Posts Tagged ‘preventing church conflict’

How much do you like to play chess?

One summer, between eighth and ninth grades, I played 97 games of chess with an older friend.  As I recall, I won 49, he won 45, and there were three stalemates.

Since he was in the high school chess club and knew all my tricks, I had to prepare myself for long games, which meant that I had to learn how to set up a defense to protect my key pieces, especially the King and Queen.

In the same way, a church needs to learn how to protect their pastor(s) from attack, and to prepare a long-term defense plan.

In my last article, I mentioned five ways that church leaders can protect their church from the inevitability of internal conflicts.  (You can access that article by clicking on the green link above and to the left of the title.)

Let me share the last five ways with you:


Sixth, create a special document that specifies how to handle conflicts with the pastor (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Tim. 5:19-21).

Most churches lack this document.  If your church decides to create a Conflict Resolution Group, this could be among their first assignments.

It should be biblically-based, conform to labor law, be consistent with the church’s governing documents, and aim to treat the pastor fairly and justly.

If an individual, a leader, or a group in the church makes accusations against a pastor, the governing board should determine the severity of the charges:

*Forgive citations: these are petty, personal issues people have with the pastor (Prov. 19:11; Matt. 23:23-24).  The board should say, “This is such a silly charge that you either need to forgive the pastor, pray for him, or let this go.  We won’t pursue this any more.”  The great majority of accusations against a pastor fall into this “citation” category.

*Confront misdemeanors: this is where the pastor hurt or offended someone personally or where he committed a minor offense while carrying out his ministry (Luke 17:3-4).  The proper way to deal with a minor offense is to speak with the pastor directly about it.

*Investigate felonies: this involves serious charges against the pastor, especially involving heresy, sexual immorality, or criminal behavior (Deut. 19:15-21).

If the pastor is accused of a felony, the board should do an investigation and (a) gather evidence; (b) meet with witnesses; and (c) decide if the charges are legitimate or illegitimate.

If they are illegitimate, the accusers should ask the pastor for forgiveness or leave the church, and the board should insist on this.  If the pastor’s accusers don’t admit they’re wrong, they’ll just create more charges down the road.

If they appear to be legitimate, the board should set up a meeting between the accusers and the pastor.  The pastor must be allowed to face his accusers.

Once this meeting is held, the board must decide the future of the pastor and his accusers in the congregation. Aim for restoration first (Gal. 6:1), removal last.

Seventh, remind leaders that conflict is likely to break out at certain predictable times:

Much of the time in church life, the pastor and staff know that conflict will surface at specific times.  For example:

*When the pastor/leaders are initiating change.  This is because church leaders have taken a long time to study the changes but they haven’t allowed enough time for people to share feedback and adjust to the changes themselves.

*Easter/Christmas seasons.  This is primarily because everyone wants their church to look good on the major Christian holidays and this causes people to become highly anxious.  It’s also because people bring their own personal stress over the holiday to church.

*Budget time.  This is because the annual church budget determines a church’s values and priorities (“Oh no, the youth ministry budget got slashed while the pastor’s slush fund was doubled”) and because people become anxious about the church’s ability to reach their targeted income.

*When changing the worship service.  Despite the fact that the New Testament never mentions even one Sunday morning worship service … and therefore, churches are free in the Lord to plan their own … some people will react negatively and emotionally to any change that they and their friends do not like.

*The addition of a new generation.  How many churches have made specific plans to reach Millennials?  What is your church doing to reach them?  Just think about the changes you’d have to make … and envision the conflict those changes would provoke.

*The addition or removal of staff.  “Why did we hire him?  I don’t like the guy.”  “Why did they let Pastor Brian go?  He was always very nice to me.”  Those statements alone speak volumes as to how churchgoers view staff members.  While I loved adding new staff, I hated letting anybody go because most of the fallout would be directed at me as pastor.

*When the church is shrinking.  This is because people don’t want to invest their time, energy, and money in a sinking ship … and because some will pin the blame for decline on one person: the lead pastor.

