As today’s political climate heats up, we’ve got to learn how to deal with a certain amount of tension in the air. Conflict in the church takes on various forms. Sometimes the conflict surrounds something the pastor has done, or hasn’t done, or someone thinks he should have done something differently. Sometimes there are members of the congregation who, it seems, are not satisfied if things are peaceful; and when their name and number appears on your caller ID, your stomach gets tight because you wonder what they want to complain about this time. Sometimes conflicts have nothing to do with the staff, but there is an issue between members, and at times like this, maybe it’s about a political or social disagreement. Either way, the pastor, a deacon, or a church leader is likely to get a phone call.
It is interesting that many times children and teenagers seem to get along better at church than adults do. We can chalk kids’ arguments up to immaturity; Christian adults should know better. Many times, though, no one wants to address conflict in the church until the issue has become larger and more widely known than it should be. In other words, church leaders would rather ignore the problem and hope it goes away rather than face it head on and put a swift end to it. They allow the member to vent to them but never try to resolve the issue.
I once knew of a church with particular members who were notorious for calling a deacon to complain about something. The deacon would share with the pastor and the deacon body he received a call, but he refused to reveal who called (it was usually somebody named “They”) and he would not say anything to the caller to help resolve the situation.
If the pastor or church leader is called upon to intervene, you should lovingly try to solve the problem before it gets out of hand. First, remind the folks involved in the conflict that no one except Jesus is perfect. Since Christ extends grace to us, then we should be willing to extend grace to each other. Second, point them to Scripture. In Ephesians 1:7 Paul says “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” Colossians 3:12-13 tells us, “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.
Hopefully, with prayer and Scripture, the parties can put aside their differences and move on. But if not, someone may need to be asked to leave the congregation and go elsewhere. It seems no one wants to talk about church discipline in our day, but in Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus is clear about the process: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
Unresolved conflict can affect a church for generations, especially in smaller churches where families have attended for many years. So remember, and remind your leadership, to address church conflict quickly, lovingly, and scripturally. When conflicts are resolved the church can remain healthy and unified.