"Looking around at the modern church landscape, it can sometimes feel like bitter irony that the Bible says the manifold wisdom of God is to be shown through his church (Eph. 3:10)--so many conflicts, so many church splits, so many factions! and yet we serve a God who is rich in mercy and does not give up on us."
That is how I started my endorsement of a book that I think is timely and much needed for modern churches--Redeeming Church Conflicts: Turning Crisis into Compassion and Care by Tara Klena Barthel and David V. Edling. I continued:
"If you find yourself find the midst of church conflict, this book will be a balm to your soul and revive your confidence in the work of the Holy Spirit among his people. Tara Barthel and David Edling have written a wise and tender reminder that our Lord's redemptive purposes extend even today to the most fractious church bodies. Whether you are an ordained leader or a new church member, Redeeming Church Conflicts is a must read. It will give you hope that whatever conflicts you are currently in, or will encounter in the future, can be resolved in a holy and purposeful manner to the praise of God's glory."
Unfortunately, church conflicts are nothing new. In fact, the first church conflict is recorded for us in Acts 15, where the apostle Paul has a sharp disagreement with Barnabas. By studying this account, Tara and David have developed a model for redeeming church conflicts, which is the structure for their book. They introduce and outline this model in this way:
Perspective: In a church conflict, we can know for certain we have lost perspective if we begin to take conflicts as personal offenses. Conversely, if we see so-called opponents with eyes of compassion, we know God is working in us to redeem the conflict for his glory and our growth.
Discernment: In a church conflict, we know we are on the path of healing discernment if we find ourselves spending more time listening than speaking. Further, as we carefully form and ask questions seeking group health rather than merely advancing a personally favored solution, evidence emerges that God's work of redemption is advancing not only his interests but also our holiness.
Leadership: In a church conflict, if we embrace our personal and individual responsibility for leadership within each of our own personal spheres of influence, we gradually become group problem solvers and increasingly turn away from narrow personal agendas. The more we see ourselves as shepherd-leaders serving others among God's flock, the greater the opportunity for creating an environment from which peace will flow.
Biblical reponse: In a church conflict, as we remember that Christ loves his church more than we ever will and that he has paid more than we ever will, our confidence in the Bible and our commitment to faithful pursuit of biblical responses to conflict will be clear and steadfast. One of the biggest mistakes people make in church conflict is failing to trust Scripture.
Using this structure, the authors build out their teaching through chapters such as "Eternity Makes a Difference;" "Actions, Desires, and Beliefs;" "Working with Church Groups;" "Owning My Contribution to Conflict;" "How Can I Glorify God in This Mess?""Speaking Truth in Love;" and "Forgive as Christ Forgives."
As David says, one of the first victims of a church conflict is hope. I want to do my part for those of you today who are in the midst of conflict and are flagging in hope. I want to get this book into your hands, so Tara has graciously agreed to give away a free, signed book to the first five people who contact her at email@example.com. But for all those who miss that opportunity, you can still find excerpts from the book on the authors' blog, as well as additional posts on topics such as abusive churches, church discipline, lawsuits and church conflict, confrontation and more.