*When the church is growing.  This may sound surprising, but many pastors are ousted because they were too successful.  Many churchgoers … especially long-time leaders … would rather be large fish in a small pond than smaller fish in a larger pond.  And when they discover that some of their power is to be shared or taken away by new people, they often rebel.

Eight, practice openness about official church matters while maintaining confidentiality concerning the issues in people’s lives (1 Cor. 1:10-17; 3:1-9; 6:12-19).

During a major conflict, church leaders usually stay tight-lipped and say little or nothing to churchgoers about what’s happening.

But I believe that leaders should share as much as they can, not as little as possible, because as the saying goes, you are as sick as your secrets.

*Your church should have at least one congregational/business meeting annually.  The purpose of this meeting is for the church to vote on new board members and next year’s budget.

*Your congregation should also schedule periodic informational meetings (like a town hall meeting) where the pastor and church leaders can provide updates and receive feedback without the pressure of any voting.  Two meetings a year sounds reasonable.

*The pastor, staff, and board should be transparent with church members about everything that involves the church as an institution: attendance, weekly giving, the budget, and policies. Membership has its privileges.

*Everyone in the church should know how to contact the key leaders.  Their pictures should be on a wall someplace, and their email addresses should be published.

*The church board should report to the congregation in some fashion as often as the lead pastor has to report to the board.  You can’t have an accountable pastor and an unaccountable board.  It’s a scenario for disaster.

I learned this adage for church leaders from Dr. Archibald Hart: “We don’t have secrets, we do keep confidences.”

Ninth, practice periodic “conflict drills.”

My wife and I run a preschool in our home, and once a month, we have to do a fire drill.  (In fact, we just did one within the past hour!)  When the alarm sounds, the children must exit through the front door … even if they have one shoe on and one shoe off … and walk to the fire hydrant along the rim of our cul-de-sac as a meeting place.

In the same way, a pastor and a governing board should run one or two “conflict drills” every year … unannounced … so both parties can evaluate how they handle conflict.

Here’s an example:

*A board member hears that several church leaders are openly complaining about the pastor.

*The board member contacts the complainer and says: “If you are upset about policy matters, please speak with anyone who made the policy (usually board members). If you are upset with the pastor personally, please speak with him directly, pray for him, or let it go.  Otherwise, we’re not going to entertain your complaints.”

*The board determines the severity of the complaint (citation, misdemeanor, felony) and acts accordingly.

*Consult with the Conflict Resolution Group and make sure that the ten principles and the governing documents are followed.

*The pastor must be allowed to face his accusers.

*The pastor/board contacts (a) a church consultant; (b) a conflict manager; (c) a Christian mediator; (d) a denominational executive for counsel.

*The board makes a decision and announces it to the appropriate parties.

Create your own steps if you’d prefer, but I believe that periodic conflict drills can be a lifesaver for a congregation.

Tenth, implement these five biblical principles for preventing church conflict:

*Talk directly to those you’re upset with rather than telling others about them (Prov. 11:13; 16:28; 18:8; 20:19; 1 Tim. 3:11; 5:13; James 4:11-12; 3 John 9-10).

*Share your frustrations with the appropriate spiritual leader rather than complaining indiscriminately (Num. 14:1-4; Luke 15:1-2; Phil. 2:14; Jude 16).

*Refuse to allow people to drag you into a dispute between two parties (called “triangulation”) (Luke12:13-14; 22:1-6).

*Deal with offenses as they arise rather than collecting them and dumping them on someone (called “gunnysacking”) all at once (Matt. 18:15; 1 Cor. 13:5; Eph. 4:26-27).

*Report those who attack and conspire against church leaders (Rom. 16:17; Titus 3:10-11).

Since implementing any or all of these ten immune system strengtheners is a lot of work, a pastor would be well-served to implement one or two of them every year.

If the pastor doesn’t initiate ideas like these, when a major conflict surfaces – especially if the pastor is attacked – the law of the jungle is likely to take effect.

Depending upon the level of emotion involved, people may choose sides … define enemies … ignore Scripture … and do anything and everything to remove their pastor from office.

In the process, the church will be destroyed for the foreseeable future, and can only survive intact if there’s a resurrection years later.  Not pretty.

