Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. James 5:16
We need to look to God's Word as the primary example for our interpersonal relationships and to the ways we confront, extol, and exhort people with love and care. There are scores of examples of conflict in Scripture and how it was handled properly and improperly. For example, Paul confronted the churches in his letters to live for Christ. He gave them encouragement, pointed out their errors, and taught the right way of behaving. David did not do well in his confrontation with Uriah and again with Nathan, but learned and grew from his experience, even though he suffered the consequences of his actions.
God calls us to confess our sins to each other and to Him. We are not called to go to a mediator, but wise counsel and guidance can help us go through issues. There is such a negative backlash in some churches against the Catholics that Evangelicals "throw out the baby with the bath water." Too many Evangelicals say we do not need to confess sins to each other, but only to God, yet we see in Scripture the opposite is true. Confrontation is Biblical and we are called to exercise it diligently and with caution. Confessing sins is a mandate and the essential aspect of forgiveness and resolving conflict!
"God will deal with each of us upon the principle which sways our own life, and if we adopt a stern and severe mode of action, we must expect the same rule to be carried out in our case." (C.H. Spurgeon, "Evening Sept 10")
The following is a biblical model to confront someone on the basis of sin and/or wrong doing, or to handle disagreeable rifts in the body. These 5 steps are based on Matthew 18.
"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector." (Matthew 18:15-17)
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Galatians 6:1
We always need to approach these situations with a win attitude, not so much that the one intervening is right, but with the perspective of restoration and healing of the people involved. This is the win we want. We also, most importantly, are to be in prayer and to be seeking Grace for ourselves and the person we are confronting! And when we are in an attitude of Grace, then we will be of a humble attitude and, thus, not give in to pride and think of ourselves as a weapon of God. Self-righteousness is a self-destructive weapon and is of no use to our Lord.
Do you as the person confronting have anything to gain or lose, or do you have any preconceived ideas or prejudices? If so, then seek someone else to moderate. Are you a person who is open and honest to their problems? If not, seek someone else. Are you willing to take the heat of criticism, having the person dump on you or blame you? If not, seek someone else. The leader or moderator of the conflict must never be there for self-gain. We must never see conflict resolution as a means of control and to be in a position of power. We are to show who is the Christ, not who is boss in the church, because we are not it, He is! The last thing you want to do is escalate the problem.
STEP 2: Listening and Recognition
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. Matthew 18:15
So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. Luke 17:3
When you have firsthand information or some reasonable proof that a sin has been committed and/or a conflict needs to be reconciled, then it is the call of the church to deal with it. So a friend, elder, or pastor needs to go to the person privately and confidentially to deal with it. They need to be sensitive to the feelings and frustrations they may encounter, and the motives of the people involved.
We need to establish goals and objectives for the parties involved or the individual who sinned. What can we accomplish and how can we do it should be in the mind of the leader. If not, then the emotions will take over and will turn into anger and further the conflict. Try to see yourself as part of a team with the parties involved settling the matter and not adversaries with a judge.
We need to be objective and speak to the person directly, not go to or though someone else. We are not to make assumptions, such as women are overly emotional, because both men and women are equal in producing and being blinded by emotions. Assumptions will cover our ears from listening effectively. Then ask key questions, be good listeners to the situation, be in prayer and seeking discernment. Look and seek what will benefit both parties, what they agree on. What are the reasonable steps to solve this issue? We are not to be focusing on the behaviors and emotions, but seeking the root cause of the dispute. We need to be looking at the structure of the arguments and the underlying cause, not the emotionalism, and not the first reaction we may have. We need to focus on the attitude of the person over their behaviors, so we are not being sarcastic, nagging them, or putting them down. We must always go to God's people (saved and un-saved, we are all God's people, because He created us) with a servant's heart. We need to be speaking to the person with love, without the words of "you always" or "you never." We are not called to be sarcastic or naggers, but encourages. Most people in argumentative situations are focused on the emotion and believe they have the truth, but few will check out the facts, only to relay on the power of their feelings and fears.
