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Redeeming Church Conflicts: Turning Crisis into Compassion and Care Paperback – May 1, 2012
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The closer the relationship, the more excruciating the conflict.
Nowhere does this principle prove itself so vividly as in a family, whether it s biological or spiritual. Most of us have seen the agonizing pain that accompanies the breakdown of a marriage, especially if it is followed by a divorce. The sense of betrayal, anger, bitterness, and hostility that are spawned by the severing of marital bonds can trigger fierce infighting that poisons hearts and relationships for a lifetime.
The same can be said of conflict in a church. Scripture uses familial terms to describe our spiritual relationships father and mother, son and daughter, brother and sister. We invest our hearts and souls in these relationships; we sacrifice, we share, we struggle, we rejoice, we worship, we grow, we celebrate and we mourn ... together. As we do so, our hearts and lives become deeply entwined, and we develop high expectations of one another.
By God s grace, most of us can overlook the minor disappointments of those expectations and continue to worship and minister together for many wonderful years. But when frequent, prolonged, or serious disagreements pervade our church families, our expectations of one another can be deeply shaken. Small waves of disappointment can grow into tsunamis of conflict that sweep over an entire congregation, destroying relationships, ministries, and the witness of the gospel.
I have seen this destructive process far too many times. In my own community, one of the most vibrant and evangelistic churches in town became tangled in a prolonged battle over vision and leadership style. Instead of responding redemptively, both sides formed well-organized factions that maneuvered for control for years. That church is now a parking lot. Literally. The congregation was shattered and scattered, the building was leveled, and the entire campus is now asphalt. I grieve every time I drive by it.
This is why I am so excited about this book. Through their work with Peacemaker Ministries, my friends Dave and Tara have served dozens of churches that were teetering on the brink of destruction. Again and again, they have immersed themselves in the conflict and distress of entire congregations, listening to story after story, seeing the pain and anger of others, and gaining the trust of people who had lost all ability to trust.
Having gained a passport into the hearts of individuals and opposing factions, Tara and Dave became channels of God s reconciling grace. They have helped people replace worldly suspicion with a Kingdom perspective. They have facilitated discernment and understanding. They have inspired leaders to kneel in confession and prayer, to stand up with gospel boldness, and to lead with wisdom and love. And by example and instruction, they have taught entire congregations how to apply scriptural principles to promote reconciliation, peace, and unity.
Their experience and wisdom is set forth in the following pages. I pray that you will study this book carefully and apply its principles in your church with the love and power of Christ. In doing so, you can redeem church conflict, turning it into an opportunity for growth, worship, and Kingdom expansion.
Ken Sande, Founder Peacemaker Ministries --Ken Sande, Founder of Peacemaker Ministries
In Redeeming Church Conflicts Tara Barthel and David Edling draw on their extensive experience helping brothers and sisters resolve serious divisions in ways that bring glory to Jesus, the prince of peace. Perhaps even more important than the wisdom they have gained from walking with congregations through conflict are the insights that they draw from God s Word itself and their confidence that a deepening grasp of the gospel of God s grace sets hearts free to seek and grant forgiveness and to find the humility to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Believers and church leaders should read and take to heart the wisdom offered in Redeeming Church Conflicts not only when conflict threatens our congregations, but also when peace prevails.
Rev. Dr. Dennis E. Johnson, Professor of Practical Theology, Westminster Seminary California and author of The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption and multiple other books --Professor Dennis E. Johnson, Westminster Seminary California
Church conflicts are a shameful thing they hurt, divide, and besmirch the name of Christ. This volume does more than lament the problem. It digs deeply into the experience of the New Testament church to discover a model of forgiveness and redemption that can help the witness of the church to shine once again. May this book help to spawn a whole generation of Acts 15 churches.
