A Healthy Approach to Resolving Church Conflict

January 10, 2017
Darrell L. Bock and Eric Willis

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Topic Time Codes

00:15
How Willis helps pastors to help resolve conflict
05:14
Signs often preceding church conflict
08:35
Advice for church leaders working through day-to-day conflict
13:37
Working through a conflict about music in the church
18:37
Approaching conflict about teaching in the church
22:26
“Speaking truth in love” as the guiding principle in seeking resolution
25:31
Responding to complaints from the congregation
30:26
Trust, relationships, and engaging conflict
35:40
Diffusing tension amongst the congregation and church leadership
39:25
Determining whether concession and or parting ways is the right decision

Transcript

Dr. Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table. I'm Darrell Bock, executive director of cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary, and you have joined The Table, where we discuss issues of God and culture. And my guest today is Eric Willis who happens to be on staff at one of the two churches I'm involved with in the Dallas area, Bent Tree Fellowship in Carrollton.

Eric, why don't you tell people your assignment at Bent Tree.
Eric Willis
My assignment at Bent Tree has morphed over the years. I'm currently the pastor of minister development, which is a cool way of saying that I oversee and supervise our pastoral launching pad, which is a 12-month residency of taking pastoral – senior pastoral candidates, immerse them into ministry for a year, and then launch them out into ministry.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Oh, I actually didn't realize that was part of what you did. So, that's cool.
Eric Willis
Yeah, yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. And that program's – what? – two years old now?
Eric Willis
That's correct.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. And yeah, I remember some of the first batch, which I know they've all been sent out and have landed somewhere, I think, for the most part. So –
Eric Willis
Yeah, yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So, that's good. And then – now the reason we've got you here is not to talk about that, but another thing that you commonly do, which is?
Eric Willis
I come alongside pastors who are experiencing burnout and conflict in church environments, through a nonprofit I founded in 2007 called Reclaimed Leadership.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm. And so, you've done a lot of work with kind of helping churches either avoid blowing up or putting Humpty Dumpty back together after Humpty Dumpty's fallen to the ground.
Eric Willis
Right. And unfortunately, I may have lit a few fuses along the way as well. I don't know what I did. But yeah, I come alongside churches to help them recognize the conflict, figure out what to do with the conflict, and how to heal post-conflict.
Dr. Darrell Bock
M-kay. So, let's talk about how in the world did you end up in this role where – 'cause I know you've done a lot of this. How have you ended up in this role? What – was there something that precipitated it?
Eric Willis
You know, I do believe that God has a great sense of humor. I hate conflict; I love reconciliation and restoration, but it's the conflict part that gets me.

So, I was serving at a church as an associate pastor, and the church experienced some incredible conflict inside – staff members, etcetera. Ended up in a church split. And for anyone who's gone through a church split, you know the heavy emotional toll that it takes. And even some question their faith through the process; they question the Church; they question God.

And there I was, having gone through an experience of deep conflict, to the point of concern over death threats and things of that nature. It got serious. And I took a little retreat with my family at the time. We went to Estes Park, Colorado, one of my favorite places in the world. And I said, "Okay, God, if you want me back in that environment, you need to make it very clear to me."

And so, as I was submitting myself to his Word and studying and praying, one morning I looked up, and I saw a double rainbow. And I said, "Okay, God, you want me to head back." And that was my promise, to head back into that church environment. And for another year-and-a-half, there was great reconciliation with the church experience there after that split.

It was a few years later that my father-in-law, who lives up in Colorado, said, "Yeah, double rainbows happen all the time up here."

I said, "No, that's my promise."

But I was pointed to conflict through experiences with the church. I'm a PK, grew up a pastor's kid, and I think my first conflict coaching advice came when I was about nine-ten years old. I remember one Sunday morning, after church, we went out to eat, and me and my little sister was on one side of the booth, Mom and Dad on the other side of the booth. And I overheard Dad talking about the deacons that day.

