous; how the structure and habits of so-called tolerant churches, unless they are welded together in the uncompromising truth of the Bible’s Gospel of Jesus Christ, lack those elements of persistence and conviction which can alone give security to proud yet confused masses; how, even in matters of eternal self-preservation, no consistent theology is pursued for even a few years until replaced with the latest spiritual fad. We shall see how the counsels of prudence and restraint may become the prime agents of eternal immortal danger; how the middle course adopted from desires for safety and the quiet life may be found to lead directly to the bull’s eye of disaster. We shall see how absolute is the need of following the narrow path of Christ pursued by many churches in common across the years, irrespective of the ebb and flow of the popular, majority culture.

Of course, that parallel is not perfect and my attempt to draw comparisons may not satisfy you, but one element is clear: unless those who know God’s Word are without waver as they intentionally determine to faithfully live and practice the Scriptures as the virtuous strong, the malice of the wicked will be reinforced! Dr. Timothy Witmer’s wonderful statement concerning church leadership is absolutely true:

Faithful shepherds protect their flocks not only from harmful outside influences but from the self-serving among the sheep. Many congregations have experienced the intimidation of bullies within their midst when leaders fail to take responsibility to shepherd the flock. It is often the strong-willed, outspoken, highly opinioned folk who fill the void. There will always be leaders—the issue is whether they are the leaders called and gifted by God to shepherd his flock or those who push themselves forward so that they can push others around. (Quoted in Redeeming Church Conflicts at page 117)

Destructive, unredeemed conflict in the church usually is a result of some who are willing to compromise God’s clear plan and path for his church in total submission to Christ. Without virtuous church leaders and members willing to confront the schemes of the wicked, the malice of the wicked will be reinforced. Whenever we value tolerance over truth, lose persistence and conviction in the one Gospel of Christ, or seek merely safety and the quiet disengaged life, we run the risk and danger of becoming irrelevant. That may sound harsh but look at the reality of our culture today. Where do you see culture being informed and conformed to the image of Christ and his kingdom by the relevance of the church?

Irish philosopher and politician Edmund Burke said nearly three hundred years ago, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” That is as true in the church as it is other venues (just as is Churchill’s statement above concerning the malice of the wicked being reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous is likewise true). My prayer is that we will encourage our leaders to be both virtuous and strong by being so ourselves as we follow the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords as his virtuous strong.

In the Lamb,
Dave Edling

Posted in Abusive churches, Causes of Church Conflict, Conflicts involving church leaders, Confrontation, Excerpts from "Redeeming Church Conflicts", Postmodern Relativism and Church Conflict

What should we do when our church’s leadership is boldly rewarding and promoting their own “inner circle”?

Q: We have all heard of “cliques” in the church, but what should one do when it becomes obvious that the church’s leadership culture boldly rewards, acknowledges, and promotes their own elite “inner circle?” This is occurring while at the same time others are being ignored, neglected, or avoided.

A: First, we start with biblical truth! God’s propositional truth regarding any form of “favoritism” is discussed extensively in the Scriptures. God does not show favoritism (see Acts 10:34-35; and Romans 2:11), and we are equally commanded to not show favoritism (see Ephesians 6:9-10; Colossians 3:25; and 1 Timothy 5:21). The specific portion of Gods’ Word that most clearly demonstrates that there shall be no favoritism in the church, however, is James 2:1-10. Anyone practicing favoritism is spoken of there as a “lawbreaker”: “But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers (verse 9).

Second, knowing with certainty that any practice of favoritism in the church and among Christians is forbidden as sin now brings to the forefront your question, but stated in a slightly different way: “What should one do when they see a sinful practice occurring in the church and it is the leaders of the church that seem to be caught in that practice?” Do you see how starting with God’s standard for faith and practice lays the foundation for asking the next best question that will most accurately help you make decisions and focus your next steps? That is a critical step when seeking to use the Scriptures as a guide. But even here we have to be careful. Look carefully at how I have restated your question; it is a compound question that contains a presupposition. The next thing we should do is break the question down into its parts and then strip out any presuppositions. The first question would then seem to be: “What should one do when they see a sinful practice occurring in the church?” The next question may be stated as follows: “What should one when do when they see a church leader apparently caught in sin?” I use the word “caught” here as it is used in Galatians 6:1 where it does not simply mean that an act of sin has been discovered. Rather, the meaning there is that the victim of sin has been overtaken by surprise and is in need of mending (restoring, rescuing). I believe you know the answers to both of those questions as now stated. Every person needs the benefit of accountability, even pastors and other leaders. Paul, writing to the Corinthians says, “Don’t you know that a little yeast [sin] works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast – as you really are (1 Cor. 5:6-7).” Sin in the church is to be dealt with; it is to be expelled so that the sacrifice of Christ, our Passover lamb, may be celebrated not with the old yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast [without sin], the bread of sincerity and truth (1 Cor. 5:7-8).” Leaders are not exempt from being taken captive by sin. Read again Ezekiel chapter 34. God holds those who would be shepherds accountable for their ministries. Hebrews 13:17 says that such men “must give an account.” There are also some very important words at 1 Peter 2:13-17 that would be helpful in breaking the cycle of abuse you have described. Be a rescuing servant to your leaders and let them know of your concerns and why you believe their practices have brought sin into the place where there is to be no yeast.

