**This article was previously posted by Dr. Randy White HERE and is used by permission.
Having served as the pastor of four wonderful churches in my 25 years of pastoral ministry, I have seen my share of church problems. The only church that has no problems is the one you do not know much about. The more you get to know a church, the more you know that it has problems.
But healthy churches learn the causes of problems and how to deal with problems when they arise. One of the greatest things a church can do is recognize how problems are born—and know how problems can be put to rest.
The number one cause of church battles
Whether it is a huge battle that results in a church split, or a small battle that just makes the life of the pastor and everyone involved miserable, my experience has been that there is one major cause of battle. I will call it, “Taking up someone else’s offense.”
When you or a member of your congregation adopts the offense of another individual and begins to fight their battle, a bigger battle is born.
Let’s face it—there are some people in your church you love (and you should.) When those people you love are slighted, offended or wronged, you want to come to their aid and make it right. It seems so right—even Biblical—to do so. Your heart swells with righteous indignation, you gather your “weapons” and you go to work to “right the wrong.”
As you do so, the one who was wronged begins to thank you and even praise you for standing up for that which is right. You, of course, appreciate this praise and it strengthens your resolve. You gather others to join the crusade and convince them of the “rightness” of the cause. Before long, people in the congregation are incensed at the offense that has taken place. Others are incensed because their sweet fellowship is being destroyed. Others are incensed because they have different information or a different point of view and do not see the battle as righteous. In time, everyone is incensed, though few can tell you exactly what the original offense was. All the while, the one originally offended sits back as the victim of the horrible crime against them, but rarely, if ever, gets involved in the battle to set it right.
The problem with this scenario, which is so often played out in local churches, is that it is unbiblical at its core. The instruction of Scripture is that the offended brother must initiate all confrontations and remedies. When we bypass this foundational principle, we introduce problems into the church and create “victims” who will suffer from the victim mentality for many years to come.
Who should fight the battle?
If you want to live a quiet and peaceful life, let others fight their own battles (whether in church, family, school or neighborhood). When you take up someone else’s offense, you will inevitably have an inaccurate account of the details and the problem will quickly metastasize.
In your church, it is not the pastor’s job to fight your battle. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard from church members that wanted me to take up their cross and begin their crusade. Even if the cause was righteous, the implementation would be unbiblical. In fact, the worst words I ever spoke in these situations, having listened to a person share how they were hurt, wronged or offended by another member, are these: “Let me check into it.” With that, the battle became mine. The best thing a pastor can do when member A is hurt by member B is to counsel A to have a face-to-face, one-on-one meeting with B. If A does not want to do that, then A needs to hear counsel that he or she must simply forgive and move on.
Do you realize that this is the standard of our secular court system? An accuser must show up in court and make the accusation with the accused present and accounted for. If this is the secular standard, surely this should be a basic requirement for interpersonal problems in the church as well. The accused has the right to face their accuser, and the accuser does not have the right to hide behind any cloak.
The worst thing a church staff member (minister, secretary or volunteer) can do is be the “go to” person for people with offenses, but almost every troubled church has this self-appointed “problem solver.” The people in the congregation begin to realize that, if they have a problem they do not want to solve directly, they can go to staff member A, who will be offended on their behalf and work from his “insider” position to right the wrong.
The worst thing a church leadership body (deacons, elders or council) can do is to become the “go to” board for solving problems. Years ago, the monthly deacon meeting agenda in the church I served had a standing item of business which simply said, “Problems from the congregation.” It is no surprise that that church had continual problems and did not experience peace until the deacons recognized that their acceptance of “problem solver” status was a huge part of the problem. When the deacons removed that item from the agenda and began to counsel members with problems to address their problems Biblically, the problems began to go away and peace came in its place.
Secrecy of agenda
Another major cause of problems in the church is that we allow for a secrecy of agenda by members of the body. This is sometimes, though not as often, a secrecy of the pastor’s agenda. Typically the pastor is forced to have a public agenda by nature of his assignment. However, there are often members of the congregation that have an agenda that is against the pastor, or against a project of the church, or against a church member or minister. These members are often afforded the privilege of carrying their agendas in secret. Granting this privilege is a danger to the health of the church.
I used to have a consistent flow of people into my office when they did not like something one of my staff had done. Again, they wanted me to fix a problem that was theirs, not mine. These members would leave frustrated that I was not solving their problems to suit their agendas and they were going to other members to “rally the troops” for their cause. All this was done in relative secrecy, because it was never addressed on any kind of official or public level.
All this changed when I instituted a new methodology of dealing with complaints against staff. My new methodology, shared on various occasions from the pulpit, was that if you came to me with a “gripe” against a staff member, we would do two things. First, we would arrange a meeting, face-to-face with that staff member, for you to share your concerns. Second, we would put you on the agenda of the next personnel committee meeting to share your concerns there.
I never had another anti-staff visit.
If you want to make problems go away in the church, create an environment where it is okay to express concerns and have objections, but it is not okay to do that secretly. If you express an objection, it should be made known that you have such objection. Doing this will cause you to make sure you only move forward with real, serious, need-to-be-addressed issues. So, if a brother is against the pastor, it should be made known. If a sister is against the preaching, she should say so publicly. Doing so causes real problems to be addressed and personal problems to stay personal.
Failure to accommodate a differing opinion
Let’s face it, most church conflict is over trivial matters. None of them seem trivial to those involved in the battle, but to anyone on the outside, it is unbelievably minor. So many church problems could be solved if we recognized that the church is a body with differing parts, each necessary and making up the whole. Since we are a body, we ought to be respectful of the differing opinions that others may have. I am not talking about an “anything goes” church that has no standards. But I am talking about a church that respects opinions and is okay with divergent opinions on matters of methodology or function. If we will recognize the authoritative roles and duties of the congregation and live within its structures, we should be able to disagree on many matters and still be brothers and sisters in Christ and in harmony with each other.
***Editor’s Note: Dr. Cox’s book, “Not One Little Child: A Biblical Critique of Calvinism” is available for purchase HERE.
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