And I said, "Well, Dad, if you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen." I have no idea where I heard that advice. I no longer use that advice, but it seems like I've been surrounded by conflict and situations in the Church my entire experience.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Now, if I heard deacons right, is that Baptist Church background?
Eric Willis
Yes, sir, it is.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. And was it in Colorado, or was it somewhere else before that?
Eric Willis
That was in Oklahoma.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That as in Oklahoma.
Eric Willis
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So, you've been in the South primarily in terms of growing up and that kind of thing?
Eric Willis
That's correct. Kentucky, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and here in Texas.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. So, SEC country.
Eric Willis
There you go.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. Anyone listening internationally has no idea what we just –
Eric Willis
No idea what that was.
Dr. Darrell Bock
– went through, but anyway, so, let's talk about how this happens and start off with kind of how – usually – well, let me say it this way. Sometimes church conflict happens, and it happens suddenly, and boom. And actually, it's probably been festering, my guess would be.
Eric Willis
Right.
Dr. Darrell Bock
But the explosion happens, and you're dealing with shrapnel. But in a lot of cases, if people were sensitive, they could have known perhaps it was coming. Do you have any kind of pointers or signs that tell you that, "Hey, this isn't just disagreement; there's something really serious that could be going on here."
Eric Willis
Yeah, there's a great litmus test that I like to use, and it's a question that I like to use, and it's a question that I ask, and that is when you enter the church building on a Sunday morning, and you see a particular individual, can you sit shoulder to shoulder with them and worship God together? If there's an angst in that, then we need to explore something, because conflict organizationally is ultimately born out of the conflict in individuals.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Right.
Eric Willis
And so, the litmus test is an individual process of determining and allowing God access to your heart to say, "Where's my heart today?"
Dr. Darrell Bock
So, this is a question staff people should ask about the other staff, or is this something that goes across the entire congregation?
Eric Willis
Entire congregation, absolutely. Those who believe in Jesus Christ, who have the indwelling Christ in them, have the potential for grace lived out, and conflict can put a damper on that grace being lived out. And so, it's a question all of us, as believers, need to be asking.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Hmm. So, it's hard to know where to go next in terms of asking a specific question. Let me try it this way. What kinds of things get churches into trouble? Is it pretty wide open?
Eric Willis
Pretty much. If you look at any organizational structure – corporate, business, familial – in every dynamic you're going to have the same principles at play. Anything that causes conflict around us has a potential to be a conflict point in the church.

Typically, it is born out of an individual's desire to go a certain direction with the church, whether that's a leadership position or someone who is a high-caliber volunteer who wants something done and it's not moving as quickly as it needs to be. There's something that's motivating that individual to pursue a desire.

And Scripture teaches us that we have desires of our heart. Right? And so, what is that? The challenge, though, is to learn to delight yourself in the Lord in reference to those desires. So, a lot of conflict that happens in the church are actually born out of our desires. And the challenge is – and part of that litmus test – is to determine whether the desires of our heart are for our own benefit, our own comfort, our own wants, or is it a desire to honor and glorify God in that?
Dr. Darrell Bock
So, you've worked in a lot of reconciliation situations where – I imagine in some cases you've been brought in because there's trouble, and nothing's happened quite yet, other than people are nervous and they know something needs to be fixed. And then I know you've been brought into situations in which the grenade's gone off, and you're dealing with the shrapnel.
Eric Willis
Correct.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So, let's talk about both of those scenarios a little bit. If there is a church – and I'm sure there are pastors who listen to us who – the whole issues of how they relate to their leadership is the rest of their leadership is a pretty important conversation.

What – let's do it this way; let's start at the beginning – what advice would you give to pastors or, for that matter, to elders or deacons, about how they work together in leading the church that can help them deal with the conflicts that inevitably come up when dealing with an organization.
Eric Willis
Yeah, absolutely. Prepare your heart. It starts with you and what you bring to the table. If it's an environment where the grenade hasn't necessarily gone off yet, then I would consider that preemptive.

And so, what are the preemptive things necessarily to make sure that there's no shrapnel? And that is starting with the individual involved – individuals involved. And so, I would say start at the heart, prepare your heart, understand other people's perspective.

It's easy for us, as leaders, to know what we want and to know how to get what we want. It's a challenge for us to be able to pull back a little bit. We get so myopic on what we want that we forget to pull back to see the eternal value of the direction that we need to go or the input that we get from other people.

