This weekend I am participating in a conference in Cherokee, IA, and doing a workshop on “Resolving Conflict among Church Leaders.” In my years as a professor and dean, I have been called to help mediate several dozen church situations where there were problems. Most of the time, a root or contributing cause is conflict between elders, board members, or leading members of a church.
Many Christians believe that the way to resolve conflict is simply to follow the procedure outlined in Matthew 18:15-17:
15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
While there are important, godly principles here, I think this is a statement of principle rather than a procedure that should be slavishly adhered to. For one thing, it is talking about a “sin” situation, and not all conflicts are in this category. For another thing, how do you do this if the conflict is between two prominent church leaders? Does the one with the most votes at the next congregational meeting win, and the other one must be sent to live with pagans and tax collectors?
I have been told that in a growing, dynamic church, conflict is inevitable. This may be true, but effective churches will resolve conflicts quickly and satisfactorily. I am most concerned about conflict that has split churches wide open, or caused them to dwindle for years. How can these situations be either avoided or ended? I believe that answers to church leader conflict are both:
- Preventative: Avoidance of placing folks in leadership positions who are going to cause conflict
- Prescriptive: Deliberate actions to resolve conflicts
While we may have the unlimited power of the Holy Spirit available to us, church leaders have limited amounts of spiritual and emotional energy and passion. This is best used in growing the church in numbers and in depth, not in fighting with other church leaders.
If you are in Cherokee, Iowa this Saturday, drop by the First Church of Christ for my workshop. Otherwise, watch this blog. I have seven principles for resolving conflict among church leaders, and will post them in the next three or four blogs.
Nebraska Christian College