– Dave Edling

Posted in Abusive churches, Uncategorized

Battered Pastors with Weary Souls

Rev. Dr. Alfred Poirier’s doctoral dissertation at Westminster Seminary was overseen by Rev. Dr. David Powlison and published by Baker as The Peacemaking Pastor. In it, Pastor Poirier speaks candidly about his exhaustion and frustration related to ongoing struggles with conflict in the church:

I did not plan to be a heretic. It just happened. I woke one day to find in the mirror a pastor with a tired face and a weary soul. I had entered the pastorate eager to walk in the footsteps of the pastorate and practice what the ancient church called the care of souls (cura animarum). But I woke that day frightened to find that I did not care anymore. I was tired of the conflicts, the sin, the gossip, the threats, the divisions, and the dissensions. You know what they look like … ” The Peacemaking Pastor

I thought of Pastor Poirier, and the many—MANY—other exhausted, hurt pastors I have served over the years as I read this blog series by Todd Pruitt:

Battered Pastors (Part 1 of 5)

Oh oh oh … how deeply I desire that we sheep would learn to protect and guard our leaders so that such resources would never be needed.

Posted in Conflicts involving church leaders, Conflicts with our youth pastor, HOPE in the midst of conflict, RedeemingLINKS | Leave a comment

What do pastors in conflicted churches need the most?

Q. When pastors in conflicted churches call you, what do they need the most? Is there a certain piece of advice or Scripture passage that you always end up giving them?

A. A pastor tensely (and loudly) said, “You just don’t understand, Dave; no one has ever faced a situation like this and many, many people are going to be hurt and the church will never recover!” On the phone this pastor, this under-shepherd of the Lord and King of Creation, was so distraught and overwhelmed by his church’s conflicts that there was simply no hope left in him. For him, the end of the world had truly arrived. But had it really?

One aspect of the account given to us in the opening verses of Acts 15 that always amazes and encourages me is the response that Paul and Barnabas displayed when traveling through the land to take a matter of church conflict back to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for counsel. The early church was facing a very serious doctrinal challenge to the Gospel’s message of free grace in Christ. Paul and Barnabas knew the stakes were high as evidenced by the fierce encounter they had with those demanding the addition of the works of the law. But we find them as they travel through Phoenicia and Samaria telling people how the powerful message of grace has led to the conversion of even the Gentiles (those considered by the “religious people” of the day as outcasts and “unclean”).  And, as Acts 15:3 goes on to tell us:

“This news made all the brothers very glad.”

The anxiety of conflict could have diverted Paul and Barnabas from the good news of the entrance of new believers into the eternal kingdom of God. Had this happened, we could well have had an account reporting that:

“The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how a great church conflict was raging in Antioch and many were leaving the church. This news made all the brothers very sad.”

But that was not how Paul and Barnabas acted and that is not what happened. Why?

Of course, it was because Paul and Barnabas knew and had seen the power of God’s grace in action. Just take a few minutes to read the chapters immediately preceding chapter 15 of Acts and imagine for a moment how you would react if someone then told you “No. God’s grace in Christ is not enough for your eternal salvation.” That would sound like rubbish and nonsense. But then what? Do you keep on joyously serving God’s people in truth or do you react in some other manner? Are you suddenly overwhelmed by discouragement, anxiety, and an end-of-the-world mentality? That was exactly where this pastor was during our phone call. (And exactly where many pastors have been during many phone calls I have had with them.)

A serious conflict had struck his church. What do I now say to bring him back to a perspective that serves up a large dose of the reality of grace?

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

That is the most important message—God’s message—that this pastor and every person in conflict needs to hear. It is the message of the reality of eternal grace that overcomes every distraction, even the distraction of conflict.  But to understand that message in context we need to understand and believe something more. These verses begin with the key word “Therefore” indicating that what came before establishes the basis from which the belief-action of change can follow. We see that before the “Therefore” of verse 16 come these powerful words of eternal truth:

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6

It is written: “I believed therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. 2 Corinthians 4:13-14 (emphasis added)

When I responded to the pastor with the words of 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 I was not advocating some pie-in-the-sky mind game to try to manipulate him into feeling better. No. When I spoke of living consistently from an “eternal perspective,” I was reminding him of all of the truths he already believed; truths that would give him hope to courageously and joyfully face his conflicts. I gently encouraged him:

Pastor, your belief, your faith, in the risen Christ demands of you a new way of thinking and speaking. If you believe that God raised Christ from the dead and that he will also raise you then you have the present power of that faith to change and face every conflict with that same spirit. Our common faith is in a presently unseen reality that changes everything; it opens the door to hope and it means you never again have to be overwhelmed by anything in this life.”

