a note on dispute resolution within the church

There are three steps recommended in Matthew 18 to resolve a dispute within an organization, in this case the church. (See the note below regarding the difference between dispute resolution within an organizational/church setting vs. those outside of an organization.)

Matt. 18:15: “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.

Matt. 18:16: But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

Matt. 18:17: If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Guardian Council

Members of the Guardian Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran discussing matters.

When involved in an internal dispute, first go directly to the person and try to resolve the issue. Do not gossip. Do not go to someone else. Do not whine in an advisory committee. Do not scheme to rally opposition against the person with whom you have a problem. Do not use your friendships with others to deprecate the reputation of your perceived opponent. Go directly to the person, act like a mature adult, and attempt to resolve the issue. If there is distance between you, call them. Email them. If you can, meet with them in person. Communicate your issue like an adult. Don’t talk to everyone but the one with whom you have an issue.

If the dispute is not resolved, take a few others with you to the person and attempt to resolve the dispute. Note that it does not say go to meet with others about the person, or convene a meeting in the absence of the other person, but in the presence of all parties at the same time. Let the differences be resolved together as one body.

If there is still no resolution and the dispute remains, take it to the entire church, again, in the presence of the person in question.

Note that in all three steps, the person under discussion is present to offer a defense of his/herself, to offer his/her opinion on the matter, or to offer an explanation. At no time in the process does a group meet in closed, private session without the person in dispute in the presence of the group. Meeting in the absence of the person in dispute is nothing more than collective gossip; those meeting about another person are not following the biblical precedent, but are participating in corporate gossip about another individual.

If an issue is not important enough to bring directly to the person in question, or if the one raising the issue is too much of a gossiping coward to approach the one with whom he or she has an issue, then the matter is not worthy of discussion; any other process is wholly unbiblical. Additionally, any eldership or church leadership that invites such behavior and meets with a known gossip in the absence of the person against whom a dispute is raised, and without attempting the three prescribed remedies laid out in Matthew 18, invites, participates in, and openly endorses a corporate form of gossip, which is not only unbiblical, but undermines the credibility of the pusillanimous leadership’s authority in the resolution process.

Authority and credibility are always enhanced by transparency and open communication, and are conversely diminished by secrecy and gossip.

Any church leadership that participates in or endorses – tacitly or explicitly – corporate gossip is worthy of consistent and scathing public condemnation and should expect as much.

“For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.” – 2 Samuel 12:12

Happy New Year.


(N.B. – If someone is actively committing a crime against you, call the authorities. This is especially recommended if the person a) is not a part of your organization and therefore under no obligation to adhere to your organization’s established system of dispute resolution (in this case, the church; cf. v. 15 “if another member of the church…“), or b) expresses no interest in reconciling with you. Likewise, if a criminal offender has demonstrated that anything you write or say to him/her in private will be taken out of context and relayed publicly or potentially used against you in a court proceeding, then deal directly with the police or appropriate authorities. The point is that one should deal directly and honestly with those with whom one has a dispute within an organization with established reconciliation procedures. If the one with whom you have a dispute has exhausted any semblance of professional integrity, then further private communication will most likely prove futile, and may actually exacerbate the situation.)

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2 Responses

  1. Thanks for pointing out that the presence of the person is required in ALL three situations…I’ve always thought that first two cases were confrontations and the third was a “report” to the church. However, if the person can refuse to listen to the church, I suppose that means s/he is present.

    And props for using “pusillanimous.” I’ll have to file that away for a special occasion.

  2. Great article. It always irked me that meetings would be held behind closed doors discussing other members of the church when I was in the Mormon church. It always felt wrong, and these verses really do show that.

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