We need to ask ourselves questions like: Is there a problem? Is it rumor or fact? What is the person's story and what is the other side? Is there an offense that needs to be confronted or rumors that need to be put down? If it is some political game or power struggle, how can we solve this without taking sides? A leader must seek out and destroy the petty games in church politics by seeking to work with the people to find common ground and resolution before the disciplinary process.
Questions such as, do you have a plan and Scriptures to back you up? Is there a trust level between you and the person? Do you know the history? Has this person done it before? Have you discerned the real issues or willing to do so? Is one party to benefit over the other so it may cloud the true issue? Is it guilt by association or has there been careful measurement and analysis of the situation? Are you willing to verify the facts in the situation, review the evidence, and listen to the other side? Can you see through assumptions to get to the root of the matter? Are you willing to say, "I do not know but I'm willing to find out?" And are you willing to apologize if your confrontation is in error?
It is important to realize that not all conflict is sin. Although most conflict can and will lead to sin, it is not always a sin problem.
Then, you need to ask questions specific to the problem being confronted, coming to the situation with, "How can I help you? I see this as a temporary problem that we can overcome. May I share with you a concern I have? May I say to you that you are an important part of our church family, and your well being is a top concern of mine, because we care for you? You are not alone in this. You are a part of a church family that loves and cares for you. We have a God who loves and cares for us. How can we come along side you...? I know this is hard and a challenge and I know this situation is temporary and we can overcome it, are you willing…? You know God's Word has a lot to say to us in these situations, we all have been there…? It is a challenge to obey God's Word, but he gives us the power and ability to do so…?"
When settling disputes, have each party state what they believe about the situation, and what they want out of the conflict. Have a secretary carefully write it out and then go over it, clearing up any misunderstandings. Then, ask each party separately what are their hidden motives that they did not want to share with the other party and what are their desires and fears? Then come back and go over what each side said in a non-argumentative non-condemning atmosphere! Then, ask why each party feels that way. What do we agree on? What are the motivations? What are the advantages and disadvantages to the perspectives of each party? If there are still points that diverge, work on an equitable solution and commitment to heal and grow from this experience. What can we do for both parties to benefit from this? What will be the result of the various and final decisions? Then seek the Scriptures and spend time in prayer, significant time, and not popcorn prayers! Remember that not everyone will agree with everything! But, there must be an agreement on personal growth, mutual respect, and compromise (as long as it is not a significant Theological or Biblical point!) so not to destroy relationships and hurt the Body of our Lord. Make sure it is the right decision and not just the most equable or acceptable one!
We need to be sensitive to the process here in Matthew, that we do not rush through it, but allow it to unfold carefully and not to jump to conclusions. Do not be afraid to take your time. And at the same time be sensitive to stop bad situations as they emerge. The action must be stopped in its tracks, but the healing process will take the time to unfold. Now if there is a severe situation such as child abuse or someone is in danger, yes we need to act very quickly and involve the local police authorities.
Take caution to not just look at the surface and emotions of the incident, but the underlying cause, and this takes time and discernment. Waiting and hoping it will go away is a sin and will destroy you and your church! Being passive and trying to please everyone will put out the fires, but the ambers will simmer until they explosively reemerge. We must have the courage to act quickly, be sensitive to the people, and allow the time and process to heal.
So if you are sure, proof positive, that a sin has occurred, then just between two people, friend to friend, pastor to individual, or elder to individual, confront the person in the spirit of love and care, with the first step and goal firmly in mind. Here is the tough part of sharing the fault and problem, if the person refuses to listen, then it must be escalated to a "supervisor" step 3. If the person acknowledges the wrong and repents, keep the matter private and confidential. The person has been won over, and healing can begin. An effective leader and mature Christian will always be in prayer, listen and discern the issue, and go to the individual with Scripture and in love.