Which of my suggestions resonate with you?






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I recently conducted a workshop at the Christian Leadership Training Association Convention in Pasadena, California, on the topic, “Strengthening Your Church’s Immune System.”


The goal of my workshop was to present ten practical ideas designed to prevent most conflicts in Christian churches.

A severe conflict can damage a church, its leaders, and its people for years.  The trauma of a major conflict wreaks havoc with personal relationships, church budgets, pastoral careers, and spiritual lives.

So long before a church experiences serious conflict, the pastor and church leaders should discern, model, teach, and implement healthy, biblical behaviors for resolving differences.

And the best way to manage and resolve conflicts in churches is to prevent them before they escalate.

For a church to grow today, a pastor must initiate change … which involves taking risks … which provokes anxiety in some people … which leads to complaining … which usually focuses on the pastor … which can lead to antagonism, plots, secret meetings, accusations, demands, threats, church splits, forced resignations, and ultimately, a decimated congregation.

I believe that pastors must implement these strategies over time to protect their churches form internal attacks – as well as the pastoral position – or a major conflict can wipe out a congregation for years.


First, identify and communicate why your church exists and where it is going.

Many of the conflicts I experienced in my first ten years of pastoral ministry were related to our church’s direction … or lack thereof.  I had a mental picture of where I wanted those churches to go but I didn’t articulate it clearly and concisely, and consequently, major conflict resulted on two occasions.

Your mission is your church’s overarching purpose, the reason you exist.

Your vision is your church’s preferred future by a certain date; the direction you’re going.

Let me share four thoughts about mission and vision – and I have done what I’m suggesting:

*Utilize a bottom-up approach.  Let the people of your congregation have input into the creation of your mission and vision statements.  Avoid using a top-down approach where the pastor rams through his ideas without congregational buy-in.

Start by asking your congregation four open-ended questions on a handout, such as:

  1. What do you like about our church?
  2. What are our strengths as a congregation?
  3. Where can we improve?
  4. What should our church look like in five years?

Reserve 10-15 minutes during a worship service to do this.  Let people write whatever they want.  Ask them to turn in their surveys anonymously.

Then choose a mission/vision team to compile the responses.  Ask the team to meet, maybe on a Saturday morning.  Share the responses.  Look for patterns.  Create draft statements.

Let the pastor refine the language.  Send the statements back to the mission/vision team for further input.  When the process is complete, the board should officially approve the statements.

*Create compelling statements.  Make them shorter rather than longer.  The trend today is to have mission statements that are ten words or less so they can be remembered.

“Loving Jesus and others” is boring and vague.  “To transform our families and communities for Jesus” is exciting and unifying.  Make them simple but somewhat edgy.

*Announce the statements to the church in final form. Post them everywhere: your lobby, website, bulletin, classrooms.  The pastor must refer to them often … at least once a month.

*Every consequent decision will flow from your mission/vision statements which may relieve as many as 90% of your church’s “problems.”  Those who don’t like the direction – because they wanted to turn your church into Lakewood West or Saddleback North – will be forced to get with the program or leave the church.

Yes, some churches grow without those statements, and some churches that have mission/vision statements never go anywhere.  But people want to know, “What’s the plan?”  Growth is intentional, not accidental.  Without a clear direction, your church will drift.

Second, choose only leaders (pastor/staff/board) who follow and embody Scripture (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).

It’s well-known in evangelical circles that church leaders should be biblically-qualified according to Paul’s lists in the Pastoral Epistles.  But selecting leaders of high character doesn’t prevent a church from experiencing a horrific conflict.  I know all too well.

*It is crucial that every leader embrace the church’s mission and vision statements.  My failure to nail this down was a primary factor in why major conflict surfaced in my last ministry.  I assumed that board members were with me without ever asking them directly.  Board members can smile when their pastor is present and stab him in the back when he’s absent.

*It is essential that prospective leaders are interviewed (maybe by the pastor and board chairman) and that after they take office, receive training (at least quarterly) and undergo periodic evaluations.  (Either every major leader should be evaluated or nobody should be evaluated.)