So, as pastoral and ministry leaders, we really need to pull back to see the eternal perspective and remind yourself that you can become myopic. And so, a series of questions to ask yourself is, "Am I listening to other people? Am I allowing others to speak into this?" And even more importantly, "Am I allowing myself to listen to what it is that other people are speaking into this situation?"
Dr. Darrell Bock
And by that, you mean really hearing. You don't just mean sitting there and being quiet while you're thinking about what the response is gonna be.
Eric Willis
Absolutely, well put. Yeah, wrestling with, "Why does a person feel this way; why do they view it differently than I do," that kind of thing. Not with the polemical edge on top of it, but really trying to get – have some – perhaps the word is "empathy" for what it is that's being said.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, it's the cliché, "Put ourself in the other person's shoes."
Eric Willis
Mm-hmm.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Allow yourself access to hear what the individual is saying without assuming motives behind it.
Eric Willis
Mm-hmm.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That's amazing. I just – I was asked to write a piece yesterday for a news site that – Trinity Evangelical Divinity School – a project that they're involved in that deals with creation and origins in which there sometimes can be disagreements, as you can imagine.
Eric Willis
Just a little.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And they asked me, as a public theologian, to address how to have this kind of a conversation. One of the first points that I made was learn to listen to the other person without – and keep it on the issue, and don't get into motives. That that – I say motives tend to be above our pay grade.
Eric Willis
That's it.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And so, when we attribute a motive to someone, it's a way of dismissing what they're saying. We actually shut off our ability to be helpful in many ways.
Eric Willis
Yes. And you've also locked the door on any opportunity for potential holistic reconciliation restoration needed.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Hmm. So, obviously, an important question – let me ask you this question, 'cause I'm sure someone listening says, "Yeah, but conflicts exist in the church, and you do have people that disagree, but one side's right, and the other's wrong." You know??
Eric Willis
Oh, I love that.
Dr. Darrell Bock
"So, why should I give an ear to something that I know is wrong?"
Eric Willis
Mm-hmm. And so, the Apostle Paul says, "Why not rather be wrong." Right?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Uh-huh.
Eric Willis
I love it when people bring that up, because I always like to point out that God's heart towards reconciliation and restoration has nothing to do with determining who's right and who's wrong, but it's all about what is right in this situation.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Eric Willis
And so, pulling people way from their agendas, not to the other side's agenda, but pulling them to a common ground of understanding what is God's purpose –
Dr. Darrell Bock
And an attempt to have a real conversation.
Eric Willis
Absolutely.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, yeah. Oh, man, this is – there's so many directions – let me give some examples. I'm gonna put some examples on the floor and ask you, have you dealt with a conflict that deals with – okay? – and I'm just gonna –
Eric Willis
All right.
Dr. Darrell Bock
– fill in some blanks. Okay? Have you dealt with a conflict that deals with worship wars?
Eric Willis
Contemporary or traditional music. Yes.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yes. That's happened?
Eric Willis
Yeah, it has.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And is there a passage in the Bible that tells us which style of music we're supposed to be engaged with?
Eric Willis
The joyful noise. Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay.
Eric Willis
Okay? Now, two of my favorite words are "define" and "clarify." Okay? And so, when you see and read and hear "make a joyful noise unto the Lord," you have a filter for which that makes sense for you. That's true for the other individual as well. And so, when it comes to making a joyful noise, the contemporary stuff – the drums, the band, the guitars – that may not seem like a joyful noise for you.
Dr. Darrell Bock
It's noise for sure.
Dr. Darrell Bock
[Laughs]
Eric Willis
One out of two's not bad. Right? The traditional, the hymnology, all of this, the softer side, if you will, the more solemn, reverent side of worship is a joyful noise to some. And so, once again, the biblical principle that I challenge people to get on the same page with, to get off of each of their agendas, not to determine who's right and who's wrong, but to come to a place of what is right is the concept of deferring to your brother and sister in Christ. What would be the most loving and gracious thing for you to do in the concept of deferring to one another?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. And I think in this particular discussion, if you think back, and you ask, "Well, which of those worship styles actually existed in the time in which the Bible was written," the things that we're talking about, it does give people a little bit of a pause – opportunity to step back and say, "All right, now, what really matters in worship? Is it the instruments that are played, or the beat of the music, or the size of the volume, or is it what we're doing with our hearts before the Lord as we gather together."
Eric Willis
That's exactly right; that's the point. It's all about the heart. And I've heard the arguments on both sides. The contemporary worship, pointing out that would you rather sing bar tunes to these hymns, or can we create new music? And the point is, once again, not to grab an agenda and stick to it, but to come to a place of understanding that the purpose of worship is for God. And remembering that's crucial.
Dr. Darrell Bock
M-kay. I think what I want to do, rather than going to a new topic, is let's just take this through the sequence. So, you meet up with a church that hasn't split over this yet, but is in tension on this. In that situation, obviously, you're trying to have the kinds of conversations we just had about, "Let's step back and think through what we're really talking about here in some ways. And what's biblical and what isn't? What's cultural in preference and what isn't?" Those kinds of things. And you're trying to get everybody to see that for everybody. Is that –
Eric Willis
That's correct. Every angle on the table.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. Now, the other situation is you've – the grenade has gone off. You've got a division – and I imagine that what that adds is a whole another dimension to the conversation, because you're now not just dealing with the issue, you're dealing with all the relational –
Eric Willis
Relational, mm-hmm.
Dr. Darrell Bock
– fallout that has happened as a result.
Eric Willis
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Which, of course, is what you were trying to avoid to begin with, but sometimes you're there. What is that process like?
Eric Willis
Painful, because people's emotions get involved with that. People are passionate about what they determine are the best way and the right way. And so, there are two issues at hand: the relational component and the substantive issue. And the substantive issue of what will worship look like in its mode or model, and the relational issue is, "I can't trust you, because you don't like the type of music that I like."

