Hendrickson Publishers interviewed Tara Barthel and David Edling about their upcoming book, Redeeming Church Conflicts.
1. Who should read this book? Is it for church leaders who are going through conflict, or does it contain helpful advice for any churchgoer?
Because church conflicts affect both members and leaders of churches, we filled Redeeming Church Conflicts with advice and encouragement for everyone. We help pastors, elders, and deacons not to fear church conflicts, but to see them as part of the ministry that God has given to the church. Likewise, church members who find themselves caught in conflicts are given the theological tools and perspectives that allow them to find hope even in the midst of the painful suffering associated with church conflict. Leaders and churchgoers alike will learn from an historical perspective that the church has always faced conflicts and that these situations are being used by God to refine them both as individual Christians and as the body of Christ—the church—that God has called out to be His witness.
2. What steps can readers take in preventing church conflict before it escalates and causes long-term damage?
As readers of this book will come to appreciate, often conflicts come from a wide array of situations and circumstances that they can neither foresee nor control. But they can live and possess the eternal perspective that is taught in Scripture: to trust and believe that “all things” (even church conflicts) are under God’s sovereign control. That readers can view these conflicts not as random, out-of-control events, but as eternal assignments intended for their good. Even painful church conflicts provide opportunities to grow in spiritual maturity and conformity to Christ! This book helps Christians to engage their church conflicts with hope, in a manner that reflects and trusts in God’s all-knowing and all-wise nature. Reading and studying Redeeming Church Conflicts, either individually or in a church class, can prepare every churchgoer and leader for the day that conflicts visit the church.
3. If someone is going through a particularly difficult church conflict, how do they know if they should step away and leave the church or not? Is there ever a time when it’s permissible to just step away and start somewhere new?
There is no short or easy answer to the question of if and when it is wise and appropriate for someone to leave their church. However, we do address this question in Redeeming Church Conflicts and in supplementing articles on our website (www.redeemingchurchconflicts.com). Two things to consider (in this short answer format) would be:
- Is it possible that the best question to ask is not when to consider “stepping away” but rather, “How do my membership vows apply in this situation, especially in light of the Lord’s call on my life to be a peacemaker (Matthew 5:9)?”
- Since God is sovereign and this situation is God’s assignment to my church, how should I be a humble learner from this “school of conflict?”
Of course, the time may come when it is appropriate to leave a church. But we have often found that when people immediately and instinctively run away from church conflicts, they may have areas of spiritual immaturity in their lives. It takes faith, godliness, humility, patience, and deep love for God and “neighbor” (especially our closest neighbors—our fellow church members) to persevere through the pain and misery of church conflict. Every attempt should be made to “maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Only when it becomes absolutely clear that neither redemptive discipline nor any other tool that God has given the church has been effective to resolve serious, entrenched conflict—the kind that indicates that this church may no longer actually be a church—only then should a church member or leader leave their church and seek a new fellowship of believers with whom to worship and serve.
4. What important lessons did you end up learning while writing this book?
Lesson One: God is far wiser, far more gracious, and far more loving to his people then they can possibly imagine! As we summarized the church conflicts and Christian conciliation cases wherein we have been privileged to serve, both of us were struck anew that this is God’s church and that His people have a share in sustaining and maintaining its witness in a world that has decided to turn away from God and devalue His church. As God’s people serve and witness in this capacity, He truly does give us “everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).
Lesson Two: God often uses the refining fire of church conflict as one tool to conform his children to Christ (Romans 8:28-29) and to build his church (Ephesians 4). The conflicts that challenge the church are merely part of that ongoing building process. Our trust in God grew through remembering again all of the churches and individuals who accepted the challenge of church conflict and embraced it as co-laborers with one another and with God.
5. Going through conflict at church can be an emotionally and spiritually damaging experience. What hope or encouragement can you offer people who have gone through conflict like this and been hurt or burned?
We would never minimize the terrible suffering related to church conflict. As professional mediators, both of us have helped thousands of Christians in all sorts of conflicts, but some of the harshest situations and most hopeless people we have encountered have been in the conflicted churches we have served. That said, every word that we wrote in response to questions 1-4 is true! God is still God and He not only knows the pain and anguish Christians feel in church conflicts, he is sovereign over every detail. In Redeeming Church Conflicts, we encourage Christians to remember that Christ died for them—he knows their pain and he cares. We give biblical and practical tools to help Christians in conflicted churches to trust that even if they may feel “damaged,” they are still God’s eternal children. He will bring them through this emotionally draining, excruciatingly painful suffering. They do not need to retreat in misery! They can, instead, grieve with hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13) and embrace the truth that they are called to continue in Him whose Word says, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
Church conflicts are under God’s sovereignty. All Christians in all situations can learn and grow in spiritual courage and maturity, being readied for His next assignment in life and in the church. Redeeming Church Conflicts comforts, equips, and gives HOPE all because Christ promises that His church will withstand the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18).
To learn more about Redeeming Church Conflicts, visit Hendrickson’s store website.