After the Church Conflict

Just yesterday after morning worship, our small fellowship took some time to address some hurts from the past.  There was an issue with a former Pastor that turned ugly on many different levels and many people were hurt deeply.  All this happened before my time – I’ve only been at Community Church since July of this year (it’s now mid-November).  But our meeting prompts me to emphasize some things I’ve learned about conflict, resolution and healing that I think much of the church has missed out on.

Just so you know, we planned this meeting.  Though it had been just over 3 years since the events we were addressing had taken place, it became obvious to my wife and me – almost as soon as we arrived and began our work here – that the hurts and confusion about those events were lingering and causing much trouble in the lives of our flock.  My wife first had the inkling to have such a meeting after talking with more than a few hurt individuals, and after prayer and thought, I agreed.

I have no desire or need to go into the details of our meeting – that’s not my purpose in this post.  What I do want to do however, is to outline some principles I’ve learned over the years about such things, and saw reiterated once again yesterday.

  1. It does nobody any good to hide the truth – no matter who is involved in it.
    What I mean by this is that the facts are the facts, people have sinned, harm has been done.  It doesn’t help when people who are somewhat “outside” the issues, but know something is going on, are intentionally kept in the dark.  People need to deal with reality, not with what those in leadership may want them to THINK is reality.  We can’t deal with hurts if we don’t know the totality of them.  We can’t handle situations appropriately if we don’t know the reality of what the situation is.  Wrong conclusions WILL be made and acted upon if the truth is not made known.  If we in leadership want the people under our care to learn how to let go of personal hurts, to forgive those who have hurt them, to move on from the pain and heartache, then we’ve got to be willing to admit the wrongs that have been done.  We can do so humbly, without condemning the guilty parties, and without causing our church to be drowned in bitterness and anger.  It’s NOT easy, not fun, and surely not something that everyone will understand.  But if we don’t deal with reality, people will make up one of their own and believe that.  Much more damage occurs in terms of church unity and disfunction when the truth is not known.  Truth is a premium in God’s ecomony, and we church leaders MUST model that, no matter the situation.  Sometimes the facts are hidden for “legal” purposes: to avoid lawsuits.  While I understand those issues, I also understand that truth is important and hurt must be addressed.  How can you do that if you keep the truth hidden?
  2. If you ignore it – it will NOT go away!
    As I mentioned, these conflicts happened 3 years ago, and for me to have moved ahead without giving an opportunity for people to talk about it, become united in a desire to move on from it, and receive healing from it – we would have gone nowhere as a church – and FAST!  Don’t avoid past hurts, deal with them as necessary.
  3. Nobody can forgive what they won’t or can’t admit happened.
    This is closely related to point 1, but with some differences.  We all want to move to a point of forgiveness, or if there is no repentance, a point of entrusting the hurt to God as Christ did.  But we can’t do that if we won’t let ourselves see the hurt or offense for what it really is.  It does no good to say, “I forgive you for being unkind to me,” if the reality is that the person was more than unkind; they were in fact malicious and hateful.  We have to admit the fullness of what was done if we are going to fully release it to the Father.  That little bit of yeast (sin) that remains goes a very long way…
  4. Church leaders MUST submit to appropriate and effective accountability.
    When a church leader will not submit to accountable relationships (leadership boards/elders/deacons, whatever you call them in your church), action should be taken immediately.  It takes courage, and a good deal of perseverance to address when you see it, but the refusal or subtle avoidance of REAL accountability is the first sign of a very big problem.  I know of many churches who have avoided issues in their Pastor’s or other leader’s life for so long, that now the leader is so entrenched with is own set of “supporters” that removing him (if necessary) is going to destroy the entire church.  And the entire world has seen what can happen in a church leader’s life when nobody knows what’s REALLY going on in his private world.  All that can be avoided if a close eye is kept on this issue of accountability and steps are taken to address it at the first sign of problems.  I know that even church boards can be sinful and have bad motives in the way they “control” a Pastor or even attack him.  I’ve known of those situations as well.  But the point I’m making is for the Pastor to heed – be accountable to the proper authorities in your church.  Give them a way to support you by coming to your defense should others accuse you.  They can only do so if they know the truth about your private life.  I know it’s a risk – people use your “dirt” against you sometimes.  But I believe the church of Jesus is worth the risk, and we leaders have to set the example.
  5. Tears are a healing thing – let them come.
    I saw tears of healing yesterday that had been 3 years in the making.  People who felt alone throughout the entire struggle who found out that others felt the same way.  Individuals who were hurt deeply hearing that others shared their pain and were hurt because they were hurt.  I saw tearful apologies made – confessions about what should have been done, but wasn’t – and sorrow expressed over it.  Relationships that were strained were put back together and the tears were almost like the glue that did the bonding.  Emotion can get out of control – but it doesn’t have to.  Church leaders, let’s lead our people into that appropriate, Godly sorrow that Paul talked about when conflict arises.  Let’s take them to that place of humility so that God can do something with them.