STEP 3: Semi-Private Reconciliation and Goal Setting
If the person refuses to listen and continues in sin or conflict, and you have checked out the facts and both sides, then you need to involve an elder or pastor. So two, no more then three at this stage, go to the person and confront and moderate a solution. Again, remember the Fruits of the Spirit and the goal of bringing the person in a right relationship with Christ and the body of the church.
Conflict resolution is easy when both parties agree, but more often than not someone will not bend because of their principles. God's call for us is to be peacemakers, which we are to pursue it, "Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification." (Romans 14:19) As the person who mediates the conflict, it is our responsibility to create the peace. We cannot afford to see if they come up with a solution themselves, although they may just do so. Sometimes people just need a listening ear or to hear the other side. We have to remember to be prepared to build up one another and not tear down.
This is also the step you need to set goals and benchmark a plan. The first step is a friendly word that may end the problem, if not a plan of attack is needed. The goal is resolution and peace in the congregation. It is not always about who is right and who is wrong. So bring both parties together to explain their side and listen with the rule of no interruption to the others retort and argument. Then allow a response again without any interruption from either party. Each side must feel the freedom to express themselves clearly without fear of retaliation or guilt. Then they need to agree to an equitable solution by the moderator with a win/win scenario in mind. You can even give the parties the ownership of seeking a solution, this might motivate them even more. But the attitude of my way or no way must be neutered. There cannot always be an "I win and you lose attitude," our focus is on the Lord and His plan for us and not our perceived will.
The moderator is the catalyst and may not have the answers, their job is to keep the peace with an atmosphere of acceptance and care, and provide a winnable plan. They may intercede for clarification, to refocus on the issue, or to put out personal attacks. Stick to the facts and issues in hand. Do not allow old issues buried for years to resurface. You may need to focus on a plan to prevent continual conflict if there is a history between the parties. This is so that the conflict does not come back in the future in a different area.
The moderator, after listening, provides various creative solutions. If no solution is at hand imminently, then set the next meeting date, be in prayer and take the time for research and good Biblical plan and solution. Make sure all the information has been let out and all the best alternatives are given credence. If no solution can be brought forward, then an outside source may be sought, such as a consultant or the court system. But beware, these outside solutions will not provide any more solutions than the capable leader but will bring high costs and consequences. That is why God's Word tells us to settle the matters ourselves.
We must realize that there is not always an agreed solution, someone may feel they were not listened to and get offended when they do not get their way. So we need to agree to disagree sometimes. It is okay to not always to have a solution when the parties cease their war. So in the beginning, explain that cooperation and unity in Christ is the focus. Life is about relationships and not self-desires. We must be willing to compromise, unless it is on Biblical grounds or compromising our integrity and morals. Conflict handled correctly will strengthen the church and grow the people further in their walk with Christ, if handled correctly.
"But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses." (Matthew 18:16)
"One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the LORD before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you. The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you." (Deuteronomy 19:15-20)
STEP 4: Church Counsel
But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. Matthew 18:16;
Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning. 1 Timothy 5:20
When step 3 and 4 fail then you involve the elders, and the Bible tells us that resolving conflict is one of their primary roles. Take the person before the elder board of your church. (This step is in response to sin and moral and Biblical deviations. Personal conflicts reside in steps 1-3, unless both parties agree to the moderation of the elders, and the elders agree to it, but the decision of the elders must be agreed that it is final, and no escalation beyond.) Do this before going public, this gives the person one last chance, and involves the key leadership in the process. Most denominations have this in their piety for good reason.
Basically the elders go through the same first 4 steps. As the primary leaders of the church they will have more leverage and sociological pressure that the first 2 or 3 people may not have had. Thus this step is like carrying the case to the supreme court.