And so, the challenge, before the grenade goes off – I mentioned it's preemptive – in this case it's redemptive. And so, the redemptive points are what I'm gonna camp out on. What's God's heart toward you? What's God's heart toward this other individual? And it may be groups of people and usually is.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Eric Willis
And so, trying to pull them together to see God's redemptive plan at work.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. So, here's another scenario. And this is actually what I'm currently dealing with more online and in private by e-mail. You'd be surprised some of the e-mails I get from people asking for response and opinion. I've got – I'm gonna change this up a little bit so that no one can figure out what's going on here, but I've got someone who's writing me and e-mail, who's very, very convinced that certain materials that are being used in the church are not the right kind of teaching. And they can write pages in defense of this.

In the process, this person has probably alienated themselves from a whole series of people, including the senior pastor of the church, several people on the staff, several people who run some of the Bible studies where these materials are involved, etcetera.

That's not the only dimension that's happening. I just found out recently that this person is concerned about their children who are now thinking about walking away from the church now that they're at that age. And the first thing that popped in my mind is, "I wonder how much this conflict going on in the church contributed to the fact that they are ready to walk away.

I suspect that there are situations that you've walked into in which the dispute has been about that kind of a scenario, where the church is going off in a certain direction, and the feeling is the church's teaching is not in line with what I might expect or something to that affect. Have you had those scenarios as well?
Eric Willis
I have, yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. So, again, let's deal with the preemptive side first. And we're probably coming – we'll probably hit a break before we can get to the other side of this, but let's – so, let's deal with the preemptive side, first.

When – and really, this has many angles. You've got the person who's making the complaint. You've got the staff reaction to the complaint being made and all those dynamics. You've got the people who are executing the studies. This is one that's – it's like dropping a rock in a lake. It has ripples.
Eric Willis
Mm-hmm, yep, absolutely. And it's hard to determine which ripple is gonna affect the next ripple and all that. So, it's hard to forecast what – how far out those ripples will go. "Define" and "clarify," my two favorite words. Okay?

Begin with the individuals. You have an individual who is disgruntled or has a complaint or, at the very least, a concern about the direction the church is teaching. A series of questions for that individual is what's motivating those concerns.