When the distraught pastor regained his perspective he began to change. He realized that the situation he faced may be out of his present control but that it wasn’t out of God’s control. He believed again that by faith he could see the situation anew. Even though the conflict was serious, it was not paralyzing. He could become the messenger of encouragement and hope that God had called him to be. With that renewed eternal perspective he began to understand what trust in God really looked like. And as he trusted in God, he lost his anxiety and began to lead. Under his leadership the church’s members responded in faith and hope and the conflict eventually became the message God was using to grow up his disciples.

Redeeming conflicts begins with faith, hope, and trust in the God Who raised the dead then and Who still raises the dead today. God is at work in every situation, even the excruciatingly painful fire of church conflict.

With man this is impossible, but not with God: all things are possible with God. Mark 10:27

The power making eternal salvation possible is also the power behind redeeming church conflicts. Believe it. Live it. Have hope.

-Dave Edling

P.S.
In our new book, Redeeming Church Conflicts, Tara and I unpack Acts 15 as one of God’s powerful demonstrations of the Gospel at work.  Look for it on May 1st or pre-order at Amazon.com today.

Posted in Biblical peacemaking in the church, HOPE in the midst of conflict | 2 Comments

When Change Seems Unlikely in Church Conflicts

Tara has suggested to me that we present a short series of stories of hope—positive experiences we have had when working with churches in conflict. The aim of such a series, of course, would be to reveal God’s faithfulness to his people and the way that faithfulness has brought evidence of hope to difficult situations where change seemed unlikely. We both have witnessed people of faith change the desires of their hearts when it dawned on them that they were to be about building God’s kingdom and not just their own (“a kingdom of one” to use Paul Tripp’s phrase). How wonderful it is when people change because that truth is realized and embraced!

Tara’s first question to get us started was this:

“What is one of your all-time favorite memories in a church conflict (i.e., when did church leaders and members truly redeem their church’s conflict)?”

In our new book, Redeeming Church Conflicts: Turning Crisis into Compassion and Care,  we tell many stories of churches in conflict to illustrate biblical principles, but one we don’t tell is of the response of a denominational synod (the national leadership of all churches of the denomination meeting together) when challenged with the message of biblical peacemaking. It is one of my favorite memories because it brought such an immediate and significant response that affected so many local congregations.

I had been engaged by the denomination to preach at the synod’s opening worship service and then, the next day, to teach a day-long seminar on conflict in the church and how best to respond. My sermon message centered on the text of 1 Corinthians 10:31:

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

I was completely unaware as I began my engagement with these fellow Christians that a divisive case of church discipline (an appeal to the synod from a local church) had been festering at the national level for over twenty years! After my sermon and day of teaching on God’s wonderful grace to us and his standards for being peacemakers, I was utterly shocked to learn that in response, the Synod’s meeting agenda was being set aside for the next two days in favor of resolving this long outstanding case of conflict in the church.

This was shocking for many reasons, not the least of which was that these national-level gatherings are planned months, sometimes years, in advance. To scrap a highly orchestrated plan and come to a point where people agreed that they “must make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3) is a pretty big deal! This gathering of several hundred pastors and lay church leaders did just that, however, as they said, “We haven’t put God’s priority for relationships first in our church and it is high time that we did so.” They redeemed and resolved this festering case and I had the opportunity several months later to work with a Synod committee tasked with re-writing sections of the denomination’s Book of Church Order as they captured in a permanent manner the values they had re-captured from the Scriptures.

Why did they do this? God’s grace to them, of course, but also because their corporate spiritual maturity allowed them to embrace their task of becoming more and more a kingdom-focused church being built on God’s revealed will through his Word. I am not a great or powerful public speaker, but God used me on this occasion as a simple messenger to remind these godly and gifted leaders of his grace to them as it applies to church conflict.

At the core of that message is the call to “do it all for the glory of God.” Matthew 5:23 and 24 communicate one way how we glorify God in conflict—those key interrelated principles of urgency, relationships, and worship:

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the alter and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the alter. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

God is essentially telling us we can’t worship in a right manner, with a right heart, if we are living under the cloud of conflict, a broken relationship with a sibling in Christ. Indeed, we are showing ourselves as hypocrites when we try to do so. Acts of worship are meaningless to God if conflict goes unredeemed and unresolved. God’s demand for right relationships among his people, peaceful relationships, is paramount. The leaders of this denomination were given “ears to hear” (Matthew 11:15; Hebrews 3:7-8) and acted in faith because they knew God’s priorities surpassed any other consideration. It was a privilege for me to be associated with such a group of devoted Christians. God brought evidence of his faithfulness as his people were faithful. That is building a kingdom that will last … and a lasting wonderful memory for me, as well.

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him. 1 John 2:9-11

I pray for many “ears to hear.”

– Dave Edling

Posted in Biblical peacemaking in the church, Church discipline, Conflicts involving church leaders, HOPE in the midst of conflict