If you've been in ministry for any amount of time, you've undoubtedly been faced with conflict. Maybe someone sinned against you personally, or maybe someone on your team was living a lifestyle of unrepentant sin. Either way, where there are people, there is sin, and where there is sin, there is conflict. The question, then, is how have we handled conflict with our team members? It often plays out in one of two ways:
It's been said that "all truth and no grace is brutality, whereas all grace and no truth is hypocrisy." This could not be more true. After all, Jesus was full of both grace and truth (John 1:14). So, when a situation arises, how do we find that balance of being filled with both grace and truth? How do we handle the issue at hand in a way that honors God and respects the person we are admonishing? Fortunately God's Word, which is "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16)," has given us a blueprint for conflict resolution in our ministries!
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matt. 18:15-27 ESV)
The plan Jesus laid out here in Matthew 18 is what has historically been referred to as "Church Discipline." This is the biblical way of dealing with conflict in a way that honors God and respects the brothers and sisters who have been entrusted to our care.
Our first step to resolving conflict with someone, as seen in verse 15, is to engage that person in a one-on-one dialogue -- "go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained a brother." Truth be told, this is where 90% of situations are resolved, if you enter into the dialogue with humility.
For those of you who may be more on the introverted spectrum like me, yes, that means you actually have to talk to someone about the problem you believe exists between the two of you! You know that lie you tell yourself, the one that says the situation will "work itself out with time?" It won't. Our Lead Pastor, Eric Stewart, has always said a good rule of thumb as to whether or not you need to engage someone in such a dialogue is if you've thought about a supposed offense twice. If you've thought about it more than once, you need to give that person a call, immediately. Here's why: the more we think about a presumed offense without having talked to the offending party, the more prone we are to jump to conclusions and subsequently make the situation much worse in our heads than it is in reality. That's what having all that time to stew in it affords us. Let me assure you, avoiding conflict for the sake of comfort is the most unloving thing that you or I could do to the people entrusted to our care.
"Avoiding conflict for the sake of comfort is the most unloving we could do to the people entrusted to our care."
Extroverts, you're not in the clear either. While us introverts are prone to hope the situation fixes itself and thus leave it unaddressed, many extroverts boldly march up to the person and drop the hammer of judgement. This comes across as "holier than thou" at best and is actually bearing false witness at its worst. Introverted or extroverted, here is the best thing we can do when coming face to face with someone we feel has sinned against us or is living in unrepentant sin -- seek understanding. That's right, before we seek to be understood, we must first humble ourselves and seek understanding. As I mentioned before, the more we think about the situation, the more prone we are to build on this elaborate scheme of how this person intentionally did "this" or "that" to us, which usually isn't the case at all. So, before casting judgment and demanding an apology, we just first humble ourselves and seek to understand their point of view. Again, 90% of the time, this is where the situation resolves itself. Take that first step towards reconciliation!
"Before we seek to be understood, we must first humble ourselves and seek understanding."
Two or Three Witnesses (v. 16)
"But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses."
Inevitably, there will be times when that initial one-on-one meeting does not go well. With the hope of restoring our brother or sister, Jesus tells us in verse 16 that our next step is to bring forward two or three witnesses to go with us to once again appeal to the offending party. What is the significance of two or three witnesses? Jesus here is citing the Levitical Law concerning witnesses, which is found in Deuteronomy 19:15:
"A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that has been committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established."
It must be noted that there is a subtle difference between the Levitical Law concerning witnesses and what Jesus is implicating here though; Jesus is not instructing us to bring in two or three witnesses to testify against our brother who we believe to be living in unrepentant sin, but rather to testify to the exchange between us and our brother. We are all fallible. There is always a chance that we did not handle that initial one-on-one meeting as well as we had hoped/could have/thought we did. Maybe in our fleshly pride we came quick with judgement. Maybe we didn't seek to truly understand this brother or sister. At any rate, the best thing we can do here is bring two or three witnesses into the situation to testify to the exchange. In the ideal situation, these would be two or three people who could step into the dialogue unbiasedly, yet those the offending party both respects and has confidence in. These witnesses testify to one of two things; either this person is in the wrong and needs to repent, or we ourselves misjudged the situation and ought to repent and seek the forgiveness from the individual whom we bore false witness against.