All of us have a filter. And he is filtering his concerns through something.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, concern for the truth. I have a concern for the truth.
Eric Willis
He wants the truth to be taught. Okay? So, now let's define and clarify. When you say "truth," and I hear "truth," I want to make sure we're on the same page. And so, as truth is your filter, what is determining the truth in which you're filtering?
Dr. Darrell Bock
The Bible.
Eric Willis
Okay. So, God's Holy Word.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yep.
Eric Willis
So, obviously, you've heard something that contradicts God's Word. Okay? So, I just used a word that when people hear it, sometimes they need it defined and clarified. And so, when I said "contradicts" God's Word, what did you hear me say? And so, it's asking questions like that.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Like that.
Eric Willis
Mm-hmm, to help an individual see how they're filtering the concerns.

So, but the point is, we're entering into a dialogue in which part of the goal is to get the person to reflect on what they're doing. And I suspect one of the other steps is to reflect on perhaps what they're not aware of that they're doing in the midst of doing it.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Indeed. What's the goal in these questions that you're raising?
Eric Willis
We're looking for aha moments for that individual who has blind spots as to either what they're communicating or how they're communicating.
Dr. Darrell Bock
M-kay.
Eric Willis
There's the potential for divisiveness when an issue like this is presented. And so, the challenge for leadership is, once again, to hear, to listen rather than react, which is so easy for us to do – the reaction part, not the hearing.

And so, the questions that are being asked of the individual with the concerns are to help the individual make sure that their motivation and their purpose in bringing this out is for an intrinsic desire for truth. And if that's the case, then how it's presented is critical.

And so, providing some guidance to an individual who is "dogmatic" – and that's a strong word – and very sincere in what they believe is the right thing to do, and heading in that right direction, I would challenge them to define for me and clarify for me what you believe Scripture means when it says, "Speak the truth in love." What's that concept for you?

And I'll provide some coaching along those lines. What does it mean to speak the truth in love? Well, believe it or not, the truth part we get really well. And it sounds like this individual gets the truth part really well.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Right.
Eric Willis
It's the speaking it in love that is oftentimes missing. And so, what I like to coach to consider is to affirm the relationship, say what needs to be said, and then affirm the relationship again. Because Christ is foremost concerned about the relationship. He died for individuals; he didn't die for doctrine. He died for people, and he redeems people.

So, relationship is of utmost importance. And so, that's why I ask people to affirm the relationship, which requires them to do a self-assessment on what they believe about that relationship and that angst that they may have in their heart.

Can you sit shoulder to shoulder and worship with this individual? And is it really a matter of trust of the leadership and the direction they're taking the church, in light of the truth that you want to share with them, or is there something about you wanting to prove them wrong, or see them fell, or what is really at the heart behind what you're presenting?

And as you present it, affirm the relationship, even if it is – you acknowledge that they're in a position of authority over you in the church. Speak the truth in love. Say what needs to be said. Affirm the relationship again. A concept of not allowing an incident to stand between an existing relationship is key.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Now, this is a problem that once it introduces itself, there's what's going on with the person who registers the complaint that introduces the potential for division, and then there's the staff response to what's coming, because obviously it's kind of like a shot sent across the bow.

Here you are exercising – teaching gifts and teaching responsibility in the church, and someone in the church comes to you and says, "You're not teaching the right thing." What advice do you give to staff preemptively as they face this kind of situation?
Eric Willis
Bite the tongue and pray. That's the immediate thing that you do. An immediate response is oftentimes an inappropriate, inadequate, or wrong response. And so, bite the tongue. Pray – and I mean that sincerely, because it is going to be the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through you to respond to individuals who get in your face and voice complaints in what could be taken as a rude type of way.

And then I would say avoid the pedestal syndrome. Avoid placing yourself in a position mentally of thinking, "Hey, I've gone to seminary for all these years. I've got this degree; I know the languages; I've studied this. My blood, sweat, and tears went into this, and you're telling me that it's wrong." Avoid the pedestal syndrome. Kick that pedestal out from under you and acknowledge and actually celebrate the fact that this individual desires truth. That's a healthy thing.