*The pastor should check with the financial secretary and make sure that any prospective board members are regular, generous givers to the ministry.  The pastor can do this by asking the person who knows the givers and their amounts, “Just let me know if this person is a stingy giver … an average giver … or a generous giver.”  Believe me, you don’t want any stingy givers on your board because they will tend to shoot down budget increases and special projects because they won’t want to give themselves.  You only want regular givers handling church finances.

*It is better to have nobody than the wrong person in leadership.  Why?  Because it can take a long time to get rid of the wrong person … and there is a price to be paid for doing that.

*It is better to have just a few qualified leaders than any non-qualified leaders.  If the church’s governing documents state that you need to have a minimum of seven board members, but you can only find four that are qualified, just go with four.  If you don’t, the other three “fill-ins” will kill you.

Third, ask your leaders to study and summarize the biblical principles for conflict resolution.

I believe that the lead pastor in a church must take the initiative to prevent major conflicts from surfacing.  One way to do that is to hold regular meetings involving every key leader in your church: staff members, board members, ministry team/committee leaders, small group leaders … and to broaden the ownership base by making the group larger rather than smaller.

The meetings can be held monthly or quarterly … maybe after the last service on Sunday morning, which means you’ll have to provide lunch … but it’s essential that they be held.

This article I wrote several weeks ago describes the process of formulating these principles:


The aim of such a process is to create a one-page document stating Ten Principles for Resolving Conflict at _________ Church that should be posted in many rooms all over the church.  (Just try and envision the rooms where conflict surfaces, like the church office, the associate pastor’s office, the board room, the kitchen … you get the idea.)

Fourth, create a Conflict Resolution Group inside your church of at least three strong, wise, and healthy individuals.

The reason I advocate a CRG is because when a pastor is attacked, there are usually some board members and/or staff members who are involved in trying to oust the pastor.

And when this happens, they almost always use shortcuts to expedite his departure.

They ignore Scripture … the church’s governing documents … labor law … and common decency because they have their eye on one goal: the pastor’s speedy exit … and they are anxious until “the deed is done.”

*The CRG’s job is to make sure biblical principles and processes are followed whenever a conflict surfaces, not to determine an outcome.  They make sure that the pastor is treated justly and fairly at all times.  They watch over the entire congregation, but engage in special surveillance over the board and staff.

*CRG members should be voted on by the congregation, making them accountable to the whole church.  If the board appoints the CRG, it can just disband the group should the board plan to take action to force out the pastor.  But if the CRG reports to the congregation, the board and staff may think twice about railroading the pastor unfairly.

*Terms should be for 1-3 years.  Consider especially former board members … retired pastors … and people who work in human resources.

*Make provision for them to receive training, such as that offered by Peacemaker Ministries in Colorado Springs.  Their website is http://peacemaker.net

Realize that Peacemaker University at its lower levels centers upon how to resolve conflicts between two individuals.  I have taken their course on coaching people to resolve conflicts.

*The penalty for violating the CRG’s directives is church discipline and possible expulsion.  For example, there might be a statement in the church’s governing documents that if the CRG rules that the board didn’t use the approved process for dealing with the pastor, the board could be suspended or must resign en masse.  The CRG cannot function effectively unless they can recommend discipline to the congregation.

Fifth, update your church’s governing documents (constitution/bylaws) every five years.

As churches change, their governing documents should keep pace.  While I believe that church constitutions and bylaws should be slaves, not masters, whenever a conflict breaks out, the leaders and congregation must abide by the latest version.

*Insure that your governing documents align with your ten principles for resolving conflict. (Covered under the third step above.)

*Make sure you specify the pathway to remove the pastor from office and to remove troublesome board members and staff members as well.

*If a major conflict ever breaks out, some people will become so reactive that they will resort to “the law of the jungle” to win.  If your governing documents are clear, they may think twice.

*If your church is ever sued, and a judge takes the case, the judge will decide for the party that most closely followed the governing documents.

I know this seems like a lot of work, but it can be implemented over time.

In fact, let me go further: if a pastor plans on making changes in his congregation, he should implement as many of these strategies as possible first.

