Elders Resolve Conflict

by Rick Grover

Over the past six years, our congregation has gone through more than its fair share of change, disappointment, loss, and now renewal.  And through it all, our elders have remained united. We had to acknowledge our own mistakes and failures as leaders, the changing context of our church family, and the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding us through the murky water of conflict. 

In the midst of everything, we discovered that our congregation was not equipped to handle conflict in healthy ways.  We had the typical “fight or flight syndrome” rather than the “share and care syndrome” of working through conflict.  We learned that there are four basic reactions to church conflict that, if not addressed, can lead to greater infighting and division. 

Some church members avoid conflict because they see it as an evil rather than an opportunity.  Thus, rather than deal with conflict, they respond with spiritual platitudes such as, “We don’t need to discuss this any further.  We just need to be on our knees and pray that God will convict the hearts (of those with whom we disagree).”  It’s hard to argue with someone’s conviction to pray, but prayer should never be used as an excuse not to deal with real issues. 

Whether in marriage or ministry, some Christians take the ostrich approach and want to bury their heads in the sand.  Elderships can be on a dangerous path of disarray if they are unwilling to go through the tunnel of conflict.  As I’m sure you’ve heard before, “Facts are your friends,” even if those facts are not very encouraging. 

This is the “frog in the kettle,” where churches are facing significant problems, but elders are still living in the glory days and not in current reality.  When elders trivialize conflict, factions, or divisions, they are playing into the hands of the enemy.  We should never make a mountain out of a molehill, but too many unaddressed molehills can trip up an eldership and congregation. 

In church conflict, we easily fall into the trap of the blame game.  The minister blames the elders for the church’s problems.  The elders blame the minister.  The congregation takes sides and blames the elders or the minister or both.  When we were going through our own tunnel of conflict, we had to stop blaming each other and start collaborating on possible solutions and ways to move forward. 

Responding to conflict is never easy, but it is necessary for church health and growth. When we had significant internal tension, it was no surprise that newcomers could sense it and wanted no part of it.  Healthy things grow – and that includes churches.  Your church may be in a geographic area of non-growth, but healthy growth is still possible, even if it is measured in ways that go beyond simple Sunday morning attendance. 

For our congregations to handle conflict in healthy ways, elderships must take the lead.  Are your elders’ meetings characterized by any of the above four common responses to conflict?  Does your eldership over-spiritualize, deny, trivialize, or guilt-trip each other when conflict occurs?  If so, the path forward for your church begins with you taking the first steps in your eldership and handling conflict in ways that honor Jesus Christ. 

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 
1 John 3:16 (ESV) 

And in the church, that begins with the elders. 

How do I know if my church is healthy?

by David Roadcup

A doctor examining a patient looks immediately for signs of vitality and health.  When the signs are present, the doctor knows the patient is doing well.  When the signs are not there, this is telling the doctor that the patient needs attention.  A diagnosis is made, medication or treatment is prescribed, and the patient finds restoration of health. 

The same is true for a congregation.  Certain characteristics in the life of a church tell us that the church is healthy and thriving.  A lack of these characteristics would tell us that the church needs attention and treatment.  A church’s “vital signs” can be broken down in many ways, but for today, let’s examine three of the most important church health measures:  

The Unity of the Congregation 
The unity of a church is critical to the health of that church.  Disunity within the body brings division, strife, and jeopardizes the church’s ability to fulfill her mission.  If there are points of disunity and they are growing and getting more intense, the primary leaders (senior minister and elders) must face the causes of the disunity, pray for guidance and move into the issues, carefully handling them with wisdom and discernment.  Elders must proactively handle and manage whatever is causing the disunity.  Jesus Himself said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand” (Mark 3:25).  Satan has used disunity for two thousand years to slow down or destroy the effectiveness of the church.  This must be a continual focus of leadership.  As leaders, we carefully guard the unity of our church body.  

The Evangelism of the Congregation
The winning of the lost to Christ is the first and foremost purpose of the body of Christ (Matt. 28:18-20).  We must evaluate on a regular basis what we are doing to reach lost people. 

