Editor’s Note: This is an opinion column
By Michael J. Brooks
He became a good friend after a mutual friend introduced us. Once, he told me his greatest struggle as a pastor.
At conferences over the years, I met two pastors who’d been terminated three times. I can’t imagine the trauma of this.
A new study by LifeWay Research found that 69 percent of evangelical pastors admitted to conflict in their churches. This isn’t surprising; I thought it might be higher. Every church is made up of individuals with different perspectives, theology, and needs, so conflict is inevitable, just like in marriage. Couples who say they’ve never had a disagreement are rare and probably untruthful. I remember only one man who insisted he and his wife never argued. He also insisted he’d gone on a double-date with Elvis Presley, so I didn’t know what to think of his claims!
The survey found higher incidences of conflict over proposed changes in the church and over the pastor’s leadership style. Interestingly, theology and politics accounted for only 12 percent or less of conflicts. A denominational official used to insist 90 percent of church conflict wasn’t about theology but about “who’s going to be the boss?”
Since church conflict is inevitable, the key is how we deal with it.
Jesus taught conflict management in Matthew 18, proposing three steps. The first is a private meeting between the two parties. Many conflicts could be solved there. It takes courage to go to another person and humbly seek forgiveness and restoration. The tendency we have in this early stage is to involve our friends, seeking their blessing and persuading them to be “on our side.”
The second step is to bring in others as prayer partners and encouragers. Often churches ask their deacons to assist if this step is necessary.
The final and hardest step is to bring the matter to the whole assembly, dismissing the offender if her or she isn’t repentant.
A church in our metro area did this a few years ago when a public official who lost his job due to moral indiscretion refused to repent before the Lord and his church. The man rebuffed their entreaties. The congregation felt their reputation as a church was impaired and regrettably took this drastic step.
LifeWay found that about 10 percent of pastors leave congregational ministry annually, so the attrition rate is relatively small. But leaving ministry due to conflict is regrettable and most often unnecessary.
I believe Christians of goodwill can find a way past church fights.
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster, Ala. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.