Dr. Timothy George is the founding dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University and general editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture --Dr. Timothy George, Beeson Divinity School
From the Back Cover
"In Redeeming Church Conflicts Tara Barthel and David Edling draw on their extensive experience helping brothers and sisters resolve serious divisions in ways that bring glory to Jesus, the prince of peace." Rev. Dr. Dennis E. Johnson, Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Seminary California and the author of The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption
"Church conflicts are a shameful thing--they hurt, divide, and besmirch the name of Christ. This volume does more than lament the problem. It digs deeply into the experience of the New Testament church to discover a model of forgiveness and redemption that can help the witness of the church to shine once again."Dr. Timothy George is the founding dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University and general editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture
"Tara Barthel and David Edling do the body of Christ a significant service inRedeeming Church Conflicts ... Have your staff and your entire church read this book. It will go a long way in creating a culture of peacemaking in your church." Dr. Tim S. Lane, President, Christianity Counseling and Educational Foundation
"This book delivers exactly what is needed in church conflict: a wealth of biblical wisdom and professional expertise as well as an unflinching challenge toward self-examination and away from angry entrenchment and graceless condemnation." Nancy Guthrie, teacher and author of the Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament Bible Study Series
"Redeeming Church Conflicts is that rare book that proves what it promises by showing how the gospel truly affords the church in conflict real means of redeeming the seemingly irredeemable." Rev. Dr. Alfred Poirier, Senior Pastor of Rocky Mountain Community Church (PCA), former Chair of the board of Peacemaker Ministries
"Conflicts within the Church strike at the heart of our witness to the world, and yet there are very few rigorously biblical resources available on this topic ... this book is soundly biblical from beginning to end, with a practical, gospel-centered approach to disputes within the Church." Glenn Waddell, President, Birmingham Theological Seminary
"With delight I commend this much-needed contribution to the field of church conflict intervention... few writers so richly blend sound theology with seasoned ministry experience, all in a readable case-wise manual that will aid church leaders on all levels. " Rev. Dr. Robert D. Jones, Biblical Counseling Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Author of Uprooting Anger
"Redeeming Church Conflicts is Biblical, insightful and practical; based on wisdom born of faithful service to the Lord and a keen understanding of people. Barthel and Edling present a framework for conflict resolution that is God honoring, sanctifying and redeems what is often times very destructive. Much personal heartache and wounding in Christian ministry could be avoided if church leaders would follow this hermeneutically sound counsel. Dr. Andrew S. Zeller, President, Sangre de Cristo Seminary, Chaplain (COL) U.S. Army (Ret.), D. Min., Th.M., M. Div., B.A.
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Although we might be tempted to think of church conflict in terms of the immediate crisis (or what Barthel and Edling call "the presenting issues"), the authors encourage us to see conflict through the lens of God's bigger purposes for his church:
"Redeeming church conflict is less about resolving specific problems than it is about seeing conflict as a means by which God is growing his people into true saints, true eternal children who are being continuously conformed to this holy image."
While not ignoring the specific, material concerns that are the public face of church conflict, the authors very helpfully remind readers that much more is actually at stake. Lest we begin to think the expensive new building project, the Sunday school curriculum, or the feuding individuals are the biggest issue we need to consider--and then "solve"--they constantly point us to the greater importance of God's glory and the good of our neighbor.
Only with this eternal perspective can churches begin to untangle the knot of obvious issues. To do this, each chapter uses the pattern of the church in the book of Acts (especially Acts 15) combined with specific contemporary examples from the authors' mediation cases to define and illuminate a path toward church healing. Readers of material from Peacemaker Ministries will recognize many of the same helpful principles, applied here to a church setting.
Perhaps surprisingly for a book about sin and its fruits, these pages are filled with hope. Through the words of Barthel and Edling, church members and leaders will begin to see their conflicts as opportunities for the glory of God. And whether your church is currently in the midst of strife or proactively seeking to avoid it in future, this book is an excellent guide.