In the Christian Church, we have many congregations that are very invested in winning first time believers to Christ.  Churches in our brotherhood report baptism services of 50, 60 or more people baptized on one day in a celebration of salvation!  How pleased the Lord is with this!  An acquaintance of mine immersed over 700 new believers in one Sunday afternoon.  This is the heart of the church. 

We must take a hard look at our evangelism results, friends.  Are we really looking for, encountering and leading to faith in Christ those who are outside the kingdom?  We simply need to look at our numbers.  How many first-time believers do we baptize on a monthly basis?  On an annual basis?  This number will tell us about the evangelism “temperature” in our congregation.  Remember, leading first time believers to faith is the beating heart of the body of Christ.  

The Discipling/Assimilation of the Congregation
As we evangelize non-believers and lead them to Christ, we need to also be devoted to the spiritual growth and maturation of these believers.  Exposing them to great Bible teaching on a regular basis is at the heart of their spiritual health.  We teach our people to feed themselves when we teach them about the classic spiritual disciplines and how to incorporate them into their lives.  We need to involve them in significant ministry and service.  And they must be connected to other believers in fellowship and community.  Each of these aspects are necessary to help our members become healthy and “heart deep” in the life of our congregation.  

Each of these three areas need to be regularly monitored.  As leaders, we look at our numbers and the effectiveness of our ministries.  These will tell us how healthy our church is as we continue on the journey to developing, through the Lord’s guidance and will, a healthy and productive church. 

God’s Grace to Make Decisions

by Dick Wamsley 

I was beginning my eighth year as Dean of Students and Professor of Pastoral Care at Nebraska Christian College.  The college was in the first phase of a leadership transition.  The President and Academic Dean had both been there over 30 years and were scheduled to retire at the end of that academic year.  Three years earlier, I was asked by the trustees to consider accepting either of those two administrative positions, so I committed to be the Academic Dean.  But at their September meeting, the trustees approached me to reconsider my decision and apply for the President’s position.  I did not see myself as president material, which was why I did not pursue it earlier. 

At the same time, I was completing coursework toward the Doctor of Ministry degree at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  I was enrolled in the class “The Decision Making Process, Systems and the Planning Cycle.”  It required that I complete a project in my ministry that applied what I had learned in the classroom.  So I decided my project would be to discern the will of God for this ministry decision. 

What I experienced from that project not only changed the course of my role at the college – I accepted the presidency – it awakened me to how God was just waiting to extend His grace at a time when I was focusing more on my perceived weaknesses than His grace to enable me to lead the college as its president.  If I had walked away from the trustees’ challenge because I focused only on my perceived weaknesses, I would have failed to experience the grace of God. 

Like me, you may have always believed that God bestows His grace at His discretion and not at our request, and in some respects that is true.  But there may also be times when He expects us – in fact waits for us – to seek from Him the grace He has already reserved for us. 

The Apostle Paul talks about God’s all-sufficient grace in 2 Corinthians 12.  Speaking of his “thorn in the flesh” he wrote, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…” (2 Cor. 12:8-9, ESV).  The writer of Hebrews goes a step further:  “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). 

One of the actions I took while seeking God’s will concerning my role with NCC was to ask three friends, who knew me well and my giftedness for ministry, to devote some quality time to pray concerning the specific guidance I was seeking from God.  I provided each of them with a list of reasons I had prepared for accepting either position.  After a prescribed period of time, they were to report back to me their own conclusions as God had directed in their prayers. 

Those conclusions were a key to the confidence I had in approaching God’s throne of grace for help in a critical time for me, and in making the decision to accept the call by the trustees to become the college’s fourth president.  Now some might consider that kind of approach to prayer too bold, maybe even a bit presumptuous.  But I considered it “drawing near to the throne of grace,” taking action to seek God’s grace in a time of need. 

When you or your group of elders are faced with having to make some tough decisions, instead of first seeking human resources that will help you “stand on your own two feet,” drop to your knees seeking God’s all-sufficient grace.