The Church (v. 17a)
"If he refused to listen to them, tell it to the church."
In the event that our witnesses affirm that the offending party is in fact living in sin and reprove them, yet the individual resists their wise counsel and continues on in sin, Jesus tells us we are to "tell it to the church." If this person has refused your counsel and refused the counsel of two or three witnesses, we need to let the rest of the church body know what's going on. Let me tell you what this doesn't mean though; it doesn't mean that we give out the explicit details of this person's sin and demonize them before the entire body. No! However, we must let the body know that one of our counterparts is living in unrepentant sin and needs our help. We then encourage the church members to reach out to this person, to love on them, and to beg of them to return to God and to what His Word prescribes.
The goal here is not to shame someone. On the contrary! Our hope and our prayer is always reformation and restoration -- that this person would turn away from their sin and fix their eyes upon Jesus! Through it all we must remember that we, too, are sinners in need of Jesus' saving grace just as much as the person we're exhorting.
"When we address someone living in unrepentant sin, we must remember that we too are sinners in need of Jesus' saving grace just as much as they are."
A Gentile and Tax Collector (v. 17b)
"And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and tax collector."
If after three attempts to reconcile with this person they still continue in their sin, Jesus tells us we need to let them be to us "as a Gentile and tax collector." "Gentile" was a name Israel gave to all the other nations who did not heed the counsel of God; they had no fellowship or religious affiliation with such nations. Similarly, "Tax Collectors" were considered to be a group of abandoned character who the Jews would also have no contact with. The thought here is that living a lifestyle of unrepentant sin is not the mark of one of God's children, contrastingly it is the mark of an unbeliever. Jesus is actually saying that this person needs to be disowned as a Christian brother or sister because they're not living as one. In fact, they're living in such a way that it appears they are still dead in their transgressions and sin.
The New Testament often refers to the church as the body of Christ, each person being just one part of the overall body (1 Cor. 12:27, Rom. 12:4-5, Eph. 4:14-15). Now, let's cross reference that with an analogy of the human body: If one part your body is dead and not functioning as it should be, to leave it attached to the rest of your body would have catastrophic ramifications -- inevitably infection would set in throughout your entire body and in time you would die. So, that dead body part must be cut off to preserve the rest of your life. And so it is with the church, the body of Christ. Albert Barnes once said, "This is the only way of kindness. This is the only way to preserve peace and purity in the church." While we are to regard this person as an unbeliever, it doesn't mean we shouldn't pray for them daily though, it doesn't mean we should be unkind to them when we run into them at the gym or grocery store, and it certainly doesn't mean we shouldn't assist them in their time of need. On the contrary, Jesus has called us to do all of the above (1 Tim. 2:1-4, Col. 4:5-6, Matt. 5:42)!
A Real Life Testimony
Growing up in the church and having been a pastor for over three years now, I've only ever seen this path of biblical conflict resolution be taken to its end once, and it was actually a relative of mine. The church this individual was a member of followed the steps Jesus laid out in Matthew 18:15-17 to resolve some unrepentant sin; my relative refused the wise counsel of the individual, refused the witnesses, refused the church, and was ultimately put out of the hand of fellowship. But that wasn't the end... It was less than two weeks after the church leaders were obedient to God's Word when the Spirit swept in and utterly broke this person's heart over their sin and subsequently brought them to full repentance. It's been five years since then and this individual's relationship with Jesus and His Church has never been more vibrant!
There is hope in the midst of conflict, friends. Trust Jesus and be obedient to His Word. It will be uncomfortable, it will be difficult, and it will be criticized by others, but God will be glorified (1 Sam. 15:22) and He will ultimately work all things together "for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).
Contributor / Dan Dameron
Dan Dameron is the Pastor of Gathering at ONElife Church in Flint, MI and Founder of ONElife Worship.
'Rock of Ages (Seated High),' written by Augustus Toplady and Matt Wagner, is the latest song to be released from ONElife Worship's forthcoming debut EP. This is the Theology Behind the Song.
