Jim Cymbala, pastor of the 6,000-member Brooklyn Tabernacle, writes in his book, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire:
One Sunday about 20 years ago, back in our days [of meeting] in the YWCA, I said something impromptu while receiving new members into the church that has stuck with us ever since. People were standing in a row across the front before me, and as I spoke, the Holy Spirit seemed to prompt me to add, "And now, I charge you, as pastor of this church, that if you ever hear another member speak an unkind word of criticism or slander against anyone--myself, another pastor, an usher, a choir member, or anyone else--you have authority to stop that person in midsentence and say, 'Excuse me--who hurt you? Who ignored you? Who slighted you? Was it Pastor Cymbala? Let's go to his office right now. He will get on his knees and apologize to you, and then we'll pray together, so God can restore peace to this body. But we will not let you talk critically about people who are not present to defend themselves'" (p. 160).I have not yet gotten good at remembering that. But I want to challenge us all, as leaders of God's church, as shepherds of God's flock, to work at emulating that in all our exchanges with the flock.
If someone comes to you with a complaint or criticism about someone else in the church, about anyone else in the church, I urge you to stop that person in midsentence and say, "Let's you and me go to that person right now. Maybe he will get on his knees and apologize to you, and then we'll pray together, so God can restore peace to this body. But I will not let you talk critically about people who are not present to defend themselves."
We spend far too much time and energy and give far too much room for the enemy to work by letting people come to us with their problems with other people, and as leaders we need to model to them and challenge them not to talk ABOUT people they're in conflict with, but to do as Jesus says,
If you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God (Matthew 5:23-24, NLT).He doesn't say go to anyone else. He doesn't say take your complaint to the leadership team. He says "go to your brother."
He does say, in Matthew 18,
But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector (Matthew 18:16-17, NLT).But conflict resolution in the church must start, not with gossip, not with involving others, not with complaining to the pastors or the CLT, but mano a mano, brother to brother, sister to sister, one on one.
If we help our flock follow the Scriptural pattern, and follow it ourselves, we will very likely see--at least eventually--a decrease in gossip, a decrease in offense, and an increase in repentance and reconciliation.