As a pastor for 30 years, I have many sad stories about destructive church conflict.  I don’t think anything makes Jesus cry more than when his people injure one another and others.

The really sad thing is that such conflict is the norm for so many churches.  It is usually just a few people.  But it can destroy a congregation’s vision and momentum.  If you are a church person, I bet your experience has been similar.

The great news is that Jesus gives us practical instruction for how to deal with such matters.  Church leaders just have to find the courage of faith to hold a faith community accountable.

Now, to be clear, conflict can be healthy and necessary.  However, I personally shun the use of the term in that context.  Conflict, to me, is a word that carries a lot of negative baggage.  Tell me that you don’t have a visceral reaction just to the mention of the word.

Vision development and spiritual discernment require the wrestling of ideas and Scripture.  You can call that conflict if you like.  But the change happens when the conversation gets personal.  That’s when conflict is destructive conflict.

This has only gotten worse in our society when we misuse social media.  People who identify themselves as followers of Jesus seem to relish in attacking other religious people or political leaders.  We complain about the unwillingness for our people in DC to work together.  But the reality is that they just look like the rest of us.  We are a culture that currently lives at the extremes of thought, and we cast aspirations on those who think differently.  What is the way forward?

  • Christians must lead the way in seeking civil discourse.
  • Christians must seek reconciliation when tempers flair.
  • Christians must look to Matthew 18 to address conflict and restore unity.
  • Christians must hold one another accountable for appropriate behavior.
  • Christians must develop resources to codify this road of life.

When our congregation went through a consultation process with 21st Century Strategies, one of the first things we were called to do was create a behavior covenant based on the one anothers of the Bible and Matthew 18.  It was to be our contextual statement for how we would abide by the directives of God.

I honestly was a bit hesitant.  We all know how Christians should act, even though we often don’t.  And there is the rub.  We know, but we don’t do it.  We don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.  We prefer to avoid conflict.  We don’t want to take sides.

The reality is that most churches don’t hold one another accountable to the behavior expectations of God.  When we developed our behavior covenant and had the congregation adopt it, the world changed.  It wasn’t just the pastor’s idea.  It wasn’t even just the leadership’s desire.  This was our statement together.  If it doesn’t fit for you, then you’re not a fit for this congregation.  And that’s good.  Find the congregation where you do fit.

Every church will have conflict.  Humans tend to sin a lot.  But the conflict will not stymie what God wants for you to experience.  The biggest thing is that triangulation is squashed.  No longer will it be tolerated that Tom is mad at Ed so that he goes to complain about Ed to Joe.

Bottom line: There is zero tolerance for destructive conflict.  As per Matthew 18, Tom must chat privately with Ed – not to vent his anger and seek to inflict pain like he feels, but to pursue the ministry of reconciliation.  No gossip.  No intrigue.  Follow these amazing and practical expectations from Jesus and your church world will miraculously change as well.

What is your church’s experience with destructive conflict?  Leave your comment below.

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