The best time to prepare for war is during a time of peace.

I’ll share the remaining five ways to strengthen your church’s immune system next time.




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Several years ago, I preached a sermon on the topic “Resolving Conflict Biblically” at a church several communities away.

When I was done speaking, a woman in her mid-80s – who had attended a prominent California church for most of her life – told me, “I have never heard a sermon on the subject of conflict in my entire life.”

Now maybe she was ill or away on the Sundays that her pastor spoke about conflict, or maybe all his sermons fused together in her mind.

But I happen to know that her former pastor – one of America’s best-known Bible teachers – experienced a major conflict in his church before he eventually resigned.

The best churches experience major conflicts.  In fact, I still agree with this adage that I heard years ago: “Small churches have small problems, while big churches have big problems.”

Regardless of your church’s size, it’s almost certain that your congregation will experience a severe conflict within the next ten years … and about a 40 percent chance that you’ll suffer through a major conflict within the next five … unless your church is ready when that conflict strikes.

But sadly, most churches aren’t ready for a major conflict.

Maybe they’re in denial, thinking, “We’re such a nice group of Christians that nothing horrendous could happen here.”

Or they’re thinking, “Our constitution and bylaws specify what to do if conflict breaks out, so we’re adequately prepared.”

Or they’re thinking, “Our leaders are such godly individuals, they will handle any conflict expertly” … not realizing that church leaders are often the source of major conflicts.

There isn’t a lot written on how to prevent major conflicts in church life.

That’s why I’m doing a workshop for Christian leaders next week called “Strengthening Your Church’s Immune System.”  I’ll be talking about ten ways that a church’s leaders can prepare for and prevent major conflict from even happening in their congregation.

Let me share with you one of the ten steps I’ll be presenting next week … and it takes a bit of work.

I believe that the lead pastor in a church must take the initiative to prevent major conflicts from surfacing.  He should allow people to share feedback and even disagree about matters without, at the same time, letting them start a bloodbath.

One way to do that is to hold regular meetings involving every key leader in your church: staff members, board members, ministry team/committee leaders, small group leaders … and to find reasons to make the group larger rather than smaller.

So if feasible, I’d invite their spouses as well.

The meetings can be held monthly or quarterly … maybe after the last service on Sunday morning, which means you’ll have to provide lunch … but it’s essential that they be held.

During one of those meetings, here’s what I would do if I were the pastor:

First, I would prepare a 3-4 page document for each person listing every New Testament reference – word for word – on church conflict. 

Maybe throw in some verses from Proverbs on the tongue as well.

Don’t ask people to look the verses up in their Bibles.  It takes too long … people have different versions … and you want all the relevant verses gathered in one place.

So the pastor should do the work for them.  Write out Matthew 18:15-17 … 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 … Titus 3:10-11 … 3 John 9-10 … in chronological order.

Second, I would ask the leaders to divide into groups without their spouses. 

The fewer people in each group, the more each person will have to interact with Scripture themselves … and that’s what you want.  Aim for five people per group.

I would have at least as many groups as there are pages.  For example, if you hand out five pages of verses, make sure you have at least five groups.

If you have 50 leaders present, then make ten groups with five individuals in each group.

Third, I would ask each group to appoint a leader … and for group leaders to ask for volunteers to read the verses.

My last few years as a pastor, I always asked for people to volunteer as readers.  Some people can’t read very well, and others become anxious when asked to do something in a group.  You want people to feel comfortable going through this exercise.

Fourth, after the verses have been read, ask each group to summarize the verses on their page in five principles. 

This should take 15-20 minutes per group.

Then starting with page 1, ask each leader to appoint a spokesperson to present their five principles to the entire group.

Fifth, the pastor should ask someone ahead of time to record each principle word for word on newsprint and hang each sheet on the wall. 

This isn’t busy work … it’s documentation.  In fact, the pastor should store the newsprint somewhere safe in case someone ever challenges the wording of the principles.

Sixth, after all the reports, the pastor should ask the entire group questions like:

*Can we summarize the teaching of Scripture concerning conflict resolution in one sentence?

