How can we make our local congregations stronger? Stop allowing members to hide behind the elders and instead, encourage reconciliation. Teach members how to confront other members in the spirit of humility, mercy, and love.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard about elders confronting members or the preacher with a complaint from another member. Oftentimes, this confrontation is done while keeping the complaining party anonymous. And so, the confronted member sits in an elders meeting being on the receiving end of comments like:
• We’ve been told your children made a mess in the teacher’s workroom.
• We’ve had complaints that your sermons are too short/long.
• Someone came to us about something you put on Facebook.
• We’ve had complaints about your children running through the building.
• The sermon you preached offended some of our members.
• Someone came to us about your daughter’s immodest dress.
And the list goes on and on and on.
Sadly, when you ask who the complaining party is the common response is: “They have asked that we not reveal their name.” As a result, the person who is confronted never has the ability to fully explain to that person their side or more importantly, to reconcile. (Instead, the confronted party spends the next 24-hours trying to figure out exactly who brought up the complaint—and bitterness often ensues.)
I know personally of 2-3 elders who have positioned themselves in various congregations as the person to “go to” if you have charges against someone else. They are quick to hear complaints. Sadly, these same men are not pursuing reconciliation between members. They are simply trying to be people pleasers and smooth things over.
While they may believe this anonymous approach is most beneficial, simply put, it does not work—and it goes against the biblical principle of reconciliation. (It also goes against Matthew 18 when sin is involved.) Instead, it turns the situation into a big battle of “he said/she said,” with members trying to determine whose side the elders are on.
Proverbs 18:17 says, “The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him.” Solomon recognized that the first person to complain “seems right”—but he recognized there are two sides to every story.
Imagine the changes that would happen if elders refused to hear these complaints, and instead directed the complainer to the person who offended them.
Don’t like something the preacher said? Let’s go talk to him and see if he really meant it the way you heard it. Imagine how many relationships could be salvaged if the leadership of the congregation just facilitated a face-to-face meeting between the two parties.
For instance, imagine this hypothetical situation: A woman comes to the elders complaining about someone’s children making a mess in the teacher’s workroom. She demands they confront the mother of the children, put a lock on the door to the workroom, and make an announcement that children under 16 are no longer allowed in the workroom.
Imagine the difference that would happen if the elder she approached asked her to meet with him and the mother of the child. Maybe before the meeting he studies with her on humility or loving as Jesus loved. Imagine if the mother of the child was allowed to apologize and offered to have her child clean up the mess or offered money to replace wasted supplies. Or imagine if the mother pointed out that while she and her children were in the workroom, it was actually the youth minister who made the mess.
The point is this—bringing the two parties together allows both sides to be clearly explained and allows for the chance of reconciliation. If we want our local congregations to be strong, we must be able to confront one another in the spirit of love—realizing we are all a part of the same Christian family with the same goal of heaven!