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William D. Bontrager, J.D.

1710 C.R. 121, Hesperus, CO 81326

970-259-3384

wdb@frontier.net

CONFRONTING CHURCH LEADERS

This pamphlet attempts to deal with one very frightening, but critical, issue: How do I, as a member of a church or a Christian ministry, deal with a leader whom I believe is, in some way, wrong before God?

While functioning as a minister of reconciliation, I have had to face a number of situations involving leaders. And, as a leader, I have also been subject to some confrontations! What I share in this pamphlet comes from that background, and from a study of Scripture. I am not able to say that there is Scripture for all I will share, but I do believe these thoughts are in line with, and not inconsistent with, all that Scripture has to say about conflict.

As with all other conflicts where I think someone else is wrong, I start by looking at Pro. 29:11: "It is the glory of a person to overlook a transgression." Is the matter which I want to speak to the leader about merely the same type of imperfection which I would hope others would overlook in me? Is this really something which God wants addressed? Is this an matter of style, or personalty, or gifts which rub me wrong?

But, I can no longer overlook if I find that I have allowed the matter to separate my relationship with the other person, or if I believe this leader needs to know about their conduct so that they might grow in the Lord, or I believe others are being hurt. If any of these, or other situations exist, then I must care-front the leader according to Matt. 18:15.

Having decided to care-front, I then must examine myself -- my attitudes, motivations, feelings, actions, and inactions -- looking to God's Word for guidance. I need to know if there are faults which I must confess to God and to the leader. Maybe I have gossiped; maybe I have held unforgiveness; maybe I have received gossip; maybe I have made the offense of another my own; etc.

Then I go -- personally and physically -- to the leader (Matt. 5:23-24; Matt. 18:15) and speak to them about whatever it is that is bothering me. I go as one seeking a lost sheep (Matt. 18:12-14), being careful not to cause them to stumble in the process (Matt. 18:1-11), and knowing that I have been forgiven more than I can ever repay (Matt. 18:20-35).

Many people refuse to do this, in fear of the relative "power position" of the leader. For women it can be particularly difficult. But fear must be overcome (although a married woman might properly take her husband with her due to his scriptural responsibility to and for his wife). Not going will, sooner or later, lead you to gossip -- to "share your Godly concern with a wise brother" or "so that someone can understand my pain, and help me find peace."

Let's assume that I go to him, he listens, we part, and I feel that the matter is not resolved. What then? First, I go back to the Lord: "Lord, have I done all that you desire? Did You just want a watchman (Ez. 33)? Did I serve that capacity? Am I now to leave it up to you?"

Well, I do this, but decide that I need to go further. Because we are dealing with a leader, I choose to return to the leader rather than proceed directly with Matt. 18:16. When I speak with him again, I acknowledge that I am still uncomfortable about the matter, and ask if he would be willing to meet with me and some others to talk again -- to meet with "witnesses" under Matt. 18:16. If he says yes, then we can talk about who these people might be. I do not demand "my people" as witnesses. I am even willing to accept as witnesses those whom he desires. After all, I am seeking to win a brother, not collect a debt! If his selections make me uncomfortable, I say so, and ask permission to bring a witness of my own -- someone I will listen to if I am having trouble hearing the leader or the others -- and I name some people. If that is refused, I come without a witness of my choice. My trust must always be in God, not man.

Notice that I am not asking for a meeting with the other leaders as the witnesses; I prefer that we keep "the church" for later (Matt. 18:17).

Assuming that we agree upon the witnesses, we call them in and, in their presence, we speak through the issues again. I consider it very unlikely that I would ever proceed beyond this step with a leader, even if I did not like the results of the actions of the witnesses. Of course, I could ask that we bring the matter before the other leaders as "the church" in Matt. 18:17. But I am far more inclined to release the matter to the Lord to handle unless it is an extremely serious sin, such as some form of criminal activity.

But, if the leader says, "no, I will not meet with witnesses" -- what then? I go back to the Lord. You see, I greatly fear my fleshly desire to "win", and I do not want to go one step beyond that which the Lord desires. If I feel I must go further, I again go back to the leader, say I am still very uncomfortable, and tell him that I am going to ask for a meeting with the ________ (church Board of which the leader is a member or which has authority over him) to discuss the matter. This may result in his agreeing to Matt. 18:16 -- in which case, we back up to that stage.

If I do approach the Board for an audience, I do not tell them any details -- I merely say I have a conflict with Pastor, I have spoken to him, I feel he is not listening, that I asked for Matt. 18:16, that he refused, and that I told him I was going to come to the Board. To say anything more would be gossip!

So, I do this and the Board refuses to get involved, or does but then backs the leader, or it backs me and the leader refuses to do anything about the matter. What then?

In any of these instances, I go back to the Lord with a question: "Lord do I stay at this church, or leave?" I fear that, as to a leader, it may not be right to ever "tell it to the church". That would make me potentially a highly divisive person, force people to choose up sides, and result in a open split (in the face of the world which is watching us). I keep thinking, in this situation, of David's attitude towards Saul when Saul was king. Obviously, I can not gossip and murmur about this. If I stay, I stay silently. If I leave, I ask no one to come with me and tell none why I am leaving. I try to remain in relationship with those with whom I had been in relationship. I even try to lift up the ministry and do not ever give a bad report, although I may need to refuse to give a good report. If pressed by someone for information, I invite them to ask the leader (or Board) to meet with us -- trying to take the matter back to the Matt. 18 process.

As I walk through this process, I try to stay aware of certain things:

First, I am not the congregation's savior -- that is God's job.

Second, I remind myself how easy it is to be a divisive and factious person, causing many to stumble.

Third, I watch out for the possibility that I am making mannerisms of the leader into theology.

Fourth, I must watch out that my sense of how things ought to be done is not getting elevated to a position of theology.

Fifth, I keep in mind that God has all of eternity to work on this matter -- speed in reaching "my" outcome is not of great importance.

Sixth, regardless of what happens, I want to remember that no person can ever use this matter, or the handling of it, as an excuse before God for their own improper actions -- we are all directly accountable to Him and are without excuse, for He wrote on our hearts before we were born. I am not a heretic hunter!

There is one other possibility to consider, however. If the sin of this leader is a crime before the law of man, I may, after appropriate warning to him, and after at least doing Matt. 18:15, report the matter unto law enforcement, for we are citizens of two kingdoms -- Rom. 13:1-7.

If you feel that you have a leader who needs to be confronted then, before you do so, I suggest you also read, A Tale Of Three Kings, by Gene Edwards.