"Rock of Ages, cleft for me
From the very first line of this great hymn, we see the Lord referred to as the “Rock of Ages” who was “cleft for me.” This simple line speaks to the eternality of God, the constancy of His character, and his steadfastness -- like a rock upon which we can rely. Not only that, it explains that this very rock, Christ Jesus, the Cornerstone Himself was “cleft” for us, meaning that He was broken for us. As a rock that is cleft is split in two, or chipped apart, so the body of Christ was beaten and broken to the point of death for us -- in our place. Instead of us being cleft, which is what we deserve, Christ the Rock was cleft. This is a savior in whom we can truly trust and find refuge in! We can hide ourselves in His rest.
“Let the water and the blood,
The blood that flowed from Christ, that was poured out on the cross for us, is truly a double cure. The first part is that by His blood we are saved from wrath; God the father chooses to withhold His wrath from us though we deserve it, and instead pours it out on Christ, the Son. The second part is that He no longer sees our own unrighteousness but sees the righteousness of Christ. Jesus' blood covers us and “makes us pure” in the eyes of the Father. In this single line we see the doctrine of imputed righteousness.
“Not the labor of my hands
No work of our own can account for our salvation. No labor of our hands is ever good enough to make us righteous in the eyes of the Lord. Only the righteousness of Christ can atone!
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-26)
"Seated high on His throne of grace
This is the God that we look to. The God that we worship is seated upon His throne! By His grace He has saved. We rest in this, knowing that our hope for eternity is in sacrifice that Christ made for us. The Risen Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the father for eternity, interceding on our behalf.
“Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34)
"Nothing in my hand I bring,
When God regenerates us and opens our eyes, our utterly helpless state is realized. We realize that our only hope for salvation is to cling to the cross of Jesus. It is by our clinging to Christ and His cross in our trials, in our sufferings, and in joy, that we are sanctified, that is refined more and more into the image of God, and thus grow in spiritual maturity (Luke 9:23).
"While I draw this fleeting breath,
The first part of the song spoke to our justification by the blood of Christ. The second part spoke to the necessity of clinging to the cross daily for sanctification. and now we look forward to eternity with the Godhead in our glorified state!
This last verse looks forward to our beautiful hope of glorification. Glorification encompasses our moral perfection upon leaving this life (2 Thess 2:13-14; Heb 2:10-11), it includes our liberty and deliverance from these earthly bodies along with their sickness and physical ailments to our glorified body, which is immortal (Rom 2:7), imperishable, powerful, and spiritual (1 Cor 15:43-44). Additionally, glorification brings participation in the kingdom of God (1 Thess 2:12), even to the point of our reigning with Christ (2 Tim 2:10-12) and lastly includes partaking in God's own glory (Rom 5:2; 1 Thess 2:12; 2 Thess 2:14; 1 Peter 5:10)!
Contributors / Matt Wagner & Dan Dameron
I apologize for the click-bait title. I hate click-bait with a passion, but it felt appropriate because it seems to be a frequent question; "How do I get my people to be more responsive?" I’m sure we’ve all been there at one time or another:
And you look out into the congregation to discover they were replaced with extras from a zombie film. So what gives? Don’t they know how much prep work you put into the service? Don’t they realize WHO you are singing to?
If you clicked on this article I imagine it was for one of 2 reasons- either you really do want a quick fix for this problem (sorry, there isn’t one, but I will give you 3 steps on how to work towards a solution), or you thought to yourself ‘this guy really thinks you can MAKE people respond physically in worship? I can’t wait to read his article and tear it apart in the comment section!’ Either way, I hope that you keep reading, because I genuinely do believe that these 3 things can help bring about a change in culture within your church and your people.
STEP 1: Point your people to Jesus
I’ve heard it more times than I can remember; a well-meaning church member or fellow worship team member comes up to me after the service and thanks me for ‘leading them into the throne room’. While I understand the sentiment, and there were times in the past I would use this terminology, it’s completely wrong.
In the Old Testament the people of Israel could not enter the Holy of Holies and stand in the presence of God for themselves, they needed the high priest to serve as a mediator to enter on their behalf. The priests would be in charge of carrying out the sacrifices for the purification of the people of Israel and for themselves, and this needed to happen over and over because of their fallen, sinful nature. However, once Jesus died on the cross, taking on the role of both priest and sacrifice, He made a “new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (Hebrews 10:20). And because Jesus now stands as the great high priest who lived a sinless life, the sacrifice to purify us has happened once and for all (Hebrews 4:15, 7:27).
