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6 Core Components for Resolving Church Conflict

“The way I test myself,” explained the pastor-turned-life-coach, “is how I feel deep inside when I see one of them. If I want to walk up and say ‘hello,’ I know I am healed. But if I want to run and hide, I know there is more work to be done.”

These were the words of a former pastor who believed he was unfairly treated and dismissed by his congregation after decades of service. Through much counseling, he felt he was finally able to get back to “normal.”

For him, enthusiastically pursuing people was a part of his natural personality and he did not like that it was lost in the clash. He was of the persuasion that if he wanted to hide, there was something wrong with him.

The shame of the matter is that the years of pain he experienced, the damage done to the church and the fallout in others’ lives did not need to come off as it did. What he believed was missing from the start, as is so often the case, was due process.

If church conflicts were handled according to the clear processes outlined in Scripture, maybe fewer people would be bailing on the church.

In one state, a former member is suing for damages that resulted from a closed-door church discipline decision. Never bringing the issue to the church or even giving him a chance to face his accusers, a decision was made by the board that the member of 15 years was no longer welcome on the property.

In another place, a pastor preached a sermon on Sunday morning, was accused of plagiarism on Monday, was fired by the elder board on Saturday and was facing homelessness (he lived in a parsonage) and unemployment by the following Sunday.

In the name of damage control, decisions are often abruptly made and carried out. While there are two sides to every story, both sides are never known because due process is not followed. Ultimately, the attempt to control damage often afflicts greater damage.

At the core of Jesus’ teachings, particularly that of Matthew 18, certain core elements must be included prior to the decision to sever ties.

1. Can the issue be overlooked or is there something at stake so significant that it must be addressed?

2. Has the accuser gone directly and privately to the accused first, bypassing the temptation to try the case in the court of public opinion prior to the other person even being aware?

3. If the conflict persists, does the appeal for resolution include several third-party, interested, but impartial, advisers?

4. Before a final decision is determined, will the matter be taken publically to the church?

5. Is the overriding goal of love prayerfully maintained throughout the process?

6. Will the matter conclude with outlined steps for healing and restoration?

The church leadership that does not want to deal with conflict is missing a teachable moment. Letting others witness restoration taking place allows everyone to learn how to reproduce the process personally.

If nothing else, due process slows the pace enough for cooler heads to prevail.

Today, the life coach who was ousted from his former pastorate claims he would not trade his experience for the world.

“It was a true gut check,” he remarks, “because for the first time in my life I had enemies. I knew it was not enough to just move on, get over it or even forget it. I knew there was still something wrong in my heart if I did not genuinely have love and compassion for them.”  

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With over 30 years of ministry experience, Phil Wood pastors Fellowship Church of Carol Stream and is the director of Urban Youth Ministry, an outreach to at-risk youth in the Chicago area.