In many of the churches in which VitalChurch serves, our interim pastors are faced with some sort of conflict upon their arrival. Sometimes that conflict is the main reason the last lead pastor is no longer employed by the church. Other times, the conflict is the reason that a church has seen a steady decline in attendance and fruitfulness.
Conflict is part of life, and it is part of every church at one time or another. It can’t be avoided, no matter how hard we try. It’s how a church deals with that conflict that’s important. The experienced interim pastors at VitalChurch have helped many churches through seasons of conflict—sometimes serious conflict—using biblical principles.
The Bible lays out a very clear path of conflict resolution in Matthew 18:15-35. Verses 15-20 offer a three-step plan for the reconciliation of an individual who has brought about conflict, and with the goal of restoring relationships, this is the path that our interim pastors encourage churches to follow.
The first step in the process is a simple one-on-one conversation. This can be a rather informal conversation, especially if the issue causing conflict was an isolated incident. But if the problem is related to a habitual sin, a more formal conversation might be called for. These types of conversations are never easy, but if the issue can be settled in this first step, the next two more serious steps can be avoided.
Take Someone Else with You
The verse pertaining to this step (v. 16) reads, “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.”
VitalChurch interim pastor Gregg Caruso elaborates on this step: “This verse reflects the ancient Jewish standard of fairness. That everything would be established by one or two credible witnesses. The ‘witness’ or ‘witnesses’ are to delve into both parties’ perspectives of the conflict.”
The goal of this step is to gain more clarity on the situation by looking at multiple perspectives and to see if a resolution can be brought about as a result.
Take the Issue to Church Leadership
If the issue has not be taken care of in the first two steps, it’s time to involve the church governing body—typically the church elders. The goal here is still reconciliation, but if that doesn’t happen (if the person remains unrepentant), the elders must protect the church by removing the individual from church fellowship—from both participation in the sacraments and from social relationships.
On this point, Caruso says, “The purpose of church discipline in all its forms is not to punish for punishment’s sake, but to call forth repentance in order to recover the straying sheep. Ultimately, there is only one sin for which a church member is excommunicated—an unwillingness to repent. When there is genuine repentance, the church is to declare the sin forgiven and receive the offender into fellowship once again.”
Church discipline for those causing conflict or division within the church body should be viewed first and foremost as a means of reconciliation. It’s rarely an easy process, but in the long run, neither is avoiding conflict.
If conflict is keeping your church from being the vibrant, fruitful place it could be, VitalChurch can help. We can conduct an in-depth church health assessment that will provide a valuable outside perspective and help you get to the root of any conflict. If conflict has caused your church to be without a lead pastor, VitalChurch can provide an interim pastor who will help your church deal with its issues and prepare your church for its next lead pastor. Contact us for more information.