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Resolving Difficulties in the Local Church

By Terry Calkin.

The greatest challenge to the church comes not from outside, but from within – discord among its members. The source of this problem is always the same – the self or ego. One side wants this, and the other side wants that. It’s how all wars begin, and the church is not immune. Scripture is very prescriptive as to how differences or failures must be handled, but rarely, if ever, is the scriptural model followed. Invariably ‘self’ rules, and often the collateral damage is widespread and significant. The accusers become Judge, Jury and Executioner, and secular justice, let alone spiritual justice, is either ignored or otherwise dispensed with. The objective of New Testament resolution is always redemption, not retribution, and this paper will endeavour to lay out the model to be followed which will achieve a spiritual resolution in a spiritual manner.

First, let’s deal with accusations against leadership. Generally these are colloquially called the five ‘G’s’: Glory, Girls, Gold, Garbage, Grog. These can be briefly defined as:

Glory:           Essentially an over indulgence in pride. This is perhaps the most difficult to adequately define.

Girls:            Any sexual dalliance outside of marriage

Gold:            Unlawful use of entrusted funds

Garbage:       Heresy

Grog:            Addicted to alcohol, drunkenness

(see 1 Timothy, chapter 3; 1 Corinthians 6.9)

If an allegation is brought against anyone in leadership of a church, it must (1) fulfil one of the five categories above, and (2) it must be accompanied by evidence of the allegation. Often in church communities, gossip and rumour gather a vortex of their own and wreak havoc, with many becoming disillusioned with either church or its leadership. More often than not, when the dust has settled, the original allegations are found to be groundless. The enemy has won the day. All he had to do was stand back and watch the church self-destruct. What then is the Scriptural way of handling issues in the church?

First, the concerns must be communicated individually, as a pre-requisite.  See Matthew 18.15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.  If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” This rarely happens. People will tell their friends, their neighbours, other church members, but seldom will they take their concerns to the person concerned. In over 30 years of ministry, I have been approached by people with complaints about others. I simply say to them, “Have you spoken to the other person about your concern?” Always the answer is “No”. I then say, “You must first speak to them face to face – not by text or email – and if you cannot resolve the issue, then come back to me and I will then go with you to the other person”. Not once in 30 years has anyone requested me to go with them. Either the problem was solved between them, or else it was not of such importance that it required my intervention.

Second, ensure that you have the right attitude. Not many people recognise this, but there are spiritual standards required of accusers in disputes between Christians. An important Scripture to be remembered is Galatians 6.1: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”  From this verse we learn that the primary objective of any dispute, or allegation, is restoration. I was called to the USA to try and resolve an issue in a ministry. When I arrived I was taken straightaway to a meeting of the accusers. They had three closely typewritten foolscap pages of allegations.I asked them the first question: “What do you want to happen to the accused?”In unison they replied, “Out of ministry”. My response to them was that they had just failed the first test for accusers. I sent them away with their long list and they came back the next day with one page with one line on it. As natural, carnal people, driven by self, we always see the accused as having horns on their head and 666 stamped on their brow. It is hard to understand that people often do things in a different manner or way to how we do them. When we judge that way or manner, we end up judging God, because that’s how he gifted and created the other person.

Another caution in Galatians 6.1is “You who are spiritual”. This means only those who are filled and led by the Spirit can be engaged in this process. Who are these people? Those who, by maturity in their walk with God, can put aside natural bias for or against the accused, and in love desire his restoration. Our natural inclination is retribution and punishment. God’s response is always love, forgiveness and restoration. This in no way reduced the need for repentance, and the display of “fruits of repentance”.

Third, if after going to the person you cannot resolve the issue, Matthew 18.16 dictates the next step, “But if he will not hear you, take with you one or two more, that, by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” Again, natural inclination means that two or three close friends who see issues your way are the ones you take with you. Not so!! A study of Scripture shows that unvarnished truth is a valued commodity. The 9th commandment is “You shall not bear false witness (gossip) against your neighbour”. God hates false witness – Proverbs 6.16-19 “These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, A false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren”, and they end up paying for it – Proverbs 19.5, “A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who speaks lies will not escape.” 

Fourth, there may be the need for a tribunal. The import of Matthew 18.16is “That the matter may be established”. In my experience there is only one way in which this can be fulfilled in the local church.  If the matter is of a serious nature, i.e. one of the 5 “G’s” then the only satisfactory way in which resolution can be resolved is to call for a tribunal. This may be called by either the accused or the accuser.

In a tribunal, all parties agree in writing to be bound by the majority decision of the tribunal. The tribunal is formed by the accuser and the accused each appointing one person, and those two jointly appointing an independent chairman. It is best that the tribunal consist of people from outside the local church. This helps prevent the introduction of bias. Again, the people appointed must be of senior eldership quality. The tribunal also prevents accusers being Judge, Jury and Executioner, which tends to happen if accusations are resolved within the same local church or organisation.

The tribunal should:

1. Hear the allegations

2. Hear testimony to support or negate

3. Reach a majority decision

4. Decide outcomes (see Matthew 18.17: “If he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church.  But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”

A tribunal hearing is the only process that I have found that can satisfactorily resolve serious divides in the local church, especially when it comes to leadership.  

For the Pastors’ and leaders’ sake, it should be enshrined in each church’s Constitution.

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You are reading Resolving Difficulties in the Local Church by Terry Calkin, part of Issue 62 of Ministry Today, published in November 2014.

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