*Which verses that you studied stand out to you?

*How well do you personally carry out these principles in your own life?

*Why do we have such a hard time dealing with conflict?

*How realistically can we follow the teaching in these verses in 2016?

*How well does our church follow Scripture when it comes to conflict resolution?

Seventh, after that discussion, the pastor should do two things:

*Ask someone to collect all the newsprint sheets and give them to the pastor directly.  The pastor should consider reproducing everything written down word for word on the church website.  This not only shows the leaders that their words are taken seriously, this also shows the congregation that the church takes Scripture seriously when it comes to conflict.

*Then reserve time on the agenda of the next board meeting – or call a special Saturday board meeting – and ask the governing board as well as members of the church staff to summarize the biblical teaching on conflict resolution in ten principles.

(The board and staff should do this because they are ultimately the guardians of both the congregation and the pastor … and because they are sometimes the sources of potential trouble themselves.)

When that’s complete … maybe at the next board meeting … three more things need to happen:

Eighth, the pastor makes sure that those ten principles for resolving conflict are posted in key places all over the church.

This includes the rooms where staff meetings, board meetings, finance team meetings and other key meetings are held.

Ninth, the pastor then schedules a brief series – maybe two sermons – on those ten principles, letting the congregation know, “This is how we handle conflict around here.”

And every year – possibly before the annual meeting – the pastor should preach another brief series on biblical conflict resolution.  Call it internal insurance.

Finally, the pastor schedules time every six months to review the principles with the staff, the board, and the key leaders. 

This doesn’t have to take long, but it has to be done.

Some people might say, “But Jim, if a severe conflict does break out, some people will become so emotional that they will ignore those principles, so aren’t these principles really worthless?”

No, they aren’t worthless.  God gave those principles to us, and He never gives His people anything that isn’t of value!

But even if some people become irrational during conflict, there are others in the congregation who will view matters in a more biblical and rational fashion, and you want the more logical people to deal with the more emotional ones.

Let me give you an example of how these principles can help once they’re posted:

Imagine that you’re in the church library after a Sunday service, and a woman saddles up to you and says, “Listen, a few of us are meeting for lunch today to discuss the latest changes that the pastor is trying to impose on our church.  If you want to join us, we’re meeting at Olive Garden at 1:00 pm.”

Instead of answering her directly, you take her by the hand, waltz her over to the north wall, show her the list of ten principles for resolving conflict biblically, and say to her, “Look at principle number seven.  It says, “If you are upset about a policy, please speak directly with any member of the church board.  [They set policy along with the pastor.]  And if you are upset with the pastor personally, please speak directly with him.”

You then ask this person, “Are you upset with a policy?  Then you need to speak directly with a board member … maybe the one you know the best.  But if you’re upset with the pastor personally, you need to speak with him directly.  Which is it?”

If the person says, “I’m upset with the policy,” then ask the person, “Which board member will you speak with about this issue?”

If the person says, “I’m upset with the pastor,” then ask them, “When will you be speaking with the pastor about this issue?”

If the person says, “Forget it.  I thought you were a friend, but you aren’t,” I’d say to them, “These ten principles summarize how we handle conflict around here.  If you don’t comply, I will report you to the pastor and the church board and tell them what you’re planning to do.  It’s your call.”

The beauty of this approach is that these principles:

*are based on Scripture.

*have been devised by all the key leaders in the church.

*have been ratified by the governing board and staff.

*have been presented to the church through the pulpit.

*have been posted all over the church facility.

*can then be enforced by all of God’s people.

If you follow this plan, I can’t guarantee that you’ll never experience a major conflict in your church.

After all, when some people are intent on committing murder, they can be hard to stop.

But I can guarantee that if you do this, the plotters will know that they’re violating Scripture and the culture of their church … and that will take all the fun out of plots against the pastor … secret meetings … and playing politics.

If you can manage major conflict in your church, that might allow your church to do what Jesus called it to do:

Fulfill His Great Commission in your community.






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My wife and I were enjoying a fine dining experience at In-N-Out Burger the other night when I overheard a conversation at the table next to us.

