On Church Conflicts

Anyone who has been a part of any church for any amount of time has a story about a church conflict. They have a story about that business meeting where there was standing room only because the people who had been inactive in the church for years decided that they needed to be there to vote. They can tell you of the experience of being hurt when people that they loved and respected undermined their desire to follow the Lord and minister in the church.

These types of church conflicts have been around since the very beginning of the church. In Acts 5, the sin of Ananias and Sapphira threatened the integrity of the early church. In Acts 6:1-7, a misunderstanding between two parties in the church threatened to divide the fellowship and pull the Apostles away from their duty to preach and lead. There is much for us to learn from these conflicts.

1. Sin must be dealt with. Ananias and Sapphira’s sin could not be covered up. It had to be called out and disciplined so that both the people of the church and the world whom they hoped to reach would know that sin is not okay.

In church conflicts that arise out of sin, the sin which causes the turmoil must be decisively dealt with. Sexual misbehavior, whether among the ministerial staff or the lay membership is not okay. Gossip and backbiting is not okay. Care must be taken to get to the root of the problem and the person(s) responsible. Then, the sin must be exposed and called out in a gracious and loving way lest their sin bring shame on the church and on Christ.

The thought of directly confronting sin scares the living daylights out of most people. We fear how they will react. We are tempted to just stay quiet and let God deal with it on His own. However, in the story of Ananias and Sapphira, we see the horror of what happens when God deals with sin in the church. If we learn of the sin, then we have the opportunity to spare them from God’s judgment. The most loving thing that a Christian can do for their fellow brother or sister who is caught in sin is to go to them and gently correct them. In this way, God may perhaps grant them repentance that leads to knowledge of the truth so that they escape the snare of the devil (2 Timothy 2:25-26).

2. When there is a dispute arising from a misunderstanding, other servants are needed to ensure an equitable solution. In Acts 6, the Apostles stated that it would not be right for them to neglect their duty in preaching and teaching the word of God in order to fix the issue at hand. They called on the church to appoint other servants for this duty, “men who were of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3). This motion was passed unanimously and the conflict was handled.

Most of the time the church leans on the pastor to handle a conflict. That is not always the best course of action, particularly when the problem is not sin but a misunderstanding. The pastor and ministerial staff, like the Apostles of the first-century, need to be able to devote themselves to the ministry of the word and prayer. The only thing worse than a church split is to have your ministerial staff burn out from having to consistently handle polemic situations where misunderstandings run rampant.

Just be careful how you chose these servants. As the Apostles requested, they need to be of a good reputation. They need to be the most devoted Christians in the church. They need to be wise in their handling of sensitive issues and someone that everyone, and I mean everyone, can trust.

3. Healthy handling of church conflicts leads to a stronger and healthier fellowship. In Acts 5:14 we see that the decisive handling of the sin of Ananias and Sapphira only led to the church growing more than ever. We see in Acts 6:7 that the handling of the misunderstanding led to many believers being added to the fellowship. Even some of the Jewish priests believed. We can conclude then, that as ugly as church fights can be, they can turn out for the best if we will handle them biblically. We should strive for these ends.