Church Conflict

Lies in the Church by Angela J. Kaufman

According to an online poll by Christianity Today, almost 90 percent of people attending church today say they have been hurt by the church at some time in their lives. Here is what the numbers revealed.
“Have you ever been hurt by the church?”
Yes, and I left that church: 47%
Yes, and I stayed at that church: 42%
No: 11%”
The yeses voice an incredible concern. What is going on? Where is the source of
this pain? What can be done about it? 

Church conflict often occurs due to stages of not confronting:
First, is the issue of denial.  People who are leaders may say, “ I don’t believe this is a problem (denial) for us.” Or perhaps even bolder, they might say, “It isn’t my problem.” Whether it be a case of domestic abuse within a church family or a case of abuse between a leader and a member of the church, these responses are not uncommon.

The second stage is acknowledgement of an issue after the problem has grown beyond containment.  At this point, people will admit there is a problem, but no one knows what the solution is.  It may seem that the consequences of inaction come in such rapid succession there is no way to halt the damage.  Eventually pain of any type will affect more people than the original incident.

Regret is the final stage which is often characterized by: “ I guess we dropped the ball.   I wish we had done something sooner.” Unfortunately, the cycle will begin again unless there is a confronting action taking place. “This cycle does not bring about healing and growth if not combined with confrontational actions – such as seeking outside counsel (God’s guidance and outside consultants), repentance, an analysis of congregational needs, congregational involvement, proactive behavior modification, and a commitment to change made by the congregation as well as its leaders.”

Way too many times congregations sigh in relief after the final stage of regret.  They think the problem was so big it blew up and now it’s over.  There is nothing more to be done, it’s too late.  But even if we reach the stage of regret, we are not off the hook. There is where the real work must begin.  Shoving things under the rug will not result in healing.

Non-confronting is not the best approach; one avoids the issue.  However, if we tend to avoid problems, there are other indicators that accompany this behavior. First, we typically are unwilling to accept our responsibility in the conflict.  Second, we hide or withdraw from the person caught in the web of the conflict itself .  A natural consequence of this is that we now become isolated.  An invisible wall is built.  Third, we are actually afraid of a confrontation.  We fear there will be consequences or a dissolving of the relationship. When in fact, we must confront in order to save the relationship.

Arnold Glasgow states this concept as: “One of the tests of leadership is this ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.”

This is starting to sting, because again and again we are reminded not to deny or avoid the reality, but face problems with love and grace.

Or as Max Lucado states in his book, Facing Your Giants, “Give grace, but, if need be, keep your distance.  You can forgive the abusive husband without living with him. Be quick to give mercy to the immoral pastor, but be slow to give him a pulpit.  Society can dispense grace and prison terms at the same time.  Offer the child molester a second chance, but keep him off the playgrounds. Forgiveness is not foolishness.” 

Kendall affirms, “it is an injustice when certain people are at large who have done and can still do great harm to others.  This is why a person who is raped should testify in court; it is why a person who threatens the unity of the church should be dealt with.” We are not only responsible for our spiritual health and well-being, we are responsible for our brothers and sisters as well.

Preventing Future Church Conflict Pain

 As in AA, it is just as important to look for HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) issues within a church.  Although, I do not have a church version acronym for HALT, the theme certainly applies to this group of people. In other words, what makes a church hungry (spiritually, of course)?  What makes a church angry?  What makes a church feel lonely?  What makes a church feel tired? If we can identify any of these then we may be able to prevent the cause from happening in the first place.

A hungry church can exist when a congregation is starving for some bold leadership. Perhaps they need deeper spiritual food or even help from outside resources, such as the denominational conference.

Now when it comes to an angry church, we can usually see the cause.  The possibilities are endless. Beware though: anger often masks the underlying issues. Marshall Shelley, in his book, Well-Intentioned Dragons, lists some hot spots.  First, people may have legitimate issues that need to be addressed. (Perhaps a family is in physical or financial need that the deacons or leaders of a church must address) Second, problem people or “dragons” as Shelley calls them, may need to be confronted.  (This may be a person who starts negative rumors to undermine others or the entire church) Third, a church must deal with unresolved issues.  (Unresolved conflict can sabotage a church for generations. Maybe an earlier church split was never dealt with and processed until healing could occur.) All of these areas call for some training or understanding of conflict resolution. It is important to accept that even if there is confrontation, it may not end differences of opinion or stop all complaining. Not everyone can be satisfied everywhere, all the time.

A lonely congregation may be one with a shepherd who does not tend to their needs.  It might be a group of people in great pain, but who cannot find comfort or the ability to voice the pain they are enduring. I know a lot of small, tired congregations who have worked hard over the years just to get the church up off the ground. The maintenance stage can be exhausting if the congregation does not grow financially to keep the doors open.  The joy and vision of starting a new church is lost on the next generation and sometimes the Spirit just doesn’t seem to be as contagious as it once was. It would appear that exhaustion has overrun spiritual hunger.

Once again, what is the plan?  Just like preparing a personal plan when things go wrong, what is your church’s plan when problems arise? Is it possible that being prepared for these events may also eliminate some of the potential pain and HALT some problems from even starting?

I wish you hope and healing on your journey with God.

The Connection Newsletter, The
Weekly Newsletter of Christianity Today International, Tuesday, August 7, 2007, p. 3. 

Will Schirmer, Reaching Beyond The Mennonite Comfort Zone, Exploring From The Inside Out, Telford, PA: Cascadia Publishing House; Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2003, 110-11.

George Sanchez “How to Resolve Conflicts,” Discipleship 8,” (March 1982): 3,


Max Lucado, Facing Your Giants (W Publishing Group, a div. of Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), 50.

R.T. Kendall, Total Forgiveness (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2002), 110.
Marshall Shelley, Well-Intentioned Dragons, Ministering to Problem People in the Church (Waco, TX: WORD books, ,1985), 105.

I wish you hope and healing on your journey with God.

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Copyright 2018: Angela J. Kaufman, Sioux Falls, SD 57106

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