Church conflict is never fun, and seldom something we look back on with fond memories.  But we can do our best to help the people under our care walk through it in a healthy way – but it will require that we do some things that we’ve tried to avoid.  We Pastors/Elders should set the example of being “bold” for the sake of proper church unity and function.


12 thoughts on “After the Church Conflict

  1. Carey,

    This is a great post and it was nice of you to share the experience. I have been to a few churches that have had issues causing conflicts within the congregation, but always swept under the rug. Our new church was the first I had been to that handled a conflict up front. It was their 16th anniversary Sunday and instead of just celebrating this event and ignoring events that occurred the week prior, the pastor designed the whole service around healing the church and apologizing for hurts that may have been. No specific issue was raised, but it revolved around one of the worship leaders resigning and it brought to light some issues the pastor and elders were not aware of. During the service he shared some of the meetinsg that had taken place and interactions with congregation people. He then had people within the pews huddle together as friends or family and pray for certain things for the church as a whole and for each of us as individuals. It was a wonderful service to have the whole church with these pockets of prayer teams and very humbling. I wish more people in churches could handle issues the way you have outlined and more similarly to how this church handled it. Thanks again for the wonderful thoughts God has given to you to share with us.

  2. Thanks Mike,

    Something in me just won’t let things go underground. The church is supposed to be about truth – not hiding. How will the people of our churches learn how to handle conflict graciously if we don’t show them how.

  3. Hmmm. This just makes me think about some things that happened to me. I was in the midst of the conflict. Although I worked closely with the pastors, considered them my friends, they choose to believe the exagerations of others rather than support their leaders. They also spoke with others about things that happened although the other people did not need to know about the happenings. In the end, they basically ran me off. I would blame myself for most of what happened except that this same leadership has “run off” several other key members of their congregation including people who had been at the church for many years before they arrived. All of this has hurt me deeply. I have been in prayer about these things and overall I feel healed…I definately haven’t given up on God or anything like that. I do however have difficulty trusting those in leadership. I feel syinical these days. I do wonder how long it will take before I can look to leadership and believe they are looking out for the best interest of their church rather than just trying to control every aspect of ministry in their church.

  4. Hi cbgrace, thanks for joining the dialogue…

    I know your feelings – I had a very similar situation occur in the early years of my ministry career – only I was the first of the many to be run off by the elders (in that church). Looking back I can see the same pattern repeated there over and over. Some of us, leaders included, learn lessons very slowly, and have blind-spots as big as the earth – and still can’t see them. And we continue hurting people because of them.

    My encouragement to you would be this – look to God, the only TRULY faithful one. He’s behind it all, in your life AND theirs, doing what only He knows how to do – working all things together for good. Sounds trite, I know, but it’s actually a very profound and liberating truth.

  5. Carey, That is about the only thing that has kept us going. We know we are called to ministry but do not feel called in the capcity of “pastoring” which means we are thinking outside the “box” as it were. Still we would LOVE to have a pastor to mentor us and guide us in establishing ministry.

  6. I can understand where you are at – really. And “outside the box” can be very good when God is in it! Just look at Jesus – born-of-a-virgin-carpenter-intinerant-teacher-from-an-out-of-the-way-place. Not exactly “traditional” is it? I’d be happy to carry on a dialogue over e-mail at least – if you think it would be helpful. And depending on where you live, we could possibly make arrangements to connect at some point. Blessings.

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