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Archive for May, 2014

How many times have you heard a pastor preach a sermon on conflict management?

It doesn’t happen very often.

And yet when Christians become upset about an issue in their church, they can become irrational … overly emotional … and even engage in nasty, unchristian behavior.

And this can cause people to attack the pastor … leave the church in droves … weaken attendance and giving … and harm the church for years.

And if that happens, it’s too late for a pastor to start preaching about how Christians should handle conflict.

Last year, I preached a sermon titled “Resolving Conflict Biblically.”

After the service, one woman – in her mid-80s – told me that she had attended a well-known megachurch for much of her life.

In fact, her pastor was a household name among Christians.

But she said that my message was the first one she had ever heard on how to resolve church conflict in a biblical manner.

She probably did hear some messages on that topic, and just forgot.

But I believe that pastors need to speak on church conflict one or two Sundays every year.

Why?

Let me give you three reasons:

First, pastors need to condition their people that conflict among Christians is inevitable.

If two ministry leaders book the same room at the same time … that’s not unusual.

If a nursery worker doesn’t show up or call on a Sunday morning … that happens.

If a senior complains about not singing any hymns during worship … that’s normal.

These are all minor conflicts.

I believe that most pastors have a high tolerance for minor conflicts.  They don’t get too ruffled by these issues.  They’re occupational hazards.

But to the new believer … or the woman who just lost her job … small issues can quickly seem gigantic.

So a pastor needs to tell his people, “These conflicts happen from time-to-time.  When they do, let’s stay calm.  And here’s how to work them out.”

Do you know how few people learn how to address and resolve conflicts when they’re growing up?

The church can be a great help in this area.

Second, pastors need to empower their congregations to resolve conflict biblically.

When Paul wrote about conflict in 1 and 2 Corinthians, he directed those letters to the entire congregation … not just to church leaders.

He did the same thing with Romans … Galatians … Ephesians … and Philippians.

Paul wrote 9 letters to congregations, and 4 to individuals – including 3  to pastors (Timothy and Titus) – and he obviously believed that the average Christian (not just church leaders) needed instruction on conflict management.

In fact, Paul chose to empower every believer with his writings, saying things like:

I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned.  Keep away from them.  Romans 16:17.

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.  1 Corinthians 1:10

If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out of you will be destroyed by each other.  Galatians 5:15

Yes, pastors need to talk about conflict prevention and resolution with church leaders … but with every churchgoer as well … because it’s the responsibility of every Christian to keep their church healthy.

Finally, pastors need to help people face and resolve their own conflicts.

When I was a pastor, there were many times where people came to me … told me about a conflict they were undergoing at the church … and hoped I’d solve it for them.

But my job wasn’t to step in and solve their problems.  That’s dysfunctional behavior.

Instead, I would share with them how to handle the conflict themselves.

Remember the story of Moses in Exodus 18?  The people of Israel brought Moses their problems all day, every day – and it was impacting Moses negatively.  Moses told Jethro his father-in-law:

“… the people come to me to seek God’s will.  Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and laws.”  Exodus 18:15-16

But Jethro saw that this system was wearing Moses out.  Instead, Jethro encouraged Moses in verse 20 to:

“… teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform.”

Then Jethro encouraged Moses to appoint wise judges who would hear the simpler cases, only bringing the more difficult ones directly to Moses … and this system worked beautifully.

How will many people learn to handle conflict in marriage … at work … with their family … and at church … unless their pastor teaches them God’s Word?

When should a pastor preach on conflict?

First, when the church is at peace, and there aren’t any major conflicts.  I always told my congregations, “The best time to prepare for war is during a time of peace.”  Consider it insurance.

Second, consider teaching on conflict one or two Sundays before your church votes on your governing leaders (like elders or deacons) or the annual budget.  Just write it on the calendar … preferably now.

In my last church, I preached on conflict early in November every year.

One year, I thought, “Hey, things are going well.  I’ll preach on something else this time.”