So, bite the tongue, pray, discern Holy Spirit's prompting as to what direction you need to have the conversation go. He may prompt you to ask a simple question. He may prompt you to engage in dialogue, to listen to points of contradiction. So, that would be the immediate counsel I would give is to be available to listen. But that's easier said than done. Right?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. Now, here's a dynamic that's happening in this situation that I think I'd like for you to comment on, 'cause I don't think it's all that unusual. It's what I would call the staff passive response that has also an element of misdirection to it that then gets misread.

So, let me explain what I mean. I think you probably have a clue, but let me – so, the person says to the person issuing the complaint, "I hear you. I get what you're saying. We're doing something about it." Okay?

And then, when they actually go to implement this, in the perception of the person making the complaint, other than the correspondence that's going on between them, little or nothing changes. So, what's communicated verbally to the person making the complaint is distinct from everything else that person is seeing going on in the community. That seems to me to be a recipe for potential problems.
Eric Willis
Absolutely. "I hear you. I understand it. We're doing something about it." Two of those three are lies. Okay? We don't want to lie to our people. All right? "I hear you; I want to learn more; let's discuss it," is a much healthier process. That series of questioning or statements will lend itself more toward the reconciliation side and agreement side than an antagonistic, "You didn't do what you promised me you would do," type of concept.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm, which is gonna be the comeback, of course, is that, "You told me you were doing this, and I trusted you, and now I don't see anything any different. So, how have things changed?" And you've just ratcheted everything up a level.
Eric Willis
And on the substantive issue, it's been ratcheted up. And on the relational issue, your credibility is just deflated.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm, yeah. So, it's a problem from that standpoint. And I suspect that – the reason I'm going into this in some detail is because in my mind, the way these things progress is kind of, if I can say it this way, one misstep at a time. Is that a fair way to describe it?
Eric Willis
Yeah. One miscommunication/misstep at a time.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And when that happens, as that builds up over time, all that does is build up pressure. And eventually, something goes very wrong. And you lose it, because there hasn't really been the kind of communication that you need as you move through this process to try and cut it off or deal with it in a way that prevents it from hemorrhaging.
Eric Willis
Yeah. Yes, that is the case. And then you have the explosions that take place and the damage.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Place on the other end, yeah. So – now here's the other – here's my other analysis of this particular situation. There are actually two things going on, and people tend to pay attention to one of them and ignore the other. There's the discussion about the truth that's going on all the way through this and who's got this right, that kind of thing. Important discussion; don't want to minimize it.
Eric Willis
Absolutely, absolutely.
Dr. Darrell Bock
But the other is what's happening relationally as this is going on, which my guess is most people pay less attention to when the discussion becomes a focus on, "What's the truth?" And that actually is where the damage can get done in trying to resolve and move towards resolution. That fair?
Eric Willis
That's absolutely correct. Very fair. And what happens is, if you have lost trust of me as a leader, and I am taking you or the congregation in a specific direction, and you have concerns about that direction – and I have not acknowledged or listened to the point of hearing and engaged in dialogue about it with a surrendered, submissive, willing spirit – then what that's done in your heart has begun a process of hardening your heart against and toward me.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Eric Willis
Losing trust. And if I could, for just a minute, talk about trust and the trust factor. I hear this all the time, in almost every conflict I've engaged in, "I can't trust them."

I have a hard time with that statement, because as I look at Scripture, nowhere in Scripture does it say, "Put your trust in man." It says, "Trust in the Lord. Trust in the Lord your God. Trust in God."

Now, we are to be trustworthy, but we are never to be individuals to whom people put their trust. We are always to point people to put their trust in Christ. And it's gonna be that trust in Christ that's gonna pave the way for reconciliation and restoration.

So, there's a coachable moment and coaching opportunities to help people come to an understanding that if you're putting your trust in me, or you're putting your trust in the leader, it's misplaced trust.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Now, let me tell you another piece of shrapnel that I see from the scenario that I'm describing. And that has to do with children or young adults who watch this conflict unfold. So, the major players are the adults, obviously, but there are children around this, and when they see this, my guess is is that the impact on them is something also that's not thought about very much, and yet the impact on them can be potentially pretty profound.
Eric Willis
Oh, indeed. Life threatening, life changing. So, the challenge is how to, once again, make your point without the fallout. And how to make a point without the fallout is to make sure that you have engaged the people relationally before you engage with the truth.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Eric Willis
And so, looking at your own family dynamic, how this affects the family, what is it that your kids are gonna be influenced by? They're gonna be influenced by what they hear from you, what they sense from you. If there is a root of bitterness because the change isn't being made, that's coming out in your voice; it's coming out in the choices that you make to either attend service, not attend service.