STEP 5: Public Action
If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them. Matthew 18:17-20
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 14-15
Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. Titus 3:10
Hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord. 1 Corinthians 5:5
If all the steps did not work, and if you are sure beyond a reasonable doubt, then the matter needs to go before the church publicly. The problem needs to be dealt without violating others confidences, and the details and specifics do not need to be public. Absolutely no crowd-pleasing tactics should ever be used! Leaders are called to clarify and not cloud the issues. The elders and pastor must be people above reproach, so their word can be trusted without question. If the individual or group or faction refuses to repent and make any needed restitution, then they are to be dis-fellowshipped. And, when they come to conviction and repentance, they are to be let back in fellowship with all the love and care of the prodigal son. Just a simple statement that the person is no longer welcomed and they are to be left alone until the leadership states otherwise. If they are seen in the church, then the pastor or elder is to escort the person away (they may receive help, but the normal member should not be involved, unless asked to do so).
Fortunately I had to do this only twice in my ministry career personally. And believe me this was extremely difficult. Although one of the aspects of being a church growth consultant is also being a conflict resolution 'specialist', which I personally hate doing. I try to avoid it by trading with other consultants and take the tasks that they do not like. Yet, it seems I play referee in churches far too often, over cases that should have never escalated beyond step 2! My two personal cases involved a member calling and harassing the single women, to the point he was stalking. All of the four steps were used, and finally he had to be dis-fellowshipped! I even had to warn other churches of this man, because I found out he had done it before in another church, and refused to stop, thus will keep on doing 'his thing'. You can call this "step six," that if the person is going to cause harm to another body of believers, it is your job to warn them. You can do this discreetly by going to the town's ministerial fellowship, and even local police authorities and court for a restraining order if considered necessary.
One church I worked with had to get a restraining order because someone who was a volunteer was harassing children, and would continue elsewhere without intervention. This was years ago before "child molesting" was in the public eye; today, he would be in prison. The other case had to do with a divorced couple that went very nasty, and one was asked to find another church to keep the peace.
Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, O wicked man, you will surely die, and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself. Ezekiel 33:7-9
When you have properly dealt with the issue and people in a loving way, while confronting the problem in truth and with Scripture, then you can rest in the knowledge that you have fulfilled your duty and obligation and call from the Lord. The person is in the hands and providence of God. The Lord may choose to let the person live in their sin and the consequence there of; 1 John 5:16. "If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life." The person may be subject to being chastised by God with an assortment of consequences, such as disease, broken relationships, or may be called home to Heaven if they are a Christian, or "elsewhere" if the person is not a Christian. It is extremely important to release our control and realize that God is the only one capable of changing a person's heart. There is nothing we can do but point out what is in Scripture with the Fruits of the Spirit working in us. We as Christians and leaders cannot force our will and beliefs on others; all we can do is to share and try to persuade. We cannot force ethical and values on others. Values come from the character of the existential core of the person that only they and God have access to. We must be in prayer and be willing to turn the people over to our Lord. We are to trust and obey Him ourselves and be the example that He calls for, and do the same with trusting that God is working in the lives of others too, even when it does not seem so.
Because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son" Hebrews 12:6
That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 1 Corinthians 11:30
But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. James 1:14-15
Keep in mind, Satan Thrives on Conflict: Romans 8:12-14; James 4:7-8!
Principle Scripter to How to Understand, Solve, and Prevent Conflict: Genesis 4; Psalm 37:4; Proverbs 3:4-6; 18:13; Matthew 5:9; 7:5; 15:18-20; 18: 15-20; Luke 6:27-36; 19:1-9; Romans 8:28-29; 1 Corinthians 6:1-8; 10:31-11:1; 13; Galatians 5; Ephesians 4:22-32; 5:1; Philippians 2:3-6; 4:2-9; Colossians 1:17-20; 3:12-17 James 4:1-3; 1 John 14:15
© 1989, 1998, 2007 R. J. Krejcir Ph.D., Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development www.churchleadership.org