We can draw near to the throne of grace with confidence ONLY because of the atoning work of Jesus- worship leaders could never hope to fill this role. The best possible thing we can do is point our church family to the beauty of the gospel and the beauty of the savior we worship. As worship leaders, we aren’t the spectacle, we are the tour guide- we should not strive to be what holds the attention of the church on Sunday morning, we should be pointing with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength to the only One who is glorious enough to hold our gaze for all of eternity.
"As worship leaders, we aren't the spectacle, we are the tour guide."
So if you walk onto the platform on Sunday feeling the stress of needing to lead your congregation into the presence of God, REJOICE! Because it’s already been done by the someone who is far more able to do it.
Or if you walk onto the platform thinking that you hold the power to draw people into the throne room, humble yourself before the Lord and repent of trying to elevate yourself to the level of Christ. Let us never try and take credit for a work we could never accomplish.
STEP 2: Teach them WHY, not HOW
Scripture is full of examples of physical response to worship;
However, do your people know that these verses exist? When you encourage them to be physically responsive in worship, do you just tell them what to do, or do you take time to explain why we do it? I work in a heavily-churched area with many people who grew up in denominations where physical expressiveness was frowned upon. If you’re shepherding people like this it becomes all the more important to teach them lovingly and strongly what God asks of us in worship.
Conversely, if you’re in a church or area where people are already physically expressive it’s important to teach them what God’s word says about it. If all they know is ‘this is the part of the song where I’m supposed to raise my hands’ then we’re no better than a zumba instructor leading the spiritual macarena on stage. Physical expressiveness can be a huge blessing to the church body, but can also be a distraction when it gets out of hand (no pun intended).
Whatever your role is within your church, when you step onto the platform you are taking on the responsibility of shepherding and caring for your people. Don’t be tempted to resort to guilt-tripping or emotional manipulation to get the response you want to see- instead teach them why we respond the way we do, and point them to Jesus so they have something to respond to.
"Don’t be tempted to resort to guilt-tripping or emotional manipulation to get the response you want to see- instead teach them why we respond the way we do, and point them to Jesus so they have something to respond to."
STEP 3: Pray For Your Senior Pastor
This one may come as a surprise to you, but I truly believe it’s one of the greatest things you can do for the health of your church’s worship. I began feeling convicted of falling short in this area a little over a year ago, and have made an effort to step up in it since then. Think about your senior pastors week in comparison with yours;
We carry our own kind of stress and responsibility with us each Sunday, but our senior pastor carries more. Paul tells us in James 3 that “...(those) who teach will be judged with greater strictness” and 1 Timothy 3:1-7 lays out the biblical qualifications for a pastor or elder. It’s a high standard to held to.
Your senior pastor needs your prayer, and you need to pray for him. Why?
Because for as much as you can point people to Jesus, he can and should do it even more. For as much as you can teach the body during the time of sung worship, he can and should do it more in his sermon. For as great as the congregation thinks you are (or aren’t) they’re often holding him to a higher standard.
So pray for your senior pastor. Every week. Put it on your calendar, set a reminder in your phone, write it backwards on your forehead so you’ll see it in the mirror- do whatever it takes to make it a priority, and know that the enemy will do whatever he can to keep you from it.
Pray that he will preach the gospel boldly and clearly. Pray that God will remove anything from his message that could be a hindrance or distraction from the gospel being proclaimed. Pray that he will fall more and more deeply in love with Jesus and that the scriptures will remain fresh and new for him each time he goes to the word.
"When we dwell on Christ’s word, His character, and His commands, we will see Him for who He is and we won’t be able to keep ourselves from worshipping Him.
Because when these things happen, when the pastor preaches clearly and truthfully, it stirs the hearts and minds of the church. And when our hearts and minds are stirred towards Jesus allowing his word to dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16) then we will see our churches begin to change. When we dwell on Christ’s word, His character, and His commands, we will see Him for who He is and we won’t be able to keep ourselves from worshipping Him. This is true, lasting, biblical change for your church. It may not look how we expect or want it to look, but we will see it. It won’t happen in 20 minutes of singing, but you may start to see it over 20 weekends of gathered corporate worship.
Contributor / Brad Spead
Brad Spead is the Pastor of Worship Arts at Bridge Bible Church in Norton Shores, MI.