Those are the factors that are influencing that ripple effect, influencing the children. They're picking up not only on what you say, but they're picking up on the cues that you're giving, because you're not getting your way, or you're not getting your hearing.
Dr. Darrell Bock
How you say it and everything else that comes with it.
Eric Willis
Absolutely. And so, they have to internalize and process that. And there's a very good chance that those children have relationships in the church that that will cause tension and angst in them.

"Well, if my parents are upset at the church, then how am I to engage the church? And if the church is wrong, then what's – is my faith wrong? And what's this all about?"

And it can really rock a child's faith.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. Well – and, of course, that's why when a grenade does go off in a church, because of a situation like this, the shrapnel is literally all over the place. I mean it's not just the staff or the principals that are involved, but all of a sudden people who may not even have been aware this was going on are pulled in and sucked into what's going on, and the impact is happening at multiple levels.

And the stuff that we've been talking about just between the individuals now has expanded and exploded, if you will, to involve people who maybe even before weren't aware this was going on, and now the pressure to figure out, "Which side am I gonna fall on," and that kind of stuff, you've got all those dynamics in place. Right?
Eric Willis
Right. And who wouldn't want to run from all that pressure?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, yeah. So – okay, so, I've kind of walked – we've kind of walked through this one in a little more detail. I think it's a sample of the way in which things build and the way in which things can kind of unravel.

Let's take a look at it from this way. How do you – how do you begin to stop – I'm gonna call it a cycle; I don't know what else to describe it as, a pattern maybe – what can be done to diffuse the bomb that's building?

And maybe we ought to talk about this from the individual side and then from a staff side and wrestle with – and then we'll come to the, "Okay, it's exploded now. That's a different scenario; how do you put that back together?"

So, let's do it in two parts. How do we diffuse the buildup in a situation? If someone senses that's going – what's the right kind of response? I mean obviously we've talked about listening better and questioning your own motives and that kind of thing, but is there anything else we can do to add to that equation?
Eric Willis
It's always better to ask more questions than the statements you make.
Dr. Darrell Bock
M-kay.
Eric Willis
I'm going back to the define and clarify. The more someone feels heard, the more clarification that's given to an understanding of where they're coming from, the situation is deflated because they feel like they have made a contribution rather than just voicing a concern.

And so, that's the challenge for the staff is to allow the mindset shift that this isn't someone just spouting off a concern. But in the process, let's look to see how and if something that is being brought to our attention needs our attention for change and being willing to take that.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, now, obviously we've been talking about kind of a member-staff situation here. Another source of great conflict is within the leadership body itself, when you've got either people within the staff who are disagreeing, or you've got perhaps even – perhaps even more dangerous your elder or deacon board and your pastor at loggerheads.

In one sense, the dynamics, it strikes me, are the same, and in another sense, this is a different game.
Eric Willis
Yeah, because the players are those who are in conflict at this point. All of the have been given the responsibility to oversee the spiritual health of the church. And so that, in and of itself, brings a dimension that's not there.
Dr. Darrell Bock
A new dynamic, uh-huh.
Eric Willis
And so, there's a heaviness with that. It's an appropriate heaviness, which means that we can't take this lightly. We can't shove it under the carpet and move on. We have to deal with the situation. And how we deal with the situation is gonna be reflected to the congregation.

One of the questions I like to ask is what's at stake? If you as spiritual leaders of this congregation do not come to terms with what you need to deal with, what's at stake? And I've heard answers from everything from reputation, credibility, all the stuff that you would normally here, but rarely do I get the right answer.

What's at stake is the witness of Jesus Christ. That's what's at stake when our leaders are in conflict. And that's what drives me to engage and help them see that this is a heart conversation just as much as it is a hard conversation.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm. Now, there are – your, "What's at stake," raises two other questions that immediately come to mind. One is when do I come to the point of agreeing to disagree, and when do I come to a point where I say, "I'm not – I may not be getting anywhere here, and it may be better for me to be elsewhere." How do you sort out those – 'cause those are potential resolutions to decide – and probably what is _____ question, or at least an aspect of that might be, "Is it really – is this fight worth it?" Okay?

