Conflict within a church, irrespective of its size, is an inevitable part of its life cycle. How the church navigates through these waters—whether through healthy disagreements that foster growth or unhealthy conflicts that threaten unity—can significantly influence its mission and community presence. This article focuses on a structured, biblical approach to managing conflicts, drawing inspiration from Matthew 18:15–17, tailored for a church with around 50 members in worship attendance.

Healthy Conflict: An Avenue for Mission Enhancement

Healthy conflict is an opportunity for growth, improvement, and deepening commitment to the church’s mission. It involves open, respectful discussions focused on issues rather than personalities, driven by the collective aim of advancing the church’s mission.

Years ago, I was leading a church where the worship, evangelism teams, and church staff decided to change the worship schedule to better reach the community. This decision, initially met with resistance from some members who felt sidelined because they weren’t included in the discussion and decision, was an example of handling healthy conflict. Through transparent communication, the leadership team emphasized the church’s mission priority of reaching the community for Jesus. While most members eventually saw the wisdom in prioritizing outreach over personal preferences and status quo, resulting in their support for the change, a few threatened to leave the church if the decision wasn’t reversed. The leadership chose to affirm the priority of the mission over members, and ultimately, two families left the church. Despite these losses, the church witnessed an influx of first-time visitors, showcasing the positive impact of prioritizing mission-focused decisions even in the face of conflict.

Unhealthy Conflict: Steering Back to the Mission

Unhealthy conflict could be defined as “Christians Behaving Badly.” Bullying and Threatening behavior (“If you do that, then I’m going to …”) is inappropriate behavior by anyone claiming to be a Christian. Too often, this kind of conflict is marked by personal grievances and resistance to change that doesn’t align with the church’s mission and demands careful, biblical handling. Jesus’s reconciliation plan in Matthew 18:15–17 provides a clear guideline:

  1. Direct Engagement: Initially, the matter should be addressed privately between the involved parties, aiming for a resolution that reflects the church’s mission and values.
  2. Wider Consultation: If unresolved, the issue escalates to involving one or two neutral church members, ideally leaders, who can offer unbiased perspectives, ensuring the process is observed and guided by wisdom aligned with the church’s mission. (Do you see the pattern here? The church’s mission is the top priority over anything, everything, and everyone.)
  3. Resolution by a Designated Spiritual Group: The final recourse involves taking the issue to a small, spiritually led, and mission-focused group. This wisdom group, appointed by church leadership and the board, engages in a candid discussion with the involved parties. They articulate that, should behavior remain unchanged, Matthew 18:17’s principles would necessitate removing the individual from any leadership roles and proceeding with disfellowshipping, pending contrition and repentance. This step ensures that the church’s mission remains the central focus, preserving its unity and purpose. Again, the mission of the church must be the wisdom group’s primary principle.

This structured approach underscores the commitment to handling conflict with a mission-centric mindset, emphasizing restoration and adherence to biblical principles over punitive measures.

Conflict as a Catalyst for Reaffirming Mission

Viewed through the lens of mission fulfillment, conflicts—both healthy and unhealthy—serve as platforms for reaffirming the church’s core mission. The anecdote of adjusting worship times illustrates this principle vividly, showing how steadfastness in mission-centric decisions can lead to church growth and enhanced community engagement.

For small churches, navigating conflicts with a biblical, mission-focused approach demands courage, faithfulness, and a deep-seated belief in the principles laid out by Jesus. It’s about looking beyond temporary discomfort to the long-term benefits for the church’s mission, ensuring the congregation remains a beacon of transformation, hope, and service.


In managing conflicts, the emphasis on the church’s mission is paramount. By applying Jesus’s reconciliation steps, churches can address conflicts in a manner that not only fosters unity but also propels the congregation toward fulfilling its mission more effectively. This mission-centric conflict management approach ensures that, even amidst disagreements, the church continues to thrive as a community dedicated to serving and embodying the principles of Christ’s love and reconciliation.