Guess what?  A few months later, major conflict broke out.

Coincidence?  I don’t know … but I’ll always wonder.

One more tip: I believe that every pastor should create a one-page document summarizing what the New Testament says about conflict management and hand this out annually … maybe even putting this document on the church website.

You might call it, “How We Handle Conflict at Our Church.”

Then if conflict does surface, your church has developed ready-made guidelines that any and every believer can implement.

Can you think of any other reasons why pastors need to periodically preach on conflict?

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This is the 350th article I’ve published using WordPress.  Thanks so much for reading!

If you’re a pastor or a board member, you might consider printing some articles and distributing them to your staff or board for discussion.  I’m always encouraged when I hear that someone has done just that.

If there are any topics you’d like me to cover, please send me a message at jim@restoringkingdombuilders.org

May God grant you His peace in your home, workplace, and church life!

 

 

 

 

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Imagine that you’re enjoying a family get-together on Father’s Day, when suddenly, your brother decides to confront you about a remark you made several hours earlier – only he does it in front of your entire family.

You might feel defensive responding in front of others.  Your brother might engage in theatrics to put you on the spot.  Various members of your family might immediately take sides.  The entire confrontation could divide your family and result in one big mess.

So rather than responding in front of your family, the wiser course might be to say, “Can we discuss this matter in private rather than in front of the entire family?”

The implication underlying Matthew 18:15-17 is that your brother – in this case, your pastor – has said or done something that threatens to harm your relationship, or even his ministry.   Nowhere in Matthew 18:15-17 are pastors or church leaders excluded from Jesus’ directives.

Matthew 18:15 does not say: “If your brother sins against you, ask someone else to confront the offender.”

And it does not say, “If your brother sins against you, tell everyone but your brother how much he hurt you.”

And if you’re a member of a church board, this verse does not say, “If your brother sins against you, ask the board chairman to confront the pastor.”

And nowhere does Jesus say, “If you’re upset with your pastor, send him an email and let him know what you really think.”

No, if you heard the pastor say something sinful, or you saw him do something wrong, it’s your job to confront the pastor – or you need to let it go.

But if it’s serious enough that you can’t let it go, then work up your courage and set up a one-on-one meeting with your pastor as soon as possible.

*When should you have the meeting?

One Sunday in my first pastorate, I tried serving communion a different way.  The following Sunday, a board member reprimanded me for my little experiment – five minutes before the following Sunday’s service in the men’s bathroom.

The very worst times to have a confrontation with your pastor are right before and directly after a service where he’s preaching.

Before the service, the pastor will be focused on his message and may not take your concerns seriously.

After the service, the pastor will have expended an enormous amount of adrenaline and may not be in full control of his emotions.

You want to speak with your pastor when he’s at his best, not when he’s at his worst.

A pastor friend once surveyed his colleagues and discovered that the optimal day to confront a pastor was on a Tuesday.  This makes sense because the pastor has recovered from his adrenaline loss the previous Sunday and is just beginning to focus on his message for the following Sunday.

When I was a pastor, my preference was for individuals to call and make an appointment with me.  Depending upon that person’s identity, we’d agree on a meeting place together.

*Where should you have the meeting?

If you meet in the pastor’s study at church, you’re on his turf, and he can control the environment … but in some cases, that might be the only possible place.  A neutral room at the church might work as well.

If you invite the pastor to your house, he may become wary and not come at all.

My preference – if possible – was to have a tough meeting in a public place (like a restaurant) where both parties had to be on good behavior.

It’s extremely difficult for most people to confront their pastor about an offense.  Most people prefer to let things go or tell others how they feel.

But if you really love your pastor – and you want him to change – confronting him may be something that God is calling you to do.

And nobody said that obeying God would be easy.

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The article you have just read is adapted from an e-book I’m writing for church boards (and decision makers) who are frustrated with their pastor and are exploring the possibility of terminating him.

I’m about 80% done with the first draft and welcome your comments about what I’ve written.

 

 

 

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