So, there are – there may be three questions that we're wrestling with here; I'll try and keep them separate for you so that we can work through them. Okay, agree to disagree.
Eric Willis
Mm-hmm. Going back to the principle of deferring to your brother and sister in Christ. Agreeing to disagree can be done in two ways. It can be done assuming the other person is clueless and will never come to understand what it is that you're trying to communicate.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay.
Eric Willis
Or you can agree to disagree, with an understanding that it's breathing grace into the environment, that both of you are coming to an understanding. Even though they didn't budge, you're breathing grace rather than laying claim.

And so, agreeing to disagree is one of those that you have to be discerning about. It's – there's not a – there's not a litmus test for that. It's – there's not a way to really say, "Okay, if this, then this." And so, it's gonna be the Spirit's moving in your heart to prompt you to be discerning as far as deferring.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. The second one is, "What's at stake?" And it's making the decision, "Is this – in some sense, is this really worth it?" I imagine that's actually a very important question to raise pretty early on.
Eric Willis
Mm-hmm. And it needs to be tied to the why. Okay? What is it worth? Who's determined the value of this conversation, this dialogue and the outcome? It goes back to defining and clarifying terms and positions and understanding the other person's input and hearing what they're saying.

But ultimately, it comes down to you're myopic. You're seeing what's right there in front of you. What does it mean to pull back and see the eternal perspective of what's going on in three years from now? Five years from now? Ten years from now? Twenty years from now, what significance will this conversation have on God's purposes for his kingdom?

Asking that question, in light of the discussion that's happening now, will help you give that perspective of eternity.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Which means that an implication of that, it seems to me, is it might be important to wrestle with the question of – which sometimes happens – is how quickly does this need to be resolved as opposed to worked through which may take some time?
Eric Willis
Yeah. And that's where the substantive issue comes in. 'Cause the Substantive issues are gonna be placed on time tables. Those are the things that you need done. X, Y, and Z need to be done by A, B, C.

The relational issues are the ones that are gonna be timeless. It's something that's gonna be developed.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. Now, the third one is, "All right, this is not happening, and maybe the decision that I need to make is do I stay or do I go?" Just the personal involvement with the church.
Eric Willis
Yeah. "Do I stay, or do I go?"

The answer is, "Yes."
Eric Willis
It's one of those that, once again, requires discernment of the Holy Spirit. And what I challenge people who are asking those questions – and I never tell people not to ask those questions; that's a very valid question, and they need to be processing that. But what I tell them is to go back to the motivation for why you're asking that question.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm.
Eric Willis
If you think that you need to leave the situation because you're not getting your way, or you're not being heard or something of that nature, reevaluate that. Okay. If you sense that you need to stay so that you need to stay so that you can be the change agent and bring things to a head to bring it out, reconsider that.

There are so many variables that go into answering that question, and 90 percent of 'em are unknown variables. And a lot of times those decisions are made on feelings and perceptions rather than the truth and realities.

And so, the challenge in answering that question is, once again, going back discernment. If – and the litmus test earlier, can you sit shoulder to shoulder and worship God in this environment, knowing what you know about those that you work with, serve with, do life with.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Well, Eric, our time is just about gone. We haven't even gotten to the rebuilding and reconciliation side of this, which is – which given the kinds of things that can happen can be just as challenging and just as time consuming.

So, I'm gonna hold you to coming back at some point in the future and discussing kind of the resolution side of this, 'cause we kind of analyzed how it breaks down pretty clearly, and using some examples that hopefully help people to catch the dynamics that sometimes may be going on that can lead to the breakup of a community that's not healthy, and to have them pause and ask, "What possibly can I do differently if I'm in that kind of an environment that might keep that cycle from devolving to a point where it's destructive?" So, I thank you for coming in and chatting with us about this.
Eric Willis
My pleasure.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah.

And we thank you for being a part of The Table today and look forward to having you back again with us soon.

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