CONFLICT IN THE CHURCH: PRINCIPLES, PROCEDURES, GUIDELINES
Underlying assumptions, principles and observations1. Christ is Lord and Head of His church (Ephesians 5:23). As such, the church (local and universal) is His, not the district's, nor the pastor's, nor the congregation's. Christ cares and loves His church and its pastor much more than any of us (Ephesians 5:25).
2. The local congregation, being an Evangelical Free Church, is autonomous in nature and congregational in government.
3. A congregation calls a pastor to lead it (1 Timothy 3:4-5). The congregation should pray for, encourage and follow his leadership.
4. A church generally grows or doesn't grow according to the vision and pastoral gifts of its Senior Pastor. Besides being a man of God, he must also demonstrate balance in three areas:
A. People skills
B. Teaching skills
C. Leadership skills
5. An effective pastor is known for his character, particularly:
A. Exhibition of Christlike behavior and lifestyle,
B. Knowledge that he is called of God (and a willingness to submit that understanding of call to the affirmation of those to whom he ministers as well as of his colleagues), and
C. Ability to shepherd all of the flock, even during times of conflict
6. The pastor is ultimately accountable to the Lord. That accountability, however, is mediated by the elected leadership of the church, which in turn is accountable to the congregation.
7. A pastor ought to plan for a long-term ministry in a church but be ready and willing to leave when the situation warrants it. He will be careful to try to not obligate himself in such a way that he is unable to change ministries when needed. A congregation may remove its pastor at any time according to its constitution and by-laws.
8. Associate staff members are accountable to the Senior Pastor. When an irresolvable conflict arises between a staff member and the Senior Pastor, it is the responsibility of the staff member to submit to the Senior Pastor or resign and leave quietly.
Procedures1. The superintendent will try to be relationally connected with all of the pastors in the district, with church leadership and with congregations. The superintendent will try to share ideas with pastors and church leaders for effectiveness in ministry.
2. When a superintendent hears about a problem and is asked for counsel, he will try to listen and encourage the parties to work on the problem from a biblical perspective and commit to specific prayer. In some instances, when he hears of a serious problem, he will take the initiative and ask the pastor and/or church chairman if he might meet with them or with the appropriate people.
3. The superintendent will attempt to bring the appropriate people together for the purpose of reconciliation.
4. In all of this, the superintendent's goal will be to listen well, to pray with the parties involved, to point out or teach the biblical principles for biblical relationships and for conflict resolution.
5. If appropriate, the superintendent will suggest some form of mediation, whether an outside agency or an ad hoc team of experienced pastors within the district, to identify and resolve issues. The role of the superintendent is to oversee the process. He must maintain his ability to work with the church after the conflict is settled.
6. In each instance the superintendent will seek counsel from appropriate people such as his staff, his board, the EFCA President or another experienced EFCA superintendent.
7. If the pastor leaves, the superintendent will do his best to help him process what has taken place and find a new ministry, if appropriate. He will assist the church to find a new pastor and work on residual problems after the pastor is gone.
Guidelines for FLD Involvement in Charges Against a Pastor1. The FLD and EFCA are committed to the autonomy of the local church. By decision of the National Conference, the superintendent may become involved in the affairs of the local church in the following situations:
A. Examination of a pastor or missionary credentialed by the EFCA in three areas:
B. Invitation of the leadership or congregation of a local church
C. A local church departs from its original commitment to be an Evangelical Free Church
2. Accusations must be specific, not general, in nature. The accuser(s) must understand the seriousness and responsibility of defamation of a person's character and ministry. Only first-hand information, not hearsay or personal conversation without witnesses, will be entertained. In most cases, only accusations signed by at least two credible witnesses of the actual incident will be considered.
3. The superintendent or an ad hoc team will attempt to bring the accuser(s) and the pastor together and attempt to resolve the differences(s) and/or charges. If unresolved, then the next step would be to engage church leadership with the accuser and the accused. If still unresolved, it may be necessary to bring the issue to the congregation as a whole.
4. If it is determined that the pastor requires discipline, a recommendation will be made to the EFCA Board of Ministerial Standing.
5. If examination reveals that the charges are unsubstantiated, a recommendation will be made either to the local church or the appropriate agency representing the accuser for appropriate action or discipline regarding the accuser.
6. Expenses pertaining to the mediation process are generally not the responsibility of the Forest Lakes District. Expenses shall be borne by the accuser if the accusations(s) are unfounded.
7. When an irresolvable conflict arises between a Senior Pastor and the Board or congregation, it is the responsibility of the Senior Pastor to either submit or resign and leave quietly.
8. The superintendent has no authority over a local congregation except as granted by the congregation. The superintendent becomes involved with a local church problem only when invited by its pastor, its Church Board, and/or by action of a congregational meeting. The desired role of the superintendent and the extent of his involvement must be stated when he is invited.
9. As a representative of the EFCA, the superintendent does have authority over a pastor credentialed by the EFCA in the areas of doctrine, morals and conduct.