An elderly gentleman … after using the terms “church” and “split” … told his assembled friends, “We are not going to get tangled up in church anymore.”

There was a time when I would have thought, “That man and his wife will not be able to grow spiritually outside the realm of a local church.”  And there is undoubtedly some truth in that thinking.

But I’m hearing of more and more people who are walking away from church … not for doctrinal reasons … but because there are just too many conflicts.

One Christian friend told me that he and his wife really liked their pastor … but one day, their pastor resigned and disappeared.

So the church called a new pastor.  My friend’s wife especially liked him.  But after he was there a short while, a bully forced the pastor to resign.

At that point, my friend and his wife said, “We’ve had enough of this.  We’re not going to invest our lives in church anymore.”

They still love and follow Jesus, but they’ve tossed in the towel on the institutional church … at least for now.

Another Christian friend told me that he had attended five churches over the past few years.  And in every church, a major conflict eventually broke out – almost always involving the pastor – and my friend decided that he couldn’t take it anymore.

So he no longer attends a local church.

When I was a pastor, sometimes newcomers would tell me, “We’ve just come from a church that suffered a horrific conflict.  We’re a bit shell-shocked right now, so we want to take time to heal before we volunteer to do anything.”

At the time, I didn’t completely understand.

But after being in the middle of a major conflict several years ago, now I do.  Going through a conflict can make a believer more guarded … less trusting … and even paranoid.

I’m all for winning unbelievers to Christ.  But while we’re seeking to bring the lost into our churches, how conscious are we that conflicts are driving the found out of our churches?

Several weeks ago, I met a Christian leader who travels the world presenting the gospel.  When I mentioned to him that American churches are rife with conflict, he responded matter-of-factly, “It’s not just America.  It’s a problem all over the world.”

How can we reduce and resolve conflicts in churches?

Let me offer four quick solutions:

First, pastors need to teach the biblical way to resolve conflicts at least annually.

If the pastor doesn’t do it, it won’t happen.  If it’s not done annually, people will forget.  As a pastor, I used to plan a brief “unity” series every November … right before our church’s annual meetings.  Whenever this is done, it should be viewed as essential.

Second, pastors need to model biblical peacemaking.

Most pastors try and cultivate an image of perfection … even when it comes to relationships.  But when pastors act like they’re always right … which they aren’t … they don’t model biblical confession and forgiveness.  I used to admit to my children when I messed up, hoping to demonstrate humility and reconciliation for them.  Pastors need to model healthy interpersonal behavior as well.

Third, church leaders need to address potential conflicts sooner rather than later.

Whenever a church suffers a pastoral termination … or a church split … the signs of discontent were usually present beforehand.  Let’s learn to read the signs and resolve issues before the sun goes down (Ephesians 4:25-27) or it’s like giving the devil the keys to our church.

Finally, bullying in church must be exposed and outlawed.

There are people in every church who use intimidation to get their way.  They threaten to leave the church … take others with them … withhold their giving … and throw the church into chaos unless church is done their way.  Bullies use threats and make demands.  Spiritual people share their concerns and abide by the decisions of their leaders … or leave quietly.

And most churchgoers are unaware of this behavior because it happens behind the scenes … and because bullies usually charm their followers in public.

This behavior in our churches must stop.  We need to realize that bullying has consequences … including the damaging of people’s souls.

Many years ago, I attended a major league baseball game with a friend (who happened to be chairman of the church board).

We took the local rapid transit train toward home, when suddenly, a nasty fight broke out in one of the cars between two men … one a fan of the local team, the other a Yankee fan.

These guys were determined to hurt each other.  They were hitting each other … hard.  Knives and guns could have emerged next.

Know what happened?

Everybody ran into adjoining cars … as far away as they could … so they wouldn’t be injured.

When pastors and church boards fight … when staff members are disloyal to their pastor … when a faction rises up to remove the pastor … most people run.

They don’t want to be caught in the crossfire.

And they don’t want to watch people they love hurt one another.

Let’s create ways to prevent conflicts in churches so that God always wins and Satan always loses.

How can we do this better?  I’d love to hear your ideas.

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