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Resolving Inter-church Conflicts

April 3, 2006

I am wrestling with a thorny issue.

The biblical process for resolving conflict between two individuals is very clear.

Mat 18:15-17 “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Both the injured party (Matt 18) and the guilty party (Matt 5) are commanded to take initiative to resolve conflicts quickly.

Mat 5:23-24 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Conflicts between congregations are more complicated. Reconciliation between leaders according to Matt 18 can be a good first step. But what if other members of the churches do not accept that resolution? Some of those individuals may have their own personal conflicts which they are required to resolve according to the above passages. Others may not have any personal experiences to resolve. Instead they may have been deeply offended by the conflicts between others. These third-party issues might be a byproduct of slander and gossip in the past, or merely an unavoidable consequence of public sin. Often there can be many more individuals with third-party issues than with direct personal issues to resolve. How should one address these?

Is there a way to get a deep and satisfying resolution to such conflicts between groups? Is it necessary to air out all the old dirty laundry publicly in order to get a public conflict resolved? What is the best process? I would be interested in any scriptural insights related to this, and also in any examples where a process worked.

Please don’t include names of people or congregations, or specifics about offenses involved, in any responses. Thank you for any insights you can provide.

Note: If you are looking for helpful thoughts on resolving church conflicts, perhaps you will find something helpful in this post.

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7 comments

  1. Obviously enough dirty laundry has been aired out over the years without much progress. It’s difficult to believe a Christian could not find it in his/her heart to forgive another Christian who sinned against him; whether the sin was actual, or perceived…but it happens!The Mat. 18:15-17 scriptures while being the biblical process for resolving conflicts can also be used to cause additional problems. A Christian who unjustly perceives a sin committed against him may take two or three biased (his friends) witnesses to confront the “sinner,” and end up causing more problems then the original conflict.Conflicts between congregations carry even more hidden problems, and without love and forgiveness in the hearts of all concerned how much good can be accomplished?The plea for unity will be much closer when all of us can agree to disagree, and still love each other.


  2. This is a great question. I am certain of only two things regarding the answer:1.) Unity at all costs is the key.In 1 Cor. 6 we have God addressing a situation where there was so much disunity that the disciples were actually suing eachother. And God teaches the Corinthians to simply “suck it up” in order to keep the unity. Ideally, I believe this can happen even between entire congregations. But it will certainly not be an easy thing to accomplish.Which leads me to…2.) Wrong emotions will mess things up!Anytime human emotions come into the picture, it is a safe bet that Satan is about to have a field day and cause disunity among the brotherhood. I am not implying that we need to be stoic and philisophical. But if the emotions of at least the leaders are in line with the emotions that Jesus would have felt in the same situation, then unity will result. My experience is that “Joe Disciple” from congregation A wants to be unified with “Joe Disciple” from congragation B. And many times it happens easily when the leaders of the congregations unite.


  3. Alan, you know I’ve been coming by for days and seeing this post I wish I had an answer for you.I don’t think there will be a magic bullet or a simple formula for this. I think that humility goes a long, long way. I think that the people wronged need to be heard, whether in some sort of group setting (a potentially dangerous and volatile situation) or more one on one, and apologies need to be made. I am not a fan of apologies for the sake of others. In other words, you think I should apologize, so I will. Those come across in-genuine and do more harm than good.I think that folks need to feel respected, loved and heard. I would disagree slightly with Danny (sorry 🙂 ), I think that love is more important than unity. I agree that unity is the ultimate goal, but I doubt you’ll get true unity without love. I think that more valuable than telling folks to suck it up for the sake of unity would be to have leaders suck it up for the sake love.I’m not sure that helps with your situation, not all group to group issues are about the leaders, but no matter what, you can’t go wrong by loving folks.


  4. Alan:I can’t improve upon what the others have said. One thought I did have though is that some COC colleges are providing for masters degrees in Dispute Resolution, and both Pepperdine and ACU have dispute resolution centers. They might be a good resource for where to start on inter-church conflicts.


  5. Wow,I’ve been in the know of some of the conflicts of my church. The thing that always gets me is how easy it is to pretend folks aren’t in conflict and gossiping. Elephant food make the elephant grow bigger. The thing is what to do about it. Do we ignore the elephant and hope that they stop talking about it or do we stand in front of the church body and say look a pachyderm. We chose to say nothing about a recent elephant. It grew rather large, people left because they kept seeing it and bumping into it. I’m not one to shut my mouth and walk past an elephant, I was very close to yelling PEANUTS PLEASE! when the minister pointed to it and said we have an elephant stop feeding it. Some issues need to be left to fade away. I ‘m not one to step over something when I feel it needs attention. Not your typical COC gal I go to the minister and the elders and say how I feel. I always take God with me. He is the leader if I should keep my mouth shut He shuts it.


  6. Lots of good thoughts here. Larry,There are certainly many ways sin can enter into the reconciliation process and derail any progress. You’ve pointed out some important things to avoid.Danny,Good points and interesting insights from scripture. Paul does indeed call on us to “suck it up,” to let some things go, in the interest of unity. And emotions are a dangerous component. The anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.salguod,Humility, sincere apologies, and love are essential components of reconciliation. It is hard to reconcile two institutions where those who committed wrongs may not even be present any more. People’s issues need to be heard and acknowledged, and they need to be satisfied with the resolution. Clarke,I’d love to receive the conflict resolution training from one of these sources. I think I’ll have to retire first! But maybe there are things that can be learned from afar.milly,Lots of folks would rather just ignore these rifts. They don’t see them as important because they don’t affect their daily lives all that much (at least not in ways they see). But there is an elephant in the room. As a matter of principle we need to do something.Thanks to all for your input.Alan


  7. Alan:ACU offers a certificate in Conflict Resolution that you can earn online.-Clarke



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