10. Right or wrong, the congregation has the final word.
o If a Church Board or congregation asks for the superintendent's help and the pastor does not want him involved, the Church Board or congregation has the final word.
o If a pastor asks for the superintendent's help and the Church Board or congregation does not want him involved, the congregation has the final word. The superintendent will try to continue to work privately with the pastor as to the best resolution and with the church chairman and board.
11. If, in the superintendent's opinion after seeking mature counsel, the situation is beyond repair and reconciliation, the superintendent may recommend that the pastor resign and leave quietly so the church can recover and move on.
o Statistics and trends, along with godly counsel, become important factors in determining the effectiveness of a pastor's ministry.
o Generally, when a pastor loses the trust and support of the church leadership, his effective ministry in that church is usually over.
o Generally, when the majority of the members of the congregation (or of the Church Board) do not support a pastor's ministry, his effectiveness is severely hampered to where he ought to look for a new ministry.
12. If the pastor refuses to leave, the superintendent will continue to try to work with him and support him as best he can, recognizing that the congregation still may take action against or remove him. On occasion, the superintendent may encourage a congregation to take steps to remove him.
13. The involvement of the superintendent or any agency outside the congregation will likely escalate the tension before resolving it.
14. The superintendent's goal is to try to remain objective under all circumstances, available to all parties, to keep praying for harmony and unity in the Body.
15. When a pastor and a congregation are facing difficulties, the superintendent will try to handle the situation at the lowest possible level, involving as few people as possible. The superintendent will discuss it only with the appropriate people as necessary.
16. The superintendent will be aware that not every person will agree with either his philosophy or procedures. Honest differences are not a superintendent's enemy. The superintendent will try to respect others' feelings and opinions. Hopefully, he is always praying, listening, seeking counsel, improving techniques, etc. But the buck stops at the superintendent's desk as it does with any leader, and he must be willing to live with that. With the Lord's help, a superintendent will try to follow scriptural and constitutional guidelines the best he knows how.
17. The Forest Lakes District Conference may remove its superintendent from his office at any time. The superintendent is accountable to the FLD Board, the FLD Conference, and ultimately to God for his choices and decisions.
Ad Hoc Mediation TeamAt times it becomes necessary to bring in a team of people from outside the church, either through an agency like Titus Task Force or through the creation of an ad hoc team from within the district. Its purpose may range from mediation to binding arbitration.
PURPOSE: To assist churches in resolving problems within the church that need the objective counsel of an impartial outside group.
COMPOSITION: This team shall be ad hoc and of a size that is suited to its task, acceptable to both parties requesting assistance. Members shall be selected for their maturity and ability to mediate conflicts that arise. The team may be composed of any combination of lay people and pastors, depending upon the availability of qualified people and the need represented in the church requesting assistance.
ACTIVATING THE TEAM: A request for such a team must come from the church leadership or the church body at an official business meeting. The FLD Superintendent will appoint and call the committee together in keeping with the need represented.
THE MEDIATION PROCESS:
A letter will be written to those issuing the request for mediation describing the mediation process.1. Careful notes must be taken of all meetings. Particularly sensitive meetings should be recorded.
2. The mediation team will invite the people involved in the conflict (church leadership/pastor; pastor/people; church leadership/people) to present their views in private. It will hear both sides of the issue before holding an open meeting (if required).
3. All meetings will be moderated by a member of the mediation team.
4. The moderator will appoint a member of the mediation team to serve as secretary and set a time schedule for all meetings. Notes will be taken, looking at the following levels of the conflict:
5. The moderator will explain the guidelines to be followed and will follow them explicitly. The moderator may select one of two formats:
a. Private interview. The parties will not enter into open debate but will meet to present their concerns to the mediation team privately. Each person meeting would be assigned a specific number of minutes for a presentation.
b. Courtroom style (for open meetings). Each side will be assigned a certain number of minutes for rebuttal.
6. The committee members will be allowed to ask questions for clarification from any and all parties involved.
7. The moderator will terminate the discussion at a time that will allow the committee to meet in executive session to formulate recommendations. The following will be a part of the consideration:
a. What do the Scriptures teach on the issue? Are there clear statements in the Scriptures about the issues and problems?
b. What are the real issues - or is there a hidden agenda?
c. Have all points of view been well expressed?
8. The moderator may choose to give an oral statement after the executive session if it is believed to be of value. If a statement is given, it should be recorded. Any response should be recorded as well.
9. The mediation team will meet together to finalize its summary and to present its report in writing to those who called for mediation. Care must be taken in the presentation of the report to promote healing.
10. The team will send a written report to the FLD office. Included should be:
o any recordings of sessions;
o minutes or notes of all meetings;
o a statement of allegations;
o the recommendations of the team, and if possible, an observation as to the response of all concerned.
In cases of binding arbitration, both parties are to agree in writing beforehand that they will abide by the team’s recommendations. Any binding agreement must be in writing and will be presented with the Committee's final report.
