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Posts Tagged ‘churches and reconciliation’

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already.  Why not rather be wronged?  Why not rather be cheated?  Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.  1 Corinthians 6:7-8

Many years ago, when my family lived in Silicon Valley, we lived next door to a family that scared us half to death.

For example, one night around 11:15, I saw a glow outside our bathroom window.  When I opened it, I saw that our neighbor’s roof was on fire.

Matt, a young man in his early twenties, had lit a pillow on fire while smoking.  Not thinking, he quickly threw the pillow outside his window onto the roof …and tried to put out the fire by barraging it with glasses of water.

From time-to-time, Matt and his buddies would be drinking outside late at night, and they would sit on our front lawn … right by our bedroom window.  Strong disagreements sometimes ensued between Matt and his colleagues.

One time … around 3:00 am … I saw Matt slug his girlfriend after an argument … after which I immediately called the police.

Let’s put it this way: if our family was having problems, the last place we would go for help would be Matt’s family.

In the same way, when families in a community hear that Christians in a church are fighting … and resigning … and leaving … that’s the last place they would go for help … and that feeling might last for years.

This thought reminds me of a conversation that was relayed to me after a major conflict surfaced in my last ministry.

Someone was asking about our church, and an individual in city government replied, “You don’t want to go there.  They’re having problems.”

Until that time, as far as I knew, our church had a glowing reputation throughout the community.  We marched in our city’s annual parade (where people sometimes cheered when we walked by), were members of the Chamber of Commerce, participated in events like Relay for Life, and adopted a school, among other things.

But our conflict quickly spilled outside the congregation and made its way into people’s ears and homes.

Let me make four observations about how major conflict affects a church’s reputation:

First, churches in conflict turn off those they’re trying to reach.

Last night, my wife was watching a news show, and clips were shown of a well-known politician uttering hateful and vile language.

I instinctively blurted out, “You are not welcome in our house,” and muted the sound.

I do the same thing if a television debate becomes too nasty or volatile.  The rancor deeply disturbs my spirit and adds to my stress level.  I don’t need it.

That’s exactly how most unchurched people respond when they hear about a church that’s fighting.  Families have enough conflict of their own.  They don’t want anymore … especially from people who claim to love others unconditionally.

Much of the time, when a church forces out an innocent pastor, the news gets around the community, and those who considered visiting the church refrain.  If they visit any church, it will be one where people seem to get along.

The best “church shrinkage” strategy is for a congregation to let its differences hit the grapevine … including social media.

Second, churches in conflict negate their message of reconciliation.

Dr. Francis Schaeffer claimed that love was the final apologetic for Christians.

Jesus told His disciples in John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Is the converse also true?

We might put it this way: “By this all men will doubt if you are my disciples, if you hate one another.”

By the time a conflict gets around a community, the core issue is largely forgotten … and people focus on the relational fallout instead.  (“The people at that church don’t get along.”)

How can churches that claim to embrace the gospel preach effectively about Jesus when it’s obvious they’re not living its core belief?

We Christians basically have two messages: love God and love one another.

Major conflicts contradict both messages.

Why would anyone be attracted to Christ when it doesn’t seem to be doing any good in the life of His followers?

And why would anyone think that a “fighting church” could help them with their own relational problems?

Third, churches in conflict negate the process for reconciliation.

The gospel is the message of reconciliation.  But the New Testament is clear there is a process for reconciliation as well.

That process is often found in a church’s governing documents.  The process is based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:15-20 and amplified by verses like Luke 17:3-4; Galatians 6:1-2; and 1 Timothy 5:19-21.

I believe that when church leaders follow the teaching of Matthew 18 seriously, most conflicts inside a church can be resolved, and those conflicts will not spill out into the community.

But when church leaders ignore Matthew 18 … especially when they go straight to power and play church politics … one can almost guarantee that the conflict will get around the community.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 18 lay out deliberate steps, and the time between steps may take weeks, if not months.

Godly leaders are patiently willing to work those steps.

But anxious, immature leaders don’t want to work a process, so they envision the outcome they want and then devise shortcuts to get there … and in the process, wreak havoc on their congregation.

As Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, a lawsuit between believers is one such shortcut.

Paul says that those who sue other believers “have been completely defeated already” and “cheat” and “wrong” their brothers.

From time-to-time, I advocate for what I call a Conflict Resolution Group in every church.  Composed of at least three spiritual and wise individuals, this group’s charter is not to manage/resolve conflicts when they arise, but to train, coach, and make sure that believers – especially leaders – follow the biblical directives for conflict resolution.

Because, sad to say, it’s often church leaders who violate the biblical reconciliation process the most.

The governing board needs a group they’re accountable to for the process they use, but not the decisions they make.

Finally, churches in conflict implicitly confess they don’t know the pathway to reconciliation.

Evangelical churches tend to resolve major conflicts in one of three ways:

First, they force out their pastor and blame him for the entire conflict.

Whether the pastor started the conflict, or whether he couldn’t fix it fast enough, it’s amazing how many churches end up scapegoating the pastor for all their troubles.

Because when the pastor is 100% responsible for a church’s problems, those who blame him never have to admit they did anything wrong … and when they hire a new pastor, they get to remain in their current ministries.

Second, they either allow or encourage disgruntled people to leave the church.

Pastors and other leaders often assume that if a contentious faction leaves their church, the congregation will quickly resort to health.

Maybe yes … probably no.

The departing faction may end up at another local church … and use their former church as a mission field, thus perpetuating the conflict.

Finally, they act like nothing happened and sweep the issues under the carpet.

This is the default position in most evangelical churches.

*The pastor has been fired … but the leaders won’t talk about it.

*A staff person has been dismissed … but nobody will answer questions.

*A faction has angrily left … but the leaders act like everything is fine.

And in the process, we Christians never learn from our leaders how to address issues, disagree honestly, respond biblically, and work toward wise and loving solutions.

To use a football analogy, all we do in our churches is punt … punt … punt.

Is it any wonder then that all too many Christian couples divorce … that Christian parents stop talking to their adult children … and that Christian friends stop talking to each other for good?

Church leaders don’t model conflict resolution for us.  They model conflict avoidance instead.

Have you ever been in a church that handled conflict openly?

No, they’re all managed behind closed doors, where demands and threats may be used to end matters.

But in the process, God’s people never learn how godly people are supposed to handle conflict.

As Paul asks in 1 Corinthians 6:5:

Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?

Sometimes I wonder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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