By Barney Wells
If you work well at preventing conflict, you won’t need to intervene often, and if you intervene promptly, resolution will naturally follow—most of the time. Most church members really do not want conflict in their lives or in the church, and given a little help and encouragement will resolve their conflicts in short order. Now and then, however, amicable resolution doesn’t come. Then the leaders must take a different kind of action.
Matthew 18:17 shows that some conflicts must be addressed by the leadership churchwide, and sometimes individuals must be allowed, or even required, to leave. Earlier we said that those involved in church conflicts are rarely evil, but once in a while they are. John speaks of such a circumstance in 3 John 9, 10, and Paul warns the Ephesian elders that some of their own number would distort the truth and split the church (Acts 20:30). To resolve conflict in such situations requires the leaders to take a united, firm, and public stand against anyone who is damaging the church and will not accept correction.
Even in a forceful and unpleasant resolution of conflict there is hope. Paul and Barnabas parted company because of Paul’s distrust of Mark, yet years later Paul testified to Mark’s value in ministry. A disruptive and unrepentant member of the Corinthian congregation was put out of the church, yet was later restored (2 Corinthians 2:5-8). When a disruptive member does not repent and return, the overall health of the congregation is still strengthened by the removal of the conflict.
There is no question that even the congregations we read about in the New Testament had some conflict. We should not be surprised if our congregation does as well.
Barney Wells ministers with the Walnut Grove Christian Church in Arcola, Illinois, and serves as adjunct professor with Lincoln (Illinois) Christian College. His articles in this issue are adapted from a chapter in the new book Releasing the Power of the Smaller Church. Order number 40035 from Standard Publishing or your local supplier.