Barthel and Edling wisely highlight a few problem areas when engaging in group conflict. I have found it very helpful personally, and I recommend it for anyone who finds themselves in this type of situation. Let me highlight a few points:
1. The Danger of Seeking Counsel Within the Church
There may be people within the church who can assist us with our conflicts. We should use caution, however, because one of the most insidious and destructive aspects of church conflict is gossip. People have an innate desire to be in the know, and when rumors of conflicts begin to spread in a church, half-truths, uncharitable presumptions, and outright lies can tear a church in two... "A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends." Proverbs 16:28. (p. 45)
It goes without saying that Christians are quite capable of gossip, innuendo, spin and outright lies when engaged in conflict. To deny that professing Christians are capable of this is naive. When you combine group conflict with perceived hurt, character scrutiny or doctrinal rectitude, the terrain can be challenging to navigate. Barthel and Edling offer helpful questions that are worthy of reflection.
2. The Destructive Power of Group Dynamics
This section in chapter seven is worth the price of the book. Here is what they say about how a group can muster momentum for their cause:
In a group conflict, people with perceived similar agendas may band together out of a sense of empowerment, or at least a sense of potential empowerment. A group sharing a goal (desire) will define their common interests in such a way that they will hopefully prevail over other competing groups.....Therefore a group will justify extreme measures to accomplish their goals, and a sense of a "holy crusade" can easily develop. (p. 98)
Mobbing is a term that is used to describe this type of group behavior. It is something that has been studied in Sweden since the 1980's, and is more commonly recognized in Europe, yet not on the radar of most US churches, businesses or organizations. Group-organized attacks are brutal and destroy any relational capital that existed prior to the conflict. Often individuals, organizations and churches suffer the hurt for many years...possibly decades.
3. The Allure of the Stage
A final lethal aspect of group conflicts is referred to as "stage." Hear what Barthel and Edling say:
Most people, willingly or not, act differently when put before an audience. In group mediation the person speaking for his or her side is on a stage. This person has been given a platform from which to demonstrate to the others that he or she is zealous for the cause of that side. Frequently people in this position use hyperbole to make a point, which causes the opposition to hear only the extremes and not whatever truth may have been presented........A "mob mentality" feeds into the problems associated with people speaking from a stage. (p. 100)
They go on to say these insightful words:
When mob mentality takes over, people feel confirmed in their views, and cherished positions develop to the point of becoming almost unassailable demands. The rush of performing for others combined with the power of group-think can push people to feel justified and reasonable in their convictions, even if they may have self-doubts or secret concerns......The temptations associated with a mob mentality and being on stage in church conflicts can lead people to do and say things in groups that, on their own, in private, they never would do or say. (p. 100)
If you have ever been scrutinized or been in a position of having to weigh the truth of a group or mob, it can be a daunting and exhausting responsibility. Too often, those called upon to mediate can grow weary and make quick decisions. The solution tends to err in the direction of taking the smaller group or individual out of the equation in order to bring "peace." This is often the accused, the pastor or the leader; whichever will bring about the least amount of perceived collateral damage.
Scripture would caution us to take slow and deliberate steps to insure justice for all sides. Favoritism of either the alleged "victim/powerless" or the one in power without due process is not a godly option. (Leviticus 19:15) Accountability and protection are due all parties. This will take time and possibly many conversations to arrive at a resolution. Each party should be provided with all of the information and given ample opportunity to respond to any and all accusations. Owning responsibility and rightfully being offered the opportunity to defend oneself against false or true accusations is a basic biblical requirement. Our secular legal system affords this basic right, but sometimes the church falls short.
4. The Failure of Leadership
Within the context of this complexity, Barthel and Edling say this to leaders:
In each of the group dynamic situations listed above, one of the primary things being revealed is a failure of leadership. God calls spiritual leaders to lead his people into the place where all interests of man are subservient to God's interests (see Phil. 2:1-4). Leaders are called to help people understand the dangerous dynamics discussed above so they can be avoided in the future and repented of if already present. (p. 101)
While I found all of these insights to be helpful, one critical piece that they do not state is the potential presence of a "ring-leader." In group conflict, there are likely one or two people who fuel the fire and draw others in to accomplish their goals. Other research suggests that the ring-leader appeals to vulnerable, fearful people in a variety of ways in order to increase those who are involved in their "crusade."
I highly recommend this excellent resource and would encourage you to read and prayerfully consider how you can be an active part in redeeming the next group conflict in which you are involved (Ephesians 4:1-6).