A word from an experienced intentional interim pastor (Brian Thorstad):1. The glory of God is of paramount importance. It’s what the church is for. We are here to make Him look good, not bad. There is something very wrong with us if winning, or if defending our own “name” is more important than God’s Name. Ephesians (whole book)
2. Love and unity are to be the prominent “marks” of the church, not “rightness.” John 13; Ephesians 5, etc. Making the church a “stench” in the community is to be avoided almost at all costs (without betraying the gospel or the “fundamentals of the faith”). I always told the elders in the church I pastored for over a decade that if the time ever came when they were “ready for me to move on,” I’d pack my books quickly and quietly.
3. Loving, respecting, being patient with, seeking to live at peace with, all persons involved, are Biblical requirements.
4. Humility, meekness and “sweet-reasonableness” (Philippians 4) are always expected of all of us. There is no place for “turf wars.” There is no room in any church, however large, for anybody’s ego.
5. I believe in “no excuses Christianity,” “no excuses counseling” and “no excuses pastoring.” Being in Christ, with the persons we used to be crucified with Christ, with the Holy Spirit within us – and willing to control us – we can do what Scripture says. We can be what we have been called to be. The commands of the New Testament are all promises!
6. Closely related to the above, we are each 100% responsible for our own actions. Pastor So and So’s carnal actions are no excuse for my carnal reactions. We will stand before the judgment (reward! Thank God!) seat of Christ, one at a time. Our excuses will look ridiculous on that day.
7. Closely related to the above, we must fight spiritual battles with spiritual weapons (such as prayer and truth-telling). We do not chase out a pastor or church member we don’t like by behaving badly. (We do, but we shouldn’t.)
8. Gossip is a serious sin. It is an attack upon our brother and an attack upon God, as our brother bears the image of God. (Book of James) We should never empower, encourage or reward gossip. Gossiping new believers need to be confronted with great patience and carefully taught how to practice Matthew 18, Ephesians 4, Galatians 6, etc. Hardly anyone learns to not gossip just by hearing about it in a sermon; almost everyone needs to be confronted on this and “steered in the right direction” before they actually begin handling their conflicts in God’s way (“speak to, not about” Amy Carmichael). Older believers need to be confronted with less patience. Some divisive individuals need their “mouths stopped” (Titus 1). Some people are what Kenneth Haugk (Antagonists In the Church) calls “antagonists.” The psychological world might label them persons with personality disorders. Whatever they are, these people must be stood up to with great grace and great strength. They must not be empowered.
9. In listening to our critics and even in confronting gossips, we must be ready to forgive freely, “settling for” improved behavior, even when we’d like to hear a thorough-going apology.
10.In listening to our critics and even in confronting the worst gossip, we must be willing to listen for the “kernel of truth” that is probably there.; God uses even our carnal critics to change our lives and ministries.
11. Congregational meetings during times of conflict should be held only with great care and careful planning.; There is strength in numbers.; Allowing people who are behaving badly to “gang up on” a pastor or church leadership team in a congregational meeting is to court disaster.; Allowing people to sin by continuing on in their gossip or by “making charges” in congregational meetings is not doing them any favor; we are only enabling them to sin and throw away their future rewards.; We must not in any way reward people who have been talking with each other, signing petitions or holding secret meetings. The church is not a democracy and we are not holding “New England Yankee” town hall meetings. (I am not against “listening session,” information gathering meetings which do not reward gossip.)
12. Duly elected church leaders, by whatever title, should be respected and, generally speaking, followed, because of their office. Leaders who are inviting disrespect should be confronted in the spirit of Matthew 18, Ephesians 4 and Galatians 6. Charges against elders (and pastors are “elders who are paid to be old”) should be brought in accordance with I Timothy 5.
13. Church leaders must stand together. The NT picture is that of elders functioning as united teams. Elders who cannot stand with their brothers and stand by decisions they themselves were a part of making should resign gracefully.
14. Symbiotic (helpful to all concerned) solutions should always be prayerfully sought. Acts 6 gives us a wonderful example: there was murmuring. The murmuring probably wasn’t right (God dealt with this quite severely in OT times!) but since it was justified, or at least, the injustice behind it was so obviously justified (neglected widows) that the Apostles did not rebuke it, but went to work on a solution which resulted in a better church.
15. Leaders should always lead as servant-leaders of their congregations. We must make our decisions on the basis of what will be best for our followers. Congregations need leaders who have strong mandates to lead from their congregations; chaos and confusion result when leaders do not have the “coupons” they need to lead. Sometimes we leaders must move on, in love, so that we can get fresh starts and that our congregations can get fresh starts with leaders who have the ability to lead, even though we were blameless.
16. With our propensity to sin and deceive ourselves (Jeremiah 17:9), all of us, pastors included, sometimes need rebuke and correction from those who are able to view our situations with a degree of objectivity which we do not have. One of the best reasons to have church fellowships is to provide pastors with a measure of accountability. All of us have reacted sinfully to our critics at one time or another.
17. In admonition, we do well to deal with behaviors, rather than what we believe to be the person’s motives (even if we know that we’re right about the person’s motives). It is safer for us – in light of I Corinthians 4:5 – and is less offensive to those we are seeking to help.